My friends drink as much as I do, are they alcoholics too?

Jessica Kennedy, Mental Health America

Why do you ask?

It could be that you are here because you are genuinely concerned about your drinking AND your friends’ drinking, and you want everybody to improve together. That’s an awesome instinct, but it can be dangerous to your mental health, too. One of the first things you learn in recovery is that the only behavior you can control is your own. You can wish that other people cut back on drinking, try to encourage them to stop, and create opportunities for sober fun… but you can’t make someone make the same decision as you. It really sucks if you know that you may have to lose a friend who can’t make the same lifestyle change you want to make.

Sometimes the reason you compare your behavior to your friends’ behavior can be to check whether what you’re doing is normal. There are a couple problems with that. One, our friends may also have problems with their drinking, and it just seems normal because everyone is doing it. Two, you may not really be seeing things as clearly as you think.

You might have a friend that goes out with you on the weekend and runs up $100 bar tabs. That person is fun, wild, and the life of the party. You go drink for drink with them and have a good time.

Except maybe…

  • They have $100 to spend, and you don’t.
  • You weren’t counting what you ordered, or you were drinking something stronger (like a craft IPA instead of a PBR.)
  • You woke up the next morning and started drinking immediately, and they went on a 4-mile hike.
  • You spent the next day curled up on your couch regretting every social interaction from the night before, and they went over to see family with a mild headache that gets cured with an aspirin.

You should focus on yourself first—bring up your issues and concerns about your behavior with a doctor or a therapist or counselor who specializes in alcohol or drug use.

Then later you may want to consider approaching your friends. If you do, you should come from a place of love and concern. Ask open-ended questions to see if your friends are ready to cut back or quit drinking with you.

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