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“Ask The Experts” is written and provided by Scholarship Media. It does not reflect the views of The Collegian or its advertisers.

Our group of friends really consists of more social drinkers, but we have one particular friend who consistently overdoes it to an unhealthy degree and his grades are also suffering as a result. I’m worried that he’s struggling with his drinking, so how can I help him before he totally loses control and is forced to leave school?

If you believe that your friend has a significant drinking problem, then you are absolutely right to take action to help him. While you should remember that only he can choose to solve his problem, there are steps that you can take to help.

First, you should know that your friend is far from alone. Alcohol is everywhere in the United States. It is by far the most socially acceptable recreational drug at college, and it is correspondingly popular: 70.1% of Americans over the age of 18 have had a drink this year, and the majority of Americans have had a drink this month. Of those, of course, many have reasonably healthy relationships with alcohol. But a large number of Americans are not able to drink safely or in moderation. There are an estimated 17.6 million alcoholics in this country, experts say. Alcoholics Anonymous – the popular twelve-step program that helps alcoholics kick their drinking habit and stay sober for years to come – has a membership of around 2 million (it varies year to year), and this number, naturally, excludes those who have not yet sought help. Tragically, some groups have a disproportionate number of alcoholics. For instance, veterans with PTSD are likely to have problems with alcohol as well.

Experts agree that admitting to having a problem is a vital first step in substance abuse recovery. Unfortunately, it is also a very difficult step. If you and others wish to confront your friend about his drinking problem, you will need to be careful about how you intervene. “It’s not enough to simply confront an addict,” say the experts at Beachside Rehab. The addicts who receive treatment at their luxury facility in Florida come of their own accord, and successful interventions need to encourage this behavior. Beachside Rehab suggests getting friends and a professional to help, and citing specific examples when explaining the problem.

You can and should be careful when planning your intervention, but remember that only your friend can make the decision to improve his life. These days, most all colleges and universities have substance abuse counselors available to students, so it may be wise of you to go speak with one on your own first. Speak with them about your friend, and keep it anonymous if you’ll feel more comfortable that way to start. The staff will not be worried about trying to get your friend in trouble, their first objective will be to educate you and try to get him or her the help they need. Fortunately, there are also many tools at his disposal to help him make the difficult decisions that lie ahead of him. Websites and online tools make it easy to find nearby Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and rehab centers.

If your friend does make the decision to treat his problem, his journey will still be far from over. Addicts struggle with their addictions all of their lives; while they can combat their substance abuse problems, their underlying addiction can be expected to remain for a lifetime. Quitting alcohol for good will require a lifelong commitment from your friend. You can support him by helping him avoid situations where alcohol is present. According to the experts, an addict’s old friends and old life can present a serious relapse risk. That means that many addicts are forced to isolate themselves from old friends and hobbies for fear of running into drinking buddies or emotional triggers. Being an ally in your friend’s sober life could make a huge difference to him, and could help him avoid turning to friends who would encourage him to drink and return to his old ways.

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all,” Raymond Chandler

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