The Friendship Doctor

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Social Drinking: How Do You Handle a New Friend Who Drinks Too Much?

In a social situation, it's easy to get caught up in excessive drinking

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

About 3 months ago, I made a new girlfriend. She has a personality that is a lot of fun to be with and we've enjoyed shopping and hanging out. The longer we're friends though, the more alcohol is playing a large part in our time spent together. That in itself is not the problem.

Last weekend we went to dinner and she drove. She drank five shots over dinner in just about two hours. Ever since riding home with her I have been unsettled. I had too much to drink myself to stick to have the good sense to call my husband. The following day when I talked to her about it, she said she was fine to drive. It felt as if I had pushed the issue any further, she would have gotten upset.

Since this friendship is at an early stage, I feel it would still be easy to downgrade it. Do you feel that is justified? It doesn't feel like we have to foundation to discuss the issue and that it may be indicative of deeper differences between us. Also at my age, 36, I am not so interested in a friendship that revolves around alcohol. She tells lots of stories about her other friends, all involving lots of alcohol. I would appreciate your thoughts.

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Signed, Kailey


ANSWER

Dear Kailey,

Your writing about this reflects your obvious concern about this incident and the viability of the friendship. You realized that drinking five shots of liquor over dinner is much too much. (In fact, binge drinking is defined as a woman drinking four or more shots on one occasion [five or more for men]). 

Perhaps, your friend drinks to loosen up or to become more affable when she's with other people and that's one of the reasons why she is so much fun to be with. As you suspect, given what she has said about drinking with other friends, it's unlikely this is an isolated incident. 

If you want to keep up the friendship and you don't feel close enough to tell her at this point that you are concerned about her drinking, you at least need to let her know that you don't want it to affect you or jeopardize your safety. You could suggest that you get together in alcohol-free environments, perhaps during the day or at a shopping mall. This would also be a good measure of whether she has the same appeal as a friend when you are both sober. 

In a social situation, it's easy for anyone to get caught up in excessive drinking so I would suggest heading off a bigger problem before it begins. From my perspective, if you want to save the friendship, you HAVE to say something for both your sake and hers. 

Hope this helps. 

Best, Irene

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about drinking and friendship:

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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