My Friend Is Ruining Her Life, but She Won’t Listen to Me

My best friend is having a bad time. I'm really worried about her and think she needs professional help, but when I told her that, she freaked out at me and said I am the one who needs help, not her. That it's my problem that I don't like what she's doing and I'm always judging her and telling her what to do. Her boyfriend dumped her in May because she was partying too much, which is basically true. She still likes to party a lot and drinks a lot, even more since they broke up. She's also not finding a job—not even looking! She hasn't worked in over eight months and just spends her mom's money to have a good time. She seems OK with it, but it's ruining her relationships, and sometimes she just blows up at everyone around her. Especially when she's drunk. I think a counselor or someone could help her get her life back together, but she won't listen at all, and now I feel bad for even trying to help since apparently it's my problem, not hers. Who is right here? —Concerned Friend
Dear Concerned Friend,

Did you ever hear the saying, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”? Friends don’t let friends live their lives drunk, either. From your description, her behavior sounds like she may be addicted to alcohol, or someone who abuses alcohol and is at risk of becoming addicted. Alcoholism is a chronic, dangerous issue.

You were a good friend and told her that she is courting trouble; sometimes it hurts to hear the truth. When you told her that her behavior was ruining her relationships, yours included, she got angry and accusative. It sounds like she needs help, just as you told her. She’s lost her boyfriend and her job and is sponging off her mom. “She blows up at everyone around her,” you wrote. This is one of the many symptoms of alcoholism.

Does her mother understand where the money is going? It sounds like the mom is being used, and, as you say, the mom’s money is enabling your friend’s dangerous behavior. Perhaps the mom gives her daughter money because she feels sorry for her. People with alcoholism are experts at playing on others’ feelings so they can get what they want. You’re her best friend, and you’re trying to stop her from ruining her life. Rather than thinking about what you are saying, she accuses you of always judging her and telling her what to do. And maybe you do.

I once heard someone describe stopping drinking as like “stopping a speeding express train barehanded.” Your friend may have to hit bottom before she can begin the long climb back. I know you want to help her, but people can’t be helped if they aren’t willing and able to accept help. Stopping her is not in your power. She can get better, but she has to choose to first, and then she has to work long, hard, and with great determination. No one can do it for her.

You ask who owns this problem—clearly, your friend does. The problem is hers to do something about. Or not.

My opinion: She should join a 12-step program, consult a therapist, and perhaps a psychopharmacologist, too. Remember, alcoholism is a very serious issue, and needs professional treatment—much more than even the best of friends can give her. It sounds like you have already given her a great deal; perhaps it’s time for you to step back.

If you want to remain her friend, you might consider joining Al-Anon, which focuses on problems common to family members and friends of people with alcoholism. Some of those problems are loyalty to abusive people and a tendency toward excessive caretaking. Does this sound familiar?

You need support, too. A tough-love approach might be helpful for you both, and you would benefit from the backing of other Al-Anon members who know how to negotiate the alcoholism territory, which is a rough one. As when you’re in the jungle, you need a compass and companions so you can work together and find your way out—you and your friend, both.

I wish good luck to both of you.

Best wishes,
Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
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  • reece

    reece

    November 9th, 2013 at 5:11 AM

    The sad thing about much of this is that typically we see that someone nees some help long before they do; but there is nothing that you can do until she realizes that she is hurting herself and wants to make those changes.

    I wish that it was as easy as wanting to help her and then magically she would seek that help out for herself… unfortunately this isn’t the way it works.

    I hope that for her sake she sees this soon before she hurts herself or someone else along the way.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 9th, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    Well said, Reece, it’s hard and sad to be in that position.
    Thanks for writing!
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • Jason

    Jason

    November 9th, 2013 at 1:31 PM

    I guess that in this instance you are just going to have a step back from all of it and let her fail if that’s what she’s destined to do. Sounds like she is an “adult” who can make decisions on her own about how she wants to lead her life. You can’t, no matter how much you may want to, live that life for her. So it’s wither hers to save or screw it up. You have no responsibility for that and no control over it. Eventuially she will wise up but for now, for your own sanity, I think that you just have to let it go.

  • Justine Rivers

    Justine Rivers

    November 11th, 2013 at 4:48 AM

    I know that it can be different with a family member than with a friend, but I wantched my own brother go through this and literlaly nothing that we said to him could change his mind or his behavior. He went through some pretty crazy stuff, and still struggles today, but I have learned he doesn’t really want advice, just help when he needs a pick me up. It’s hard, and I have a hard time holding my tongue sometimes, but I think that what he most needs from me is to know that I care and that I will be there any time he needs support. Maybe that’s what your frined needs right now too.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 11th, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Jason, Justine, Reece– few things are harder than standing aside with love and wisdom, stepping back when your help is not wanted by someone you love, who most needs it.

  • Justine

    Justine

    November 13th, 2013 at 4:49 AM

    Don’t I know it! I am a saver, I want everything to be okay and for everyone to be okay, but I have to know my limitations too because if I don’t it starts to really drive me mad! I have tried thorugh all of this to pick up some of the slack for my parents because I don’t want them always having to deal with everything, and I have also tried to maintain an open relationship with my brother too, but it is hard. Again, it can just be about being there when they need you, giving them a soft place to fall when that happens.

  • dell

    dell

    December 4th, 2013 at 4:54 AM

    I guess that in this case you get to the point where you say it’s her life, her decisions, I can’t stop it. I know that you probably wnat to continue to try because you care and if you didn’t then you wouldn’t be here looking for answers, but until she is ready, you can’t do it for her.

  • Gretchen

    Gretchen

    December 11th, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    This is your perception, and no matter how close to being correct you probably are there is nothing that you can do to change her behavior until she is good and ready. I have been there and have wanted to tie a friend down and make her take a cold hard look at the damage that she was inflicitng on her own life, but it wasn’t my call. Until she was ready to do the hard work herself then I just had to stay focused and commited to being as good a friend as I could be when she needed me. Plain and simple truth there are far more people who need help than are ever going to ask for it and seek it out.

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