How to Talk to a Friend

Show your concern; don’t worry about being too polite to bring up the topic of concern. Things you want to know before you begin:

  • Peer interventions can influence behavioral change.
  • Students are competent to take action; sometimes you just don’t know it.
  • The peer group is an influential part of most high-risk behavior environments. By not speaking up, we can appear to be condoning risky behaviors.

Choose a time when you can be calm (not when you’re hurt, angry, upset)
Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted. Trying to talk before class or a date will increase your pressure. 

Action Steps

  • First, listen to your friend
  • Second, say what you saw. Be factual. Tell your friend about how you saw them act on a particular occasion, what they did. Describe a specific instance of their behavior that you directly observed. For example, if your concern is regarding substances, the reason for being specific is that substance abusers often have memory problems caused by blackouts or they don’t recall events the way they happened. It gives the factual information they don’t have and it takes away part of the false belief about what happened when they were drinking or using drugs.
  • Then, say how you feel. Express your care about the harm done and your concern about what you’ve seen. Your friend may not understand how their actions affect other people’s feelings.

Hold your friend accountable

  • This allows them to have logical consequences for their behaviors. They may have friends or family who cover up, clean up and protect them.
  • Friends may believe that their behaviors are under control or not noticeable, they may minimize their problems or blame others.
  • Don’t cover for a person or make excuses for them- this allows them to continue their behaviors and not take responsibility for it
  • Correct myths or misinformation when you hear it. People make rationalizations that allow them to continue their behavior

Dealing with Resistance

  • Once you have raised the subject, your friend may respond defensively or deny there’s a problem. Initially, your friend may feel ambivalent about addressing their problem. He/she may want to stop but the triggers to continue may be stronger.
  • Understand your friend’s defensiveness may be based on their feelings and is not directed at you.
  • Look for subtle signs that your friend is reaching out for help and respond in a non-judgmental manner
  • Listen to your friend’s concerns, ask them to tell you the pro’s and cons of what they’re experiencing
  • Make it clear that you dislike the behavior, not your friend

Taking Care of Yourself

  • Set boundaries. Let your friend know where your limits are and stick to them. Say, “I won’t ride in the car if you’re high.” The important thing is that you’re only trying to take care of the damage that your friend’s high-risk behavior does to you. You’re not trying to control or manipulate their behavior.
  • Example of what not to say- “if you don’t change, I’m dropping you”
    Say this instead: “I just don’t want to be around you anymore when you’re high.”
  • Remember, you can’t control your friend’s life. At some point, your attempts to help exceeds your abilities and it’s time to bring in additional resources. Don’t feel guilty if you reach that point.