How can you help someone struggling with alcohol?

  When I was a kid I didn’t have too many sports heroes since I was… well, let’s say I was more of an indoor kid. But one of the few sports heroes I did have was Donovan McNabb. He played quarterback at Syracuse from when I was eleven until I was fifteen. He was a great player- he led the team to Bowl victories, winning records and big comebacks. He was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft in 1999 and went on to have a very good professional career that unfortunately, like many do, ended with more of a whimper than a bang. But he’s always seemed like a really great guy- it seemed like he always played (at least in college) with a big smile on his face. He gave a lot of money back to Syracuse University and serves on the Board of Trustees.

Recently McNabb was arrested for his second DUI offense, and there are now questions being asked locally about whether or not the University should be distancing itself from him for PR purposes. Now, I want to be clear before going further that just because he’s had DUI’s he’s not necessarily an alcoholic. Everyone who has a DUI isn’t an alcoholic and there are a lot of alcoholics who have never had a DUI. But generally speaking, two DUI’s seems to be an indication that at minimum McNabb has some serious responsibility issues with alcohol. But is cutting ties the righ move for Syracuse? 

I wish the conversation was about what can be done to help him. Actually, what can you do to help someone you know who may be an alcoholic or is struggling with an alcohol abuse issue?

If the person isn’t already seeking treatment or working to maintain sobriety there are some ways to talk to them in as non-confontational a way as possible (though any attempt to intervene necessitates some level of confrontation). Here’s a guide from Livestrong that discusses how to approach them in a supportive way. My own experience is that ultimately the person needs to recognize the problem for themself and has to want help; so while you can help provide a supportive environment, it’s up to them to decide to stop.

But once they’ve made that commitment you can play an important role as a family member, a friend or even as a coworker or colleague. Here are three easy things you can do:

  1. Be a good listener Maintaining sobriety is about a daily struggle and choices. Allowing the person to share their feelings and talk to you about the challenges is huge. Sometimes they need to vent, sometimes may want to bounce an idea off of you. Make time to be there for them.
  2. Make some accommodations Plan social activities that they can participate in where alcohol isn’t a factor. One of my biggest fears about sobriety is that I’d miss out on fun social gatherings because it seemed like I was only spending time with people at bars or parties. Grabbing coffee in the afternoon is a great way to stay connected in an environment where there’s no expectation or opportunity to drink. Same with going to a movie. If everyone in the office goes out for drinks after work, plan to go out to lunch instead every now and then.
  3. Provide alternatives Sometimes there are certain social functions where alcohol may be present- like a birthday party or dinner party. Find out what that person drinks instead, be it club soda, coffee, etc. and make sure that there’s plenty available. I’ve been to two different weddings in the past year where the receptions had a cigar bar/station and that was a great way for me to feel like I was participating without having a cocktail.

McNabb will undoubtedly face some legal consequences for his DUI (and he should) but it would be a real shame if the University cut too many ties with him. If he seeks treatment for his problems he could end up serving as an even greater role model for his fans and and a real asset to Syracuse. He may need to take a leave of absence from any official duties, but ultimately he deserves support and shouldn’t be treated as a pariah.

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