Stop Telling People They “Don’t Need to Stop Drinking”
Two months into my sobriety, I started talking about my experiences with a good friend. In what was honestly the most altruistic and well-meaning fashion, he said “but Andee, you didn’t really need to stop drinking.”
By the time this conversation took place, I had already learned that alcohol dependency has less to do with genetics and more to do with habitual use over time. I’d read many books, countless articles on Medium, and many posts on Reddit. I knew that my not “needing to” was inaccurate.
Cut to the present day, my friend is also sober. He didn’t “need to” stop drinking either. He was a lot like me; in fact, we were colleagues.
Every morning, we would both be extremely early to work. We were two of the best employees at our job. We were well-liked, had a lot of friends there, worked hard, and were extremely dependable. We worked well under pressure and we made a lot of money.
Outside of work, we both had active social lives and passionate hobbies. Nobody we knew would ever look at the two of us and say “those people need to stop drinking.”
Despite not “needing to” quit drinking, both of us did. I can’t speak for my friend’s relationship with alcohol, but I know that mine was at a level where it definitely was not serving me any longer.
I wasn’t regularly drinking in the morning. (But I was sometimes. Brunch is a thing in New York City.) I wasn’t outwardly terrible with money. My friendships were good. My colleagues respected me. I was responsible, welcome everywhere I went, and was a great tipper.
Yes, I engaged in stupid, drunken behavior from time to time, but for the most part, people probably would just describe me as a great time.
I got to a point with alcohol where I wanted to stop feeling like shit and stop delaying my ultimate goals. I was an avid runner, but I did miss runs because of alcohol. I even wrote “drinking nights” into my running schedule.
I had constant indigestion. I hated the headaches and irritability that came after a night of drinking. I hated waking up in a panicked, cold sweat, feverishly going through my phone to see what inappropriate text I sent to what person.
And yes, I had a job and made great money, but I didn’t have the job I wanted, and the hours I could spend in the uncomfortable place of looking for the job I wanted, I spent blissfully inebriated.
I never drank at home. In public, my drinking was in practice. I had tolerance, which, if you’ve taken Responsible Alcohol Service classes, you know doesn’t mean that you process alcohol better or faster. It simply means that you have a higher skill of handling yourself under the influence of the substance due to the frequency of use.
Alcohol is a highly addictive substance.
The difference between me and the person drinking at 10:00 a.m. out of a paper bag wasn’t biology- it was frequency. Every person’s journey with alcohol begins in the same place, and while genetics do lend a hand in deciding who becomes an addict, the frequency in which you use it dictates the rate you move toward alcoholism.
It isn’t about who becomes an addict; it’s about when they become an addict. There is all sorts of science and brain chemistry involved in this that I simply don’t have the time to write about here. Take me at my word, or read the following:
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
- Alcohol Lied to Me by Craig Beck
- Alcohol Explained by William Porter
Nobody starts with the paper bag.
The “need to” phrase really gets to me, and it’s something we “need to” stop inserting when it comes to who should be sober and who shouldn’t be. Sobriety is gold. Everything in your life will improve in sobriety. Alcohol is a poison that nobody should ever consume. That’s not an opinion.
What irritates me is the person who adamantly defends their position that they don’t “need to” stop drinking; the person who does bouts of sobriety while constantly reminding people that they don’t have a problem.
I know this person, and I have been this person.
All this person effectively does is shame others into thinking that their use is something that they need to either categorize as “OK” or “out of control.”
That isn’t how alcohol works. Someone might be early to work every day, run 40 miles a week, be the beacon of positivity in their circle of friends, and struggle with their relationship with alcohol.
You might struggle with something as simple as “I need to have a glass of wine every night,” but that, my friend, is the same addiction that the person with the paper bag has. The difference is, yours hasn’t gotten that far yet. And, good news, it probably will never get that far! But why is it so shameful? One glass a wine a night, after ten years, might be two glasses. After 15 years, it might be a bottle a night. This is how alcoholism works. It can be tricky, and slow. It’s fine until it isn’t.
Why are we shaming the people who want to stop when they’re at “one glass a night?”
Why don’t they need to stop?
When somebody says to me “you didn’t need to stop drinking,” my reply is always “yes I did, and my life is better without alcohol.”
I needed to stop because everyone benefits from giving up alcohol. It’s the biggest win! Why wouldn’t I need to stop putting poison into my body?
I know full well that that person might get an image in their head of me, dirty, sitting on the street drinking out of a paper bag when I say I “needed to stop drinking,” but I continue to say it because they might be the person who is still at one glass a night, who might one day be in a place where they have lost their control.
I don’t want anyone who speaks to me to feel that it’s shameful to stop drinking. I want them to know that it’s the best decision they’re ever going to make!
I’m not too proud for sobriety, and while nothing I said here is that terribly unique, what I’ve learned is, the more voices that say it, the faster we’re going to normalize stopping drinking at any time, at any stage, for any reason.
I want to live in a world where there are a lot less “rock bottoms.” In fact, that might be the next phrase I write an article complaining about.