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When To Mind Your Own Business
And when to intervene.
I have a friend who doesn’t drink much.
Like me, this man used to drink far too much alcohol. Like me, he realized that the alcohol was harming his life. Like me, he decided to make a change.
However, this is where our similarities end. I overcame my drinking problem by getting sober—removing alcohol, and all other recreational drugs, from my life.
My friend, on the other hand, simply cut way back on how much he drank.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter or my blog for long, you already know that I’m not a big fan of “cutting back” on drinking. I spent years futilely attempting to reduce the amount I drank without giving up alcohol altogether. It never worked.
For alcoholics like myself, “cutting back” just isn’t possible. No matter how hard I tried to limit my drinking, I couldn’t stick with it.
I’d set rules for myself like “only drinking on the weekends” or “only drinking with friends,” but I’d break the rules within a few days or weeks.
As soon as I let myself have even one drink, my self-control would go right out the window. No matter what kind of guidelines I thought I could follow, my addiction always turned out to be too strong.
After so many years of trying, and failing, to cut back on drinking, I finally reached the realization that the only way I could drink less was to stop drinking altogether. For me—and many others like me—the only real choice is between full-blown, active alcoholism and total sobriety.
I’m OK with this fact—happy even. Although it was incredibly hard for me to quit drinking, sobriety has improved my life immensely. I’m happy that I quit drinking altogether, and only wish I had done it sooner.
So, how should I react when I see my friend have a drink? Should I trust that he really can cut back, or should I intervene and recommend total sobriety?
This isn’t a hypothetical question or a made-up friend. This is a real person, and it’s a real question that I recently struggled with. I chose to mind my business, but there’s a part of me that’s still not sure whether I’ve made the right decision.
Since getting sober, I’ve met tons of other people who have quit drinking. Most of them have done it the same way as me: They chose total abstinence from alcohol and other recreational drugs.
However, I’ve also met people who have quit drinking and kept smoking pot, or who, like my friend, have simply “cut back” on how much they drank.
Although I know that “cutting back” didn’t work for me, I have to admit that I’ve met some people who were able to make this strategy last long-term. I don’t know whether that means that their addiction was different than mine, or they never had an addiction in the first place, or if their addiction was just as bad but they somehow managed to make “cutting back” work.
It would be easy for me to judge them and assume that they’re going to end up going back to drinking every day, but the truth is that I think some of them are probably fine. Just because the strategy didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it can’t work for anyone.
When it comes to my friend, I decided not to say anything because, as far as I can tell, he’s doing great.
He drinks so little that I didn’t realize he drank at all until I already knew him fairly well. He’ll have a few drinks every half year or so, and a few sips of other people’s drinks when going out, but that seems to be it.
Again, I’ll admit that it’s tricky for me to know how to react to this. It all looks fine, but I could also imagine that he’s hiding far more drinking and that I’m only seeing bits and pieces of it.
However, until he gives me a reason to believe that, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
I had a similar situation a few years ago with a sober friend who decided to go back to smoking pot. In that case, I did speak up. I worried that he was throwing away his progress. However, after another few years, that friend still isn’t drinking.
In both cases, it was hard to know what was right for me to do.
I know for sure that if I took a few sips from a friend’s beer, I’d be putting my long-term sobriety at serious risk, even if those sips didn’t get me drunk. I also know that if I started smoking pot, it wouldn’t be long before I went back to drinking too.
When I see my friends engage in these behaviors, my first instinct is to intervene, but I also know that we’re not all alike.
As far as I can tell, my friends are both doing just fine. They have tackled their drinking problems very differently from how I overcame mine, but in the end, we are all happy and living fulfilling lives.
If I see signs that they are struggling, I will happily offer my support, but for now, I’m choosing to live and let live.
The world has a wide variety of people, and even for something like addiction, there are many ways we experience it.
I know that quitting alcohol entirely was the right option for me. I know that avoiding pot and other recreational drugs is the right option for me.
But, I truly don’t know whether it’s the right option for anyone else.
If there was one, perfect way to overcome addiction, we wouldn’t have such a crisis in the first place.
My last thought on this matter, and perhaps the most important, is that no matter what seems to work for my friends, I need to always remember what works for me. Just because I see someone who has “cut back” doesn’t mean that I can “cut back.” I tried that, and I failed. For me, total sobriety is the only way to avoid going back to drinking every day. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, and I have no need to learn it again.
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