Reader problem: How can I give up alcohol when all my friends drink?

"Trying to stop drinking isn’t good enough. You have, simply, got to stop. End of, as they say."

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia,

I’ve decided, at 30, that I must try to stop drinking. I can drink moderately for a while, but every month or so I go on a binge and black out – and have often caused havoc while being completely unaware of what I’ve been doing. I’ve managed to stay dry so far this year, but I’ve been asked to a stag do next month and I am dreading it because I have a drinking reputation to keep up, and can’t think how I can prevent myself  being tempted to start again. All my friends like drink and are looking forward to it as an opportunity to get really out of it. Any ideas?

Yours sincerely, Colin

Virginia says

There are a number of ways you could get out of drinking. You could claim to be on antibiotics that mean you can’t drink. You could say that you’ve had a bet with someone that you’re not going to drink, and you want to get the money. You could claim that your doctor has told you: “One more drink and you’re dead”! You could simply be “ill” and not go. Or, of course, you could confide in each one of the stags and tell them that you really don’t want to drink, and would they help see that you don’t. They’ll never agree as a group, but they might agree individually, because sure as eggs is eggs, there are some guys on this stag weekend who feel exactly the same as you do and who are dying to be let off the drinking hook. This gang, presumably, isn’t made up of 18-year-olds. Some of them may even be married. Everyone’s getting older and more sober.

But one thing you simply mustn’t do is what you intend to do, which is to “try to stop drinking”. Trying to stop drinking isn’t good enough. You have, simply, got to stop. End of, as they say. 

Alcoholics Anonymous, as a couple of our readers have suggested, might suit you – and if you go along and find other people of your own age that you click with, you’ll find it a lot easier to swallow what is, I feel, a rather over-religious credo (even though, to be fair, AA denies being religious in any way). There is a lot of good sense in much of what they say and do and despite my reservations, personally I’ve been helped enormously by Al-Anon (which supports the familes and friends of alcoholics) in my time, which works on exactly AA principles.

Or you could read a book that I’ve found very helpful, Rational Recovery by Jack Trimpey, which basically puts you at war with alcohol, but outlines strategies whereby you can outwit the slimy beast when it wheedles its way into your consciousness.

Not drinking will make you clearer-headed and far less ashamed of yourself. You’ll be able to sleep easier at nights, you’ll save a fortune and you will be, and feel, far healthier and more energetic. You will be able to drive and breathe into the faces of every policeman you meet. Far from becoming boring, you will, after a few months, find yourself becoming twice as sharp and entertaining as you were when you were drinking.

Sorry if I sound evangelical, but as a non-drinker of five years, it’s difficult not to crow about the benefits. 

But the bottom line is: unless you’re absolutely certain that you’re not going to be tempted to drink, I really wouldn’t go. What’s another stag night anyway? And if you drink and black out, you’ll forget everything that happens during it anyway. What on earth is the point of that?

 

Readers say...

AA can help you

The answer is simple and straightforward. You should immediately call Alcoholics Anonymous, where you will get a sympathetic ear and some helpful advice (alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk).

You are to be congratulated, as you have overcome the first and most difficult thing in your “journey”, which is to admit that you need help. I was also a binge drinker and a “topper-upper” from age 18 to 67, and in all sorts of trouble, when I rang AA. I have not had a drop for 18 years. I enjoyed my 85th birthday last year and am as fit as a fiddle! Go on, Colin. You have nothing to lose.

Peter

by email

Stop before it gets worse

I started to binge drink at weekends when I was 16, with the occasional blackout. Over the following years, my drinking increased, the binges got closer together and the blackouts became more regular. I found this very confusing, as I never knew what was going to happen when I picked up a drink. I had some great times, but, increasingly, I would cause havoc and I was full of shame and remorse after these binges.

I would spend periods off the drink, or attempting to control how much I drank. However, I still wanted to go on a bender, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. At 30, I was in the same position as you appear to be, aware that I could not drink safely but unable to imagine life without it.

Unfortunately I continued and it got worse year after year. I lost jobs, family, friends and my self-respect. I hated what alcohol did to me but couldn’t live without it. Twelve year ago at age 38, out of sheer desperation, I went to my first AA meeting. That is the best decision I have made in my life. I have not needed nor wanted a drink since and my life has improved so much as a result. Today, I accept that I am one of those people who should never have drunk. If I take one drink, I will eventually get drunk and mayhem will follow. In my experience, if you have a problem with alcohol and you continue to drink, it will only get worse.

Do yourself a favour and try AA.

name and address witheld

Decline the invitation

What an awkward beast the male ego can be. Ask yourself why you must live up to your reputation as a drunken idiot. Has it occurred to you to decline the invitation, and “fess up” that you’re through with the health-destroying lunacy of overindulgence? You could invent some doctor’s advice that you quit now, or suggest that you could be in trouble with the law if you lose your sanity through alcohol again.

Sally

by email

What would you advise Edie to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

Next week's dilemma

When my husband died, his farm and the main house were left to our elder son – who has no interest in it. He lives in London, works in banking and only visits every three months. Our second son loves it, though, and is kept on as farm manager for a pittance. Recently, my elder son threw a huge party there for all his London friends, but didn’t ask his brother, even though he lives locally. It was really painful for him being excluded from the family home on this occasion. Should I write my elder son a letter and point out what damage his behaviour is doing to the family?

Yours sincerely,

Edie

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