Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Why I Feel OK About Falling Off The Wagon After Years Of Sobriety
January 3, 2014 6:35 AM   Subscribe

My elevator pitch for ending sobriety had been “moderate social drinking without ever blacking out again.”
posted by Kitteh (217 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very thoughtful and well-written piece. Not sure I'd agree he's making the right choice in the end, but he doesn't seem done thinking about it, so I have hope for him.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:38 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


No offense, but I think Buzzfeed was irresponsible in publishing this. It seems to me that the author is an alcoholic who is having limited success in self-treating.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:42 AM on January 3 [17 favorites]


Heartbreakingly naive, indeed. I'm not convinced that permanent sobriety is the right solution for everybody, but if you're already getting blackout drunk, and routinely having 12+ drinks a week, less than a year after you start drinking again? Come on, guy.
posted by teh_boy at 6:58 AM on January 3 [24 favorites]


It seems to me that the author is an alcoholic who is having limited success in self-treating.

Maybe yes, maybe no, but I do appreciate the effort to deconstruct the on/off yes/no switch that many people consider alcoholism to be and/or require to recover from. I think sometimes, for some people, it is a slipperier slope, and I definitely think there are some people who have addictive personalities or have struggled with addiction who could learn moderation without going totally cold turkey for the rest of their lives.

I can think of a number of addictions off the top of my head (food) that even require such an approach -- not sure the effort to find one with alcohol is necessarily misguided. This article reads to me like this guy is doing okay at it, if not perfectly.
posted by likeatoaster at 6:58 AM on January 3 [20 favorites]


My personal definition of an alcoholic was always “someone who drinks in the mornings and/or alone,”

Ha. According to that I am an alcoholic. And yet... I drink maybe 3 beers a week on average.
posted by edgeways at 7:00 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


As someone who has been sober 25 years, "if you can do the right about face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to you."
posted by shothotbot at 7:04 AM on January 3 [28 favorites]


can think of a number of addictions off the top of my head (food) that even require such an approach

The problem with treating food as an addictive substance is that if you stop eating it, you die. Unlike booze or drugs.

I have no opinion on this guy's approach, since it's not a struggle I've had to deal with. I hope he manages to stay in control, regardless.
posted by emjaybee at 7:04 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


His "personal definition" is very common. It's also dead wrong. Plenty of alcoholics never do either of those things. It is much more useful to consider the effect alcohol has on the drinker: if it induces a craving for more alcohol, so that drinking continues until it's physically impossible to drink any more, it's time to quit.
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


A lot of this piece rang true for me, particularly the part about rationalizing to yourself that you have no drinking problem if you limit your drinking to mostly weekends, don't drink alone, etc. I look back at certain periods of my life where it was so important to me that I be the life of any party I attended, have the most fun of anyone when a group of friends and I would go out to the bars, which always translated into being the drunkest person there. I count my lucky stars that there are no DUI's under my belt or worse.

I have to agree that this piece does read like a long-form ode to denial. "I have managed to successfully moderate my drinking...EXCEPT for this time, that time, this other time...".
posted by The Gooch at 7:11 AM on January 3 [17 favorites]


I can think of a number of addictions off the top of my head (food) that even require such an approach -- not sure the effort to find one with alcohol is necessarily misguided. This article reads to me like this guy is doing okay at it, if not perfectly.

Except that he's not even doing okay at it. If a pack a day smoker had told you that they quit smoking for a few years, then started having a cigarette after meal times and within a year were back up to a half pack a day, would you think they were doing a good job? This article is a mess of rationalizations to cover up the fact that shortly after quitting sobriety he started drinking heavily again, at rates that will permanently sacrifice his long term health. The author would like to think that this is all part of the experience of learning how to just have a cigarette after mealtimes, but he hasn't produced any evidence yet that his course towards heavier drug use is reversible short of another stint of sobriety.
posted by teh_boy at 7:12 AM on January 3 [25 favorites]


I quit drinking because 95% of the time it was just fine and a great time was had by all, but then... there were those increasingly-less-rare blackout times. And I didn't get to choose which times those were. His description of that alternate life struck me as pretty true to how I felt about it.

Which is why this article is a little terrifying to me, as I feel like it goes completely off the rails into alternate universe territory where he lives my actual nightmares and returns to being unable to control his drinking, but decides to keep living that life anyway.

Anyway, I hope he finds happiness.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:14 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


By letting him publish this, can Buzzfeed use this as part of his HR intervention/termination when this does not go the way he anticipates it to?

Alcoholism is a clever disease. There's a part where every alcoholic thinks they're cured and they're wiser and they've got it under control - they've cleverly figured out how to drink and be the life of the party, be in control and well... then they aren't. And that part where magically they aren't in control again may be days or years before they wind up diagnosed with stage 4 cirrhosis, and maybe twenty years before they are into depcompensated cirrhosis and the meds stop working. That may be one year or five years before they kick the bucket. In those time they have plenty of time to be clever, lose their teeth, fall down, hide more alcohol, lose their job or their business, become frequent flyers at the hospital. All this may take thirty or forty or even fifty years. In that time they can cleverly alienate their spouse, cleverly alienate their family, and otherwise cleverly feel that they have their disease under control - because - hey - they are clever... Aren't they?
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:18 AM on January 3 [22 favorites]


For a thoughtful and evenhanded critique of this article check out the XOjane editor Emily Mccombs twitter feed from last night.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:19 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


People ask me if I consider myself to be an alcoholic. I don't know if I am. And I don't really care if I am. I never drank in the morning or all day long. I never drank every day. But what I did do was drink a lot every time I drank. I drank too much every time I drank.

I stopped drinking over 19 years ago. I stopped because I was drinking way too much every time I drank and bad things were happening. Since I stopped drinking, those bad things stopped happening. Am I an alcoholic? I don't care. I just know I am better off not drinking. Will I ever drink again? I have no idea. I have no plans to do so in the immediate future. Would it be nice to drink moderately on occasion? I am sure it would be, but I don't know that there is a strong likelihood that is how things would be.

I think people sometimes get a little too hung up on whether they are alcoholics, or what that even means. I do considerably better without alcohol. That is all I need to know.

As an aside, I always thought that the whole notion that drinking alone meant you were an alcoholic was idiotic. Why? If alcohol is pleasant or relaxing, why can't it be pleasant or relaxing when you are alone? If alcohol is only to be consumed with other people, doesn't that give it some sort of weird co-dependent nature? Isn't it really more of a problem if you can only drink when you are not alone? If you are not able to act comfortably in a group setting without alcohol, don't you really have a problem then? Whatever. I just don't think they number of people around you when you do drink has any bearing as to whether you have a problem drinking.
posted by flarbuse at 7:23 AM on January 3 [78 favorites]


Here's the main issue with this piece: he quit drinking because he blacked out 3-4 times one year. Then he started drinking again and blacked out twice. I've been drinking for 15 years, sometimes a lot a lot. I've never blacked out (knock on wood). If I did I would definitely consider going to AA and stopping. Blackouts to me are a sure fire sign of a physical inability to handle drinking responsibly.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:24 AM on January 3 [19 favorites]


I briefly had a drinking problem, which had to do with my anxiety not being adequately treated and using whatever was to hand to deal with a bunch of panic attacks in a short span of time. I quit drinking alcohol entirely for a few months after that to get my head on straight, and then went back to drinking in moderation. The thing was, I was never an alcoholic, I was a person who was self-medicating an anxiety disorder that I was able to get in control.

And that's the thing. I can drink to excess one or two nights a year and that's it, always with plans that involve not driving home intoxicated, and I've never been to "blackout". I can and usually do stop at one drink. I often stop at more like a half because for some reason I love this hard cider stuff but I never finish a whole bottle. If you are not the sort of person who can stop once you start, you need to not start, no matter what it is you're doing. I generally can't internet before work because I will get sidetracked and be late. I can't just go on to check my email, it doesn't work that way, I have to not do it. Some people have to not drink. And if you're one of those people and your friends can't structure social occasions such that you feel you can fully participate without drinking, you need new friends.
posted by Sequence at 7:25 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


It starts off as a well-written self examination, but finishes as a thin rationalization for returning to alcoholism.

Totally unrelated, but I feel like I'm seeing the word "soupcon" appear in every third article I read. Is this just me?
posted by justkevin at 7:26 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


To me, a major realization was that the positive aspects of alcohol were lost to me, long before I actually stopped drinking. It's brought me some peace of mind. Sure, I have to tell dates I don't drink, but that's better than pissing in their bed or puking on their cat.
posted by thelonius at 7:30 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


The parade of red flags this article flew for me when I read it yesterday was so stark I was half convinced the writer was self-satirizing his way to an inevitable "and that's how I figured out that, nope, I can't handle booze" conclusion until I got to the end and realized that, no, he was in fact earnestly deluding himself into painting what certainly reads to me like the view from about a third the way or so along a steady descent into his past, explicitly unsustainable drinking behavior.

After a protracted sobriety with effects that can only be called unqualified success - basically his objections to not drinking are that he doesn't like being sober around people who aren't - what follows is an unbroken chain of compromises undermining his promised self-control, negotiated not by intention and consideration but by just accepting and assimilating failure. Can't stick to your drink limit? Clearly a hard limit isn't the answer. Blacking out is your can't-cross-it hard line? Definitely, until you cross it, then it's just a little "trial and error".

Here's a real bottom line: when you're a consistent blackout drunk, the only thing keeping "terrible" things from happening (as opposed to the merely "bad" like permanently destroying relationships) is luck. Blacking out is the definition of surrendering control to alcohol and this unfortunate fellow is a self-deluded fool.
posted by nanojath at 7:34 AM on January 3 [15 favorites]


I have to agree that this piece does read like a long-form ode to denial. "I have managed to successfully moderate my drinking...EXCEPT for this time, that time, this other time...".

I think the author is well aware of this.
posted by downing street memo at 7:35 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


As an aside, I always thought that the whole notion that drinking alone meant you were an alcoholic was idiotic. Why? If alcohol is pleasant or relaxing, why can't it be pleasant or relaxing when you are alone?

I've always been confused about this, myself. Drinking alone because you are hiding your substance abuse from other people is surely a sign that you have a problem. But I'm not sure how the "alone" qualifier falls in the same category as the "morning" in "needing a drink first thing in the morning."

I mean I don't think anyone would call a person who has a beer or a cocktail or a glass of wine by themselves after work an alcoholic, so when the drinking falls into substance abuse territory because of the amount or sustained periods drinking or whatever, why is only then that the solitariness of the drinking considered as much a problem as the drinking itself? I'm not asking that incredulously, even, I just have no idea what the rationale is.
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


This made me really sad and uncomfortable to read.
posted by yarly at 7:48 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


When people are in any particular 'comfort zone', whatever that zone is, leaving it carries with it a huge psychic/emotional effort in getting past the emotional and mental factors which want to stay in that Comfort Zone.

And it ain't called a Comfort Zone for nothing. People get VIOLENT when you give them ways out of that zone, when they're not ready to leave.

It cuts across many if not all maladaptive behaviours. There's a subset that's capable of changing. Figuring out a way to identify and help THEM would make so many people happier, I can't express myself...
posted by mikelieman at 7:49 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


My god that guy is kidding himself. And I wish I didn't know that.
posted by glasseyes at 7:51 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


If his body isn't breaking up and he's not doing mean stuff to people, what's the problem here? Most people of his age are out of their minds on all sorts of substances.
posted by colie at 7:51 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


That is/was sad as hell.

Not drinking at parties can make you feel like you're not even there...

I feel for you, guy, but that is about the saddest sentence ever. Parties aren't 'for' drinking they're for 'hanging out'. And hanging out is not, at all, just drinking.

I wish the guy luck and all but damn is his attitude something he should seriously consider while he does not drink.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:52 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


(I forgot to give the h/t to Potomac Avenue as he tweeted about this article last night and I just couldn't get it out of my mind. Sorry, PA, you deserve props!)
posted by Kitteh at 7:57 AM on January 3


This hurt to read. I'm a recovering alcoholic.

All I can say is that put me right back to the years when I was the author's age-- late 20's-- and I desperately clung to the idea that somehow, someway I could have a healthy relationship with intoxicants.

God. The suffering. I just hope the author can somehow avoid some/most of it all, and be well.

But reading this was like reliving a personal nightmare. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
posted by mrdaneri at 7:57 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I wonder if he has considered AA. Or therapy. Or any other kind of attempt to get help other than white-knuckling through it on his own. Because as long as he's on his own, he's right - the not-drinking part is going to be like a band-aid over a bullet wound. But that doesn't mean the solution is to keep drinking. The solution is to enmesh sobriety in a larger program of getting well.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:58 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


"It wasn’t just with alcohol, though, but with everything. I have a compulsive personality. I am an apex predator of More. Be it alcohol, food, sex, or unread tweets — my life revolves around itches not scratched."

It's all the same thing, dude. The hole inside of you that can never be filled. You put the lid on one outlet, and the addiction will pop out another, be it shopping, eating, sex, drugs, petty theft, etc. etc.

If bad things happen when you drink, and you keep drinking, you have a problem with alcohol. End of story.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:00 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I've seen what end-stage alcoholism looks like and, you know, maybe this guy will be fine, but if I could, I would sit him down and explain to him what it was like seeing someone completely disintegrate in every way over the course of many years before the disease managed to kill him. What it was like sitting there holding someone's hand and watching him take his last breath, and how his utter ruin had made that last breath an absolute relief even for the people who loved him most. Even for himself. I would just plain not fucking risk that for the sake of being able to have a cocktail at brunch. I can't imagine anything more horrible than what very well might be in store for this guy.

And you know, my heart just sank when I got to him talking about having a girlfriend. Because when I read things like this, that's the first thing I always think of: What an awful experience he's in the process of creating for everyone who loves him. Even if he's able to "manage" this, the stress level it creates in a girlfriend or wife or mother or sister... it is just so unfair to those sorts of people to live your life on the knife-edge of "maybe I'm not an alcoholic." But I know, he can do whatever he wants. Go forth and drink! I'm sure it will be awesome.
posted by something something at 8:00 AM on January 3 [25 favorites]


My god that guy is kidding himself. And I wish I didn't know that.

What gave it away? Him calling the year "an unqualified success" after listing how he systematically broke every rule he laid out for himself?

Yeah...
posted by entropone at 8:01 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


I have no troubles with alcohol, but have watched a few very close friends go through misery and recovery and this tale seems so blindly, tragically obvious. I would bet you a million dollars this guy hits a new bottom soon. A billion. A zillion.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:01 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I once heard someone say that "it took them a long time to get sober because all the people in the bar said AA didn't work." Sounds like that's what's happening here.
posted by Xurando at 8:02 AM on January 3 [13 favorites]


Most people of his age are out of their minds on all sorts of substances.

They... are?
posted by edgeways at 8:05 AM on January 3 [19 favorites]


I actually couldn't bear to read all of it, so skipped past most of the 'recovery' bits to get to what he decided at the end. Chilling and scary, because if you've ever been close to any of it you know what he's in for now. And everybody who cares for him.
posted by glasseyes at 8:06 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


There's a huge difference between "there may be people who can drink in moderation after drinking to excess in a way that caused them trouble" and "this particular guy made a remotely compelling argument that he is one of those people."

Normally, I don't think people have to explain those kinds of decisions in public, but since he chose to, it does sort of invite people to have an opinion about whether he's dealing with this in a way that's likely to end well. Which it certainly seems like he isn't. I mostly just feel overwhelmingly sad for him, because you don't have to believe total abstinence or twelve-step stuff is the only possible thing that can work for anyone to listen to this story and feel like something bad is going to happen. Blackout drunk twice in the first year? Slide from three or four maximum to four always? Girlfriend who just happens to think that's all hilarious? And he still believes it's going great? Ay yi yi. I hope for something good, but fear for something very bad.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:06 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


"Heartbreakingly naive, indeed. I'm not convinced that permanent sobriety is the right solution for everybody, but if you're already getting blackout drunk, and routinely having 12+ drinks a week, less than a year after you start drinking again? Come on, guy."

12 drinks a week is a glass of wine with dinner and a beer an hour (or two) while you're watching football on Sunday.

. . .

I find most definitions of alcoholism based on number of drinks per time period or days between time period to be frustrating. For starters, they're lazy short-hand. Consider that an 8 oz. can of Bud Light is 4.2% alcohol; 0.336 oz. of the stuff. Meanwhile the standard overproof Manhattan you'll get from any good cocktail bar is 38.7% alcohol (not accounting for dilution); 1.16 oz. They both count as "a drink" in this context even though the cocktail has three times the alcohol content.

Back in college I went to see a doctor about allergies and he genuinely questioned me over my "binge drinking problem" when I told him I only drank on the weekends, and that week I'd had 5 drinks that week - all in one day. He didn't seem to trouble himself with the context, or the timing, or what the drinks were, or how often I did it, or whether or not I drove. It was a bachelor party; 5 beers over as many hours, and I didn't drive. Here I was, someone who rarely drank at all, who barely even got buzzed at a friend's bachelor party, at a doctor for a completely unrelated issue, being grilled about a drinking problem. I was incredulous!

To my mind, whatever your definition of a drinking problem is, if taking an honest look at the negative impact that drinking has in your life isn't the paramount concern, it needs revision. And X drinks per week is a woefully inadequate measuring stick for that problem. Incidents of blackouts, hangovers, drinking-related stupidity, and angry spouses are a better starting point.

I guess I sympathize with the author. The "drinking problem" narrative seems dominated by teetotalers and fueled by nightmare stories of obsessive drinkers afflicted with a pathological need to be addicted to something. The recovering provide fodder for the slippery slope arguments and replace a reasoned response with prohibition, absolutism, and surrogate addiction. Meanwhile there's a whole ocean of people who don't have the dependence issues or functional problems being told they're drinking too much anyway. I just wish the conversation about drinking allowed for shades of gray, and think the author might have a greater chance for success if less extreme support options existed. I do hope his method works out for him, but I agree with just about everyone else here that it sounds like he's in denial.
posted by Vox Nihili at 8:07 AM on January 3 [45 favorites]


12 drinks a week is a glass of wine with dinner and a beer an hour (or two) while you're watching football on Sunday.

That's still a lot of alcohol.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:08 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


This is a really sad article, but it feels somehow...inauthentic? Like, he's writing this knowing full-well the furor that it will cause and how often it will be passed around with shaking heads and such, so in three months' time, he can write the scheduled uplifting coda to this, having learned his lesson about his addiction and he is now a better sober person for it.

Actually, I kind of hope that's what this is, because to be this delusional on such a big platform is going to be another huge crash to add to his list.
posted by xingcat at 8:08 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


12 drinks a week - less than two glasses of wine each day with your dinner - will probably do you more good than harm.
posted by colie at 8:09 AM on January 3 [15 favorites]


The point is not good/harm. The point is when you physically cannot take a night or afternoon off from the one drink.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:10 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The basis of every sermon about how AA is the only answer is that everyone who has a problem with alcohol has the exact same problem in the exact same way. I just have not seen anything that convinces me of this.

Society has become a lot more conservative about alcohol over the last 30 years, and it shows. The definition of "alcoholic" and/or "binge drinking" seems designed to include practically anyone in their 20s. (See above: one poster seems appalled at 1.7 drinks a day, and one person says they would go to AA if the blacked out once.)

I've known people who have wanted help controlling their impluses, but were unwilling to go through the process of AA because they considered it humiliating, and eventually decided they didn't have a problem because they were only getting that message from prudes.
posted by spaltavian at 8:10 AM on January 3 [12 favorites]


There was a point in my life where I realized I was drinking to deal with certain social situations. That's when I decided to remove myself from those situations. I'd imagine it's a bit more complicated when those situations are tied to your employment.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 8:11 AM on January 3


12 drinks a week is a glass of wine with dinner and a beer an hour (or two) while you're watching football on Sunday.

That's still a lot of alcohol.


If we're just insisting our individual perspectives are right; then, no, it isn't.
posted by spaltavian at 8:12 AM on January 3 [47 favorites]


To my mind, whatever your definition of a drinking problem is, if taking an honest look at the negative impact that drinking has in your life isn't the paramount concern, it needs revision.

The feeling of doom I and others here got reading the article is strangely similar to feeling of threat and worry people around a problem drinker feel whenever that person drinks. Mostly the awful thing doesn't happen. Every so often it does. "You want to relax and have a drink? Well I wish I could do that when you're drinking."
posted by glasseyes at 8:12 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


spaltavian, I think it's offensive to call people prudes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:13 AM on January 3


I didn't call anyone in this conversation prudes, so unless you object to the notional existence of prudes, I don't understand your comment.

Then again, I'm going to have a couple beers tonight, so I'm out of control.
posted by spaltavian at 8:15 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


[You guys maybe want to just move to your respective corners on this?]
posted by cortex at 8:17 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Spaltavian has a good point, we've definitely become more conservative about alcohol and many other things over the past 30 years. Allow your 17-year-old child one drink at home before the prom? You're an evil, horrible person. People used to get married at 13.
posted by Melismata at 8:18 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I think the move towards being conservative about alcohol is a really good thing. Less dead kids.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:19 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


The point is not good/harm. The point is when you physically cannot take a night or afternoon off from the one drink.

If you can't abstain from a single 4.6% ABV beer daily, that's not a substance abuse problem. There's no substance being abused. It's some sort of problem, sure, but it has nothing to do with alcohol.
posted by griphus at 8:19 AM on January 3 [17 favorites]


We could really conservative about alcohol and prohibit it.
posted by colie at 8:23 AM on January 3


Allow your 17-year-old child one drink at home before the prom? You're an evil, horrible person.

Yeah, I totally agree with this. Modeling responsible drinking is so much more important than enforcing abstinence. Kids are going to drink, just as much as they're going to fuck, and unless they're supervised 24/7, no one is going to stop them. Why is telling them "be careful and safe" about the fucking any less immoral and irresponsible than the drinking?

Sending 18-year-olds off to college without having had a drink in their life and without having had a lesson in drinking outside of "it's bad and will kill you until you turn 21 at which point you have to be responsible but we're not going to tell you how to be responsible because you're 18 and it would be wrong to explain that to you" is what's killing them.
posted by griphus at 8:23 AM on January 3 [55 favorites]


I think we would have even less dead kids if our society was dramatically more liberal about alcohol; where people actually learn to be more responsible with drinking in their teens. There are real, functioning places were it's okay for a 16 or 17 year old to have a glass of wine with dinner every once in a while. Most Western countries are less uptight about this and have fewer problems.

Perhaps making booze not be a right of passage passed down from some obnoxious guy 3 years older is a strategy we could try.
posted by spaltavian at 8:23 AM on January 3 [21 favorites]


we've definitely become more conservative about alcohol and many other things over the past 30 years

But that's why this story is so problematic, I think. This story of a guy who pretty clearly cannot control his drinking (a conclusion that follows from his own description of setting rules and breaking them all) is a horrible proxy for a larger conversation about whether we've become too conservative about alcohol, just like it's a horrible proxy for a conversation about whether moderation is possible or what the definition of alcoholism is. If you want to argue that we're overly strict about what constitutes alcoholism or how necessary abstinence is (both reasonable things to argue, I think), this is not the guy you want to hang your argument on, I don't think.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:27 AM on January 3 [32 favorites]


This man is in denial about his problem with alcohol. The sloppiness of the 3-4 drinks max rule onwards just made me cringe.
posted by arcticseal at 8:28 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Everything would be just fine if alcohol was legal and we admitted that the War on Alcohol was a failure!!

Oh, wait...
posted by Melismata at 8:29 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, you know it's possible to both think that in general 12 or more drinks a week (or whatever) is not a problem and also think that in this particular case, with this guy, the alcohol intake is a problem.
posted by gaspode at 8:30 AM on January 3 [24 favorites]


There was an interesting op-ed in the NYT the other day describing other approaches to problem drinking aside from total abstinence. My guess is that having more treatment options can only be good because not everyone needs the same thing, but reading the FPP I'd definitely agree that his choices don't sound like they are working well for him.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:30 AM on January 3


I don't think America has a problem with an individual drinking, I think American recognize individually that they are all small special flowers that can do what they please and the rules need not apply to them. These special snowflake rules may even apply to their friends or family. America though, has a problem with you drinking, because when you drink the rules you are unaware of how drunk you are, that you can't drive well enough, that you are endangering the children, that you might get violent, that ... well... that you might have a problem.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:36 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


This is perfect for buzzfeed: clickbate clichés that people will read and link because it's so provocatively wrong. I just hope the author is in on it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:37 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Not being able to drink is not a punishment -- being able to live life sober is the reward. I'm sorry he missed that point. My first thought was he's not an alcoholic, because he decided he was drinking too much, and just upped and quit, which a real alcoholic can't do. But it turns out he spent the whole time counting the days until he'd drink again, resenting those who could drink, and wishing he was one of them. Then it was back to the races, an now he's being a delusional idiot about the outcome. Sooner or later, he could get into a car while in a blackout, and "so far so good" will end pretty abruptly.

I did that same thing, except the delusion was pretty quickly stripped away. I quit cold turkey on October 31st 1997, after an epiphany, at the end of one of my worst drunks. Then I spent 2 months not drinking, feeling great, life is wonderful! The whole time, there was a Sam Smith's Taddy Porter in my refrigerator that I was keeping for the day when it was ok to drink again. It was a "reward," siting there waiting until I "deserved" it. On or about January 14th 1998, I very intentionally got that one beer out of the fridge, ceremonially opened the top, poured it into a tall beer glass & went straight down to the bottom of the whole thing again. I sat there staring at that empty bottle, the entire fiber of my existence wanting nothing more than another beer. And another. And another. That was when I picked up the phone, because I did not want to be that person any more and I knew I couldn't do it alone.

I am so happy that booze is no longer my escape or my reward. Living life inside my own head without having to alter the way I feel with alcohol in order to tolerate it is the reward.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:43 AM on January 3 [63 favorites]


I agree that there is an issue in that every possible kind of drinking problem gets assimilated to the narrative of the full-blown, lost, life-long drunk, because a lot of people aren't like that, but could benefit from kind of renovating their relationship to alcohol. It also gives less-serious or "functioning" alcoholics (like I was*) a nice excuse: I'm not as bad as THAT guy, he's got the alcoholism. But borderline stuff, a third glass of wine you shouldn't have had, is not what the article describes. Blackouts as a lifestyle is kind of an indicator....

*Who can drink a 750ml bottle of whiskey and not even get sick from it? Not "normal drinkers". But I could still pick and choose when that happened.
posted by thelonius at 8:45 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


That is, as long as it was at least twice a week.I could pick which days. Ooops, now it's three times a week. And that's when I got out.
posted by thelonius at 8:47 AM on January 3


I think once you've identified that you have no self control with a particular thing (whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, meth, porn or what have you), your only real option is to not do/use that thing. The receptors are already wired, and we don't have the technology yet to rewire them. People are endlessly able to rationalize doing what they want to do, but I've not seen, heard of or even read about someone breaking a habit that was destructive to them, then taking up the habit with moderation.

I have seen, heard of and read about a lot of people crashing and burning trying, though. I sincerely hope I'm proven wrong this time, but I don't expect to be.

Poor guy.
posted by Mooski at 8:48 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


sometimes people come out of their drinking problems with time and sometimes they don't - i was never a blackout drunk - no, it was my misfortune to remember EVERYTHING - but my relationship with alcohol was pretty rocky in the 20s - i'd go too far and regret it grieviously several times a year

the last time was new year's eve, sometime in the 80s - true, the meth didn't help and i still suspect that the tuna fish sandwich i bought at the convenience store was tainted, but there was still the fact that i'd drank way too much and was lying on the couch watching football feeling utterly lifeless, telling a friend on the phone that i was never, ever going to do that again - the amount of alcohol, the meth, and yes convenience store tuna sandwiches

that was, for me, a solvable problem, and i've managed to keep my resolution not to have any more horrid experiences with alcohol

(of course, this new year's, i had a pint of beer and woke up with the worst goddamn case of the flu i've had for years - i've missed two days of work because i simply can't hack it - but at least it wasn't self-inflicted)

so, i don't know what it's going to take for this guy - maybe one day, like me, he'll be laying on his couch and wondering, "why the fuck am i doing this to myself? - this isn't fun, this isn't worth it and i should stop" and learn to control his drinking like i did

or maybe he's just plain headed for disaster and it's going to take a lot more than one day of realization on a sick couch

i think he's headed for disaster - the significant part of this article is that it all revolves around alcohol - he's obsessed with it, even when he's not drinking it

not a good sign - if he has to think that much over whether alcohol is a problem for him then it IS one
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


See, I've seen a number of moderate to heavy drinkers, myself included, gradually draw down the number of drinks consumed over time due to life changes. I recently had a wicked infection and discovered that the warning on the antibiotics that says "Don't Take with Alcohol" wasn't kidding around. Those first few days happened to coincide with some parties and it was more difficult to be sober than I felt it should be. But after a few days of skipping my evening beer, and having water or soda when I went out with friends, I stopped noticing the lack of booze.

It's been a few months since then, and I have a drink every now and again, but nothing like before. Mainly, it's because I got out of the habit of daily beers. Heck, we went to a football game shortly after I got the go ahead to drink again and I only had two beers. Not because I didn't like how the beer made me feel, or I felt I shouldn't drink my normal 5-6 beers during the game, but because I got absorbed in the game and never got around to drinking.

A lot of people manage to cut back on their drinking because they have kids, or a job that makes them get up early, or medications that interact with alcohol, and none of the folks that I know who've done this ever seem to really struggle with it past that first few weeks.

To me, that means that those people don't really have an issue with alcohol. This guy...he's not them.
posted by teleri025 at 8:54 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


The decade I lived in Atlanta was when I made the best friends I still have to this day, but it's also when I literally do not remember a lot of things because I spent a lot of time drunk. At my lowest point, there was a schedule to my drinking when I wasn't working. Sundays were brunches then bar, Mondays were karaoke at the Star Bar until closing, Tuesdays was BINGO night at the Gravity, Wednesdays, etc. I didn't know how to function socially unless there was alcohol involved. Eventually, it just became a few days a week (!), but man, I was ever so familiar with hangovers. Too familiar. It was depressing and awful and I was getting bloated and I already had a history of depression, so you know, yay.

I hate sounding like the World's Biggest Cliche, but marrying my husband really changed things for me. I moved away from Atlanta, thought I could continue my Goodtime Charlie Ways up here, when he was very clearly Not Having It. He loved me, he wanted to be with me, but this whole drinking until I was legless drunk was Not Going to Happen. So I started to figure out life where I was mostly sober, or at least a lot more fucking sober than I had been in a decade. The first year or two was hard. It was difficult and weird to navigate a whole new world of stress without wanting to run to booze like a comfort blanket. I managed, and I still manage. I still work at it. I'm not perfect by any means, but I also very much do not want to be the person I used to be. The chain-smoking bad decision maker who would spend her last twenty bucks at the bar because why the fuck not?

So I work hard every day at not being That Person. Because That Person was killing me.
posted by Kitteh at 8:58 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I think we would have even less dead kids if our society was dramatically more liberal about alcohol; where people actually learn to be more responsible with drinking in their teens. There are real, functioning places were it's okay for a 16 or 17 year old to have a glass of wine with dinner every once in a while. Most Western countries are less uptight about this and have fewer problems.

Maybe this is true in France or Italy (I don't know but what the hell they are so cool and suavely european that it seems possible ) but it really really is not true in much of England. More liberal attitudes towards alcohol definitely didn't produce mature teenage or young adult drinkers.
posted by srboisvert at 8:59 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


We Americans are so goddamned prudish about everything. Really, hand wringing over a few drinks a day?

And no, not everyone hits rock bottom. Some people drink a lot. It's OK for some people.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:59 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


The CDC (via the Dept of Agriculture & H&HS) says:
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:07 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


X drinks per week is a woefully inadequate measuring stick for that problem. Incidents of blackouts, hangovers, drinking-related stupidity, and angry spouses are a better starting point.

Oddly, we do a better job when it comes to other addictions. When looking at people with sex addictions, for instance, it seems much more rare to come up with an arbitrary integer that defines the border between 'healthy' and 'addicted'. Instead, it all depends on how much of a mess you're making of your life in pursuing the reward.

That seems like a better way of looking at alcohol as well. It's not hard to imagine someone having 10+ drinks per week and being perfectly fine (the aforementioned scenario of a glass of wine with dinner every night plus a couple of low-ABV beers spaced out on the weekend), with minimal risks to their health and no problems elsewhere in their life. But it's also not hard to imagine -- and in fact I've personally known people who -- only drink 3 or 4 drinks per week, but make them stiff ones in rapid succession. And from there they become obnoxious drunks and get in fights and puke in cabs and have drunken sex with strangers and generally do a lot of regrettable things, to where there's clearly a problem.

I can't think of any hard-number based guideline that is going to not give that second person a license to drink ("hey, I only drink 4 a week! I've got room to grow!") while not falsely accusing the first person for being a raging drunk.

Of course, I think part of the desire for having numeric guidelines is that it's not "negotiable" and doesn't leave as much room for those who are in denial about the problem they have or are developing. It's easier to have a checklist that you can show to someone, and say "look, you meet criteria A, B, and C, you're an alcoholic" than to try and make them have a serious sit-down with themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:09 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


shothotbot:As someone who has been sober 25 years

Emphasis mine.

As a kinda-sorta-related-but-maybe-not-exactly aside to the rest of the discussion here, how does this usage of the word read to most people here? I'm unsure as to if it should be taken to mean that the someone in question has been a teetotaler for 25 years or if it means that the person has not gotten drunk but maybe did consumer alcohol in the last quarter century.

Of course shothotbot could clear this up for me with regards to their usage in particular but, as I am wont to do around here, I can't help but want to poll the waters to see if there's a consensus as to how it comes across, or should, to listeners.

I'm not judging either way of course, just wanting a gutcheck as to my reading/hearing of the experiences of others to make sure I'm hearing and understanding them as coherently as possible.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:11 AM on January 3


As an aside, I always thought that the whole notion that drinking alone meant you were an alcoholic was idiotic.

A friend of mine has this thing he does when he gives people bottles of whatever for christmas or birthdays or whatnot: he puts a little note around the neck that says "To be drunk only in joy or in company."

Seems to me to avoid the truly problematic drinking, or tries to.

There are real, functioning places were it's okay for a 16 or 17 year old to have a glass of wine with dinner every once in a while.

From my 12th birthday onward I was allowed one small glass of wine on special occasions--birthdays, Christmas, friends over for special dinner. Over my teen years that slowly morphed into just wine whenever with dinner, same as my parents, with the odd sherry here and there with my mum when she was done work, occasionally drinks after dinner, that sort of thing.

You know, how grownups do it.

This is not to say I didn't do the usual teenage drunkenness by any means. But by the time I was 18/19 I could see a significant difference between how I (and friends raised like me, almost always by British or European immigrants) interacted with alcohol and how kids around us who were only allowed to drink illicitly approached it. For the most part, it seemed like those of us who were raised around alcohol wanted to get drunk, sure, because getting drunk is fun. Kids who hadn't been? Were always aiming straight for falling down puking on the cab driver kind of drunk. (Not saying I have never gotten that drunk because yes, I really like drinking. I think it's a matter of motivation, and not having the drive to get on the outside of as much alcohol as fast as possible).

Now, don't get me wrong. I have had periods in my life when I've had a problematic relationship with alcohol. After one particularly awful breakup years ago I deliberately spent a couple of days off my head to numb the pain. Followed by three months of total sobriety on all fronts to process everything. And I spent most of 2012 and 2013 self-medicating to an extreme degree. It was, cliche as this may sound, the only thing that let me deal with the pain I was in. Now that I'm properly medicated, my consumption has gone down again. I still like a few glasses of wine from time to time, and my upstairs neighbour pretty routinely has a cocktail or two around 5 or so which I'm generally involved in, but going indefinite periods without isn't a problem. So I think I'm okay, and I think I'm getting back to a healthy relationship with booze.

More liberal attitudes towards alcohol definitely didn't produce mature teenage or young adult drinkers.

Fair enough, but the UK has binge drinking problems that (AFAIK) France and Italy (with similar liberal attitudes) don't have, which suggests to me the problem is the social milieu.


As to the effectiveness of AA, I have to echo above that I don't think it's the right solution for everyone. Some people do need to just never drink again, yes, as shown above. Some people need to learn to avoid triggers that make them drink unhealthily. Some people just need a little wakeup call to moderate their drinking. Some will pull out of unhealthy periods on their own.

The trick is knowing which of these people you are, and unlike TFA, being honest and disciplined with yourself. I know a seriously problem drinker who is currently (finally) trying to get his drinking under control. He checked out AA, has been to a couple of meetings. Doesn't think the model is right for him. I think he's actually correct there, he's not rationalizing. For Christmas he had one glass of wine with dinner, which is an improvement over the 3-4 bottles he'd usually have. So maybe that solution will work for him.

Another friend quit drinking about three years ago after realizing that his drinking and blackouts were leading him to incredibly risky behaviour. His explicit plan is to spend another year or so completely sober, and then experiment with having the occasional glass of wine with a meal. No alcohol allowed in the house, only when out somewhere else and only with a meal. Knowing him, I think he may be able to manage that in a realistic way, unlike the author here.

People are endlessly able to rationalize doing what they want to do, but I've not seen, heard of or even read about someone breaking a habit that was destructive to them, then taking up the habit with moderation.

Anecdote: another friend of mine quit smoking, about half a pack a day. She now has the odd cigarette when out drinking or at a party, and that's all. So it does and can happen.

As a kinda-sorta-related-but-maybe-not-exactly aside to the rest of the discussion here, how does this usage of the word read to most people here?

I personally take 'sober for $time' to mean no drinking, period.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:14 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


As a kinda-sorta-related-but-maybe-not-exactly aside to the rest of the discussion here, how does this usage of the word read to most people here?

what it means to me is that he had a drinking problem and has totally abstained from drinking for 25 years - that's how it's generally meant by people who have been through the program
posted by pyramid termite at 9:16 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, which is defined as no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.

The CDC Fact Sheet that is pulled from is a bunch of non-sequiturs. It doesn't correlate amount of alcohol imbibed to occurrence of alcohol-related problems problems and even explicitly states that "Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent."

Stuff like this is the problem. We give people nonsensical advice and tell them to follow it on faith. Then we all see the fact that this advice is meaningless, that pregnant women can have a glass of wine now and then and that people can drink more than the government say they should, and all good advice goes out the window with it.

This cover-your-ass, bureacratic approach to social issues works about as well for this as it does for abstinence-based sex education: only on the totally gullible, and even poorly then.
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on January 3 [29 favorites]


The only folks I know who use sober to refer to their long-term state of being (as opposed to e.g. not having had anything to drink in a specific contemporary period) do so from a recovery perspective where they're talking about basically not drinking (or, per "x unit of time clean and sober", not whatevering) at all, with the question of whatever lapses might have happened left as something to be papered over at their discretion.

The folks I know who haven't so much Stopped Drinking, Period but rather just cut way back on their drinking don't call it getting sober, they mostly call it something looser like "cutting back on my drinking".
posted by cortex at 9:20 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The CDC Fact Sheet that is pulled from is a bunch of non-sequiturs. It doesn't correlate amount of alcohol imbibed to occurrence of alcohol-related problems problems and even explicitly states that "Most people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent."

From a public health perspective, it would be really problematically to correlate amount to occurrence of problems because individual susceptibility varies so damn much that it would be downright foolish to do so.
posted by entropone at 9:21 AM on January 3


I think the most common understanding (in the US, at least) of the phrase "I have been sober for X time" is "I have not had a drink*" and not "I have not been drunk."

* Or shot up, or done coke, etc.
posted by rtha at 9:21 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Can we just agree that if you have to write a long article justifying why you’re totally not an alcoholic, man, you’re fine and can totally control it, then you’re probably an alcoholic? Because people who have a normal relationship with alcohol don’t have to produce long articles to justify it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:24 AM on January 3 [29 favorites]


* Or shot up, or done coke, etc.

except that they would probably say "clean" in this instance - many ex users describe themselves as "clean and sober" for x amount of time
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


been through the program

Not trying to be obtuse here but I saw no reference to this 'program' you speak of. Which is somewhat part of my point I suppose, apologies for not making that clear. I do get what you (and on preview, others) are saying though.

Because, yes, if someone was wearing an AA (or whatever other 12 step program thingy you can think of) T-shirt, or walking out of a meeting, or said something to me on the order of "Yea, AA saved me, I've been sober 14 months" then I'd assume that usage of sober to mean no alcohol.

I just didn't know if it was rude/dumb/odd to assume that, again outside of that context, the usage also generally meant "I have not had a drop of *thing*" instead of, for lack of a better descriptive phrase, "I haven't done things that I regret while under the influence of *thing*".
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:26 AM on January 3


From a public health perspective, it would be really problematically to correlate amount to occurrence of problems because individual susceptibility varies so damn much that it would be downright foolish to do so.

Which is why public fact sheets -- which I think are, on the whole, a necessary service the government provides -- should be taken in the same spirit as the expiration date on milk cartons, rather than as commandments handed down to Moses.
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I think most people who have just cut down on their drinking will, as cortex said, say "hey, I've cut down on my drinking."

"I've been sober for ten years" indicates, to me, someone who was a problem drinker and stopped completely.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:29 AM on January 3


Epiphanies lose their impact with repetition.

Disagree. I think the acknowledgement that you keep having the same epiphany over and over, and not changing your life in the direction that the epiphany implies, should itself be epiphanical. "I am ignoring my own thoughts and realizations!", one might say to oneself. "What kind of person would ignore the content of their own mind in order to keep doing something?" Well, an addict might. For instance.
posted by penduluum at 9:29 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


epiphanical

C'mon now you're just making up words......... Nevermind.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:32 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


If I hadn't had booze to give me something to do for 20 years, I'd have likely killed myself due to depression and boredom.
posted by colie at 9:33 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Not trying to be obtuse here but I saw no reference to this 'program' you speak of.

i guess i should have been clearer - people who have been either through a 12 step program or been close to one who has are going to be familiar with a whole bunch of words and phrases that other people aren't necessarily going to get

i think that if someone says to you that they've been sober for x amount of years, it's pretty safe to assume they are probably talking in an AA type context
posted by pyramid termite at 9:35 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I'm torn here. I quit drinking, without any special help but with some effort, about 5 years ago, and my life is just obviously better. Not in a way that makes me want to add a lot of qualifiers, like better for me, but maybe not for everyone. I know that's the right thing to say, and my don't-be-a-judgmental-prick side makes me want to qualify what I think and say. But it doesn't feel ambiguous or idiosyncratic. My life is better in the I stopped putting weird shit in my gas tank, and now my car runs much better way, in the I cleared a bunch of moldy garbage out of the basement, and now I can breathe way.

It's only really complicated if you believe you benefit from the complications. Then your whole apparatus of fine justifications starts up and will take over for you if you let it. People do this with bad relationships, or really any stupid and unsustainable belief system.

Here's my noxious, judgmental side, and then I'll stuff it back in the closet: If you're telling me your drinking isn't a problem, especially if I didn't ask in the first place, I'll go ahead and assume it is. I'll assume you ought to just quit drinking already. Ditto if you pass out, drive drunk, alienate people with your drinking, post photos of your breakfast drink to Facebook, and, above all, want to engage in a bunch of sophistry and fine distinctions about your drinking. Just be a grownup, quit, move on.
posted by argybarg at 9:42 AM on January 3 [9 favorites]


To each his own, absolutely. But one of the wisest things I've ever heard is, anyone that's ever relapsed, after accumulating some time, did so 100% sober.

So public statements to this effect are a truism, and should only be of passing interest to others, really. It's called individuating. The AA model is there is no model. That anarchic point seems to be lost on a ton of people that wish to turn this into an academic issue, and is not without it's opponents within the Program as well, many of whom wish to formalize rules or "add on" structure.

At the end of the day, AA is not the great persuader. Drinking and using is. And you cannot take that fact away from certain people, no matter how hard you try.
posted by phaedon at 9:43 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I just didn't know if it was rude/dumb/odd to assume that, again outside of that context, the usage also generally meant "I have not had a drop of *thing*" instead of, for lack of a better descriptive phrase, "I haven't done things that I regret while under the influence of *thing*".

I think the thing is, "I've been/am sober [for x amount of time]" is sort of a self-marking phrase; it's not just a statement about whether or not someone's by chance happened to have had a drink or some drinks, it's a way of declaring intent and self-awareness about that fact being in some way remarkable. When someone says "I've been sober for a year now", they're also implicitly saying "I'm a drunk in recovery"; they're basically choosing to take some pride in being honest about their drinking problem and the work they've been doing on it. It's a form of active self-identification, of taking the shame and bad history and whatever else they feel about their drinking problem and turning it around into something they can be open about as something they're changing.

So it's not impossible that someone who isn't in a recovery place would just characterize having dropped a casual drinking habit x amount of time ago as "being sober" but it's not the likelier usage.

Or, to put it another way, most people just aren't going that have a reason to have a phrase like "I've been clean and sober for x" in their casual vocabulary unless they've specifically learned it in the process of some formal recovery program. Might be AA, might be something else, might be autodidactic, but it's sort of a recovery shibboleth regardless of the source, and in any case it's something that's likely to involve taking a harder line toward cessation of use than a handwavey "maybe I should cut back" rubric.
posted by cortex at 9:44 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


i think that if someone says to you that they've been sober for x amount of years, it's pretty safe to assume they are probably talking in an AA type context

Yea, this is the keystone to my groking of how to take the statement. I guess if you take the use of "sober" in that context, that is to say that they've likely been in treatment or had a problem serious enough to lead to them resolving to 'be sober', then it becomes clear that their usage is pretty much teetotaler-like by proxy.

I just didn't want to unnecessarily step out of line and assume that level of... of.... social-deviance I suppose, for lack of a better word, to be the case simply based upon such a, perhaps not as casual usage as I first thought, use of a word that can be used, by non-ex-alcoholics it seems, to describe a different thing altogether.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:45 AM on January 3


Yep, on lack of preview, what cortex said.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:46 AM on January 3


The AA model is there is no model.

You're joking? The AA model is the Twelve Steps. That's how AA works.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:48 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Yeah, RolandOfEld, there's definitely a distinction between sober as in having a relatively low blood-alcohol level (the kind of sober that can be inflected as e.g. "sober enough" to e.g. drive someone somewhere after one beer) and sober as in having successfully continued not to drink over time. Call it little-s vs. big-S sober, since there's a sort of implicit underline on the latter; a recovering alcoholic isn't just sober, they're Sober. Two very different words that just happen to be wearing the same outfit to the party.
posted by cortex at 9:57 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


While raising your kid has an effect on how hard they party (or how irresponsibly) as teens, I don't think it really has much effect on alcoholism. I had a no-booze family, then complete access to it as an adult, but it never became much more than a curiosity for me. I've done drunk and hungover and didn't like them that much. I drink mildly at social events, but fear of that hangover pain (especially since mine start the night before, not the next morning) always stops me. Feeling drunk just doesn't hit whatever switch for that would make me desperate for it again. It doesn't stop whatever pain it's stopping for alcholics.

I think that's probably a genetic thing. There isn't really any alcoholism in my extended family and I don't think that's down to our inherent virtue or everyone raising their kids exactly right.
posted by emjaybee at 10:00 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


You're joking? The AA model is the Twelve Steps. That's how AA works.

I'm going to decline the invitation to "defend" AA, I'll even do you a couple. You are free to point out that the recidivism rate in AA is extremely high. You are free to point that out Bill Wilson is a cocksucker. You are free to say "the program only works for those who want/need/work it." Go to town. Quite honestly, the idea of grouping all the "sick" alcoholics and addicts in a room together goes against any other form of recovery and hospitalization. It just doesn't make sense.

But in the spirit of the Traditions, the Steps are suggestions. There are no leaders. Each group is autonomous, and has no opinions on outside issues. The word "sponsor" isn't even in the Big Book. No one is mandated to attend meetings. (Please, I know the strawman, don't bother.) I'm sorry, but human organization does not get any more inclusive and free than that. So if by "AA working" you are talking about a set of rules that are imposed on an individual, then I would argue you are missing the point. But we are free to completely disagree.

By the way, a "sober" person is a term that evolves over time and means a lot of things for a lot of different people. Believe it or not, that is probably just a reflection of reality, because shockingly, people are not all the same. I'm happy to report some people describe "sober" as "being happy to not drink." There's really nothing to argue over. Do people still argue? Absolutely. Stepping on toes is practically a second job for some people.

I'm happy for this guy. Doesn't have shit to do with how I live my life.
posted by phaedon at 10:03 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


It's incredibly frustrating to see polarized abstinence vs. non-abstinence positions here.

Moderation programs are popular outside of the US, and while for some people, total sobriety may be the only way, there are other people who can just get their habit under control.

There's a cultish absolutism about abstinence, particularly in America, that I think may actually prevent people from seeking moderation oriented treatment.

This guy? He isn't doing great, but he seems to be doing better than before. Progress is progress.

Me? I had kidney stones twice in my mid 30s, and decided to drink less. I had made the unfortunate error of befriending a man who owns two bars, and in part, all the freebies led to a little too much waking up hungover, a little too many times impaired behind the wheel, and some very reckless hookups.

I talked to my shrink about drinking less, he gave me some pointers about staying aware of my consumption.

And yeah, sometimes I have 4 drinks in an evening, that isn't out of line as long as there's no driving. And often I have a beer at the end of the day, but not always. I'm basically a notch below this guy's consumption, and a notch below him is completely healthy.

So good for him for cutting back. And boo to all you abstinence only absolutists. If it worked for you, good, that's great, I know many people who've changed their lives this way. But you aren't everybody.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:04 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


This guy? He isn't doing great, but he seems to be doing better than before. Progress is progress.


I think most of us are saying this guy isn't doing better than before.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:05 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


Five Types of Alcoholics (US study):

Young Adult Alcoholics 31.5 percent.
Young adult drinkers, with relatively low rates of co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders.

Young Antisocial Alcoholics 21 percent.
Most are in their mid-20s and had early onset of regular drinking and early onset alcohol problems. More than half come from families with alcoholism, and about half have a psychiatric diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

Functional Alcoholics 19.5 percent.
Typically middle-aged, well-educated, with stable jobs and families.

Intermediate Familial Alcoholics 19 percent.
Middle-aged with about half from families with multigenerational alcoholism.
About 25 percent ever seek treatment for their problem drinking.

Chronic Severe Alcoholics 9 percent.
Mostly middle-aged individuals who had early onset of drinking and alcohol problems.
Two-thirds seek help for their drinking problems, making them the most prevalent type of alcoholic in treatment.

Previous studies which tried to identify alcoholism subtypes were conducted with people who were in treatment for their alcoholism. Therefore, a large percentage of alcoholics were left out of those studies, because only about one-fourth of alcoholics ever seek treatment.

Sources: Moss, Howard B., Chenb, Chiung M. and Yi, Hsiao-ye. Subtypes of alcohol dependence in a nationally representative sample. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 28 June 2007.
posted by Lanark at 10:06 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


I'm going to decline the invitation to "defend" AA, I'll even do you a couple. You are free to point out that the recidivism rate in AA is extremely high. You are free to point that out Bill Wilson is a cocksucker. You are free to say "the program only works for those who want/need/work it." Go to town.

That's a lot of putting words in my mouth that I didn't say. Don't do that.

But in the spirit of the Traditions, the Steps are suggestions.

Show me two AA groups that don't follow the Steps. That's what AA is, whether it's actually written down that it must be that way or not.

By the way, a "sober" person is a term that evolves over time and means a lot of things for a lot of different people. Believe it or not, that is probably just a reflection of reality, because believe it or not, people are not all the same.

That's probably why I said "I take it to mean" and "to me" and not "Here is a blanket definition."

You're being really weirdly fighty about me expressing an opinion and it would be really nice if you'd stop.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:08 AM on January 3


And boo to all you abstinence only absolutists. If it worked for you, good, that's great, I know many people who've changed their lives this way. But you aren't everybody.

I don't see any absolutists here. I see some people saying that some people need to only go for abstinence because nothing else will work.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:09 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Also, the fact that I have 2-3 martinis a week doesn't mean that I don't recognize it isn't healthy. It's not.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:11 AM on January 3


2-3 martinis a week is pretty damn far from unhealthy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:12 AM on January 3 [16 favorites]


You're being really weirdly fighty about me expressing an opinion and it would be really nice if you'd stop.

Coming from a person who pulled a quote from a comment that I made that wasn't directed at you, and asked me if I was joking, it'd be nice if you were the one that stopped being weirdly fighty about me expressing an opinion on a website. And it would be nice if you stopped trying to shut me down on a personal level.
posted by phaedon at 10:14 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I think most of us are saying this guy isn't doing better than before.

He isn't blacking out four times a year. He had a couple sloppy moments. His career and personal life seem good. He says he's happy with the situation. Sounds better to me.

Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

If so, isn't it possible that you're imposing your own values and metrics on someone who's operating outside of your system?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:14 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


There's definitely a strong genetic and social component to unhealthy drinking habits. Health in this case having physical, mental, and social components.

The earmarks of troublesome drinking are very different for different situations. I think that certain levels of drinking, if you have small children or anyone else who depends on your ability to be responsible for them or set a reasonable example, become troublesome at lower levels. Drinking above a certain threshold might make you fall behind in school, at work, or in keeping up your home and that's going to only build up, making your life difficult.

There's also a difference between the risk to physical well-being caused by imbibing a bit too regularly (which might be as bad as eating too many hamburgers, or whatever your particular poison is) and drinking until you just can't drink anymore. Or drinking until you put yourself or others at risk, whether it's at risk for physical harm or social.

I don't think this article is inherently dangerous in that I don't see it as a blueprint to be given to anyone else. But it lays out recreational drinking as a struggle against deep patterns of problematic drinking. Is it possible to be a problematic drinker and still drink recreationally on occasion? That's not for me to judge for any individual, but it's really hard for individuals to judge.
posted by mikeh at 10:14 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

Nope. Like I said, I drink 2-3 times a week.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:15 AM on January 3


Along that line, I don't fault roomthreeseventeen for saying 2 - 3 martinis a week is unhealthy for her, but I also don't think that means it's unhealthy for everyone.
posted by mikeh at 10:16 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Nope. Like I said, I drink 2-3 times a week.

And you think it isn't heathy. Thinking that isn't healthy, in my opinion, isn't healthy.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:17 AM on January 3


Fortunately, I run my own body and get to have my own opinions.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:18 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Coming from a person who pulled a quote from a comment that I made that wasn't directed at you, and asked me if I was joking,

You tried to claim that AA has no model, which is demonstrably and factually untrue. That model may not be dictated in all its variations, but you can walk into an AA meeting anywhere on the planet and you will find the same structure. That's part of the point. If you would like to show us all the AA groups that don't follow the Steps, I would be honestly interested to see how they function and if their results are worse, better, or the same.

it'd be nice if you were the one that stopped being weirdly fighty about me expressing an opinion on a website.

Nice try, but I wasn't being fighty. Nor was I shutting you down on a personal level. I was pointing out how your statement is utterly divorced from reality. If you objected to my phrasing, fine, mea culpa. But your snark, dismissiveness, and sarcasm, along with putting words in my mouth (please do show me, by quoting, where I invited you or anyone else to defend AA, for example), is what is making you fighty here. If you'd like to take back all that snark and sarcasm and actually have a discussion that would be great.

Fortunately, I run my own body and get to have my own opinions.

You do. But your opinions run counter to the literature on the subject.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:19 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


There are no leaders [in AA]

Not officially, but there are certainly plenty of big wealthy men in it who fulfil that role and clearly get off on it - Russell Brand etc.
posted by colie at 10:20 AM on January 3


You do. But your opinions run counter to the literature on the subject.

I guarantee you there is no literature out there on what is physically or mentally healthy for me, specifically. I am only talking about my own experience. I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:21 AM on January 3


Fortunately, I run my own body and get to have my own opinions.

Sure. You're also judging the hell out of a guy you only know via a buzzfeed article.

And it's fine for you to think 2-3 a week is unhealthy for you, but when you decide for that stranger that despite the fact that he says he's happier and in a better place, he and buzzfeed are being irresponsible, that's different. That's sanctimonious.

I suppose I'm being sanctimonious about you being sanctimonious now. How about you be sanctimonious about me being sanctimonious about you being sanctimonious. HoORAY for the internet.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:21 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

i'm not sober or part of a program - that's not something i need to do, thank god

i think the guy is showing signs of having a growing problem and i don't think he's being completely honest in an emotional sense about it - he doesn't seem to be lying about the fact of what he's done, but why he did it, what it means, what his capacity is to deal with it and why he's overestimating that are subjects that he's not confronting successfully

irresponsible? - well, the person who's going to be most harmed by this article is him - drunks don't need to look at buzzfeed articles for reasons to drink - and recovered drunks have been there, done that, won't be fooled
posted by pyramid termite at 10:22 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

I think a lot of us are coming from the angle that we have been close to alcoholics who have said and done all these things exactly and we've seen it all before. There's very little about alcoholic behavior that's special and snowflakey. Mostly it's the same tired old denial and games.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:24 AM on January 3 [16 favorites]


I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.

I think the issue is that people are asking that you back up your judgement with something more firm than "this is my opinion" or "the government says so." And, I mean, you are more than welcome to do no such thing, but the conflict here isn't that you think a thing people disagree with, it's that you assert your opinion is correct with no evidence.
posted by griphus at 10:25 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I am somewhat angry at Buzzfeed for publishing this article.

Because of genes and also a history with booze and also seeing it aid lovely people do awful things, I tend to shake my head at the idea that he could ever have a comfy relationship with booze. Once you've done the blackouts, just stop.

I guess this guy needs it/uses it as a social lubricant. Which is too bad, because it's going to reinforce the idea that drinking is something that he should do. Maybe he can write another article for Buzzfeed about how he realized that he needs to avoid alcohol.
posted by angrycat at 10:26 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.

How do you get off being so offended about people having opinions about your body, but in the same breath say this? Twelve drinks is nothing; I'm assuming you're not a 190-pound male. I mean, unless you're talking about carbs, even the government says 2 drinks a day.
posted by spaltavian at 10:26 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I suppose I'm being sanctimonious about you being sanctimonious now. How about you be sanctimonious about me being sanctimonious about you being sanctimonious.

oh, lord

not only do you guys get to have your opinions, but we all get to have them too

i feel blessed
posted by pyramid termite at 10:26 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I guarantee you there is no literature out there on what is physically or mentally healthy for me, specifically. I am only talking about my own experience. I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.

Unless you have a body that functions completely differently from any other human body, no, sorry, there is literature about you. And that literature says that up to a dozen or so drinks a week is not unhealthy, and in fact depending on the exact drinks you're having, could very well have a positive benefit.

If you don't like your drinking, cool. Cut down or quit. But there's actual science out there which says your opinion is incorrect, and I think Mefites tend to place more emphasis on proof and citation than opinions which go contra to said proof. Or, on preview, what griphus said.

I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.

How do you get off being so offended about people having opinions about your body, but in the same breath say this?


Yeah. This.

Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

I am in none of those things. And I think his article is irresponsible because he is lying to himself about the damage he is doing and his control over it. Writing it down in this way gives him justification to continue his self-delusion and get worse. One could also easily argue that publishing this article will let other people in a similar position delude themselves further as well.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:27 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Whatever works for him, works for him. But it doesn't quite sound to me like any of his three stages so far have really worked that well.

Stage 1: Drunk. Drinking interfering with work and other activities, making excuses for drinking, drinking affecting emotional balance and physical health.

Stage 2: Dry drunk. Not drinking at all, but not doing anything to work on why he drank to excess in the first place. White-knucking and being upset and uncomfortable around others who still drink. Still hanging on to the emotional state of Stage 1 instead of working to move on - if all you do is take the rum out of the fruitcake, it's still a fruitcake.

Stage 3: Bargaining Drunk. Sets up rules for drinking, but often breaks them, sometimes coming up with excuses for doing so.

It's like he's working through the five stages of grief or something, but without a therapist. Or maybe he's just not that great a writer, and the article doesn't give an accurate picture. Whatever. Hopefully he'll be OK. One of my drunk uncles is still alive, but I think it's probably because he lucked into the right wife.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:28 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]


I am utterly baffled as to how anyone would see someone who got genuinely shitfaced once in an entire year as someone who has a problem.

If you can't drink without getting shitfaced, getting shitfaced once is a relapse, that's fair.

I can drink moderately, and for me getting shitfaced about once a year is good for me. Keeps my pirate spirit alive.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:29 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


I am utterly baffled as to how anyone would see someone who got genuinely shitfaced once in an entire year as someone who has a problem.

Because it's not just about getting shitfaced once. I dunno, maybe you haven't been around addiction much? But this article is pretty much textbook denial of a substance abuse problem. Bargaining to continue drinking (and then breaking the bargains), minimizing the effects on the people around him, and so on. It's the absolutely classic "Oh no I'm not an addict, see how different I am" stuff that addicts trot out on a regular basis. Not judging addicts; chemistry is overriding their brain functions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:38 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


I talked to my shrink about drinking less

I did this too. She said practically every single person in the world thinks about drinking less and I would be better off not seeking out yet another thing to attack myself about.
posted by colie at 10:39 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Rationalizers gonna rationalize.
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:40 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


But this article is pretty much textbook denial of a substance abuse problem.

Yeah. The anger I'm seeing in this thread is at some kind of presumption that people's feelings about this guy apply to everyone who drinks exactly the same amounts this guy does. The amounts are not his problem. His all-consuming obsession with alcohol, whether he's drinking or not, and his quick progression through breaking every rule he set for himself about drinking scream that he has a lifelong serious issue that is not going to go away. What person who doesn't have a problem comes up with a detailed list of when and what and how much it's okay to drink in the first place?

There are lots of people who like to drink and don't have a problem with it. I am one of them, thankfully, even though my dad died an alcoholic. This person who wrote this article is not one of them. He is headed for trouble if he doesn't get help. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a year or five years. But even in the short time period he describes, you can see him sliding in deeper and deeper. And keep in mind, this is only what he's willing to talk about. Who knows if that is even the whole story.
posted by something something at 10:51 AM on January 3 [26 favorites]


Quite honestly, the idea of grouping all the "sick" alcoholics and addicts in a room together goes against any other form of recovery and hospitalization. It just doesn't make sense.


Took me some re-reading to notice this. And it's incredibly wrong. Group therapy is a modality used across a wide spectrum of mental disorders and substance abuse issues and is extremely effective; knowing that the woman sitting round the circle from you has gone through exactly what you have gone through can be incredibly helpful when you're wrestling your own demons. Support and solidarity matter.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:54 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


If you're uncomfortable with any behavior of your own, whether it's detrimental to your health or not, then you can feel free to decide it's a problem! I keep compulsively rubbing my beard and it's pissing me off, but it's probably not going to kill me.

We all have completely normal routines and compulsions, though, and unless it's screwing with someone's life in a measurable way, I'm not going to tell them drinking two glasses of wine with dinner every day is unhealthy or wrong or whatever sort of value judgment unsupported by facts I may have. I guess I could think it, but it's not doing me any good to have baggage about the habits of others.
posted by mikeh at 10:54 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I am only talking about my own experience. I do think 12 drinks a week is unhealthy for anyone, though.

???
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:00 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


I am utterly baffled as to how anyone would see someone who got genuinely shitfaced once in an entire year as someone who has a problem.

I don't see anyone (maybe I missed someone?) here saying that. I do think that the person who has the problem gets to have a hand in defining it, so if you (general you) are disturbed by getting totally hammered once a year and think the best solution is to stop altogether, well, okay.

I think that, given his recounting of his pre-sobriety blackouts, he's fibbing to himself about there not being a problem anymore! when he's had a couple more since he started drinking again. Some people can stop and then re-start in a different pattern, and some can't. I think he's among the can't.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

Not me. Like I said earlier, I drink a bit, I have drunk far more in the past, and depending on what's going on, I may drink more in the future. I do not bargain with my drinking and I have never blacked out, but there were weekends of the distant past that were spent with a near-constant buzz.

I don't have any issue with someone declaring that they can continue to drink and not have a Problem. In fact, I personally think total abstenence doesn't cause the void to not exist, it merely forces you to find something new to fill the void.

I'm generally okay with folks determining how much alcohol is the right amount in their life and try to refrain from pointing fingers or judging, however, I've also been around enough people who have issues with the void to see the very real signs that someone is fooling themselves.

If this guy was talking about smoking, binge eating, an abusive ex, or even cherry popsicles the way he talks about drinking, I would think the exact same. He's kidding himself if he thinks he's better. He may be on the path, but he's not there yet and the void is still there. Waiting to be filled.
posted by teleri025 at 11:13 AM on January 3


I do think that the American cult of "you must hit bottom" and "AA is the only way" is rather unhelpful. Not everyone who has a current problematic relationship with alcohol is an alcoholic, and it can discourage people from rejiggering their relationship. Hell, I've seen moderating your use work just fine in my own family -- when I was growing up, my dad drank rather too much, which exacerbated his temper and at least once would have gotten him a DUI except the cop called my mom to pick him up instead. The fridge always had a good supply of Rolling Rock. At some point in the late 80s, he shifted away from the "beers when I come home", and now doesn't really drink except for wine or beer with dinner and the occasional glass of a good spirit in the evenings. Excessive drinking can be a cultural thing, not just an addiction.

And any 'problem drinking' meter that says that if I refill my glass during dinner or have an aperitif that I'm not a 'moderate' drinker is dumbass. But I have to agree, it's not a great sign if your 'moderated' drinking leads to a blackout. There are people for which flat out quitting is the only way.
posted by tavella at 11:13 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I am like this guy. Nearly exactly. Things I have trouble moderating: crushes, netflix, books, alcohol, food.

Like for real I am able to cause myself harm just by ignoring my physical and emotional limits with each of those items. I'll stay up all night watching a series or reading a trilogy. I'll contact someone one too many times in an effort to make a connection. I'll turn working out into an escalating, unsustainable routine. One out of every 10 times I drink, which is maybe once or twice a month, I'll do something stupid (not harmful, not life ruining) that haunts me for years.

I've stopped drinking over and over again. I've started over and over again. I've had long, long stretches of drinking "successfully" that seem to miraculously end with a failure. Failure that hurts only my pride, or leaves "a regrettable impression", or some other thing that he seems to call "nothing terrible" in his intro.

I stopped drinking on November 10th because of some steroid type medication I'm taking, but just like that dude I remember the date and I've been counting the days of sanity because god damn it's been such a relief. Again.

TFA: "Two and a half years in, sobriety had not taught me self-control, it had merely institutionalized self-deprivation."

The problem, for me, is that pretty much all self control feels to my damaged ass lizard brain like "deprivation". Something is not wired correctly there, I know it, I seem to manage it well with 98% of my life. But there is that 2% and I've got some seriously good excuses (potential genetic disease! sick nuclear family! special holiday super party!) for giving myself exactly the same kinds of "passes" as this guy is giving himself.

I wish him the best of luck with his off the wagon approach. His elevator pitch has only made me hope I can leave this part of my life behind for good.
posted by skrozidile at 11:18 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


To quit drinking for real you need support. If you could do it alone, it wouldn't be a problem for you. Maybe just a friend, maybe an online community, or you could just find a community of people who went through the same thing who have an established pattern you can concentrate on while dealing with the underlying issues behind why you drink. Good luck.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:23 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


"Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article 'irresponsible', how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?"

Not me. In fact, I'm a model of what he's trying to do. I binge drank frequently in my teens through my mid-twenties and it was a serious problem. I did bad things. I'm lucky to be alive and other people are lucky I didn't kill them. At one point, I had an epiphany about this and in the twenty-six years since, I've been drunk exactly twice, have been noticeably "buzzed" probably less than twenty times, and generally only drink a few times a years, socially, and then only one or, rarely, two glasses.

It's not been difficult for me to change my behavior, but it certainly was a problem for me then and I do hear occasionally at least a little bit of a siren song for those long-ago days when I cathartically got shitfaced regularly.

But I think this guy is totally deluding himself and his message will feed other alcoholics' need to delude themselves.

The thing is, it's not about precisely how much someone drinks (or smokes or whatever). It's a) if it's a problem in their life, and b) how much control they actually have over it.

If you and people around you want you to stop drinking because it obviously is causing problems in your life, but you find that you really can't stop drinking for very long because you really, really want to drink, and you think about when you can drink again and you spend a lot of time coming up with good reasons why it makes sense for you to do drink again, then, guess what?, you're an alcoholic and you need help staying sober.

Because you don't really want to stop, you're really good at rationalizing why you shouldn't stop (or shouldn't have stopped), you're really good at rationalizing why tonight can just be a one-time exception, you're especially good at ignoring how your drinking is badly screwing up your relationships and other aspects of your life, and you're going to tell yourself that, hey, surely the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good and absolutism and perfectionism is self-defeating and, anyway, you're not really an alcoholic, anyway, so there's nothing wrong with having that drink. Later, you wake up from a blackout. Or you find yourself in awful argument with a furious loved one. Or in trouble at work. Or hiding a bottle. Or keeping a bottle nearby, "just in case".

I have twenty-six years with exactly two instances of getting notably drunk, and only a handful of times where I was even tipsy enough to notice it in myself. I drink a drink, and that's all I drink. I have a huge amount of history at this point demonstrating that I had a drinking problem, and that I could have a drinking problem again, but that I wasn't and am not fully addicted to alcohol.

He has a year of being sort of sober, a year where he did nothing but think about drinking again, a year in which he had a blackout, and at the end of which he wrote for a large audience his elaborate rationalization why it's perfectly sensible for him to drink.

This isn't rocket science. Lots of people participating in this thread who drink frequently and quite a bit are not alcoholics. Others are people who don't drink at all, and are. It's not about how much you drink, it's about how you drink. It's about what's going all around the drinking. And those things are pretty obvious when they point to an alcoholic. This guy is obviously an alcoholic who can't drink moderately. He won't drink moderately, he's already demonstrated this. He either gets help to be sober, or he doesn't.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:36 AM on January 3 [26 favorites]


This article was plenty cringeworthy: he fancies himself far more clever than he is, in both his writing and his behaviors, and I feel like it will be his undoing.

I've sort of come to loathe the phrase "addictive personality", because people often use it to make their lack of self control seem 'quirky' or 'passionate', and it often downplays the fact that such people often hold a dangerous lack of foresight or reason in the face of that "void" they're forever trying to fill.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:55 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


This article was plenty cringeworthy: he fancies himself far more clever than he is

This is why he'll be totally fine (maybe a bit drunk here and there while doing his writing job). No big deal.
posted by colie at 12:01 PM on January 3


he fancies himself far more clever than he is

This is why he'll be totally fine


Er no. That's exactly why he won't be fine. The story of the addict who thinks they have everything under control is a story that ends, inevitably, with a terrible crash and burn. In the case of alcoholism, that tends to be a very long and slow crash and burn, with shrapnel hitting a lot of innocent bystanders.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:08 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Blackout drinking: this is where your body is walking around doing things, and you have no idea what, right?

Is it okay if, while I'm driving on the freeway today, I take my hands off the steering wheel and close my eyes for a few seconds? Like he says, it's just "trial-and-error". If anything goes wrong, I'll, you know, apologize, or whatever.

This is not how you act if you're grown.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:11 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I am somewhat angry at Buzzfeed for publishing this article.

I am somewhat angry at Buzzfeed for existing.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:20 PM on January 3 [19 favorites]


I've had my own drinking problems and in different settings have spent a fair amount of time in the company of different kinds of addicts. I live with one now (recovering); before I got married spent way more time in bars than I'm really comfortable admitting; lived for 3 years with an active "functioning alcoholic"; married into a family with a history of substance abuse (though not my wife herself).

I've counted the days to when I could drink again. But I've also been dry for years at a stretch in the past, and mostly started back in out of boredom. Nowadays it hurts me physically to drink (I get bad hedaches, and quickly), and I can't drink more than a little without getting noticeably intoxicated (I used to have extremely high alcohol tolerance). So it's just a good thing for me to not drink.

I've been lucky enough that I don't miss it. I stopped for a bunch of reasons, but the fact that my wife doesn't like being around booze has helped, frankly. The things I miss about drinking don't have anything to do with being drunk. I miss nice red wines and nice beers. But not enough to get past the negative conditioning from the headache I know I'll get an hour later.

Like others, I don't think the "rock bottom" mentality is helpful. (for one thing, because AFAICS most people have their real moment of decision sometime after they bounce up from that; for another, because it glamorizes the experience.) That said, I'm a firm believer in doing what works. My father in law is AA and it worked for him (though I'd classify him as a 30-years-dry drunk since he hasn't gotten past his issues); the addict I live with, 1 year clean, would probably throw up if he had to do AA regularly. (He has a group -- it's just not a 'higher power' group.)
posted by lodurr at 12:21 PM on January 3


I'm sure some people can go from addicted to a substance to being moderate, responsible users of that substance. (The definition of addiction I'm using here is when a substance or behavior is having a negative affect on your life, but you keep using/doing it anyway because you feel compelled to do so.) The dogma about alcoholism has long been that if you're an addict once you're an addict forever, and that the only way to stay safe is to abstain from alcohol completely – that even having one drink, ever, puts you at serious risk of slipping back into addictive behavior.

I can see why this dogma is a useful one; after all, if you're abstaining then there's no chance of your abusing alcohol. And many recovered addicts absolutely do relapse and fall back into addictive behavior after attempting to use alcohol responsibly. Perhaps this is even the most common pattern, I don't have enough experience with alcoholism or alcoholics to be able to say but I'm be willing to believe it at least provisionally since I've heard lots of people with more experience say so. If I saw some research confirming it, I'd have no problem agreeing that it's the truth.

However, it's never really sat well with me as a dogma. It's easy for me to say having never been an alcoholic, of course. (There have been times in my life when I've drank too often, but I've always recognized it and backed off successfully before it became a problem. These days I don't drink much at all, though I still enjoy an alcoholic beverage from time to time.) Still, I've always shied away from absolutes and dogmas in general and while I'd be happy to agree that for most alcoholics most of the time abstinence is probably the best strategy, I just can't agree that it's the only way. In my experience, there's nearly always more than one way in life.

Further, I see this as being probably harmful. If I were an alcoholic, I think I would absolutely be turned off by AA and similar programs because of their dogmatic approach to abstinence. It's just not something I can believe in, and just as I avoid dogmatic religions even while recognizing that they benefit many people, I would probably avoid dogmatic addiction treatment programs even while recognizing that they help many addicts. I imagine that there are other people like me, people who are alcoholics, who avoid treatment for similar reasons.

Also, I think that the assertion that "if an alcoholic even has one drink he or she will inevitably slide back into alcohol abuse" is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are a recovered alcoholic who believes in this dogma, then if at any point after your recovery you have even one drink you are basically already done for. So why fight it? If the alcohol is calling to you, well, you're an addict and as far as you're concerned relapse is now inevitable so that next drink is going to be a lot easier to talk yourself into. At least, that's how it seems to me.

I admit that I don't have any firsthand knowledge of how alcohol addiction recovery is actually taught in practice, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous (which, I think, does the vast majority of alcoholism-recovery work at least in the USA) are all about establishing and maintaining abstinence. If I'm right, they don't teach very much about what to do if you have that one drink and want to make sure that it doesn't become a thousand – other than that you should keep going to AA and nobody will judge you but they'll help you get back on the wagon, which is great.

To the best of my knowledge they also don't have any flexibility for addicts who are unwilling to practice abstinence but who nevertheless want to establish a healthy, non-harmful relationship with alcohol. This is probably a harder path for most people, especially people who have really deep-seated addictions to alcohol, but there are surely lots of alcoholics out there who want to get better but who won't listen to someone who tells them that the only way to do it is to never drink again. Even if it's a less statistically-successful approach than abstinence, there should still be help out there for people like that.

Abstinence-only alcoholism treatment is, to me, a bit like abstinence-only sexual education. Sure, abstinence from alcohol is the only sure way to make sure that you avoid the harm of alcohol abuse – just like abstinence from sex is the only way to make sure that you avoid the risk of pregnancy and STIs – but because humans are humans it's just not a path that is going to work for everyone. By teaching that it is the only path, we are hanging all those other people out to dry.

To bring it back to the article, I'm not sure that this particular piece is a great bit of advocacy for responsible alcohol use. People are right that the author may well be simply rationalizing his use of alcohol even though it is harming him, and/or that he may never have been an alcoholic in the sense that most people who are really harmed by alcohol abuse are. Still, I think it's a conversation that needs to be had. Addiction treatment should strive to cover all addicts, and to work within the realities of life and humanity. If it doesn't do that then it's leaving a lot of ground uncovered, and possibly even harming people who don't fit into its dogmas by making them feel like there's no hope for them. We should do better than that, and I think that the sooner we start that dialogue the better.
posted by Scientist at 12:21 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


The story of the addict who thinks they have everything under control is a story that ends, inevitably, with a terrible crash and burn.

[shrug /]

Sometimes. I think, probably, not as often as we think.

World's full of addicts, and a lot of them live out their lives and their 'crash and burn' basically takes the form of dying uglier than was necessary, from cirrhosis or cancer or renal failure or aneurysms or AIDS or Hep-1/2/3/4.

No mistake, there's tragedy in that FAILURE to crash & burn -- for the lives they could have lived, for the pain they cause their families & friends, for the mistakes they make in teh world....
posted by lodurr at 12:24 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Let's keep the focus on the ideas and facts, and not make it personal, folks. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:36 PM on January 3


I don't think the abstinence-only approach should be taken at a literal statement that no addict can transition to moderation. No doubt some can, just like some people can make a living as actors or win money at blackjack. But the odds are long enough, and the effort and complications great enough, and the payoff so slight, that it's far better to say: "Just keep it simple, quit already, move on."

Because what's the worst that happens? You miss out on some moderate drinking, boo hoo. Meanwhile, what's the worst that happens if it turns out you can't moderate?
posted by argybarg at 12:44 PM on January 3


I don't think it's true that America doesn't have other modalities of treatment. I've had problems with alcohol, and I've discussed it with my doctors. They've agreed that my problems with alcohol are about self-medicating clear psychological issues. We don't work on my problems with alcohol, we treat the underlying cause. This has the net effect of eliminating my abuse of alcohol, without needing to think about abstinence or moderation.

That said, I don't think that moderation model works as an addict run group. Moderation is hard, and it is easy to start lying to yourself about what moderation is. AA is able to be autonomous and open to all addicts regardless of where or who you are because the rules are so inflexible. AA is an excellent way to slide into getting some mental health resources without the overhead of mental health professionals.

And that's not just a supply problem in America, because we don't have access to mental health care. Sure, it's spotty. But there is still a real stigma about seeking help. It is so much easier to convince someone to just go to few a low stakes meetings than it is to get them to see a professional.
posted by politikitty at 12:52 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I recently had a wicked infection and discovered that the warning on the antibiotics that says "Don't Take with Alcohol" wasn't kidding around.

It's really, REALLY not kidding. I have a high school friend... or rather, had, he died at age 29 from taking prescription meds with alcohol. He's far from the only one. If your meds have an alcohol warning, you may be quite literally risking your life to ignore it.
posted by sonika at 12:53 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


In my experience, no-one successfully confronts their drinking unless they confront their reasons for drinking. And once you've done that, you might not feel like drinking any more. I don't miss it.
posted by walrus at 12:57 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


To the best of my knowledge they also don't have any flexibility for addicts who are unwilling to practice abstinence but who nevertheless want to establish a healthy, non-harmful relationship with alcohol.

perhaps that's because they simply don't know any way that can be done - if the only way a specific person knows how to stay sober is by not drinking at all, you really can't expect them to come up with a different way for someone else - in fact, many may have tried moderation and discovered that they just couldn't practice it

that isn't to say it can't be done, at least for some people - but it's not something they can teach, it's a skill set they don't have and it's not one they want to try to acquire

one would have to look elsewhere
posted by pyramid termite at 1:00 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Moderation is hard. And why would it be worth it? You would have to care a lot about getting to drink alcohol for it to be worth all that work. It would have to be terrifically important to you. And guess who values drinking that highly? Addicts. Forget it, it's a losing game.

What nearly every alcoholic has lost, forever, and will never get back, is the mindset "regular" people have, which is moderate feelings about alcohol. That particular paradise is lost forever.
posted by argybarg at 1:00 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite quotes about denial and feeling that one is an exception: "Rehabs are full of 'special' people." - Wayne Kramer of the MC5. (scroll down to 4.13.2004 entry)
posted by larrybob at 1:00 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Moderation is hard. And why would it be worth it?

Um, because moderate drinking is really fun.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 1:05 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Most people who quit drinking totally have tried, many times, to moderate or control their drinking, and they have always failed to make it stick. At that point, abstinence is finally a relief. It's so simple. Should I have this drink? No. How about that one? No!
posted by thelonius at 1:13 PM on January 3


For some people, getting to that point to moderate drinking is really hard. Do you have any experience with mental health? Try telling a depressed person they just need to try harder.

To cure those issues that fuel an addiction can be easy, like getting my ADHD under control. But on the other side of the spectrum you're saying that someone should do the equivalent of getting a PhD is Difficult Thing, or climbing Mount Everest in a wheelchair, all to do one thing that really isn't that central to human living.
posted by politikitty at 1:18 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


If moderate drinking is just "fun" for you and nothing else then you're not an alcoholic. If you are an alcoholic then the odds of reattaining that uncharged, innocent state are so minuscule as to be not worth the effort.
posted by argybarg at 1:19 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Different Strokes and all, but here's two things that bug me:

1) This man never had sobriety. He had abstinence for a long while. I don't care if you get your definition as a Big Book thumper or an AA hater: I bet your definition does not include seething at parties because other people get to drink.

2) This is a "Fresh Start" story????
posted by drowsy at 1:25 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


been there. done that. puked all over the t-shirt. dude's a chump, but hasn't realized it yet.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:32 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I like how everyone here is perfectly clairvoyant about this guy's future.
posted by telstar at 1:35 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


The "stigma" around the debate regarding alcoholics, relapse, moderation, etc. etc. is that people have a tendency, whether it be out of love, fear, anger, holier than thou attitudes, tragic personal experiences, their own drinking experiences, and so on, to brand other people as alcoholics, addicts or whatever you want to call it.

The word itself has been diluted as well. An Alcoholic is defined as someone who will never be able to safely control and enjoy their drinking, once they have developed the "allergy" to alcohol which manifests itself as a phenomenon of craving and a mental obsession with booze.

If you drink too much according to the AMA, your mom, your kids, or whomever, then you might want to take a look at yourself, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're an alcoholic.

An alcoholic can control the amount they take, they just won't really enjoy it, and if they decide to enjoy drinking, in time, they'll experience the downward spiral of progressing alcoholism, but that's whatever the hell it looks like and takes however long it takes for that specific alcoholic.

There are light drinkers, moderate drinkers, and heavy drinkers, including problem/binge drinkers) who are not alcoholics.

Alcoholism is a weird, affliction which sadly can only be officially diagnosed by the person afflicted with it.

There are plenty of people who are alcoholic, but will refuse to diagnose themselves as such, and those who are considered alcoholics by their peers, but may not be.

If you think you're an alcoholic, try to stop. If you can stop, when you start, try to control and enjoy your drinking. But the final determination is yours. There's help out there if you find out you are, there will be help out there in the future if you still need to do some more research to figure it out, and if you're not, you're not.

As mentioned up thread, there is no greater pursuader to determine who has the affliction of alcoholism than alcohol itself.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:38 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Vox Nihili: "I find most definitions of alcoholism based on number of drinks per time period or days between time period to be frustrating. For starters, they're lazy short-hand. Consider that an 8 oz. can of Bud Light is 4.2% alcohol; 0.336 oz. of the stuff. Meanwhile the standard overproof Manhattan you'll get from any good cocktail bar is 38.7% alcohol (not accounting for dilution); 1.16 oz. They both count as "a drink" in this context even though the cocktail has three times the alcohol content. "

Nope, not even close. Or at least, not in the land of Oz, where the beers are big, and our state 'spirit' is the one that angries up the blood. A standard drink is a a standard drink is a standard drink. A beer might be .7 or .9 or 1.7 - it has that measurement on the side, right next to the rest of the measurements. Same with wine, with spirits, with ciders, with pre-mixes, everything. And when the govt says 12 drinks they aren't referrring to 'hehehe it's a drink *sculls beer as big as one's head*' but those standard drink measurements.

Hell, they recently came out with an ad talking about the way our bodies process alcohol differently ("Jo hasn't had lunch, so he's going to be affected more *pours out some beer* but he's also a big guy so he has a higher tolerance *pours in some beer* but he's also tired *pours more out*" and so on).

Cocktails are dangerous. A cocktail puts me over the legal limit, straight up. Three of them and I'm in dangerous-for-my-body territory, and not just because I'm a weak little snowflake, but because I'm a human and my liver still processes alcohol as a poison. Tastily brewed with neat side effects, but still poison.

All these claims that '12 drinks is healthy' make me side-eye a little. Where's the research? Because 'the occasional or daily glass of wine' does not mean 2 on most days. Does not mean alcohol of whatever stripe. Does not mean glass = whatever cup you've got around. Does not mean 'save them up and drink them in a few hours on the weekend'.

Medico-legal values for alcoholism do not give a fuck for your rationalisations, your claims to be unaffected, your use and misuse of studies looking at other things entirely. They're there as a guideline, not as an emotional feelgood cuddle. If your habits put you at alcoholic by nearly every standard, I don't know that the standards themselves are a problem. Assuming most people drink like that (or just going by 'my peers do') is not a decent rebuttal either.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:02 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]


Alcoholism is a weird, affliction which sadly can only be officially diagnosed by the person afflicted with it.

Yeah, this. Also I agree with comments upthread that people are feeling way too assured about how they think this guy's life is going and will go.
posted by sweetkid at 2:17 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


The real standard of alcoholism is if you drink more than your doctor.

I also have to say that I really distrust the idea that anxiety or guilt about drinking is itself evidence for alcoholism. Guilt is an emotion, not a fact. It can be useful in recognizing a problem, but it can just as easily be a reflection of other people's baggage (see also: sex, food). I understand wanting to err on the side of advocating not drinking, because for people who are really alcoholics the damage they leave in their wake is considerable, but I think it would be an unusually well-adjusted person who never felt any guilt about doing something fun.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:18 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


An Alcoholic is defined as someone who will never be able to safely control and enjoy their drinking, once they have developed the "allergy" to alcohol which manifests itself as a phenomenon of craving and a mental obsession with booze.

Well that's the thing, and I really wish that threads about this kinda thing could keep it in mind.

"alcoholic" is a kind of tautological term- as used in AA terms, it means "someone who could benefit from AA." That's nowhere near all drinkers, it's not all problem drinkers even (you could be a binge drinker and make all kinds of life-wrecking decisions without meeting the crieria).

In my experience program people are aware of the distinction, but so often on metafilter these matters get treated as though the only possible way to deal with any kind of alcohol use that's problematic (which can mean, apparently, 12 drinks a fricking week, which, well I guess but damn) is total abstinence.

With the alternative being, of course, inevitable ruin. I understand, from personal experience, what it's like to see someone try to drink themselves to death. And it really really sucks.

But that knowledge, however it's acquired, is let's say slightly less than sufficient to diagnose anybody else's alcohol use, and I'd think people who've quit drinking by means of AA or any related program would have an easier time keeping that in mind.

That said, the guy who wrote the article does indeed sound like he's got some kinda problem, with alcohol and maybe otherwise, and since the article is apparently intended to invite that kind of discussion, I don't think it's that far out of line to speculate about his prospects. But still, the certainty on display about his psychological makeup, and future prospects seems, to borrow some concepts here, unhelpful and possibly irresponsible.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:24 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I think once you've identified that you have no self control with a particular thing (whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, meth, porn or what have you), your only real option is to not do/use that thing. The receptors are already wired, and we don't have the technology yet to rewire them.

Actually, we do have the resources to rewire our receptors. By using behavioural psychology (reinforcement and extinction) along with a pharmecuetical aid that blocks the opoid receptors (naltrexone), one can reverse the relationship between alcohol ingestion and the buzz. In other words, if you drink but get no buzz-joy from drinking, the urge to drink can be extinguished.

It was metafilter that introduced me to this concept, known as The Sinclair Method. I have been on this program for 6 weeks and I have easily halved my drinking levels already (and over the holiday period too!). I expect that in about 3 months I will no longer possess the urge to drink alcohol at all. And even if I do, the Naltrexone will limit my desire to one drink only.

There is a large conversation to be had about how our western (US, Aus etc) alcohol treatment models work. Much money is invested in abstinence and rehab, with not such good results. Countries such as Scotland and Finland are having much better success rates with this pharmeceutical extinction method but it doesn't make as much money for the private rehab clinics.
posted by Kerasia at 2:42 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]


Most of what I've read says that up to 1 drink a day for women, and 2 for men, can be considered low-risk to develop a dependency or other serious health consequences. Drinking 2 to 3 martinis a week is not that bad for you, unless it happens to be all at once. Oh, and 1 martini should count as 2 drinks. It sounds pretty nice, what's not to like?

I can drink whenever I want to, as long as it's not much and not that often. While I don't feel paranoid about descending into alcoholism, I am aware of the habit-forming nature of alcohol. I have a relatively busy and happy life and so the temptation just isn't there for me. It's usually pretty easy for me to say no to alcohol, even if I have a craving for it.

In my 20's, my state of mind was vastly different, and what started out as recreational pot use developed into a drug habit that was very hard to kick, and it's a bit of luck that I was able to kick it at all. I've not taken drugs in more than 10 years, and don't plan on ever touching them again, even for light to moderate fun. The only exception was I took some medication for a stomach bug I caught abroad that unwittingly had something stronger than expected in it (codeine or something opiate-like anyways) and the desperate craving I thought I left behind came back instantly as I tried to figure out ways to get more of it. Another opportunity came when my wife was prescribed co-codamol and I found myself stealing most of them, taking some and stockpiling the rest for a rainy day. It took me a few years to consciously understand what I had done.

Addiction is not logical, it's the absence of logic to control your thoughts and behaviors. And it often sneaks up on you and grabs hold of you without you realizing it. You think you are in control until you realize you aren't, and then the denial begins. The dangerous thing about alcohol is that it is a socially acceptable drug. According to studies, 8% of adults in the US are alcoholics which indicates a very serious problem, not some rare niche disease. You probably know a lot of them or depending on your age, know a lot of people that will become alcoholics.

Alcoholism is a weird, affliction which sadly can only be officially diagnosed by the person afflicted with it.

It's true that different levels of consumption are appropriate for different people. You may be right for proto-alcoholics, but once the disease has developed, it becomes less likely to see it for what it is. A few lucky people hit rock bottom and are wise enough to see it, but for quite a lot of others, they keep falling.

I agree the future of the author is not written in stone, especially if he is 29. If you spend your 20's drunk, that's one thing. But spending your 30's as well is treading into dangerous waters.
posted by ryanfou at 3:06 PM on January 3


The use of naltrexone and similar drugs was discussed in the article I linked way above. I am intrigued by it, since I've only ever known people who did the AA thing. I'm glad it's working for you.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:07 PM on January 3


I think it's an important part of recovery to get out of isolation along with other people who have had similar experiences (that doesn't necessarily mean traditional 12-Step groups but could also mean Rational Recovery, LifeRing, or even group therapy.)

"Being a recovering addict and not hanging out with other like people is akin to being a punk and never going to shows and only hanging out with jocks; if I told you to do that, you'd think I was insane." - Bucky Sinister, Get Up
posted by larrybob at 3:11 PM on January 3


I do think that the American cult of "you must hit bottom" and "AA is the only way"

The only people I've ever encountered who think "AA is the only way" are people who've either tried other things first that didn't help or seen other people try other things first that didn't help, not the "We've tried doing nothing and we're all out of ideas" set.

I have seen the occasional outlier do what the author is trying to do - it CAN happen with some individuals who have just the right personality and luck into just the right set of circumstances. But if he's describing his own attitudes accurately, he's making his job a lot harder than it needs to be with all the anger and resentment and the refusal to seek out support.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:16 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I wish there were support groups for people who'd simply like to drink less alcohol or smoke pot less often or do drugs less frequently. Problem is, if you're in that situation, nobody has any really good advice for you. Their experience tends to be binary : they've known people (possibly themselves) who've shown no signs of drug/alcohol abuse, and they've known people (possibly themselves) who've been really obvious alcoholics/drug addicts. So when you say something like, "I'd like to smoke pot less often", they're all like, "You must quit everything immediately and join a 12-step program!"

I mean, to use myself as an example, I've smoked pot for a real long time. I have a good life, with all the things I need and want. I'm perfectly happy; some would even say successful. I like pot, and it's legal for me to smoke it in my state. I don't need or want to quit. However, this year, I plan on smoking less often, to see if my short-term memory improves. Now, where's my support group?
posted by evil otto at 3:34 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Evil Otto, what about Moderation Management?
posted by larrybob at 3:44 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Previously on Moderation Management.
posted by larrybob at 3:52 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


geek anachronism: Lots of stuff

Perhaps we can chalk some of this up to a difference between the US and Australia (I assume that's what you mean by Oz)? I'm not even sure what your state spirit is, and Google isn't helping. The first result is absinthe.

From what I can gather is that a standard can of Fosters (that's your equivalent of Budweiser, right?) in Australia is 500ml and 4.9% ABV. That's 24.5 ml of alcohol in a can. That's still substantially less than the 34.3 ml in the same Manhattan I described above. At least here in the US, as you can see from the CDC website linked further up the thread, there's no real mind given to the strength of kind of drink. If it's got alcohol, a "drink" is whatever comes in the container/glass/serving. So a 240 ml can of light beer, a 60 ml glass of whiskey, and an 90 ml cocktail based on naval-strength gin are all "a drink." So three "drinks" over 5 hours might be nothing. 3 "drinks" over 30 minutes could make you violently ill. Or not.

I think you touch on a good point though, which is exactly why the medico-legal values of booze denoting alcoholism are so frustratingly useless: they're absolutely without context. Consider a couple of disparate scenarios:

1. I'm a 5'4", 90-pound woman. I got a poor night's sleep, worked out, skipped lunch, didn't drink enough water, and then started drinking, a second cocktail is going to make me sick.

2. I'm a 6'2", 250-pound man. I slept in, skipped the workout, ate lunch, drank plenty of water, and then hit up happy hour and kept myself fed and hydrated the rest of the day. It'd be nothing (but a little expensive) to drink 7 or 8 cocktails before I caught a cab home around midnight.

Neither one particularly smacks of alcoholism to me. Which I guess is the problem. Without context, the medico-legal values are basically useless. In my mind, at least, alcoholism is blacking out and making an ass of yourself. It's being unable to refuse a drink. It's getting into trouble at work because you're drunk. It's pissing off your friends. I could see someone causing significantly problems for themselves (i.e. being alcoholic) over 3-4 drinks/week. I can also see someone having 20 without ever causing an issue.

Now, the impact on your liver of metabolizing all that booze? That's a serious issue that might crop up without ever reaching what anyone might call alcoholism, but information on that is rather sparse.
posted by Vox Nihili at 4:02 PM on January 3


As if the cultural embeddedness of alcohol needed to be reemphasized, a "standard unit of alcohol" is not at all standard, but instead varies significantly by country. The CDC in the US uses a 14 gram "drink," in Australia it's 10 grams, and in the UK 7.9. I've seen charts comparing other countries' definitions before, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:10 PM on January 3


"The only people I've ever encountered who think 'AA is the only way' are people who've either tried other things first that didn't help or seen other people try other things first that didn't help, not the 'We've tried doing nothing and we're all out of ideas' set."

I have an ex who was a substance abuse counselor for the Texas Dept. of Corrections. She felt that 12-steps programs were useful only for those truly willing to be in the program and not very useful for those sentenced to participate in it. Yet in TX and elsewhere, when she went to conferences, the 12-step model was all anyone would talk about or consider. State agencies and criminal justice, especially, are very rigid about this kind of thing.

It does seem to be the case that the US is not that interested in exploring other treatments. There's various reasons for this. The last I checked, though, the recidivism rate is high for everything, including AA and other 12-step programs. AA works, but not that well; but then nothing really does.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:13 PM on January 3


The real standard of alcoholism is if you drink more than your doctor.

Everyone should be fine then, judging by the antics of the medical students where I went to university.
posted by walrus at 4:14 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


She felt that 12-steps programs were useful only for those truly willing to be in the program and not very useful for those sentenced to participate in it

I think Roger Ebert said, in the column he wrote about his alcoholism a couple of years before he died, that Chicago AA chapters refuse to sign attendance sheets for these defendants. I'm sure someone somewhere who was forced to go to AA was helped by it, but, yeah, that defeats the point, it seems to me, of a voluntary association of people who wish to stop drinking and recover.
posted by thelonius at 4:22 PM on January 3


The use of naltrexone and similar drugs was discussed in the article I linked way above. I am intrigued by it, since I've only ever known people who did the AA thing. I'm glad it's working for you.

Thanks, Dip Flash. I relinked the article so others could catch it too. I am glad to see they are referencing Naltrexone and Nalmefene as a pharmaceutical treatments. A writer in the comments section of the article talks about how her son has beaten his alcohol dependency through using Naltrexone. Many Naltrexone users start out hoping to become moderate drinkers but end up choosing to go alcohol free instead. I think the main difference between AA sober people and Naltrexone sober people is that the latter group do not suffer the cravings that AA people can suffer for years despite not drinking. Naltrexone treatment actually nullifies the cravings and thus allows one to break the addiction.

If anyone is interested in learning more about naltrexone treatment for alcohol and The Sinclair Method, check out The Sinclair Method forums (sign-up required).
posted by Kerasia at 4:22 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Whoa, thanks larrybob! No, I'd never heard of that before. Will look into it!
posted by evil otto at 4:28 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


In the US there are alternatives to 12-step programs, as there should be, but I don't know how accessible they are. For example:

SMART Recovery

Self Management and Recovery Training, or SMART Recovery, emphasizes a four-point system that is based on scientific knowledge about addiction. The points address:

Staying motivated
Dealing with urges
Managing behavior and thought appropriately
Living in a balanced manner


I dunno if SMART is useful or not. I do know that Al-Anon, a 12-step program for the friends and family of alcoholics and addicts, has helped teach me how to be a better grown up (which my alcoholic parents were unable to do).

It has also allowed me to learn how to be more compassionate toward my high functioning alcoholic husband (from whom I have been separated for 6 years) while taking care of my own needs.

But I almost didn't get the help I needed because I'm a militant agnostic/secular Buddhist gal and I am never, ever turning over my life and will to my higher power (I was raised in a fundamentalist church. Been there. Done that). Even though my higher power (we get to choose our own!) is reality. (Actual reality, in contrast to the Bush/Cheney nonsense.)

My second-generation atheist husband cannot hack a God-based recovery program no matter how many times the literature refers to the "God of your understanding." And he shouldn't have to. He should have lots more choices.

I was only able to get into Al-Anon with the help of a friend who'd been in NA for 27 years and said, "Don't let the God talk scare you off. After a while, it's just like a form of meditation." In my case, he was right.

Haven't read the article yet; have zero opinion about the author's likely future. Just wanted to note, as others have, the existence of AA alternatives. And also note that a God-based 12-step program has much improved my life.

That's primarily because its central tenant is "Take what you like and leave the rest." That makes it possible for me to keep going to meetings, use what I hear that is useful and ignore the God stuff.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:34 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Bucky Sinister's book Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos has a lot of suggestions on higher power alternatives. He is an atheist whose father was a fundamentalist preacher.
posted by larrybob at 4:53 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Urg, Moderation Management has a murky past. Kishline not only killed people on the road, she covered up a murder confession by one of their members. The other director who covered it up is still on the board. I hope the organisation has vastly improved its ethics since then.
posted by Kerasia at 5:13 PM on January 3


Well this has been predictably a majority of "if you drink more than a trivial amount, you're an alcoholic". Pretty much like every other time the topic comes up.
posted by kjs3 at 5:14 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I just filter out those comments, kjs3. They add nothing to the discussion and are just noise.
posted by Kerasia at 5:28 PM on January 3


"if you drink more than a trivial amount, you're an alcoholic"

I was talking about this above, but forgot a point- I believe that that kind of pseudo-diagnosing is a variety of what they call in AA 'taking another's inventory,' and it's a big no-no. Big temptation, which is why there's a common term for it, but a big no-no. To me, that's a good reason to discount that sort of talk- it's against the principles of the worldview in whose context it's made.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:41 PM on January 3


The whole time, there was a Sam Smith's Taddy Porter in my refrigerator that I was keeping for the day when it was ok to drink again.

That's a great beer!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:57 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


It was a really, really, really, really good beer. I still have the empty bottle on a shelf in my garage.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:59 PM on January 3


I talk a big game about drinking strong drinks when depressing topics like climate change come up here on MetaFilter, but actually am a lightweight that rarely drinks and sticks to beer when I do. My Old Lady on the other hand… as the song says, "Wish I didn't know know what I didn't know then." I hope this dude finds his way without hurting anyone.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:52 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Just curious, of all the folks who're poo-pooing this, calling the article "irresponsible", how many are strictly sober, part of an abstinence based program, etc?

Me for one, though I have no opinion on "irresponsible" as to the article, I understand why people are making that comment. I just see it as very sad.

When I finally came to, I realized I have a long history of alcoholism in my family, both sides. For me, it was genetic, I just had to add enough alcohol, and I was a pickle. For me, once you are a pickle, you cannot ever be a cucumber again.

I used to think I wasn't allergic to poison ivy, as I could handle the stuff without effect. I later read that enough exposure to the toxin will cause people like me to *become* allergic to it. And sure enough, years on, I now *am* allergic to it. Same idea.

I have no opinion on whether the article is irresponsible or not. I do know I've heard this story plenty of times before, people coming back in and picking up a white chip. I do know I've had those voices play in my head. I tried moderating, taking "breaks" of varying lengths, thinking I would be OK. Counting the days left on my self imposed exile. Soon enough, I was right back where I started, over and over. Moderating? Why? I drank for effect - it'd be like getting the most desirable partner in the world in your bed with you, then going downstairs to watch the "Tonight Show" instead.

See, I don't think "normals" have to obsess over how much and how often they drink, or how often and how much broccoli they eat. I don't think normals would make a statement like "I hoisted a sweaty glass of Maker’s Mark to mouth-level and stared at it, heart racing. "

That's why I, and possibly others, find it so sad. It's my viewpoint on what I read reflected by my personal experience. We've seen it before. We've seen what happens next. We've learned to play the tape through to the end. YMMV.

Several folks have commented on "hitting rock bottom" as being some sort of dramatic thing.. hitting bottom means putting the shovel down. Period. You can do that with two cars in the garage, a good job, drinking 20 year old single malt, etc, or you can do it while living under a bridge drinking T bird. It's a personal decision.

Irresponsible to publish that? I don't know. I do know it had the same effect on me as seeing those people coming back in all shaky - it hasn't gotten any better out there, and I, even more so, what no part of it. I don't obsess over drinking, any more than I obsess about being able to pick the blackberries out of the poison ivy patch like I used to be able to do. I had to do the work to get here, and I would not trade in the life I have now for anything.

It's fine for you, it would be the end of me.
posted by rudd135 at 9:50 PM on January 3 [12 favorites]


I think that "hitting rock bottom" is essential to this kind of semi-religious redemption narrative of The Alcoholic's Progress, but many people don't seem to really experience this. Slogans like "your rock bottom is where you stop digging" are basically an evasion of the fact that this kind of Hollywood narrative just isn't the way that many people come to get better. This would be harmless except that actual people who should know better will insist that it is essential to recovery that an addict "hit their rock bottom", and this, I think, can cause real harm.
posted by thelonius at 10:24 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


There does come a point where you say, "enough!", I guess, almost by definition, if you get sober. To stick to sort of AA vocabulary, though, I believe that can, and often does, come about through a moment of clarity, without DUI and jail or losing your job or spousal ejection or these things. Sometimes the consequences are just a slow sinking of your whole spirit and health, nothing dramatic.

But you don't actually have to comprehensively destroy your life before you can pursue recovery, and I am bothered that taking all this too literally can just feed into the self-destructive romance around addiction.
posted by thelonius at 11:43 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Vox Nihili: "From what I can gather is that a standard can of Fosters (that's your equivalent of Budweiser, right?) in Australia is 500ml and 4.9% ABV. That's 24.5 ml of alcohol in a can. That's still substantially less than the 34.3 ml in the same Manhattan I described above. At least here in the US, as you can see from the CDC website linked further up the thread, there's no real mind given to the strength of kind of drink. If it's got alcohol, a "drink" is whatever comes in the container/glass/serving. So a 240 ml can of light beer, a 60 ml glass of whiskey, and an 90 ml cocktail based on naval-strength gin are all "a drink." So three "drinks" over 5 hours might be nothing. 3 "drinks" over 30 minutes could make you violently ill. Or not."

...

That's the whole point of 'standard drinks' (and the US does apparently have one as well) and that is what every single governmental or medical document is using to reach their conclusions. Which may or may not apply very well to every single person, hence the advertising I was talking about. The 'drink' that the guidelines refer to isn't a cocktail, isn't the water glass, it's a concrete measurement dictated by that measurement of a standard drink.

So no, by no means does 'a standard drink an hour to stay under the limit' refer to those three things because a drink = a standard drink, which most cocktails have at least 2 of, even without overproof spirits. I'm not sure why this is a sticking point, it seems dead obvious to me and is pretty coherently explained in all those lovely little handouts at the doctor's surgery asking if you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol. Hell, the bars here in Oz tend to have signs up in every bathroom, on doors, on walls, behind the bar, and in the menu (if it's that kind of place) explaining the concept.

As far as definitions go, I find a lot of the protests about 'but that makes everyone I know an alcoholic' to be the least credible. Same with the protests that a single drink, or two, or whatever the tolerance is, have no real effect. Because I'm not an alcoholic, that other person is, I'm in total control of my drinking.

Yeah, I'm the daughter of an alcoholic who now drinks moderately (quit entirely for years, started up again after gastric banding which has reduced his ability to even drink large amounts) and ran pretty damn close to alcoholism myself for a few years and every so often stop for a while because I can. Tomorrow my cousin goes in for surgery after a drunken brawl left him with severe facial fractures. A friend was kicked to death in the city a few years back after a night out binge drinking left him passed out on a bench and another binge drinker decided to beat him up and steal his shoes. My grandmother died in her early 40s due to alcoholism. Every single person (including me) insisted that their drinking wasn't that bad - we didn't drink alone (except when we did but those times never counted), or in the morning, or straight spirits, or whatever comforting lie we told ourselves was the 'true definition of alcoholic. Because what would community wide medical studies tell us about alcohol and human bodies that we can't learn ourselves with a few years of drinking?

People who insist that the guidelines don't apply to them because they're super special and they only ever have one drink a night (always wine, right?) and a few beers with the game (only ever beer and one an hour, obviously), or that the 12 drinks is easily a few hours out at a party (drinking responsibly of course) tend to make me side eye. Even if they are being dead honest (and let's not forget the documented unreliability of personal recollection in alcohol consumption studies) their excuses as to why it doesn't count sound just like those from people who drink 20, 40, 60 units a week. They are terrible arguments, entirely reliant on 'but I don't wanna be an alcoholic, stop saying that'.

(Yeah, Oz = Australia and by 'state drink' I was referring to good old rum, or 'bundy' as it's know in my parts.)
posted by geek anachronism at 2:38 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


I have a couple of observations.

First, I understand that AA's recidivism rate is apparently high. But I didn't realize how often participation is court-ordered, prison-ordered, or required in therapeutic settings. I wonder what the rate would look like if all participation were voluntary, as people who are only attending out of an obligation would seem to me less likely to be successful. I also wonder (but not enough to research it right now) how AA fares compares to groups of problem drinkers who receive no treatment, which is all it really needs to be better than to be worth it. In any case, it seems clear that AA provides people who seriously do want to get sober a set of tools and a lot of mutual support that combine to make that task much more achievable than it might otherwise be.

Second, squaring the circle about whether this writer's behavior would indicate his being able to benefit from AA is not too hard. You can see from the thread that many people who have grown up around or lived around problem drinking recognize the patterns. The author of this piece does not recognize the patterns. The real genius of AA* is not actually the 12 steps, but the meeting format, which usually centers on first-person accounts - personal storytelling . These can be round-robins or long talks by individuals. Over many meetings, hearing from many different people from vastly varying walks of life, levels of education and affluence, personality types, etc., you start to be able to perceive patterns of behavior that go along with problematic drinking. You start to be able to separate those patterns from things like material wealth, career success, family situations, intellect, and so on, and see them as common threads that unite many people who struggle with drinking. This provides a startling new context through which to view your own behavior.

This is where the author would really gain from AA. Not because we think he should go to get sober because we can figure out whether he's an alcoholic or not (though he has many behaviors congruent with alcohoism), but because he is working from a limited data point of one and cannot contextualize his behavior. He doesn't know that millions of people have thought these thoughts and tried these strategies in their quests to find a way to keep drinking even though drinking continually slips beyond their control. If he were to attend AA, he would start to see that he is not the only person who has encountered serious trouble adhering to guidelines and self-set boundaries, prioritizing himself and his health and relationships, being around alcohol while not drinking, and so on. At the very least, if he went to AA, he would find that the snowflakiness he sees in his own life and struggles immediately begins to wear off. He might come up with better strategies after gaining greater perspective on the likelihood of rules and bargaining to yield the results he wants, or he might conclude he can't manage this craving and, since its consequences are potentially great, find tools to be sober comfortably, not jealously and resentfully. This piece of writing, then, is actually just lazy; it's a personal essay for which he did no homework, and that shows. So at the very least, if he spent a bit of time in AA or even just read a great deal more about patterns of behavior among problem drinkers, he would write much better pieces, which are more informed, better researched, and stand to reach more people without tripping them up on the massive blinders of his ignorance of common-as-dirt behavior patterns associated with alcohol dependency.

*I have never attended AA but have attended Al-Anon, another 12-step program, and have a working knowledge of AA from people who do participate
posted by Miko at 5:58 AM on January 4 [17 favorites]


Not reading in too much detail, I did notice a link to some alternative programs.

I remember back when Jack and Lois Trimpey popularized their ideas. Then they got openly antagonistic and confrontational with The Powers That Be. Then they got squished like a bug. But their ideas do live on, and if you find an alternative program based on them to your liking, go for it.
posted by mikelieman at 7:06 AM on January 4


This guy sounds to me like he's going to eventually realize he can't handle alcohol at all. His article seems like an excellent demonstration of the dangers of attempting moderate drinking if you have already crossed the line into addiction. And yet-- I think there are also problems with jumping straight from "You engage in problem drinking" to "You need to go to AA and be completely abstinent." You can see an addictions counselor, for one thing; they can help keep you honest in situations like the one this writer is in. I think people who are still deeply into drinking often go further underground, and get more attached to the habit, because they think the only alternative is to be labeled an alcoholic and have to stop completely.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on January 4



A great article - one for the true Connoisseur of addictive nonsense.

Brilliant enlightened and reasonable tone throughout the whole thing.
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:53 AM on January 4


First, I understand that AA's recidivism rate is apparently high. But I didn't realize how often participation is court-ordered, prison-ordered, or required in therapeutic settings. I wonder what the rate would look like if all participation were voluntary, as people who are only attending out of an obligation would seem to me less likely to be successful.

I suspect that the court-ordered folded armed scowlers at the back of the room account for a few small percent of the recidivism rate. I will give a couple impressions about recidivism in AA though after observing it from my 16 years in the program.

Sometimes, even the folded-arm scowlers come back after a relapse, when they're finally broken down enough to realize that yes, they did have a problem that led to whatever conviction got them sentenced to AA by a judge in the first place. I do hear these stories in meetings, so yes, people who are not ready and unwilling to confront their drinking problem are sometimes at least exposed to a potential tool that they fall back on later when they become more willing to accept the situation they find themselves in. I have no idea of what percentage- just an anecdotal observation.

Also, yes, long-term AA members also relapse. Some relapse again and again, some go back out, never to return, but (again anecdotally from testimony I hear in meetings) not infrequently, people with medium to long-term sobriety will go back out for short to medium-term drinking bouts only to find to their bewilderment that no, they still can't drink normally, and they eventually find their way back in to AA with a little more humility and a deeper understanding of their affliction.

So just saying "AA has high recidivism rates," and leaving that as a blanket statement all by itself to prove that AA does no good is painting an incomplete picture of members who don't maintain continuous sobriety. I would like to think that in these cases, at least of the people who try and fail, then try again, that some success, over varying lengths of time is better than none at all. If someone spends five years sober, then drinks for a year then comes back, that's better than someone who spent six years drinking alcoholically. A lot of the people who go out & come back return with renewed vigor & can become cornerstones of their groups.

That said, I am well aware that there are large numbers of people with alcoholic tendencies for whom AA is utterly ineffective, and I do fervently wish there effective, popular alternatives being promoted by the medical community for problem drinkers who wish they could stop but cannot. My heart goes out to them just the same as anyone who finds themselves in this predicament. Be it a wonder-drug, or a therapy, or whatever, I don't care. I'd love to see more research done in this area. I think there's been quite a lot of progress made in the neurochemistry behind addiction since AA's Big Book was written, and let's all hope that it does eventually lead to help for those who need it. Addiction is a confounding, confusing, defeating hole to live in and the more ways out, the better.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:05 AM on January 4 [7 favorites]


As a nonalcoholic who has read the Big Book and knows people who are very involved in AA my observation is that the step that makes AA work is the 12th step. Becoming involved in the clubhouse and becoming a sponsor is what really set the people I know that AA has worked for onto the road of long term sobriety.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:44 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


As far as definitions go, I find a lot of the protests about 'but that makes everyone I know an alcoholic' to be the least credible. Same with the protests that a single drink, or two, or whatever the tolerance is, have no real effect. Because I'm not an alcoholic, that other person is, I'm in total control of my drinking.
...
Yeah, I'm the daughter of an alcoholic who now drinks moderately


Everyone I've ever heard be so insistent on the uniformity of what alcohol does, what a problem with alcohol looks like, and what can be done about is someone projecting their issues onto the rest of the world.
posted by spaltavian at 9:04 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


AA's recidivism rate is probably high, though there's no way to know. Based on reports from people I know who've done AA, it would probably be high even without the mandated attendees. And (speaking as someone who is totally not a fan of AA) that's not really a problem. Or I should say, it's only a problem if a particular AA group makes it a problem -- and AA varies a lot depending on the group you go to.

FWIW, it looks to me like we're in a time of thaw in ideas about how to best sustain clean time. AA and 12-stepping were the dominant paradigm for decades; in addition treatment settings, there's a gradual shift toward finding out what works for each addict. Sort of a DBT/CBT paradigm of treatment. Thing is, that doesn't lend itself to amateur help and it costs more up front. The addiction treatment system in the US is geared up to reward treatment methodologies that save money in a short or medium-short term, without regard for long term cost (because that's not the insurance carrier's problem). But from what I can see (thanks to close association for the past two years with a recovering addict who's also an information junkie), some clients are beginning to demand more, and it's having an impact on counselors and on groups.

It's also important to remember that you can do more than one thing. I've been to SOS in the past and am very close with an addict who goes there now. They're explicitly secular, but at least in the group I went to and to which my friend goes, there are a bunch of folks who also do AA. They find more palatable, secular meetings, but they do it. To the best of my knowledge, there's nothing in the big book that discourages that.
posted by lodurr at 11:04 AM on January 4


Geez, totally forgot to close the loop and make my point about why recidivism isn't a problem. So here goes:

High recidivism is not a problem if what you are doing does no harm, and would work if people kept doing it.

It would be great if AA had some magic method for making people keep doing it. But the thing is, nothing does -- and nothing will. But the things that I've seen work for people are: First (as ob1quixote suggests) get involved; second, find support that works for you (if AA isn't enough, find more, like SOS or something); finally (though not necessarily in order) get friends who won't lead you to regret leaving behind your drug ("get new people/places/things" for folks who know recovery-speak).
posted by lodurr at 11:09 AM on January 4


Sort of a DBT/CBT paradigm of treatment. Thing is, that doesn't lend itself to amateur help and it costs more up front.

DBT/CBT based treatment is one of those things that can 'really do the trick', and I'm a big fan. Of course, as I mentioned before, screening out the people who can and can't be helped ( will or won't accept the help that can get them moving forward... ) is the weak spot in getting people past this.

People's hang-ups are like onions. Layer after layer after layer... At *some point* they might get past the 'letting people help me' layer and be amenable to treatment.

I wonder if there is an inventory for those traits?
posted by mikelieman at 2:58 PM on January 4


in addition treatment settings, there's a gradual shift toward finding out what works for each addict. Sort of a DBT/CBT paradigm of treatment.

I'm seeing very little results from that, very few indeed, possibly 2 or 3 out of a few hundred - whereas many of the joe and charlie brigade are still knocking around years later.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:20 PM on January 4


> I recently had a wicked infection and discovered that the warning on the antibiotics that says "Don't Take with Alcohol" wasn't kidding around.

You probably shouldn't be drinking in any quantity if you have a condition which requires antibiotics, but there are in fact few antibiotics that have a negative interaction with alcohol. I learned about this from the pharmacist the last time I was prescribed antibiotics (for an infected tooth).

Doctors and pharmacists tend to throw that warning label onto any old antibiotic that they prescribe, and I personally think it doesn't do people a service - because they lose respect for the warning when they have a drink and nothing happens. (My pharmacist is a stickler for truth, good for her.)

NOTE NOTE NOTE: specific pharmaceuticals might have an extremely negative interaction with alcohol with consequences ranging up to "death". Get informed and protect yourself. Don't get health advice from random people on the Internet.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:10 AM on January 5


geek anachronism and Vox Nihili: I'm an Australian living in the US, and it has been my observation that the average American is far less familiar with the concept of a "standard drink" than the average Australian. My theories as to why:

1) Education - I distinctly remember growing up watching ads explaining the concept by Victoria's Transport Accident Commission (the ads also stressed that a standard drink will have different impacts on a small woman versus a big dude, or someone who hasn't eaten, etc) and the subject was also part of health classes at school. I don't know if the latter happens in American schools, but I have definitely never seen an ad discussing the subject here (and the drink driving ads are pretty weak in general). It's not uncommon to hear Australians say something like "I had two martinis -- that's like six standard drinks!" It's just part of the vocabulary.

2) Drink pours - in many (maybe all?) Australian states, free-pouring spirits is illegal. And even if it wasn't, I think most bars would still enforce the use of a spirit measure/jigger or optics for economic and stocktaking reasons (liquor in Oz is crazy expensive), and because many customers demand and expect that there is precisely 30ml of Bundy in their Bundy and Coke, to keep track of their BAC (more on that in my next point). Australian bartenders (source: I used to be one) also like to be able to count how many standard drinks a customer has had to decide how much more to serve them (and there are laws on how many standard drinks a person can be served in one go, if I recall correctly. If someone ordered a Long Island iced tea, for instance, I recall my answer was usually, "I will do it, but I can only legally use half-measures of each spirit, and I won't serve you another drink for a while, because that's still two and a half standard drinks. Also, they taste awful").

Outside of cocktail bars, I don't think I've ever seen a US bartender use a spirit measure, and customers seem to love the idea that they're getting strong or stiff drinks. I admit I do, too, but it makes it really hard to count how many drinks you've had. I have done liquor service license courses in both Australia (Victoria) and the US (Oregon) and the focus was just completely different. The bulk of the former was about standard drinks; the bulk of the latter was about not getting sued.

3) Legal BAC levels when driving - The BAC limit in Australia is .05, the US is .08. Sobriety checkpoints are illegal in many US states, (and just seem to be less common even in many states where they aren't) whereas Australian police set up checkpoints ("booze buses") all over the place on busy nights, and the chance of being pulled over in some areas is often very high. Public education campaigns have really hammered the number of standard drinks you can have an hour to stay under .05 in to people's heads (it's 2 in the first hour then 1 every following hour for me, 1 per hour for women, I believe). I remember one of my first nights as a bartender, I accidentally served a woman a full-strength beer (5%) instead of the light beer (~2.5%) she had ordered. She didn't realise until she had finished it, and rightfully got pissed at me, because she knew she was now over .05, and that she would definitely have to pass a booze bus to get home. I wouldn't say every customer I had was that vigilant, but it wasn't at all uncommon to hear people at the bar calculating how many standard drinks they'd had and whether they were OK to drive yet.

tl;dr: My observation/experience is that a 'standard drink' is a common concept in Australia, not so much in the US. So you're both correct.
posted by retrograde at 12:25 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


Idle thought spawned by retrograde; it seems like it would be useful to have breathalyzers available at bars. I could see potential liability problems if the bars did it of their own accord, but what if the state required them? Especially as alcohol limits drop, people can get caught out by extra-strength drinks even if they are trying to be careful and monitoring their drinks.
posted by tavella at 1:18 PM on January 5


The real genius of AA* is not actually the 12 steps, but the meeting format

One of the things that you will usually encounter early on in AA is an old-timer telling you the exact opposite of this: the whole program is the 12-steps and working them with a sponsor. I'm inclined to agree with Miko: what really helps is talking to and listening to other people who have the same struggles. But I started from a point of being fairly suspicious of the 12-step ideology, and I'm certainly no authority n how to keep anyone but myself from drinking.

People are different and they are going to respond to different things, that's OK.

This guy sounds to me like he's going to eventually realize he can't handle alcohol at all.

He may well be on that road. It sure took me long enough, and I should not really judge him for where he is today. The main difference is that I didn't put my evasions into print, really.
posted by thelonius at 1:25 PM on January 5


Idle thought spawned by retrograde; it seems like it would be useful to have breathalyzers available at bars.

It's funny, I thought the exact same thing as I wrote it, but I think liability really is the problem, even if the state put them in, because what if that machine was a bit off for whatever reason and told you you were .04 and then you got stopped by the cops and blew 0.05? I know there are now some smart phone apps and plugins that test your BAC, so I can see them becoming more popular.
posted by retrograde at 2:23 PM on January 5


This is par for the course in Western Maryland.
posted by spaltavian at 3:12 PM on January 5


spaltavian: "Everyone I've ever heard be so insistent on the uniformity of what alcohol does, what a problem with alcohol looks like, and what can be done about is someone projecting their issues onto the rest of the world."

Because experience is worthless when talking about alcoholism and the lies alcoholics tell themselves and the rest of the world about their consumption and the damage done?

Look, my Da drinks responsibly now, for an Aussie version of the term - no drink driving, hasn't hauled off and hit anyone, hasn't thrown up on the dinner table or passed out into the same or even threatened anyone with physical harm.

Mind you, almost every physical complaint the man has is being exacerbated by regular alcohol consumption. Alcohol isn't a non-effective substance. It honestly and consistently has an effect on the human body that may or may not be negligible (or at least manageable) but it isn't a magical substance with no negative affects until you reach your own personal concept of 'alcoholism'. Like a lot of things, it isn't until you stop that you realise "aw shit, I don't have that weird skin thing anymore/don't ache when I get up/headaches have gone". Sure, you might not be alcoholic, but you are hurting yourself.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:36 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


"...working them with a sponsor"

I think the sponsor is a very important component.

Just yesterday, I was just talking about this with someone. When someone falls off the wagon, and they usually do, a sponsor is someone not personally involved in their life and someone who will not be judgmental and will say, okay, today is another day and you can start again. People get that from the group, too, but my impression is that a sponsor is a crucial lifeline to the ongoing project of recovery.

I know someone who was in recovery for a long time and supposedly going to meetings but who, tellingly, keep putting off getting a sponsor. In my opinion, I think that revealed something about where her head was at. I think she was afraid of a sponsor, of having an individual person that will recognize all the bullshit but also personally help her stay sober. I don't think she wanted to stay sober or be in recovery, she knew a sponsor would make it more difficult for her to wiggle out. Which she did, of course.

That's a member of my family; my step-sister, in fact. She's long been in end-stage alcoholism and I expect her to die from it any time. On at least two occasions she's been admitted to the hospital with her weight less than 80 pounds; she has various organ damage because of it. Of her three kids, her two youngest both dropped out of high school and are addicts themselves; the youngest, her daughter, is eighteen and pregnant. The whole thing just breaks my heart. My mom long ago stopped worrying about her step-daughter, but she still worries herself to distraction about those kids.

Unfortunately, she's dealing with a less severe, but nevertheless unambiguous, case of alcoholism closer to home. He's realized that he can't moderate his drinking and she's beginning to realize just how much he's been drinking that he's concealed from her. Before throwing out a bottle of vodka yesterday, I suggested that we taste it (he was out of the house, at the store). The vodka was definitely watered down.

To repeat what I wrote earlier, lots of people drink regularly and many of them drink to intoxication. It's just not about exact amounts of alcohol consumption, that doesn't tell you the important information. The important information is how distorted someone's life is, how much it's deeply involved in the things that are most problematic for them. And how much self-delusion and denial and dishonesty is going on. Those things are pretty obvious to someone who's involved enough to see inside the situation but lacking the incentive to rationalize the problems away. But the alcoholic themselves, and often the people closest to them, have such strong incentives to not see what's actually happening. The rationalizations are so common, and they take very typical forms.

That's what people are responding to in this article and in this discussion. I really have not seen anyone here take the absolutist positions that greater than X amount of drinking a week is necessarily alcoholism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:35 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]


I don't think the sponsor is unimportant at all, just that the talking-and-listening parts of AA are also rather vital, as narrative usually is in cognition. In fact, you could have a system involving a sponsor and 12 steps without having meetings at all, but that's not how it usually works in AA, so I suspect that the stories are a vital part of the mixture - I know in Al-Anon there was a lot of effort paid to encouraging people to listen attentively without judging, take what you need and leave the rest, etc. Mainly I wanted to note that the author would at the very least know his idea was not an original or unique solution, and potentially just another indicator of an unsolved problem, if he went to some meetings.
posted by Miko at 6:33 PM on January 5 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah, I think the meetings are very important for the reasons you describe. I just think that having a sponsor is really important, too.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:39 PM on January 5


Everyone could use a little help sometimes. It's nice to know you're not alone.
posted by mikelieman at 12:28 AM on January 6


Is whoever's measuring these recidivism rates I keep hearing about also factoring in whether the recidivists A. get back in the same program, B. get into a different program, or C. give up altogether and go back to unchecked problem drinking for the rest of their lives?

If it's A or B, I'm not sure I really see that as an indictment of the programs being used. If I stop using insulin, I'll get really sick until I go back on it. That doesn't mean insulin is a bad drug.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:07 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


« Older How well does this test of regional slang reveal w...  |  ConferenceCall.biz: a slice of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments