A Letter to Everyone … What to say to a friend who is going sober

As a therapist I hear a lot of stories of people struggling to change their relationship to alcohol. I’m not an addiction therapist so I’m not talking about people who would call themselves or be labelled an ‘alcoholic’.  I’m talking about people who consciously know they drink too much or too frequently but can’t seem to stop. People who realise that they rely on a drink to initiate sex or to go on a night out, and then find that the sex and the night out were spoiled by the alcohol, or worse, their safety was compromised by being drunk. They are loaded with shame about their drinking and blame themselves for having no control, so they make valiant efforts to stop or cut down.

The problem is … people don’t seem to like it when their friends or family members try to stop drinking. If a person was trying to stop cocaine use, overeating, nail biting or smoking they’d likely get all the support in the world from friends and family. But if you try to stop drinking you’re called boring, you’re asked to explain why, you’re actively encouraged to get back off the wagon and stop being a kill joy.

We live in a society that condones and encourages drinking, to the point that the word ‘drinking’ does not even need the word ‘alcohol’ next to it for it to be understood to mean ‘drinking alcohol’. ‘I’m meeting my mates for a drink’ never means ‘I’m meeting my mates for a glass for fruit juice’.

Alcohol is our culturally condoned drug of choice, the only drug that we feel a need to explain why we are NOT taking it. We collectively ignore the facts about alcohol; that it is addictive, that it causes more deaths than Class A  drugs and smoking and that is a major contributor to mental and physical illness. It’s an issue across the globe and in the UK we’ve got the booze bug badly.

If you like a drink and you’re happy with your drinking levels, absolutely good for you. It’s licenced and legal to use in the UK over the age of 18, so go forth and enjoy it.

I have just one small request in support of anyone who wants to stop or cut down. If someone says to you they are not drinking at the moment say ‘ok, great, good for you’. Don’t ask them why, don’t tell them they are boring, or that if they don’t drink you don’t want to know them, don’t nudge them back to the booze. Buy them the mocktail, zero alcohol or soft drink they want and tell them well done for not drinking.

That person could be you at some point in your life when you realise alcohol has more of a grip on you than you have on it. Be a fabulous friend and celebrate your friend’s attempts to stop or cut back. And if you find that hard, ask yourself how you feel about your drinking.

Blog Post written by:
Julie Sale
CICS Course Director and Psychosexual Psychotherapist