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Dear Little Bobby,
My roommate is drinking too much and I finally realized that she’s not just partying harder than all of us, she has a real alcohol addiction problem. It took a lot of psyching myself up to tell her I thought she had a drinking problem, but I did it and told her, and we had a great talk, and she agreed it was a good idea to get sober. Then nothing happened. Now I feel weird when everyone goes out drinking; she acts like our conversation never happened. I don’t want to be an annoying downer so I’m just kind of ignoring her extreme drinking habits, but I feel really guilty and like I’m an enabler. How can I be a good friend to her AND get through to her?
—Worried and Still Going to Bars With My Alcoholic Friend
Dear Worried and Still Going to Bars,
When one of my best friends in college began using heroin, I decided that I did not want to be around it, so I ended our friendship. Several years later he died from an overdose. Should I have intervened? Would it have made any difference? According to some recovering heroin addicts that I know, unless the person wants to get help, no offer of help will actually “help.” I disagree. Of course the person must want to change, but kind words, offers of help, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen…these things can, sometimes, help, by virtue of existing.
Sometimes we enable without even noticing it.
Addiction is, however, a consuming monster that we often give free reign over our lives. A friend of mine is in a situation similar to yours. Her friend’s drinking is becoming destructive. This person drinks far too much for me to be comfortable around them. The two of them have not had the conversation that you had with your friend—not yet. But it might be coming and it might not go as well as your conversation went.
I commend you for speaking with your friend, yet nothing has changed. Words often mean nothing, but your words mean that you care. I have advised others to not be “enablers.” I have had to stop myself from doing it, even when I thought I was helping. Sometimes we enable without even noticing it. Other times, we feel guilty, as you stated.
I do not drink with people who I know to be alcoholics, whether it’s a friend, a bandmate, a date or just an acquaintance. I do not offer them drinks, nor drink with them, nor keep them company while they drink. I also do not like being around anyone who is using cocaine or heroin, because I do not like what those things do to people. The same is true of excessive alcohol consumption.
In general, when someone’s behavior becomes chronically self-destructive, negative, harmful, etc., I do not want to be a part of that. Sometimes these behaviors are so harmful that I do not even want to be around them when they are sober, which is difficult when I want to help them. Sometimes staying away from someone IS helping. Sometimes it is not.
You stated you are “kind of ignoring the extreme drinking” but I sincerely doubt that. You care about her. Speak with her again. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can help her with just a conversation, or two, ore more. She is the only one that can truly help her. You can only be there, or not. You can offer your friendship, a distraction and more—but it would seem that she has some deep pain, fear and/or other issues that she is trying to escape from.
I would suggest that she get help training her mind in mindfulness, compassion and forgiveness. Meditation is one of the most effective tools for training our minds to break destructive habits. I would suggest offering to go with her to meditation classes, going on hikes, making healthy dinners together, listening, opening up to her and more, like a good friend. Set a good example by having an open heart and living a life full of compassion. Let both your words and your actions tell her that you care about her.
—Little Bobby Tucker
“Reached back for the bottle and rubbed against the lamp
Genie came out smiling like some Eastern tramp”
—Roger Waters, “Three Wishes” 1991