Health & Fitness

Cut off friends in path to alcoholism recovery


You have made a decision to stop drinking, it is your decision and you must hold on to it because only you and perhaps your doctor know the harm the alcohol was doing to you. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Question: “I took a personal decision to quit alcohol and keep off pubs but some of my friends and relatives mistake me for being snobbish. How can I pass this message to them without looking offensive?”

The first thing that comes to mind is to establish the reason for stopping using alcohol. Was it on medical grounds or was it for some other reason? Was it suddenly or over a period of time? The reason for stopping is important as you will see below.

We continue to wonder, was it perhaps that alcohol was in one way or another causing you problems in your life? Were you perhaps going through social or family problems or did you have health or financial problems?

Every person who gives up drinking does so for his/her own reasons and that reason is key to the answer to your question. An example will make this point clear.

Some years ago, we saw a young woman who decided to stop drinking because she had on a number of occasions woken up in bed with men, she had no recollection of meeting. Hers was a sad story.

After leaving university she had found a job at an NGO and had been posted to a hardship area that was emerging from a civil war. The work was hard and long periods of loneliness were interspersed with periods of living in serious danger of attacks from the rebels who lurked behind every bush in the area of operation. Alcohol became a good friend as it helped her to sleep.

One day, she was abducted by a group of rebels and though not raped, she was, over a period of a few days subjected to much physical abuse and feared for her life. She survived to tell the tale and when she came to us for care, it was clear that she had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in which context she was drinking heavily and exposing herself to sexual exploitation by acquaintances to whom she often turned for company.

It was at this point that a friend who had worked within the NGO world sent her our way. In hospital, the evaluation indicated that she had both PTSD as well as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and treatment for both conditions was necessary.

In her case the trauma experienced in the course of her work had led to the condition of PTSD and this had in turn led her to deal with the symptoms by heavy drinking which had, in turn, led to high-risk sexual behaviour which was the reason for her coming to us for this treatment.

You might be wondering why we have told this rather long story in answer to your question but if you think about it you can begin to see that people stop drinking for different reasons. Indeed, perhaps more accurately, people get into problems with alcohol for different reasons and therefore the pathways one must follow to recovery must first of all establish the reason for the drinking in the first place.

In the case of our patient, the initial boredom at a remote war zone is to blame. In her case, this is complicated by a life-threatening experience in which context she developed PTSD. It took several months of outpatient care to get her out of the drinking problem, and like you, her friends kept up the pressure for her to ‘Take one more drink each time they met’.

She had learnt during the recovery process that no friend of hers would lead her in this route of temptation and that everybody who offered her a drink was an enemy to her life and well being.

Your supposed friends and relatives, who are calling you a snob for taking the right decision to stop drinking, must be put in the same class as all those who are enemies to you and you must have nothing further to do with such people.

A number of people take a different but practical approach to your dilemma. They go the route of explaining to their friends and family that they have a drinking problem which is considered a disease and the doctor has told them to stop its consumption. Those with diabetes are told to avoid sugar and those with gout to avoid red meat. ‘My problem dictates that I stop alcohol’.

This approach works well with some family members while some (as in your case) stigmatise and seclude those who confess to not being able to handle alcohol. At the end of the day, you have made a decision to stop drinking, it is your decision and you must hold on to it because only you and perhaps your doctor know the harm the alcohol was doing to you.

Dr Frank Njenga is a psychiatrist and mental health consultant. [email protected]