Sunday, May 22, 2011


"A friend, sober for 15 years, very active in AA, has suddenly decided that he's "not getting anything out of it anymore," and has stopped going to meetings. I'm really worried that he's going to drink again, and throw away all that he's got going for him. How can I help him?"

Anyone who's been around 12-Step programs, and alcoholics, for any length of time, will have heard about something like this, many times over. Perhaps the alcoholic has reached a point of wanting to prove to themselves that they can "handle it alone," even though all of their personal experience has proven time and again that they cannot. The Big Book of AA speaks to this, in the passages describing the alcoholic's inability to remember the terrible results of their drinking.

Or maybe they've been in a relationship with someone who frequents the same groups; when the romance ends, not wanting to have to see the person, they stop going to the meetings.

I've seen alcoholics who have had sobriety and a good life, drink again for no reason that anyone, including themselves once they sober up, can readily explain. It happens, and it's out of our hands.

You mentioned in your email, that he'd told you his own sponsees were telling him they thought he was doing the wrong thing, and it only had the effect of making him more stubborn in his defense of his choice. An alcoholic friend of mine, once commented ruefully that she was at her most intransigent, when she was fully aware that she was heading for disaster.

It can be agonising to watch someone making what may seem to us, to be insane choices, and say nothing. When we care for another human being, we want to help. But when we start trying to steer, or control, an alcoholic, we are setting ourselves up for failure, resentment and anger.

We all have to learn our own lessons, in our own time.

Some of us can forget those lessons when life has been good for a long while, and the only way to reinforce them, is to "go back out" and relearn them.  The terrifying truth about addiction, is the very real possibility that the person may not make it back to sobriety. People die when they go back out.

So we listen to the rationalisations, and watch the behavior choices, and we cringe in fear and trembling, for the denial demonstrated, and the willingness to lose all the ground so painfully gained. I wish I had something helpful to offer, but I really don't. Look after yourself, and try to detach from your friend's choices - you have no control over what he decides to do.


  1. I haven't been to a face to face meeting in quite some time (I'm a double winner, 27 years of sobriety) and most of my program interaction online is with Al-Anons. Maybe that's just where I am in my program. Maybe I'm isolating. Maybe it's a number of things.

    One thing I do know is the AA meetings I was attending had a lot of people in need of Al-Anon and I was getting tired of the requests to fix people, places and things. Maybe I should be an example of the Al-Anon principles. But I really wanted some peace and quiet.

    I've been thinking about going back, but I guess I'm still too selfish and want more of a peaceful time. I do love giving back though and will continue to be open for other options or perhaps other meetings. There is one I used to attend years ago that is a mixed AA/CA meeting. I'll make a plan to go this week and see what happens.

  2. I went out after 14 years in the program.
    Alcoholism is a progressive disease but I still needed to test the waters again.
    It was very difficult to get back into the rooms but I continued to show up despite myself.

  3. I do believe that I am powerless over the choices that others make. I have a good friend who is 20 years sober and doesn't make many meetings anymore. He is a dry drunk. I see all of this and what he could do, but stand back. There is no way that I can make another do anything.