How to Explain Alcoholism

i don't drink

At one point or another, nearly all recovering alcoholics will face the dilemma of attempting to explain the disease of addiction to someone who simply cannot wrap his or her mind around the concept. Perhaps a dumbfounded coworker insists that we join our colleagues for happy hour every day at 5 pm, refusing to believe that we cannot enjoy ‘one or two drinks’ and head home at a reasonable hour. Perhaps a significant other – a ‘normie’ – is as supportive and compassionate as they possibly can be while remaining unable to grasp the idea of ‘never again’. How can you explain what addiction is like for you to someone who has never had any exposure to the disease? How can you rationally explain that while you may seem like a composed, responsible, and restrained individual, a couple of whiskey sours will send you directly off the deep end?

Some People Just Don’t Get It

This situation is never easy, but it can be especially difficult when entering into a new romantic relationship. When we are first getting to know someone that we are interested in romantically, it is normal to want to put our best foot forward at all times. It is also normal to carry some shame about our personal battles with addiction, especially when it comes to our massive accumulation of past harms. It is not easy to say, “Well, I don’t drink because when I do, I steal money from my friends and family, engage in copious amounts of promiscuous sex, and constantly put the lives of others in eminent danger.” Of course, when someone (anyone) questions the validity and significance of your sobriety, you may want to meet them with an extensive list of reasons why drinking is no longer an option. But surely there must be a happy medium between divulging all of your deepest, darkest secrets in attempt to smash skepticism and completely ignoring a major portion of your life. As it so turns out – there is! You can get your point across without revealing all of the skeletons hiding deep within your closet and scaring your new romantic prospect far, far away.

Dating in Sobriety

First of all, what exactly does your new romantic prospect fail to understand about addiction? Has he or she simply never had firsthand experience with the disease, or does he or she firmly believe that alcoholism is nothing more but a sorry excuse for bad behavior, made up by those who are disinterested in exerting an adequate amount of willpower? If your date is merely curious – if he or she wants to know why you cannot have one drink and is open to the answer, whatever it may be, you may give as many details as you are comfortable with. Saying something as simple as, “As soon as I have one drink, I lose control of the amount I consume thereafter,” may suffice. Remember that although you may feel obligated to at times, you need not take on the role of community addiction educator. Simply confirm that for you, a drink is not an option. If he or she continues to ask questions, answer them accordingly if you feel comfortable doing so. Addiction can be an interesting topic for those who lack experience, and many curious minds will want to know more. But if a first date told you that they couldn’t eat sugar because they were diabetic, you probably wouldn’t spend the remainder of the night asking them about insulin shots and the functioning of their pancreas.

Living In a Black and White Reality

As addicts and alcoholics, we are used to living in a black and white world – all or nothing, no middle ground. We may feel the urge to divulge every morbid detail of our pasts, or to keep our struggles with addiction completely hidden from the rest of the world. In this case, there is a middle ground. We can set and explain personal boundaries without disclosing more than we are comfortable with. Our personal experience is not the only valid experience – it is important to keep this in mind too. There are plenty of great pieces of literature that describe, in detail, what it is like to be an active alcoholic or addict. Offering the documented experiences of someone else is a good way to get the point across without drudging up painful memories or exposing more than you feel ready to. Books such as Dry by August Burroughs and Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp are both excellent options. Keep in mind that without walking a mile in the shoes of an addict or alcoholic, full comprehension of the disease is not truly a possibility. Try to be tolerant of this, and let misconceptions slide.

Love and Tolerance

If the individual you are dealing with holds firm to his or her personal belief that everyone can have ‘just one’ if they so choose, see if they are willing to accept and support your abstinence regardless. On the other hand, consider whether or not you are willing to maintain a relationship with someone who refuses to alter their opinion of addiction. If the relationship is still new, there is a good chance that opinions will shift, change, and evolve as time goes on. Most people are more open-minded to the idea of recovery than we tend to initially believe. However, if this person is unwilling to accept or support the fact that your recovery must remain your top priority, and that ‘just one’ will never be an option for you, you may want to reconsider the role he or she plays in your life. There are plenty of people that you can surround yourself with that will always have your best interest at heart, no matter what that looks like – even if that means abandoning a long-standing belief or changing an opinion or two along the way. Your recovery is precious – find someone who feels the same, and is willing to accept you exactly as you are.