Should I Talk to My Friend About Her Drinking?
I have an old friend—we’ve been close for going on 10 years—and this coming winter, I’ll be the maid of honor in her wedding. When she has a conflict with her finance or worries over her tween daughter, I’m the one she calls, day or night. Likewise, when I’m hurting or troubled, she’s my lifeline. I deeply value our friendship, and would never wish to jeopardize it, but lately, I’ve had to make a call that just might push us apart, though one I think is for the best. My friend has a problem with alcohol, one that’s been growing for as long as I’ve known her, but has been getting worse over the last couple of years, especially recently with wedding stress.
An Addict’s Rationalizations
D is a wine drinker and a foodie, which I’ve noticed comes with a bit of glamor in a way that beer or liquor simply don’t. If she were downing shots at 3:30 in the afternoon, people would look askance, and she’d probably be forced to hide her drinking, but as it is, my friend stands in her kitchen making gourmet appetizers for 8th graders while imbibing the contents of a bottle of whatever red wine she believes will pair best with the ingredients. Pairing food and wine is one of her favorite pastimes, or you might call it a rationalization; recently, when I gently brought up the subject, she explained that she only drinks because it’s important for the “food experience.”
D is an everyday drinker, although you don’t have to be in order to classify as someone with problem drinking or even alcoholism, and lately her quantities are quite high. She is lightweight, but she can consume quantities that would make most women comatose. This degree of tolerance could be a genetic trait (which she claims, although it’s important to note that her father is a severe alcoholic), but it is also the sign of someone who consumes enough of a substance over time to build both tolerance and dependence.
Resisting Awareness of Withdrawal Symptoms
A couple of weeks ago, D decided to cut down. She’d decided to do “a cleanse,” and went for two days only drinking water. I saw her on the third day when D reported she’d been feeling quite ill. She told me, “I feel as if my insides are vibrating.” She seemed to have picked up a slight tremor. She reported having felt high anxiety for days, and as we sat over lunch, she ordered a beer. It was 1 in the afternoon. “I just don’t know what’s wrong,” she said. She looked at me as if for an answer. As we left the café, she told me how much better she was feeling, less anxious. “All it took was that one little beer,” she laughed.
“D,” I said, “I do not and will never judge you—I say this only with love. I want you to consider that your body may be experiencing withdrawals from the alcohol. This doesn’t say anything negative about who you are. It’s only a statement of what can happen when we ingest a substance at a certain level over time and then suddenly stop.”
She’d felt shaky and anxious until she’d had a bit of alcohol, even a small amount. Her body had been craving its fix. For a good hour, D seemed open and even happy to be getting the crush of her drinking problem off her chest. She confessed how bad it had gotten, how many people she’d surrounded herself with simply because they loved to drink, how important it was to her to keep wine on hand at all times. But by the end of our conversation, the rationalizations had set in. A few hours later, D texted me to tell me she’d discovered she had a spider bite, that she hadn’t been feeling withdrawal at all. “Silly me!” she said. “It was just a spider bite. I’m so glad I figured that out.”
I haven’t brought the subject up with my friend again, and maybe I won’t for a while. I’m not surprised that she found a way to change her own mind and rationalize her drinking; that is the addiction working. I’m also not afraid that having said these things will tear us apart—her drinking may one day do that on its own. Addiction tends to escalate over time, and the alcohol will always be D’s No. 1 until and unless she admits her problem and works to find recovery. Because I love my friend, and want for her wellness and her family’s wellness, I’m willing to take the risk of speaking up. It’s important, I believe, to do this with love and compassion, and with the recognition that it could just as easily be me. Would I want my friend to be brave enough to tell me about her concerns for my health and life? Would I want her to trust that I could hear it? You bet I would.