“just stop it!” comments on alcoholism

back in august, i wrote a little post about addictions. here are two things commenters had to say:

#1  thanks for sharing this. i believe too much alcohol can’t help you better to stop it, you have to love your health and love your life. do something better, you can do physical activities instead of drinking too much.

#2 taking alcohol occasionally is okay but being addicted to it is not healthy anymore. health is wealth, so better start doing something about it. stop it and enjoy life.

both of these comments illustrate the typical mindsets of people who either know nothing about addiction or who are afraid of addiction (or both).

people who don’t know much about addiction don’t understand that people who are struggling with addiction already know things like “too much alcohol can’t help” or “health is wealth”. in fact, at least half of them beat themselves up with that knowledge a hundred times a day. once you’ve been using for a little while, guess what, you’ve figured out that it’s unhealthy and that it would be a pretty darn good idea to stop or at least decrease it.

it’s the same with advice. let’s take “stop it and enjoy life”. once again, the thought of stopping it has occurred to the person a thousand times.

and enjoying life? what if it feels like enjoying life seems impossible without the alcohol (or drug, or gambling, or whatever the person is dealing with). what if the person couldn’t enjoy life to begin with, and stopping the addiction would just bring her back to an unbearably bleak and painful life?

words such as “you can do physical activities instead of drinking too much” are supremely unhelpful for a number of reasons, e.g.

  • as said before, the person who is addicted already knows that
  • at least at the beginning, you don’t get nearly as much a kick out of the physical activity as the addictive activity (that goes for other activities as well)
  • substitutions only work under certain circumstances. how’d you like it if i said, “you’re boyfriend just died? don’t worry, just get yourself another one – here, take john, he’s got a moustache, too”

the most troublesome part is the attitude, and the unthinkingness (nice word, huh?) if the person offering these comments thought for a moment, they could realize that the person with the addiction already knows that stopping would be a good idea. implicit in truisms like the ones above is the message, “you’re too stupid/naïve to have figured this out on your own, so now i’m telling you something that everyone else but you knows.”

the above and the lack of thoughtfulness portray disregard. the message is “this person i’m talking to is not worth thinking about; what i have to say is more important”.

what comes with all of this is a lack of empathy. “i’m not going to stop and reflect on how i would feel if someone gave me unsolicited advice about something painful in my life.”

and why? most of the time it comes down to fear. fear of having my life entangled with the difficulties of another when my own may already be difficult to bear. and fear that by getting closer to the addiction, i might get “infected”. humans have a deep-seated fear of “catching” diseases not only of the body but also of the mind. the fact that this is irrational drives the fear even more underground, which just makes it more potent because it gets to roam around uncontrolled. (now there’s an interesting thought – the parallel between that suppressed fear and the underground, uncontrolled drug trade).



  1. Really excellent and insightful post!

    In the same vein: people who tell you not to worry. Ehm, yes, and then it happens, and worrying would not have made a difference, certainly, but how on earth do you stop worrying?
    Another one: Cheer up!
    Nuff said!

  2. Very true.

    I really like the part about the fear of catching the addiction.

    It applies to things other than addictions to. Some friends of mine with a depression diagnosis have stopped using ‘depression’ as a word – because they get all this advice about thinking more positively, getting out more, ad nauseam. If it was that simple to get over it then they would have done it (addictions/depression/etc) aren’t fun – people don’t persist with them because they are fun.

    One last comment about comments on depression – the number one hated comment about depression is, “I don’t have the time to be depressed”. Depression (and addiction and other things) are not a luxury – they involve great suffering!

  3. Here are two other unhelpful comments that make me want to throttle the commenter:
    On losing a girl-“there are plenty more fish in the sea”
    On suffering from clinical depression:”pull your socks up”
    And there are countless more.

    I am an addict have been all my life, just thinking about the ‘advice’ I have got from people who do not understand my addiction (that is not to say that my addiction is something of great depth that but a select few can understand) makes me want to cry. When actively addicted (not at the moment, thank god, I live for the drug, platitudes, truisms and the like are meaningless and, as you so rightly said, life without my drugs is unthinkable and pointless. But do I want to stop, God yes, do i know that i am killing myself and those who care about me, yes but I am an addict- that is why i am labeled an addict by society and by the English language – I do things that you can’t understand because you haven’t tried to.

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