Not Everyone Is an Alcoholic

This is a comment I received from one of my podcasts on Overdrinking and my reply. I wanted to share it with you because it represents the philosophy of many people when it comes to drinking, and I wanted to share an alternative perspective.


From Mary:

This whole thing actually scares me, and I’ll be honest – my hope is that no alcoholic in desperate need comes here thinking that they can control their drinking. I will say for me – declaring that I was an alcoholic at 23 and after six years of sobriety that labeling myself was what freed me – I couldn’t drink like a normal drinker and when I did – I ended up in the hospital.

I did try to control it, and I ended up back out drinking again. I am so grateful that I accepted my label as an alcoholic at 23, at 30 my life is so much better, and I never have to grapple with “maybe I can… Because I can’t.” Anything I have tried to put before my sobriety – school, relationships, I lose them. I never had a DUI; I grew up with a loving family – a few whom are alcoholics and sober as well. I grew up in one of the richest towns in America – where everyone put everything behind closed doors. I know countless people who have passed from alcoholism because someone once tried to tell them – it’s ok, you can control it.

Great – maybe I can, but I never want to live a life where I am trying to control something – I’d rather accept my label and rock out as I am now. Not be 6 feet under with the others I know who tried to “cut back” and killed themselves or ended up in jail making stupid decisions, despite the fact that they are amazing, good people. Whatever you want to do with your life is great – but please remember that some desperate people will read this, and they need help that won’t tell them that they can control it because that may be what takes me out at night.

This breaks my heart – I loved your work, and I’m happy to get on the phone and discuss this – but please send out the message that if you think you need help and you are home, by yourself with a bottle – you need to stop thinking you can control it. A lot of alcoholics who are seriously sick (and there is no shame about having a disease like alcoholism as both of my parents who are cancer survivors have said the fight that I led was just like theirs except my chemo was rehab and my daily life requires me not to focus on not drinking – but. Being a better person (because that’s what the steps teach us) and the only step that actually focuses on alcohol – is the 1st one.

I’m not an evangelist, I believe in taking many approaches – but just like I would tell my mom PLEASE take the chemo instead of the “easier, softer route” I would tell anyone who reads this that they can get off that elevator anytime they want.

I don’t think about drinking today – I think about helping the next person and women out there through the work I do. My sobriety gave me my master’s degree, performing back on stage in the Hamptons, being a keynote speaker in NYC helping revise thousands of dollars for desperate people who have “tried other ways” and want the help. Please make sure you are sharing responsibility. I would be heart broken to see you Brooke, or anyone else find out the hard way that alcoholism is a progressive disease that only gets worse each time you go back out.

From Brooke:

Hi Mary,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write and share your thoughts.

I hope you will keep an open mind as you read my reply.

I hear that you have had an experience with alcohol yourself and with some people in your life.

It’s so very easy to take your personal experience and apply it to everyone. In fact, I think this is the main problem when it comes to people who want help with their drinking. Your all or nothing approach keeps so many people from getting any help at all.

My program is not for people who call themselves alcoholics.

And not everyone who struggles with how much they drink is an alcoholic. And not everyone needs to quit drinking.

You may have been exposed to people who tried to control their drinking and they couldn’t. The reason they couldn’t control it might be because they didn’t have the right tools, it might have been because they were alcoholics and needed treatment, or it might have been because of some reason you and I can’t completely understand right now. It’s easy to conclude that they needed to quit drinking completely the way that you might have, but there is no way you or I can know that for sure. Everyone’s path is their own.

We can’t claim that treatment saves lives. It’s the person who saves their life. Period. We can’t say AA saved someone’s life, without also giving credit to AA for the thousands of people who died while they were in treatment with AA. AA does not get responsibility for either. Some people use AA and get themselves better, some people use another approach, and some people simply keep using. My dad and my brother were both in AA when they died from drugs. I do not blame AA for their deaths, but I also don’t give it credit for anyone’s sobriety. Sobriety is a choice that the person makes. They save their own lives.

Thousands of people control their drinking. Many people are able to drink and limit themselves. These people do not need to quit drinking, nor do they want to. They have found a way to drink in a controlled manner. You have met them, and I have met them. It is absolutely possible. So your mention of people who tried to control their drinking and couldn’t doesn’t represent all people who have tried to control their drinking. Not everyone who tries will end up “six feet under.” Many who try will succeed.

To assume that everyone who struggles is an alcoholic is dangerous. That’s what scares me. I have met hundreds of people who live in shame about drinking because there is a group of people who immediately want to label them and send them through a program of documenting their flaws and shortcomings. This one sided approach has excluded so many wonderful people who simply need some tools to be able to manage their minds.

Some people need help in a different way. Some people need to quit drinking forever. But they can only identify themselves and make that decision for themselves. We can’t begin to diagnose or coerce anyone to quit drinking because it has worked so well for us.

AND there are so many other people who want and need help with understanding their drinking. People who are tired of being told what they HAVE TO DO and how SCARED everyone else is because it is so SERIOUS. That was me. And my experience is VERY different from yours. My experience is that people who wanted to call me an alcoholic sent me to drinking more, hiding more, denying more. People who thought they knew better about how I should live my life did not help me at all.

So I hope you will open your mind to all the types of drinkers in the world. Some need to get help and become sober immediately. Some need to cut back on their drinking, and they will be able to do that very responsibly. And some just need to manage their minds better, so they don’t turn to alcohol quite so often. All of these people deserve help and tools.

Some “desperate” person might read this, and I hope they do. I would never pretend to know what they need to do with their life. I would never tell them that they are powerless or in denial. I can’t know that for another person. But if they want my help, I will give it to them. If they want to quit drinking, I can help them. If they want to cut back, I can show them the way and see if it works for them.

You tell me to share responsibly, and I do. I share because it is my responsibility. I have a responsibility to offer a solution that worked so beautifully for many of my clients. It won’t work for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. It’s for the people it does help. I hope you can stay open to that possibility even if it isn’t your experience.