Non-problematic Drinking for Sale?

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

So, a quick disclaimer here – I LOVE AA. I highly recommend that everyone, whether you have a drinking problem or not, attend an open AA meeting and be a witness to the beauty, truth, and authenticity occurring in those rooms and church basements.  And, certainly, if you are concerned about your drinking, AA is where I would recommend that you start. According to the AA website, the program and its basic text has “helped millions of men and women recover from alcoholism.” From an odds standpoint, attending AA meetings and completing the 12-step program is your best bet at freeing yourself from this thing. I began attending meetings about a month after I quit drinking because, like pretty much everything I do, I went all in in the beginning, throwing everything I knew of at what was a huge change. (Moderation just isn't my strong suit in, well, anything...) I attend a small women’s AA group and while I have not yet worked any of the steps (largely because of the misgivings discussed below), I absolutely cherish my time there and the relationships I have formed. Ironically, I've found much of what I was looking for when drinking - connection and acceptance - in the relationships I've formed with women there but that's a subject for another post. 

So, having said all that, I have some big hang-ups with this first step – the most significant one being that it seems to me to draw the circle of who is suffering at the hand of alcohol (and should consider a life of abstinence) too small. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me but words mean a lot.  When I see the words “powerless” and “unmanageable,” I picture extremely dire straights and, thankfully, I don’t consider that my life at all. I have talked this through with several people and the responses I often hear are that I’d decided to make an “early exit” or I’m getting off the alcoholism elevator at Level 2, instead of waiting to get down to 10.  They often refer to a “list of yets” – things I haven’t done “yet,” i.e. driving drunk, driving drunk with my kids, drinking in the morning, etc. – but imply that this list will get smaller and smaller as this disease progresses.

I hear what they’re saying and maybe it’s just “my disease talking,” but I’m not convinced. I was damn good at creating a manageable life that included managing to drink too much and too frequently. With a lot of hard work, planning, organizational skills, and $$$$, I think almost anyone can. I’ll use an example of the DUI because that seems to be a pretty common “bottom” but the same logic applies to a lot of what we picture befalling the stereotypical alcoholic. I’ve grown up in a culture that considers driving while drunk absolutely unacceptable and we’ve always found ways around it. In high school, the kid with the strictest parent was often our DD, or we just took turns. In college, the fraternities had pledges take on this role. As a young adult, it was not uncommon at all to hear that a large factor in choosing where to live was being able to “walk home from the bars.” Finally, Uber came around and the idea that anyone would drive after more than even 1-2 drinks just became unfathomable to me. To me it’s not a yet, it’s a hard never.

But do the facts that I live in a culture that doesn’t accept this behavior and can afford to never do it mean that I don’t have a problem with alcohol? Definitely, not. I guess you could say that I probably have less of one than someone who bucks this societal norm in the name of satisfying their addiction but it’s still a problem that I’m better off addressing.

AA's book of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions speaks of the “absolute humiliation” that one feels before entering AA and that “only through utter defeat are we able to take our first steps toward liberation and strength.” It continues:

Why all this insistence that every A.A. must hit bottom first? The answer is that few people will sincerely try to practice the A.A. program unless they have hit bottom. For practicing A.A.’s remaining eleven Steps means that adoption of attitudes and actions that almost no alcoholic who is still drinking can dream of taking. Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant? Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone meditation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry A.A.’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect – Unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself.


I can honestly answer “me” to each of those questions above and it’s not because I think I’m any saint or because I think my life was in peril. I’d venture to say that the majority of people who have approached me concerned about their drinking would say the same. I don’t believe that it has anything to do with our lack of readiness to examine our drinking or that we wouldn’t benefit from the AA program. I think it actually has more to do with our privilege and where we fall in Maslow’s Hierarchy or Needs -->.

Having all four of the lower levels of needs reasonably satisfied, we are seeking self actualization, i.e. becoming “everything one is capable of becoming.” We wonder whether alcohol is impeding that and here's the thing - THAT is reason enough to stop without regard to how much or little we've lost. 

So, my point in writing about this is not to turn anyone off from AA. As I said above, I believe it's an incredible program and it is quite amazing that something written by a few white men back in the 1930's is continuing to save the lives of a completely different and increasingly female population. But I do want to expand the conversation to include those of us that, in spite of our problematic drinking, seemingly still have everything (except a first step).  

Things I Love Related To This Conversation:

"Am I An Alcoholic?" by Laura McKowen                        

Editing Our Drinking and Our Lives Podcast by Jolene Park & Aiden Donnelly Rowely