My best friend has started drinking too much

I used to drink more than she did, but I've cut back and she's sped up


Cary Tennis
August 7, 2009 2:13PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I can feel myself growing apart from a very good friend. I am unsure if it's possible to save the friendship, though I'd really like to find a way to do it. We are both 36 years old and met during our first semester of college. From that point on, we have remained good friends. We live in the same area and have always frequently spoken and socialized. I am married without kids and she has never really settled down, until recently, and has no children either. We have a lot in common in terms of worldview and interests, and always seemed to be in similar places in our lives. We are very close and have been through divorce, death and a whole lot of other stuff together. We have also developed into drinking buddies over the years.

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Several months ago, I started making changes to my life in order to live more healthfully. I started eating better, working out and I cut way back on drinking. I used to split a bottle of wine with my husband a few nights a week and go out and drink quite a bit more than that on most weekends. Now, for the last several months, I have changed my drinking to the point where I never really drink during the week and will only have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner if I go out on a Saturday night. I basically cut way back on frequency and also stopped drinking to excess. These changes weren't that hard to make and I feel much better because of them.

My friend, however, has gone in the opposite direction. The funny thing is that, even though she and I would go out drinking together a lot, I could always tell that she thought I was a bit of a lush compared to her. Then, about two years ago, she started dating a guy who put my weekend antics to shame. He is definitely an alcoholic. He has multiple DUIs, starts every day at lunch and keeps going, and generally glorifies alcohol use. They moved in together about a year ago and she started adopting many of his habits. When we talk, she'll laugh about how she polishes off a bottle of wine by herself a few nights a week and she'll tell me stories of her frequent, drunken antics. I don't feel like it's my business to tell other adults how much to drink, but I don't really find drunken war stories very funny anymore, especially coming from a person on the brink of turning 37. Still, I have never criticized her drinking nor have I implied anything negative about it to her. I worry about her, but know that if I say anything it wouldn't be received well. I think it would only further alienate us. Plus, she is very close with her older brother, who barely drinks. I don't know him well but I find myself wondering what he makes of all this.

What I am struggling with, though, is that being her friend has become hard. I told her that I cut way back on drinking. I never even had to tell other friends, because going out and not drinking or only having a couple is not a big deal around my other friends. However, I had to tell her because I know she expects me to get drunk with her and I don't want to do that. Now, every time I see her, she asks me whether I have been drinking. She also has made disparaging comments about other people we know who don't drink (i.e., her brother-in-law is boring, etc.). My husband and I went out to dinner with her and her boyfriend, and they made a big show of repeatedly saying that I was on the wagon and that next time we got together it would be more fun. Since then, I have met her at the gym a few times and talked on the phone, but haven't seen her socially otherwise. I am not really sure what to do. I can't believe that I am about to lose my closest friend over something as stupid as not getting drunk together. However, I'd like to remain close to her, but not at the expense of acting like a drunken ass when I don't feel like it anymore.

Signed, Carrie Nation, Apparently

Dear Apparently Carrie Nation,

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I can't fix this situation but I can suggest one idea, based on the observation that friendships change over time, and it's good to keep them going through the changes.

Why not try to find some kind of boisterous outdoor activity that you can do together to let off steam? I thought of this when you mentioned that you had seen her at the gym. I take it you both like to work out. I'm thinking that when you cut back on your drinking one thing that happens is that you're less boisterous. So your drinking friends feel constrained. They like to blow off steam and let loose. If you meet in the same accustomed way, for dinner or in a bar where you're not drinking much, the cues are all wrong. It doesn't work. Your friend wants to let loose but you don't.

Crazy, fun outdoor activities, however, can work for both of you. Say you go river rafting, or do a vigorous aerobics class together or something like that. Maybe something some people find rather silly, like bowling. I'm thinking, do something early in the day so that the lack of drinking is not such a problem for her. Or maybe go to the races -- stock car, horse, what have you.

I'm not suggesting anything as grueling and Puritan and good-for-you as a long hike. I hate long hikes. They are boring. But something with some thrills involved, like river rafting, might be the way to go -- something where you get startled and your adrenaline is stimulated. Karaoke is another silly idea -- something where you don't have to think too hard or be on your best behavior. I am also thinking that if there are activities that you used to get drunk to do, it might be good to learn to do them without being drunk. If you can learn to do karaoke without being drunk, and have a wild time, then maybe that is another way that you can maintain contact with your friend as you diverge over the issue of drinking.

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As I said, I don't have the solution to this situation. I'm an ex-drinker and have lost some friends along the way, and have also lost contact with some friends and then reconnected years later. Life is long. You've grown apart in this one way. But I have observed that life goes on: If we have friends that we value, we have to find ways to keep them in our lives as our habits and priorities change. Otherwise, before you know it, 20 years have gone by and you haven't seen her.

So come up with some good, fun, stupid ideas for things to do with her, and do them. She'll probably appreciate it. Let's hope so. And she can bring the alcoholic boyfriend along, if he wants to come. Maybe, for you, at least, it'll feel like old times, except without the hangovers.


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Cary Tennis

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