Paddling & Booze

I know this site is on the lighter side for the most part, but I have a serious topic. My paddling buddy has an alcohol problem. Last year he had an alcohol induced seizure according to the Doc, so it’s bad. He’s tried to get sober since, but has been unsuccessful. As a friend looking at the big picture, I have tried to help in any way I can, including enlisting his family for support, & trying to get him into treatment to no avail.

As far as paddling is concerned, we run up to class IV whitewater, & I now have to look at safety issues for next season if he continues drinking. His ability to perform rescues, rolling, scouting / reading rapids sections, etc…Even driving. Fortunately, we’re frozen in for the winter in my part of the country, so I have some time to think about this.

Q: Has anyone else had to deal with this issue?? I know he will be devastated if I tell him I’m not going to paddle with him because of his drinking, but I feel that safety outweighs his feelings. Am I bad??

Any insight from others who have dealt with this issue would be appreciated. (BTW the person in question does not visit this site)

Does he WANT to kick it?

– Last Updated: Dec-09-14 10:41 PM EST –

You are not bad, and your safety DOES outweigh his feelings.

You said you were "trying to get him into treatment to no avail." Is the no-avail part due to lack of treatment openings at clinics or is it due to his reluctance to undergo the treatment? I don't know how you can make this work if he doesn't want to, himself. In which case, you're better off telling him No More Paddling Together. Don't let him drag you into his substance abuse. If you continue to go with him, that's a form of enablement.

Seems it is human nature to keep doing whatever is destructive (but has short-term pleasure), as long as someone else goes along with it.

If he really does want to kick the habit, then maybe you and he need to look at other methods of doing it. There's a really nasty substance that causes extreme discomfort (i.e., uncontrollable puking) if an alcoholic persists in drinking after taking the stuff. I don't know what its name is but I bet a quick search would find it--probably has to be prescribed by a doc.

I once was at a work-travel dinner that included (unbeknownst to me at the time) an alcoholic. Every one of us had a drink while waiting for dinner. Not long afterward, this guy vanished for a long time. Eventually, a restaurant worker came to our table and discreetly informed the guy's right-hand-assistant that "he is outside, very, very sick and wants to go back to the hotel." The next morning, he was back at the workshop and seemed not to want to talk about what happened. A lightbulb went on over my head: Now I knew why stuff awaiting his review seemed to sink into a deep black abyss for eons, why he was often "away from the office."

The name of the anti-alcoholism med

There’s newer meds than that.
A person must be fully convinced that s/he must stop drinking, because if s/he breaks down and drinks on antabuse, it is a punishing and dangerous experience.

Being on lithium is a good idea to mitigate the brain damage, but lithium does not do that much to cut the desire to drink. And alcoholics do not make good lithium takers.

For about every drug or intervention I can think of, a person has to “hit bottom” and recognize they are helpless to control drinking, and must accept help to stop.

Here’s another thread… My stock answer is once I know, I just don’t paddle with them.

My take FWIW

– Last Updated: Dec-10-14 5:54 AM EST –

I can't say I have experienced this issue in paddling. I have dealt with it in other venues.

Bottom line - you are not doing this person any favor by providing a refuge where he can continue to be drunk. Even if you look the other way on the risk of his having a physical problem on the river or take over the driving to and from, you are still making a safe place for him to not deal with his problem. And you are putting yourself at risk as well.

It is hard to tell someone this. But it is also people making things clear that is the best shot at causing a change in behavior.

Honestly, after the alcohol-induced seizure especially I do not see where you have a choice. If I understand the situation correctly, you would be sacrificing your own paddling safety so that he can keep paddling drunk. That is not a healthy equation.

I paddle with drunks

– Last Updated: Dec-10-14 9:54 AM EST –

once. You need a bottle on the water, you got a problem, and it's not going to be mine.
Have a few friends who are fun after a couple beers ( I quit 15 years ago, no steps, no meds, just quit), which they'll enjoy after the paddle, but have stopped paddling or much of anything else with alcohol centric people.

In my opinon…

– Last Updated: Dec-10-14 10:30 AM EST –

If you paddle with drunks; you put yourself, and the drunks at risk. Especially if you paddle whitewater.

Should you abandon your friend?
Not if they are truly a friend.
You should attempt to encourage them to seek treatment, in every way you possibly can.

Ultimately, it is your friend's choice if they truly desire to do something about "their" problem. Such a problem did not occur overnight. It took many years of poor decision making on the part of your friend to become an alcoholic.

At some point in time you may have to make the decision to "beware the helplessness of the chronic victim", and to move on with "your" life. Either that, or be prepared to accept the natural consequences of your own poor decision making.

Just my 2 cents worth,

Sorry for your friend…
but WW paddling has too much potential for things to go wrong too quickly. So my standard is, don’t paddle with anyone who cannot assist in their own rescue or will need to be recovered often on any given paddle and conversely anyone who cannot adequately assist in recover others. I’ve been there, done that and it increases the potential for bad outcomes incrementally, i.e. it sucks.

Cut him off…
Not to put too blunt a point on it, but you need to cut him off from your paddling adventures together. Both for safety (his and yours) and also to help spur his road to recovery. If you two are truly very close friends, and if your paddling adventures together are something he truly enjoys, then cutting him off may be the key to changing his behavior.

I used to be a heavy drinker. I don’t know for sure if I was officially an alcoholic or not, but I was definitely on the road to becoming one if I wasn’t one already. Unfortunately, as ezwater pointed out, an alcoholic has to hit rock bottom before s/he may be willing to change. And even then they may not. What really has to happen is that the alcoholic has to lose, or risk losing, something/someone so dear and precious to them that they’d rather give up drinking than lose whatever that is.

For me, it was my wife and only daughter (at the time; have a 2nd daughter now). One day, I came to the realization that I just couldn’t control my drinking habit. And if I let it continue, I would surely lose my wife and daughter. I’d rather be dead than without them. At that very moment, I went through the entire house, rounded up all the alcohol, put it in a big box, and drove it over to my in-laws house a couple blocks away. I told them they could use it for their holiday parties or something.

It was a hard and embarrassing moment for me, admitting to myself and to my wife that I had a problem I could no longer control. You should have seen the look of bewilderment in my wife’s eyes as she watched me pull bottles of booze out of hiding places that she never had thought to look before.

It actually ended up being a very liberating experience for me. Kind of like a humongous weight being lifted off my shoulders. Fully admitting my problem to my wife and letting her watch as I emptied my caches made me feel naked and vulnerable (not to mention having to admit to all the lying I had done about my drinking).

The road to recovery was hard, especially that first year after quitting. I did it cold turkey without any AA support groups or anything like that. Forever and a day, I wondered when (or if) that constant craving for a drink would ever go away. I’m happy (and proud) to say that I’ve been sober for 3.5 years now. And not only have those cravings FINALLY completely disappeared, but I absolutely abhor drinking now (my own drinking, not others’). I knew I was over it when one time several months after quitting, on an out-of-town trip by myself, I caved and bought a bottle of wine. I brought the wine back to my hotel room and only had two glasses. The next day, I was so nauseous, weak, and out of it that I couldn’t participate in any of the activities I had planned. Ever since that one lapse, any time I had even a slight craving, I just remembered how sick I got from drinking only two glasses of wine. Luckily, 3.5 years later, I no longer have any cravings, and the thought of having a drink actually disgusts me.

What really helped was having a non-drinker who was near and dear to me (my wife in this case) willing to keep tabs on me and willing to take the gruff attitude and grief I would sometimes give her for being a “nag” about keeping me on the straight and narrow. I think that was what helped me the most. Unfortunately, if your friend’s significant other (or others really close to him) are drinkers, too, then it will be really tough for him to quit; darn near impossible, actually.

My point in this long-winded post is that if your friend truly cares for you as a friend and really, REALLY enjoys your paddling adventures together, then cutting him off may be that “thing” he loses that will finally be the nexus for change.

I enjoy a glass of wine…
or a beer with dinner as much as anyone, but I don’t go near alcohol if I’m doing anything that could be construed as really dangerous, like riding a motorcycle, scuba diving, or kayaking.

You say that your friend will be devastated if you tell him you’re not going to paddle with him because of his drinking, but I’d rather do that than face his family if a serious accident occurs because of it.

I too think you need to be tough with him.

so right about that last part

a piece of advice

– Last Updated: Dec-10-14 2:18 PM EST –

If this guy is a friend, you owe it to him to try to get him help. If not you may at least owe his family the opportunity.

You may have to accept losing the friendship in the bargain, at least temporarily. Chances are not, but even if the friendship ends, he still ends up alive. Whether you paddle or not is a bonus.

I'd stop at almost nothing, including involving anyone important in his life: spouse or significant other, family, other friends, even employer. Before doing any of that I'd have a nice talk with him about your concern for his health and safety and your support if he needs it. Be clear and thorough.

You still may not convince him. I agree with ezwater that the person has to want to recover. But if he fails, you'll feel a bit better if you'd tried to help.

If it helps, get the book "the Shadow Divers", read it, and then give it to him.

Go to some Al-Anon meetings
Share your story about your friend, and see what kind of feedback you get. Those people are more experienced on the subject than posters here.

How do you know?
How do you know what experience people on pnet have had with friends, or family members who were alcoholics?

Perhaps some posters have had prior problems with alcohol addiction too.

Alcohol Anonymous is certainly one alternative, but it is certainly not the only option, or solution to every alcoholics problem.


I had the same thought as thebob
I absolutely agree that the OPer would be well served by getting perspective from folks in Alanon. There is great certainty that those folks know what they are talking about. But I am not sure it is significantly different than what has been said here, especially since there is mention above of individuals having problems with alcohol.

Based on the experience of my family members (I have always been closer to the enabler side of the equation), Alanon groups work better for ongoing participation than for a one or two time drop-in mode. It sounds like the latter is what would be most likely in the case above.

I have also seen the experience be varied. One person stayed in an Alanon group for a long time because it helped tremendously. But another family member did not wish to stay with those meetings. The second person was better served by talking with people they already knew as friends who had dealt with alcoholism. Both individuals made their way to a better situation.

That said, Alanon offers a literal room full of people who can help support a decision. If the OPer feels terribly conflicted about breaking off from his friend, Alanon is probably the best place to have a lot of people personally affirm his decision.

I’m really really sorry you are placed
in this position. It’s extremely tough to watch someone you love self destruct. Should you paddle white water (or any water) with this friend? NO NO NO. Doing so will imperil him and anyone else in your group. That fact alone renders the decision obvious, and I agree that if he does find it devastating that will be a good opportunity for dialogue. I really hate this for you. Hang in there.

3 things

– Last Updated: Dec-11-14 9:54 AM EST –

FWIW, generally 3 things lead people to treatment:

1. A genuine belief that they will die if they continue to use (generally an overdose or serious health problem caused by the addiction)

2. Accumulating loss of loved ones, friends, and family members (meaning ending the relationship with them until they get treatment). This one comes with the condition that you tell the addict why you are leaving/ending the relationship (their addiction), what it will take to resume the relationship (them seeking treatment), and they you care about them but cant watch them in their disease anymore.

3. Loved ones of the addict going to AlAnon or similar program (any program for friends and family of addicts)

Those are verbatim quotes from Dr Drew and are the only things in his decades of experience that will motivate an addict to seek treatment.

More links:

I’m not so sure about that
Certainly Al-anon group would be a good resource. But al-anon is only one approach and it doesn’t work for everyone. I lost a friend after a long struggle with alcoholism; al-anon was mandated as treatment at some point but was not effective in his case (not blaming al-anon here, just saying it’s not a one-size).

"I know he will be devastated if I tell him I’m not going to paddle with him because of his drinking"

How will he feel if you are another member of your group is injured or dies because he is unable to perform?

How will you or other members of your group feel if he is injured or dies while paddling drunk?

How will all of you feel if he kills someone while running shuttle drunk?