Edit 7/7/2023: Update here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/F2MfbmRAiMx2PDhaD/some-observations-on-alcoholism


Hi guys, as my username suggests, I’m sorry to write this pseudonymously, but I don’t know how public I want to be about my problems yet. So, the short version is that I’m an alcoholic and I’m an Effective Altruist, and I don’t know exactly how much I should or shouldn’t involve EA in my recovery efforts. I am vaguely aware that EA has mental health resources for struggling EAs, and I am struggling. I also don’t know how many of them are relevant to substance abuse in particular. These are some of the considerations that I am conflicted about:


Against involving EA more: Most of my problems are not directly related to EA, and I’m not sure if I should be using EA resources for personal health problems unless I have some strong idea of how my problems relate to my involvement in EA. Maybe more to the point, I have access to other mental health resources, I am currently seeing someone at my school about this, and it feels like a waste of resources to involve EA in my problems if I don’t need to. Additionally, there are many recent worries that EA is too insular, and this can lead to problems in how it handles personal issues. I share some of these worries, and although I don’t distrust EA’s mental health team, it seems like I should be cautious in over-involving EA in my personal life where it is unnecessary. If nothing else, it makes me more dependent on EA. Additionally as mentioned before, I just don’t know if EA’s mental health team deals with things like substance abuse so much as burn out.


In favor: While my drinking is not deeply connected to my involvement in Effective Altruism, there are a number of things that have exacerbated my problem which are idiosyncratic to EA in a way that makes me uncomfortable talking to a normal therapist about it. I have still not mentioned anything EA related to my counselor so far despite our sessions thus far largely focusing on my “triggers” for drinking. Related to this, I am not a huge fan of my current counselor’s approach, there is a bunch of focus on things like what drives me to drink, when I buy more into a bias-based and chemical model of drinking, where mostly the issue with my “triggers” is that I am unusually susceptible to finding lame excuses for myself. She also keeps recommending a bunch of other mental health resources, some of which seem quite tangentially related to my main problem. I think that a more focused approach would be valuable, and think that the type of triage and evidence-based thinking common in EA makes it more likely to be a space where the counseling I get will be, well, effective. I also don’t want to speak too soon about resource problems, as there may be many services that aren’t resource intensive, like groups sessions for EAs with substance abuse problems.


Does anyone have any advice? Are there people here who have gone through a situation like this before, and have they involved EA’s mental health resources in some way? If so what did they get out of it?




New Answer
New Comment

6 Answers sorted by

Hey, I'm sorry to hear this has been hard. Alcohol problems are so common in general that there are certainly other EAs struggling with this.

Here's an overview I put together a while ago about some different treatment options: Resource on alcohol problems

If you think talking with others in EA would be helpful, the EA Peer Support group has had other posts about this and allows anonymous posting.

Sending you best wishes!

These look great, thanks!

Hi! I've struggled loads with addictions to alcohol and other drugs, spending large chunks of my 20s and 30s totally in thrall to one substance or another. I spent several years trying and failing to get sober, and finally succeeded 2.5 years ago. I'm sorry you're going through it; it's fucking agonizing.

One thing I found indispensable in early sobriety was fellowship, and I think this is true of a very large % of people who successfully recover. 12 Step programs can be an awkward fit, but also have huge fellowships in many areas, and I was able to get a fair amount out of them eventually. Buddhist recovery was also fairly helpful for me. In my experience, unfortunately, existing secular programs suck.

Feel free to message me if you'd like to talk. Wherever you are in your journey, there's a very good chance I've been there, and have known many other people who have as well. I've occasionally thought about trying to organize some kind of recovery fellowship within EA and would be open to doing that if there are others interested, as well.

Since posting this post, I've written more about my experience and given updates here:


As a result a few more people have expressed interest in an EA recovery group, so I created a Discord chat to coordinate and discuss the possibility further:


This might wind up being temporary and I'm happy to switch to something else, but it seemed like I should at least set it up to get started.

Thanks, I appreciate you sharing this. My point is roughly: I have told most but not all of the people closest to me about it, and I'm gradually decreasing the amount I drink each night to avoid rapid withdrawal problems (and failing many nights). I think an EA fellowship/get together on this would be a great idea, though my wi fi is terrible so I personally would be unlikely to attend unless it was in-person.

Don't know where you are, but there might be enough people here in the bay for it to make sense.
It probably doesn’t narrow it down too much for me to say that I’m in New York City (and honestly even if it does, I don’t worry so much about some people being able to guess my identity as just not wanting it to be very public), so there might be enough people by me as well.

Thanks for posting, I’ve struggled with substance abuse myself and I’m sure many other folks in EA have as well. It’s a seriously endemic problem in the modern world that we don’t discuss enough as a cause area or community health issue in my opinion.

My first recommendation would be find a new therapist who’s open to learning about new things. Anecdotally I spent years going through different therapists, and finally found one that was interested in a rationalist perspective. He’s read many slate star codex posts and I feel I can talk to him about things from an EA/rationalist lens. It takes effort but it’s worth it.

I’ve also found John Vervaeke’s lecture series, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, to be helpful in understanding my own ‘triggers’ so to speak. I’d recommend giving it a listen, it’s very similar to rationalist arguments in many ways.


He has an audio only version on Spotify as well.

Good luck to you, and feel free to message me if you’d like to chat more.

Thanks! I’ll check out the video for sure. As for the new therapist, I’ll admit I’m reluctant here. Most simply I don’t think I have it in me to do that, I would be worried about how it would make her feel. I know that’s not a good reason, but it is a realistic constraint on my behavior, so I see no point denying it. Additionally though, I want to engage in a certain amount of deference in case I’m wrong about what works, and also since I haven’t really talked to her about this concern, I feel like I owe it to her to at least do that first. I think the compromise position I’m drawn to (which might prove unfeasible), is to continue seeing her but also get help closer to my own approach.

Wil Perkins
If you explain your issues a good therapist will usually suggest other folks that may be more in line with what you’re looking for! It can make the search less laborious. Good luck :)
Thanks! Yeah, I should probably talk to my therapist more openly.

Resources differ by location. If you share your country, it would help us give you better advice!

Sorry yeah, that makes sense. I’m in the US.

As someone who has struggled with these issues in the past, I'm just replying to let you know there are definitely others in the community that struggle with this. 

Certainly not qualified to give you advice but what helped for me was: 

1. Not worrying about staying sober "long-term" just removing it as "something I do". I found I also was finding lame excuses so it helped to just think on a day-to-day basis that it just isn't an option for me was the only way to not drink. 

2. For myself, I found that most external resources were not very helpful since they all inevitably revolved around thinking about drinking and discussing drinking, they were not useful for me and didn't assist me much, however many others find them helpful. 

3. Actively removing myself from situations (bars, afterwork events etc) that heavily involve alcohol and  replacing these with situations where alcohol was not helpful (playing complicated boardgames and fitness)

4. Trying my best to identify sources of significant stress and tension in my life and remove that stress. (this meant taking a pay cut in the end for a less stressful job as this was stress mostly through work)

Thanks, I appreciate the organization and frankness of this comment, so I will replicate it:

  1. I think this is what helps most for me too, on the days I consider it completely off the table, I don't think about it so much. The same is true on days when I am generally in a more hopeful state of mind, but right now I am gradually decreasing the amount I drink to avoid serious withdrawal problems, which is proving difficult
  2. Since I've never been to one I'm unsure about this, but I feel like I can understand it
  3. I very rarely go to events like this, and almost alway
... (read more)

I'm a sober alcoholic, have been for quite a few years now (enough that I've lost count.)

I guess everyone's path is different, but what helped me was reading the book This Naked Mind. It's not a greaaat book, has very mixed reviews and plenty of justified criticism. But it got me to stop drinking, and convinced me that if I stayed sober long enough it would last.

And it did.

What worked for me was drawing a small fish-hook on my arm every morning, a visible reminder that the addiction was there, that the addiction was separate from me, and that 'my' desire to drink was the addiction's desire.

Around 2 weeks sober it seemed to get noticeably easier, and the longer I stayed sober the easier it became to stay sober.

I don't miss alcohol, and I don't feel like I'm missing out.

Like I said, everyone's situation and path is different. But one thing you can rely on is that the longer you're sober, the easier it will get to stay sober.

Thanks, I've heard of the naked mind, but not much about it. I should probably check it out. I'm planning to aim for at least a full week sober the next time I get all the way there, so hopefully that will significantly decrease my craving.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:14 AM

Please don't apologise for your use of a burner account to share something vulnerable. xxox. And thank you for sharing.

Strong agree with Nathan. This is a completely valid use of an anonymous account. I'm glad that you shared. I hope that the answers and support offered here will help you on your path.

Thanks! Hopefully they will.

Thanks, I appreciate it!