Life tips from a concentration camp on reducing drinking

A few people asked about our  reducing drinking post last week. That maybe we were encouraging people to be Pollyanna. Older readers will remember Pollyanna as a book later adapted into films where a young girl called Pollyanna had this really positive and happy approach to life.


What’s wrong with Pollyanna?

So yes, Pollyanna could be sickly sweet, but what is wrong with being grateful for the little things in life? The opposite approach to ignore all the nice little things, and how does that help? Being grateful for the little things in life, has lots of benefits and even improves our  mental health

A very famous book, written in a concentration camp showed  how we interpret what happens us  can even make the difference between life and death.


The search for meaning

Victor Frankl wrote one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read called.

“Man’s search for meaning”

A prisoner in a concentration camp, he observed how different prisoners, guards and himself behaved in this awful situation. He then came to a number of conclusions on why some prisoners died and others survived. Many of his conclusions can be helpful in  when trying to reduce drinking.


Changing a situation

Victor writes

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

With our drinking culture, it can be very difficult to control our drinking. It can feel like a helpless situation. We can feel “why us”, when everybody else goes on drinking merrily.  But rather getting down and feeling helpless, we need to accept this is the way it is. We find it difficult to control our drinking. So we should look at what we can do to change things. We’ve discussed  ways of dealing with this from drinking low alcohol drinks, to new social activities, to saying No to friends.

As Victor says

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms,—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So if Victor can do this in the horrific concentration camp situation, it can inspire us to take action and go against social norms.


Don’t aim for success

The traditional way of managing success is to count the number of days a person has stayed off the drink.

“I’m 100 days sober, or I’m 100 days AF” (Alcohol free)

If someone has one drink, then they’re back to zero days. So many people who  lose their “success” in controlling drink, by having one drink  then go on an almighty binge. They say something like

“Sure if I have one, I may as well finish off the whole bottle” 

Then they next day, they wake up hungover, feeling ashamed and guilty.

On the issue of success, Victor says

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

So unless it is helping  you, don’t focus on  the number of days, you’ve not had a drink as a “success”.

Do set goals for your drinking as we’ve described here, but don’t measure your success solely on these goals. Try to have a purpose outside of yourself, this could be anything from

  • Helping out with your elderly parents
  • Supporting your children’s GAA club
  • Helping the new young employee settle in to work
  • On your daily commute, listening  to a podcast  about an area or hobby  that interests you.


Can a concentration camp book really help in reducing drinking?

A concentration camp experience is so far beyond what most of us will ever experience. Hopefully there will never again be such a massive production factory of pure evil.

The book may seem to have no relevance to reducing drinking. But reducing drinking is not just a physical act. In our alcohol soaked culture, it requires a different attitude and a willingness to be an “outsider” to normal social culture as Simon describes so well here.

The conclusions Victor draws, which later became the basis of a new field of psychotherapy can be really helpful in trying to make sense of our lives. Making sense of our lives can help in reducing drinking.  This book really helped me, I hope it helps you.

Many public libraries have copies of this small book, which has been read by millions. It’s well worth reading.









This post was written by Carol

As some who gets hangovers lasting a week, Carol never drank too much - Once she got to a sensible age! However as a patient with an auto immune illness, since she was a teenager she has to drink very little. So she really understands how Irish society makes this very difficult. Carol is responsible for all aspects of Lifewise operations that Valerie and Angela do not cover.

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