David Harbour on the Loneliness of Alcoholism

The Stranger Things actor struggled with addiction at a young age.

Benya Clark
Feb 18 · 5 min read
David Harbour holds a microphone.
David Harbour holds a microphone.
David Harbour. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

David Harbour quit drinking at a young age. The actor, who is best known for playing Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, got sober at just 24 years old.

As an alcoholic myself, I know how unusual it is to stop drinking at such an early age. When I first tried to quit, I was in my early twenties, only one year out of college.

I went to AA meetings daily, and was often the youngest person in the room. Even at “young people’s” meetings, intended for my age group, I was still about ten years younger than the majority of participants.

Like many young people who try to quit drinking, I didn’t last. I talked myself out of recovery and ended up going back to drinking for another seven years. I finally quit again and found long-term success with sobriety, but it wasn’t until just before my thirtieth birthday.

David Harbour, in contrast, has stayed sober ever since he was 24. He now has over two decades of sobriety.

The Loneliness of Addiction

So, what was it that convinced Harbour to quit drinking for good at such a young age? In an interview with Sam Jones on the Off Camera Show, he explained that because of alcohol he had “lost everything.”

He couldn’t make enough money to support himself, couldn’t hold down a job, and couldn’t maintain his friendships.

Harbour’s final point, about his difficulty with losing friends, resonates deeply with me. Loneliness was one of the hardest parts of my life as an alcoholic. As Harbour explains:

My friends all started to abandon me because I was very angry and a horrible human being to be around. And then, finally, my girlfriend — who I never thought would leave me — left me.

I went through a similar experience with my own drinking. As an alcoholic, I was a total jerk. I was angry all the time. I snapped at people over the smallest issues. Why would anyone want to spend time around me when I acted like that? As Harbour says, “You just become an awful human being […] you’re selfish.”

Alcohol had a way of keeping me isolated in general. Early on in my twenties, I used to go out drinking with friends or get drunk at house parties. By the end of my twenties, I was doing almost all of my drinking alone in my apartment.

The majority of my experience with alcohol was nothing like the hard partying I’ve seen in movies. It was a boring, lonely existence of sitting on my couch and watching television as my isolation grew year by year.

Harbour, going through his own struggles with alcohol, became an emotional wreck. He told Jones that he seriously contemplated suicide, but that since he had no friends, he expected his body to stay in the apartment for weeks. The one, dark thought that stopped him from killing himself was that he didn’t want his cat to end up eating his body.

Avoiding the Problem

Another interesting moment in Harbour’s sobriety story comes when he describes the conversation that pushed him to finally get stop drinking.

Harbour was speaking with a friend who had already quit drinking, and the friend told Harbour that he needed to get sober too. Harbour, meanwhile tried to place the blame for his unhappiness on every other problem he could think of — from his unemployment to his diet.

This was another point in Harbour’s story which reminded me of my own experiences, and which I’m sure many fellow addicts can relate to.

Even after I knew that I was drinking too much, I still always tried to prioritize other life changes. For example, I actually tried going on a diet prior to quitting alcohol. This led to an absurd and dangerous situation in which I was get most of my daily calories from beer.

I tried everything from quitting smoking to working out before I was willing to admit that alcohol needed to be my first priority. It wasn’t necessarily that those other life changes wouldn’t eventually help me, it was simply that my daily drinking was having such a massive negative impact on my life that it had to be addressed first.

As an addict, however, I was constantly in denial about just how bad my drinking had become. Just like Harbour, I’d take any other excuse I could find.

Getting Sober

Fortunately, David Harbour’s friend eventually managed to convince him to give sobriety a try. Harbour credits getting sober with changing his entire life. He described to Jones a sharp contrast between the worlds of drinking and recovery.

In the drinking world of which he had been a part, people were mean and angry. When Harbour started going to meetings, he was relieved by the kindness of the members. “People are nice to you finally, when no one was nice to you.” Harbour described the experience as “confusingly wonderful.”

Although sobriety didn’t solve all of his problems — Harbour continued to struggle with his mental health in the years to come — it did help set him on the right path.

I hope that other young addicts will see him as an inspiration. When I was in my early twenties, struggling to quit drinking, I felt like I was simply too young to stop for good. I questioned whether I really had a problem or if my drinking was just a normal part of young adulthood. I also told myself that if I stopped drinking at such an early age, I’d never really stick with it.

I ended up going back to drinking for years, and when I finally quit again, I realized that I had only made things harder for myself. I found myself regretting not quitting for good the first time around.

Harbour’s sobriety success — over two decades alcohol-free — proves that there’s no such thing as being too young for sobriety. If you’re interested in hearing more about Harbour’s sobriety, I highly recommend this clip from his interview with Jones on the Off Camera Show’s official YouTube channel.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

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Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

Benya Clark

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

Exploring Sobriety

Reflections on life without alcohol.

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