I can remember watching an episode of South Park where they were making fun of Stan’s Dad’s alcoholism. They were mocking people that called it a disease, and at the time a laughed along with it. Just have a little self control right? I no longer find that sentiment funny, as I have since come to find out I am an alcoholic.
Finding this out was the scariest moment in my life. Denial is strong amongst alcoholics. We like to think we have control of our drinking far, far past the point where we have lost control. I figured it out when I woke up one day, feeling like a piece of rotten meat inside a discarded trash can. I looked myself in the eyes in the mirror. In my head I said no more drinking. Immediately after saying that, as I had every day for weeks, I realized that wasn’t gong to happen. I literally couldn’t stop. Terrified, I looked into my eyes, and no longer recognized who I was looking at. The person in the mirror had dead eyes and a dead soul; slave to her master; alcohol.
That day, after a few more beers to quell my anxiety and the shakes, I decided to quit cold turkey. I lay awake all night, sweating, shaky, and completely unable to think. I could only count to ten over and over and over again. The night seemed like it would never end. I was screaming for relief in my head, and then I found myself praying to anyone/anything out there that could possible relieve me of the agony. That night, I found no relief. It was the worst night of my life.
The next day, I took 1.5 hours to get out of bed, get dressed, and go a block to grab a 6 pack. I couldn’t take it anymore. I drank half a beer that I REALLY did not want to drink, laid back down, and called my husband to take me to the ER. Detox was slow and painful, but it was in that hospital that I found AA and my first sponsor.
I have faltered since then. It’s a slow process of forgetting the pain and assuming you’re doing ok on your own. I stop going to meetings and then BAM! I’m right back in that miserable place. I know I cannot drink. I know I cannot control it. Usually when I decide to take that first drink, I have every intention of self destructing, because I have carried too much stress and bullshit for too long. I stop caring about myself. I take one drink, and it is never just one. Eventually, I go past the point of no return and have to snap out of the denial once more. It is never done without help and medical intervention.
- According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million adult Americans are alcoholics, and approximately 623,000 adolescents (age 12-17) are alcoholics as well.
- About 88,000 people die in the U.S. from alcohol-related causes annually. This makes it the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the America; only behind tobacco and poor diet/inactivity.
- Globally, alcohol is the 5th leading risk factor for premature death, however; among the age group of 15 to 49 years old, it is the number one risk factor. In 2012, 3.3 million deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption world-wide.
From what I know of the pain and struggle with alcoholism, there are a whole lot of people in our world suffering horribly and dying from this disease. Yet it really isn’t talked about much. There are two dominant perceptions of alcoholics that I regularly see in society.
One of these is disdain. There is always some accident report on the news about a drunk driver, the reporter concluding with finality police report the driver was drunk, intoxicated, over the legal limit. Period. Horrible tragedy, or close call, all because the person was so careless. There is NO excuse for driving drunk, but there is also no discussion why it happens. It is accepted with certainty that irresponsibility with alcohol was to blame, and then we move one.
No one asks why. No one thinks to address the fact alcohol is sold almost everywhere these days. Liquor stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, vending machines, movie theaters, and the list goes on. I find it harder to find a store that doesn’t sell booze than it is to find one that does. What does that say about us as a society?
The other societal perception of alcoholics I frequently see is amusement and/or entertainment. “Oh that’s just Uncle Larry,” the sexy misunderstood hero of a movie with the tragic past, the drunken anti-hero you just can’t help winding up rooting for, reality TV of drunk people making a complete fool of them selves and often time getting hurt: These alcoholics are taken lightly, gawked at, or even admired in a strange way.
Bad Santa was and still is one of my favorite “Christmas” movies. Showcasing a vulgar old drunk who cons malls as a Santa each year, Billy Bob Thorton plays a character who swears, stinks, is creepy, and he is constantly drinking. I still can watch it as it does a decent job of showcasing the misery of being a chronic alcoholic; albeit with a comical twist. Billy Bob’s character wakes up to take a swig out of a half drank bottle of beer with a cigarette butt in it. We chuckle, because it’s ridiculous. However, I guarantee many alcoholics have done the same thing. “Parking” at his new mall gig and a waterfall of beer cans and empty liquor bottles pour out the door as he emerges; and again, we laugh. How ridiculous?! Again, it has happened in real life, and there’s nothing funny about it.
- According to the Substance Abuse and Mental health Administration (SAMHSA), heavy alcohol use is defined as binge drinking 5 or more days in the past month (it does not state days in a row).
- Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as drinking until your blood alcohol volume (BAV) is past the legal limit (0.08) in any 2 hour timeframe.
I laughed at these definitions. I certainly don’t need two whole hours to get tipsy, and I’ve gone weeks, maybe even a couple months doing it every single day… all day. But what do those statistics mean for everyone else? What does it mean to the party animal frat boy or the sports fan that likes to “celebrate” victories and “sooth” the wounds of defeat? What about the micro beer aficionados ordering beer flights or the wine coinsure at a wine “tasting.” You know you aren’t spitting it out ever time. Beer and yoga, painting and wine, happy hour; how much are you indulging?
Heavy alcohol use doesn’t automatically mean you are an alcoholic, and that is certainly not the point I am trying to make. The concerning issue for me is how pervasive alcohol consumption is in out society and across the world. Sporting events, concerts, weddings, or just because it’s Tuesday and your favorite restaurant has a special on your favorite drink; excessive alcohol consumption is not only everywhere, I feel it is encouraged and/or expected. This leads those prone to alcoholism straight down that path under a mistaken haze of normalcy.