The pain of alcoholism–Part 2

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The pain of alcoholism–Part 2

It is dif­fi­cult for me to see how accepted alco­hol abuse is in our cul­ture. Drink­ing is per­va­sive and over-drinking is tolerated.

I hear of young women and men who are close to los­ing their chil­dren due to neglect or out­right abuse. Their drug of choice may be mar­i­juana or metham­phet­a­mines, but what leads them back to these drugs is the drug alco­hol, because they and the world see it as harm­less. Friends and fam­ily say, “It is just a few drinks, that isn’t so bad.” They risk los­ing their kids so they do not have to give up the “plea­sure” of alco­hol and drug use.

I had a friend, a charm­ing South­ern woman, raised in grace and wealth. She was hos­pi­tal­ized in her fourth relapse, for drink­ing per­fume. She had used alco­hol all through her life to man­age lone­li­ness, inse­cu­rity and fear, and was encour­aged to drink to “calm your nerves.” She con­tin­ued to do just that, in what­ever form she could find, in spite of los­ing every­thing to her drinking.

I see a man who has had treat­ments since age 20, has destroyed his liver with alco­hol and now, in his late 50’s he relapses every few months. He has war­rants out for his arrest in three states, got his wife put in jail one night, is get­ting evicted for fre­quent police calls and blames every­one else for his prob­lems. His doc­tors tell him he will die if he drinks again, and yet he does drink again and again. Answer­ing a ques­tion of what prompted him to start again this time, he said, “I just wanted a beer while I watched the ball­game.” Just like a hun­dred thou­sand other guys on a Sun­day after­noon. How many of them will face liver dis­ease, divorce, DWI’s, job loss or worse? One in ten.

One in ten peo­ple who drink becomes alco­holic. It is the rare per­son who never tries alco­hol, because our soci­ety val­ues drink­ing, so almost every­one is at risk for alco­holism. Our cul­ture tends to see alco­hol as a nec­es­sary and wel­come part of life; with­out which, life would not be as reward­ing. Some peo­ple hold this belief, even when their fam­i­lies have been dev­as­tated by alco­holism. Because they don’t seem to have “alco­holic” strug­gles they take alco­hol use lightly. This frame­work tends to set up those per­sons who will have alco­holic struggles.

Over-use of alco­hol is tol­er­ated, even accepted. By the time it is clear that a per­son can­not han­dle it like oth­ers, much dam­age is already done. Then, often that per­son is judged when the prob­lems mount and they can’t seem to drink like oth­ers do.

But maybe some of those peo­ple who take alco­hol use lightly are hav­ing more strug­gles than they are will­ing to admit. There is a wide range of symp­toms and results of alcoholism—from the obvi­ous late stage symp­toms (chronic, fre­quent overuse, mul­ti­ple prob­lems and con­se­quences, numer­ous losses, con­cern of oth­ers) to the less obvi­ous early to mid­dle stages, where alco­hol use is reg­u­lar, occa­sional prob­lems occur, rela­tion­ally, med­ically, legally or voca­tion­ally. There may be efforts at cut­ting back or quit­ting, but alco­hol use always returns; some­times worse than before. These per­sons (or some­one that loves them) may have con­cerns they are drink­ing too much, but they quickly jus­tify it and explain away the con­cerns, so they don’t have to feel uncom­fort­able about their drinking.

 I often say to peo­ple that one sim­ple way to judge your rela­tion­ship with alco­hol is to ask: “Is my drink­ing the way I would like it to be, and if not, do my efforts to make it that way work?” In other words, if you wish and intend to not get drunk, does that work or do you still get drunk? Do you make promises to drink less but fail at it? Do you have remorse and fear about your drink­ing but con­tinue to drink any­way? Do you find your­self explain­ing to your­self or oth­ers why your drink­ing isn’t a prob­lem? Impor­tant ques­tions to ask, given 10% of drinkers become alcoholic.

It is widely believed that the only viable route for an alco­holic to take to get bet­ter is to abstain from alco­hol. I have seen this proven to be true over and over again.

Mak­ing a choice not to drink is not easy. It means giv­ing up the quick­est way to feel bet­ter. It means feel­ing acutely, life’s pain. It often means exclu­sion. It means the cul­ture is not sup­port­ive of what you are try­ing to do and sees it as abnor­mal. It fre­quently means a major life style overhaul.

I learned early in AA: “Recov­ery isn’t com­pli­cated; you just have to do one thing—CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE.” Wouldn’t it be great if friends, fam­ily and neigh­bors were will­ing to change just a lit­tle bit of their lives to sup­port alco­holics change theirs by hav­ing some alcohol-free events?

It is dif­fi­cult for me to see how accepted alco­hol abuse is in our cul­ture. Drink­ing is per­va­sive and over-drinking is tolerated.

I hear of young women and men who are close to los­ing their chil­dren due to neglect or out­right abuse. Their drug of choice may be mar­i­juana or metham­phet­a­mines, but what leads them back to these drugs is the drug alco­hol, because they and the world see it as harm­less. Friends and fam­ily say, “It is just a few drinks, that isn’t so bad.” They risk los­ing their kids so they do not have to give up the “plea­sure” of alco­hol and drug use.

I had a friend, a charm­ing South­ern woman, raised in grace and wealth. She was hos­pi­tal­ized in her fourth relapse, for drink­ing per­fume. She had used alco­hol all through her life to man­age lone­li­ness, inse­cu­rity and fear, and was encour­aged to drink to “calm your nerves.” She con­tin­ued to do just that, in what­ever form she could find, in spite of los­ing every­thing to her drinking.

I see a man who has had treat­ments since age 20, has destroyed his liver with alco­hol and now, in his late 50’s he relapses every few months. He has war­rants out for his arrest in three states, got his wife put in jail one night, is get­ting evicted for fre­quent police calls and blames every­one else for his prob­lems. His doc­tors tell him he will die if he drinks again, and yet he does drink again and again. Answer­ing a ques­tion of what prompted him to start again this time, he said, “I just wanted a beer while I watched the ball­game.” Just like a hun­dred thou­sand other guys on a Sun­day after­noon. How many of them will face liver dis­ease, divorce, DWI’s, job loss or worse? One in ten.

One in ten peo­ple who drink becomes alco­holic. It is the rare per­son who never tries alco­hol, because our soci­ety val­ues drink­ing, so almost every­one is at risk for alco­holism. Our cul­ture tends to see alco­hol as a nec­es­sary and wel­come part of life; with­out which, life would not be as reward­ing. Some peo­ple hold this belief, even when their fam­i­lies have been dev­as­tated by alco­holism. Because they don’t seem to have “alco­holic” strug­gles they take alco­hol use lightly. This frame­work tends to set up those per­sons who will have alco­holic struggles.

Over-use of alco­hol is tol­er­ated, even accepted. By the time it is clear that a per­son can­not han­dle it like oth­ers, much dam­age is already done. Then, often that per­son is judged when the prob­lems mount and they can’t seem to drink like oth­ers do.

But maybe some of those peo­ple who take alco­hol use lightly are hav­ing more strug­gles than they are will­ing to admit. There is a wide range of symp­toms and results of alcoholism—from the obvi­ous late stage symp­toms (chronic, fre­quent overuse, mul­ti­ple prob­lems and con­se­quences, numer­ous losses, con­cern of oth­ers) to the less obvi­ous early to mid­dle stages, where alco­hol use is reg­u­lar, occa­sional prob­lems occur, rela­tion­ally, med­ically, legally or voca­tion­ally. There may be efforts at cut­ting back or quit­ting, but alco­hol use always returns; some­times worse than before. These per­sons (or some­one that loves them) may have con­cerns they are drink­ing too much, but they quickly jus­tify it and explain away the con­cerns, so they don’t have to feel uncom­fort­able about their drinking.

 I often say to peo­ple that one sim­ple way to judge your rela­tion­ship with alco­hol is to ask: “Is my drink­ing the way I would like it to be, and if not, do my efforts to make it that way work?” In other words, if you wish and intend to not get drunk, does that work or do you still get drunk? Do you make promises to drink less but fail at it? Do you have remorse and fear about your drink­ing but con­tinue to drink any­way? Do you find your­self explain­ing to your­self or oth­ers why your drink­ing isn’t a prob­lem? Impor­tant ques­tions to ask, given 10% of drinkers become alcoholic.

It is widely believed that the only viable route for an alco­holic to take to get bet­ter is to abstain from alco­hol. I have seen this proven to be true over and over again.

Mak­ing a choice not to drink is not easy. It means giv­ing up the quick­est way to feel bet­ter. It means feel­ing acutely, life’s pain. It often means exclu­sion. It means the cul­ture is not sup­port­ive of what you are try­ing to do and sees it as abnor­mal. It fre­quently means a major life style overhaul.

I learned early in AA: “Recov­ery isn’t com­pli­cated; you just have to do one thing—CHANGE YOUR WHOLE LIFE.” Wouldn’t it be great if friends, fam­ily and neigh­bors were will­ing to change just a lit­tle bit of their lives to sup­port alco­holics change theirs by hav­ing some alcohol-free events?

About SGH

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