April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Good time to chit-chat on what is in that liquid that vexes sailors and preachers and troubles housewives and high school honor students; all the while, millions of others drink it without negative consequences.
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows brain functioning and relaxes inhibitions. The Bible tells how Jesus drank wine. Caesar drank wine. Nero drank A LOT OF WINE. And likely you, or someone you love drinks too – which puts them in the company of the earliest humans who fermented sugar into ethanol – because the result was pleasurable.
We see alcohol on the news and in movies; we see it involved with good times and bad, tragedies and triumph. Everywhere you look alcohol is featured in newspapers, magazines, TV, the movies. It’s on my iPhone for goodness’ sake.
It’s not what’s in it – but what it does to the brain that I want to chat on. My first drink at 15 made me feel terrific. More precisely, it stopped me from feeling conflicted. It was that very result, the normalization of my feelings, that made it a dangerous liquid for me. It took me 20 years to admit I was an alcoholic and just couldn’t drink like normal folks. When the alcohol went in me, what it did to me was devastating and unpredictably bad.
The 2008 survey results from NSDUH show that:
- 51% over the age of 12 are “drinkers” (roughly 129 million Americans)
- Over 23% over the age of 12 report they participated in binge drinking at least once in the previous 30 days
- Nearly 7% reported (again, all over the age of 12) they are heavy drinkers
So if alcohol for you is a positive way to decompress without exacting negative costs, then cheers to you. I like to think of alcoholism as an allergy. This helps me think of alcoholism as something like those with a severe peanut allergy. Put peanuts (or alcohol for the alcohol-troubled) in the person with the allergy and something bad is likely to occur.
The same survey tells us: Men are more likely to drink then women. The rate of binge drinking is lowest among Asians and at 20% for Black Americans, 24% for White Americans, and a bit higher still for American Indians or Alaska Natives at 24.4% and highest at 25.6% for Hispanics.
Alcohol consumption varies by educational and income levels and in 2008 an estimated 12.4% of folks over 12 years old drove drunk at least once during the previous year. It’s not all bad though. Many, many Americans drink alcohol as part of a healthy, vibrant lifestyle. If it’s not, and if the negative costs are piling up, why not talk to a friend or family member about taking steps to lead a healthier life around alcohol.
Here are 10 questions as a Self-Test, to jump right into the discussion:
- Do you use alcohol to build self-confidence?
- Have you missed school or work or other important events in your life because of alcohol?
- Do you feel guilty or down, after using alcohol?
- Have you lost friends or strained relationships because of alcohol use?
- Do you feel empowered when you drink alcohol?
- Does it bother you if someone mentions they think you’re drinking too much?
- Have you gotten in trouble for the way you drink?
- Do you have physical costs to the way you drink?
- Do you engage in riskier behavior after you drink?
- Can you go on the wagon for 30 days without issue?
Take a look at yourself and those around you. If it feels like it’s time for some change around the role alcohol plays in your life, be open to that. Stay away from the word ALCOHOLIC if that helps. Try “problem drinker” if you like. Talk with your kids, your friends, you parents and partners about alcohol and the role it plays in your lives.
Become a participant in how you use alcohol and make sure it’s not using you.
Brad Lamm, BR-I, is a Board-Registered Interventionist. He is the author of HOW TO CHANGE SOMEONE YOU LOVE. His group offers free training and support groups at www.BradLamm.com.