By SARAH DOOLITTLE, REPORTER’s POINT OF VIEW
Sarah Doolittle is a local resident who writes for Four Points News.
When people find out I don’t drink alcohol, they usually ask the same questions. “Really? Not at all? Why not?” The answers are always the same, in order: yes, not at all, and mostly because I have a family history of alcoholism and deaths from alcohol.
Sometimes I think of making a joke of it when they ask. “Oh yes, I’m six months sober!” But some deeper part of me understands that it’s not funny. Alcoholism–or drug addiction for that matter–is not funny.
According to popular media, though, it’s hilarious. Watch “Drunk History” on Comedy Central. Or movies like “Project X”, “Superbad”, and “21 & Over”. (The first two build their plots around underage drinking.) Search the word “drunk” on YouTube and over 15 million results are found. Endless music videos feature the ubiquitous red Solo cup, code for alcohol, and the party never stops. It is the rare film, always rated R so our kids can’t see it, that addresses the darker side of alcohol use.
I don’t mean this as a blanket condemnation of alcohol. Prohibition failed spectacularly, producing more alcoholics than preceded it. There are millions of adults who are able to enjoy alcohol responsibly and who genuinely enjoy the taste. (I’d rather a milkshake any day, but that’s just me.)
About guns we say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The same cannot be said about alcohol, however. Unlike guns, alcohol (and other drugs) work on your brain first. Addiction and lesser negative side effects are very real possible consequences of alcohol use.
Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess, is a thief. First it steals your good judgement, your memory. Then you drink a little more, it takes your inhibitions, your reaction time, your balance. Eventually you can lose your lunch, your consciousness, even your life.
Worse–and we have all seen this happen–alcohol can take the life of an innocent bystander.
Alcohol took my grandmother before my siblings and I were even born. She was an alcoholic, and she died alone under a tree, alcohol stealing her dignity, too, in its greed. Growing up, we could only image her from photos and our mom’s stories. But I think of her and honor her memory every time I say no to a drink. I wish every time that she had been able to say no.
People sometimes characterize addiction as a disease of choice. My own husband, a doctor whose grandmother also died alone from alcohol, denies that alcoholism is a disease like cancer or Parkinson’s, something that strikes you unbidden. On this we disagree. Science is only beginning to understand how addictions works on the brain. But even without science, I can’t help but think, especially when considering the generational misery and suffering inflicted by alcohol addiction, that anyone with a choice would not choose to be an alcoholic.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States touts on its website that, “The U.S. beverage alcohol industry is a major contributor to the economy, responsible for over $400 billion in total U.S. economic activity in 2010.” This from the same industry that says Please Drink Responsibly.
Humans and even animals have been enjoying fermented intoxicants since time began, and it is clearly a part not only of our nature but of our society. People will always drink.
The question then is, how to do so with a minimum of harm? I think above all we need to be more honest about alcohol, honest with our kids and ourselves. What images do we project to our kids about alcohol and its consumption? Do we use alcohol to relax, to have fun, to lubricate social situations? Do we use alcohol casually as though it were no more dangerous than a Frappachino? Do we respect alcohol and its potential for harm just as we do cars and guns?
My husband enjoys a cocktail every night. It’s a mystery to me, but he loves the taste of rum, loves to research the best brands and prices. We have a fifteen year old, and every time I take her to a party, we have the same talk, “Will there be drinking? If you decide to drink, you need to tell us. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, we will come get you any time.” And so far, knock on wood, she has not encountered drinking among her peers.
I explain to all three of our kids that, while we understand that people drink and that they, too, may want to someday experiment with alcohol, that they may not have a choice about whether or not they become addicted. With family histories of addiction on both sides and little understood genetic predispositions, it may be that they cannot drink. I explain to them that it’s like cigarettes, which I smoked for years in my youth: it’s not the starting you have to worry about, it’s the stopping.
I wrote about addiction in Four Points this week not only as a response to recent events but also as another way to have an honest conversation about alcohol and addiction. Too often addicts are consigned to the margins of society, where their addictions can better breed in secret. This need not be the case. Think of the people you know who may suffer from addiction–I can think of three off the top of my head–and then think of how you might talk to them about your concerns. This may seem incredibly hard, but I imagine it is harder than knowing you said nothing in the event alcohol steals something vital from them or someone else.
And in the meantime, please, please drink responsibly.