I have friends- and family- that are alcoholics. And it’s not that they are rare, these alcoholics. They are in every social, financial, and age group. A mixture of AA card-carrying people who have acknowledged the addiction and attend meetings and abstain completely, knowing the slippery slope… and a lot of people who don’t understand they have a problem. These are intelligent, functioning members of society who have jobs, kids, houses, flash cars, and pretend their lives are fantastic.
Society Says That Alcohol is Good
Next time you go buy a birthday card, count the number of cards that refer to alcohol. It’s more than half. Go onto any gift-buying website, and about a third of the suggested gifts are alcohol related. It’s cool to drink. It’s funny to commiserate about a hard day, and how that person ‘deserves a wine’ tonight.
Maybe it’s the circles I move in, but the biggest group of offenders- endorsers- of alcohol? Mums. Mums who justify 1-2-3-4 glasses of wine a night by saying their children are a nightmare. Mums who struggle through their days, to fall gratefully on their wine at 5.01pm. Maybe it first started with one wine with dinner, then a few months later and you’re having a few wines, or maybe a whole bottle a night. But society, for some strange reason, doesn’t tell us it’s wrong.
In New Zealand as a teenager, it’s cool to get drunk. It’s funny to black out, or vomit, it’s a great story for school on Monday. If you are a woman who can out-drink a guy, that’s a great thing! As we get older, somehow still, it’s cool to be hungover. It shows we still have a social life, we’re still young and irresponsible.
I’m not innocent in all of this either. I celebrate with alcohol (less these days, living in a different country has changed the amount I drink). A successful show? Alcohol. Catching up with friends? Alcohol. Relief I’ve finished an exam/ test/ deadline? Alcohol.
I think the thing that bothers me most is how it’s so socially acceptable to joke with your friends about how much you need wine. How we are accomplices to each other’s drinking. I see it again and again on social media, enabling drinking, excusing our behaviour, justifying the fact that you are reliant on alcohol.
But, it’s not really that funny. In fact, it’s deadly serious.
Alcohol Causes Cancer
Alcohol is a carcinogen. To be honest, everything in life seems to cause cancer, so it’s easy enough to say, ‘oh well, have to die of something’ before sloshing back another glass of red wine- for your health. But the World Health Organisation has placed alcohol in the group 1 category- that is, it CAUSES CANCER. It’s estimated that for every drink consumed daily, the risk of breast cancer increases by 7%. This research is proven. It’s not some quackery or woo, it’s over 100 studies. It’s estimated that 15% of breast cancer cases in the US are caused by alcohol. That’s more cases than the BRCA gene accounts for.
This article here discusses a lot more of the research and how the alcohol industry tricks us into thinking that alcohol is good for us. I could give you a lot of reasons, but basically everything alcohol touches has an increased cancer rate. Mouth, throat, stomach, bowel.
Remind me, why are we drinking alcohol again?
Alcohol Causes Huge Social Problems
Ask the police, or ambulance officers, or your local bartender. People are assholes when they drink. They beat their wives. They hit their friends. Alcohol is a depressant, yet so many people who suffer from depression self-medicate with…. Alcohol. It contributes towards poverty, it affects your work performance, it makes you a worse parent (and makes your kid three to four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs), and it increases the rate of sexual assaults. Not to mention the increased load on our healthcare system caring for the physical effects of alcohol use.
What Makes Someone an Alcoholic?
There is no hard and fast rule with this. It’s not as though I can say that if you drink two glasses of wine a night then you are an addict. Nor is it the quantity, or the regularity of the drinking. No, there’s no hard-and-fast measuring stick for this. There’s also alcoholism, and alcohol abuse, and they are two different beasts.
So here’s a tick box exercise. You could have a problem with alcohol if:
-You lie about your drinking, or hide/ disguise your drinking
-Sometimes feel ashamed or guilty about your drinking
-You ‘need a drink’ to relax and feel good
-You often drink more than you intended
-Your friends or family are concerned about your drinking
-You ‘black out’, or forget what you did during drinking episodes
BUT, all this aside; if your drinking causes issues and problems in your life- whatever that is for you- then you have a drinking problem.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There’s no one cause for alcoholism. There is an ‘alcoholic gene’ which predisposes you towards a drinking problem. Much like being predisposed to anything, it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely become an alcoholic, there are a combination of other factors, but if you have alcoholics in your family, be aware that this is a risk factor you may have.
Mental illness can be a risk factor. Anxiety, depression, bipolar… it’s tempting to self-medicate to help control your illness. But the worst thing is that alcohol is going to make you feel worse, not better.
The younger you start drinking, the more likely you are to develop dependence later in life. If you take medications while you drink, this can aggravate symptoms. Also, gastric bypass surgery increases your risk of alcoholism.
Stress affects how much you drink. If you use alcohol to cope with life’s stresses, it’s time to rethink and develop some better strategies.
So What’s My Point?
Look at your life. Look at your alcohol intake. Look at the reasons you drink. Be really, devastatingly honest with yourself. Read the statistics about alcohol related illnesses. Think about the damage you are doing to your kids and how you are setting them up for the same thing.
Don’t think about how NZ society enables this. Don’t justify your behaviour by saying that someone else has a bigger problem. Don’t tell me that ‘I could stop today, I don’t need to do it to prove it, I could stop at any point’.
Stop enabling. Stop making excuses. Stop drinking. If you feel angry, defensive or scared by the thought of stopping drinking… maybe you have a problem. Seek help. It’s ok. Pop over here for advice and find out where you can get help.
The other thing you can do is watch what you do in your life. Photos of wine on social media saying ‘well deserved!’ Joking with people that they ‘deserve’ a drink after some accomplishment. Catching up with people for a drink. Just watch what you do, how often alcohol seeps into your life and your social media. You might be surprised.