Photo by Kelsey Chance / Unsplash

Booze is not your buddy, and the problem is getting much worse

I lost a friend  a while back with a ham-handed inclusion of her in an article about alcohol, a mistake I rue to this day. That said, I am utterly unapologetic in rants about what the juice does to us, having lost a brother and father to alcohol addiction. While I fully understand that nothing I say is going to change the industry, which is loving every second of the over-consumption that has marked the Days of Covid, I am still going to speak my mind, which has never, ever been addled by alcohol, nor will it.

Kindly. That does not give me moral superiority. I've had my fair share of addictions. Sugar for one (which alcohol has plenty of, thanks) a shopping jones, an exercise jones, eating disorders, you name it. I am exceedingly fortunate, having coming from a family with substance addiction issues, that my family's love of cocktails didn't sweep me up. That said, I understand addiction, and alcohol is among the most insidious.

Its costs are hideous.

In the years under Covid that abuse, as with drugs and most especially opioids, has ratcheted up considerably.

The worst of it is how disproportionately this slams women:

COVID-19’s Continuing Toll: Increasing Alcohol Use and Liver Disease Disproportionately Affect Women
To discuss the potential factors driving the increasing alcohol use among women as well as potential solutions, we interviewed David Streem, MD, and Leena P. Mittal, MD, FACLP.

Kids watch their caregivers. If alcoholism is normalized, you can bet that it's going to cascade downhill more easily. This article addresses the genetic influences, which are only part of the problem. My big brother learned alcohol abuse in the family. His son, from whom he was estranged for life, also developed alcoholism. There is some argument about genetic disposition, but it's not the whole picture. As kids, we model what we see, almost precisely, including all the monumentally stupid things we do.

In fact, young human kids are slavish in how they model adult behavior to their detriment. They are too young to discern what part they are seeing is destructive.

But not all of us. As a very young girl, I had to walk my drunk mother up and down our clay road after a boozy bridge party one night and I never, ever forgot how terrified I was. I made the direct association with the jam-packed booze cabinet above our kitchen sink.

Photo by Maricar Limjoco / Unsplash

The cabinet my brother pilfered regularly. To my young mind, what was in that cabinet nearly cost me my mother.

As we slide into silly stupid season, the season of excess to begin with, the boozing that has marked the last few years has begun to result in a fair few articles on Medium and elsewhere about drinking. One in particular broke my heart about young mothers and drinking, the same solace my own parents took from each other and to escape us kids.

I am hardly alone; there is a whole cottage industry for adult kids of boozing parents. And please, just to be fair, this is not about occasional or light drinkers. You know full well what I’m addressing here.

I juxtapose those articles, of which there seem to be a great many as we slip towards high holidays and even greater excess, against the messages I have seen these last few years doing some casual shopping for my new house in Eugene, OR.

Stores like TJ Maxx Home goods were flooded with cutesy signs including that if you're at home with your dog, it's not drinking alone.

I see the humor, and I completely and utterly FAIL to see the humor. I can hold both, but again, having lost family members to this disease, there is nothing funny about having signs all over your home justifying juicing yourself into a stupor.

For a fair few months those jokey signs about ANY justification for boozing up your day were absolutely everywhere. They still are, but now they're in people's houses.

Random party impression
Photo by Tobias Tullius / Unsplash

If you don't think this affects us, please. A dear friend of mine taught me how to treasure map, which was the art of taking a big sheet of construction paper (this was in the Eighties, before computers were big) and covering it with photos of what she wanted in her life. After about a year of having a big one on her wall, she had the good sense to notice that the proliferation of wine glasses filled with white wine were being matched by her behavior. She was drunk all day. She took a black marker and wrote WATER over all the glasses, and redirected.

Messaging, both subtle and in our faces, works.

I've seen articles on liver disease, mommy drinking, and LOTS of stories from folks who broke off the love affair with the ubiquitous bottle and what happened to their their health.  They got better. So did their lives, love lives, waist lines and wasted time. This smart piece from Today's Parent gets right to the heart of the matter:

Why mommy drinks: The scary truth about #WineMom
We joke about using wine to cope with all the whine. But what if the thing that makes everything better poses serious health risks? Is it still funny?

There really is only one consistent message and that is there is no value to booze. Period. Full stop.

The article that got me booted out of that friend's life was this one:

From Britt's article:

Five years ago, a review of 50 studies found that reducing alcohol intake, even for moderate drinkers, improves blood pressure and lowers the risk of heart disease. “Contrary to what earlier reports have shown, it now appears that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health,” reported Michael Holmes, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who co-authored the study in the journal BMJ.

That's about as clear as it gets.

NO VALUE. To say nothing about the damage to the body, brain, liver, your job, love life, every single thing you can imagine.

There is no redeeming value to booze whatsoever.

Britt adds this, which speaks to the sometimes deeply confusing information we try to juggle about all things health:

The shifting advice on alcohol “is very confusing for people,” says Benjamin Han, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health whose research team recently found 10.6% of seniors are binge drinking — a particularly unhealthy habit. Han points out that moderate levels of alcohol can be risky for older people with health issues, or for women already at risk of developing breast cancer.

As I write this article at 5:15 local time, Eugene Oregon on December 9th, there are easily six articles on alcohol in my feed. Since I write and read about health, those pop, and the fact that so many are speaking up about their own experiences with abstinence as well as how alcoholism affected their families is indicative of how much we're noticing.

One writer, Ken Middleton, has created an entire Medium publication dedicated to the topic:

I Thought Losing Weight Was Difficult When I Was Drinking
I don’t now.

While I absolutely understand the compulsion to imbibe when life dumps on your head, the way I see it, there are options which don't have to lead down that particular road. My ex-friend may well have been extremely offended because their alcohol use may well have crossed a line into abuse, and at some level they knew it. I have no idea. That most certainly wasn't my intention, at least superficially., However, the immediate dropkick of my presence out of their life forced me to wonder if there wasn't an underlying message to my article that crept in. That's a valid question.

It was someone I had come to care a great deal about. It may very well be that I was genuinely concerned and what I wrote was a sloppy attempt to say please stop. Doesn't matter. I handled it badly, but then so did they; they were furious, defensive, and hurled ugly insults that had no basis in reality. That is so often what happens when there is a callout on crap we're doing to ourselves. We attack the messenger rather than take a step back and day, Whoa. Maybe they have a point.

When we women drink irresponsibly overseas, which is where I play at my highest and best, we set ourselves up for rape and murder, disease and disaster. There is nothing FUN about getting roofied, then finding yourself having been gang-raped in a foreign country and dumped naked in a ditch miles from town, beaten nearly out of your senses.

I keep reading stories by women who say they shouldn't have to worry about bad men. Forgive me if I suck in my breath at that one. You cannot legislate stupidity, and I fear I have little pity for stupidity. Don't. Drink. Yourself. Into. A. Stupor, ladies. Gentlemen are already damned hard to find, and even gentlemen can be goaded by their buddies into joining the fun at your expense. Just read the headlines.

Antidote? Abstinence. Stay sober, stay safe. But that's just me, and believe me, I am well aware of how much easier it is for me to say that as a complete teetolaler. It took me years to finally come to grips with my eating disorders so I am empathetic. But I had no children, and that is the part that is criminal.

We are teaching our kids to normalize addiction, opiates, alcohol, eating disorders, body hate, all of it.

I can just see how many fingers are being flipped at this article. Fine, 'til it happens to you, or someone you love. That's how Mothers Against Drunk Driving got formed.

Booze kills. There are NO redeeming benefits. If you need a drink to get loose, then you might need a different kind of help.

If my strong feelings about this cost me someone, then we weren't meant to be friends. I am no longer willing to watch people I love self-immolate in a bottle.

What you do with your body is up to you. However, if you are modeling this for young children, well. That's not parenting. That's abuse, in precisely the same way we are teaching generations of kids to hate their bodies almost as soon as they understand they have a body. My parents did that to us. My brother lost his fight, and it took me forty years to get a grip on my addictions.

This is what you want to gift to your kids?

And finally, this is the cherry on top. Far too many, my family members included, drank because of mental illness, primarily depression. That has set us up to be even more susceptible to the ravages of Covid-19 and all its evil sisters. In every single way, this argues learning about coping instead of doping the circumstances we are juggling. To that:

Psychiatrists are uncovering connections between viruses and mental health. They’re surprising.
Immune responses to viruses like SARS-CoV-2 may affect mental health, and vice versa. Doctors are uncovering exactly how.

Depression needs professional help. If you notice, or if those who love you are remarking on how your drinking is on the rise, it might be time to seek help. If you have young kids, please consider their health and futures. Your healthy responses to life's challenges teaches them to think instead of drink.

Far better, your healthy response teaches the most vulnerable and dependent people in your life how to face what life hands them with courage instead of Cristal.