A Crafty Route to Alcoholism
During an interview, Bob declared, “I have the disease of alcoholism.” Bob’s estranged father is an alcoholic. During Bob’s drinking days, he thought about his dad and even considered the concept of being genetically predisposed to alcoholism. “I chose to conveniently ignore it. I’m different. I’m immune,” Bob told himself.
Bob is a 31-year-old man with a serious disease. He does not take medications and he is not under the care of a doctor. Yet, his disease can be deadly if it is not treated and managed. Bob is fortunate that he received treatment and works daily to manage his disease.
Research reveals that genetics are responsible for half of a person’s risk for alcohol use disorder. Environmental factors usually make up the other half of this risk. Some scientists have been studying a field called epigenetics to help learn more about alcoholism. They are trying to determine how it affects a person’s risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Bob and others who suffer from the disease of alcoholism share similar thoughts and behaviors. I did not know Bob’s unique story, but it was the familiar story of the development of the disease of alcoholism. Here is an excerpt of Bob’s story as told to me during a telephone interview.
Q: At what age did you have your first drink of alcohol?
Approximately 30 percent of adolescents have drank alcohol by the age of 15. Sixty-percent have had at least one drink by the age of 18. One statistical report from 2015 revealed that more than seven million young people between the ages of 12 to 20 had engaged in underage drinking. Adolescents who begin drinking before the age of 15 are six times more likely to abuse alcohol and develop alcohol use disorder.
Q: Where did you get the alcohol?
A: Some school friends.
Most young people begin drinking alcohol when peers encourage or pressure them. A few underage drinkers access alcohol by sneaking into their parents’ alcohol supply. Although it happens, most parents would not admit to actually giving alcohol to their children. Some underage drinkers obtain alcohol from older siblings or older friends. Sometimes young people under the age of 21 are able to obtain alcohol from their boyfriend or girlfriend who is over the age of 21.
Q: Was there an occasion or event that prompted the drinking?
A: No. They (school friends) had it, offered it to me and I took advantage of the opportunity to be a part of the group. I knew my parents would not approve.
Many people have probably heard their parents say, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, will you follow?” This is usually a parental response to children who want to do something because of their “all of my friends are doing it” plea. Alcohol is definitely a follower type activity for most young people. They want to be a part of the group and seem to think that if they do what everyone else is doing, they will be liked and accepted.
Bob stated his parents would have disapproved. Mischievous thinking and behaviors that go against parental beliefs and rules make some young people think they are taking steps toward a freedom to make their own decisions. For some young people, the thought of parental disapproval and the law prohibiting underage drinking makes it even more appealing. Risk-taking and thrill-seeking are two of the traits seen in young people with substance use disorder.
Q: Did you drink to be a part of the group and to fit in?
A: Yes. I wanted to fit in.
Teen alcoholism is often the result of peer pressure. Adolescents could be exposed to neighborhood, school or work friends drinking alcohol or using drugs on a daily basis. Some drug dealers create drug-laced stickers and rub-on tattoos and ecstasy and other pills with fun and colorful stamps and shapes. Alcoholic beverages are also aimed at the young audience with jello shots, alcohol popsicles, and alcopops. Young people love colorful and sweet treats and trying new things, especially if everyone else appears to be having fun. Peer pressure that alludes to fun times and social popularity makes it difficult for some young people to say no.
Youth who drink alone may struggle with low self-esteem, depression, child abuse, bullying, anxiety, emotional issues, and relational problems at school and home.
Q: Did you become intoxicated the first time?
A: I don’t know. I had no “frame of reference” to determine if I was intoxicated.
Q: What type of alcohol did you drink?
As of 2016, statistical reports reveal beer is still the most popular alcoholic beverage in America. More than 50 percent of males prefer beer. Beer is popular among college students, especially for binge drinking and alcohol games. Beer is the favored alcoholic beverage at sports bars and at sporting events.
Q: When did you choose to get alcohol on your own?
A: In college after I turned 21.
College is the first step toward adulthood and independence as young adults move away from home. Unfortunately, peer pressure to drink alcohol is more of a dangerous problem for college students. There are fraternity parties, alcohol games, binge drinking, local bar hops, sexual relations, and other alcohol-related temptations on college campuses. Alcohol poisoning, hospitalizations, DUIs, sexual assault, unsafe sex, suicide attempts, and death are hazardous consequences of alcohol abuse by underage drinkers on campuses.
Q: Do you recall how many months or years later that you began to feel an obsession for alcohol?
A: I was 25 or 26 (years of age).
Q: As you drank more alcohol over time, did you notice a change in your attitude?
A: Yes. Beer drinking became a hobby for my friends and I. We made regular trips to bottle shops to try out new beers. I was just really enjoying the flavor of beer and did not want to become intoxicated. I began researching the craft beer scene and regularly sought out new breweries. Eventually, I got a job in that field (in a brewery). “Beer was my profession and a hobby.”
Q. Did you notice changes in your thoughts, behaviors or emotions?
A: I was in denial about my habits. Some friends and family noticed, but I pushed them away emotionally and geographically. The people in my life were either co-dependent, didn’t know about my drinking or they were complicit. I did not get involved with anyone who did not drink. My job allowed me to drink and all of the customers I dealt with drank beer or other alcoholic beverages.
I am fairly confident that no one sets a goal to become an alcoholic. However, an alcoholic’s objectives are: 1) to drink more alcohol as often as possible; 2) create strategies to make alcohol a part of their everyday life; 3) think of ways to justify their excessive use or dismiss inquiries about it; and 4) make up a list of excuses to defend their behaviors, illnesses, and alcohol-related problems. Bob’s work in a brewery allowed him to justify his drinking and excuse it as a necessity of his profession. Eventually, a drinking hobby becomes a routine of intoxication and physiological cravings that develop into the disease of alcoholism.
Q: Did you, family, friends or others notice your alcohol abuse had become unmanageable?
A: I created a web of lies if anyone at work asked too many questions. I was in denial about reality and I procrastinated on doing anything to help myself. Each night I thought of how bad things were and that I would make changes tomorrow.
Although Bob did not realize or acknowledge he was suffering from alcoholism, his disease continued to progress. He felt trapped and did not know how to unblock his emotions, untangle his web of lies, stop his denial, and accept his reality. Bob remembered feeling anxiety and described it by saying, “My behavior was erratic at times.” Yet, he did not make changes “tomorrow” like he told himself each night. Instead, he anticipated the first drink that would jumpstart a new day. He had his first drink when he awakened, more drinks in between and his last drink before he fell asleep or passed out. Those who develop this disease are often in denial about having it; may procrastinate or never seek help to treat it; will attempt to hide it from others; can develop a tolerance that allows the disease to progress longer; and strive to prove to themselves and others they can manage on their own.
Q. Did you begin to develop a negative attitude and feel anger?
A. During the last few years, my inhibitions lessened as I was chasing that feeling I got from beer consumption. I started to go from calm to angry and negative. I began to be verbally and emotionally abusive toward people.
The 6-A Model of Alcohol Abuse in Offenders book describes six components that are usually interlinked with alcohol abuse. Each chapter provides useful information to help readers learn more about how alcohol, anger, anxiety, arrest, assault, and attitude complicate the already challenging tribulations of alcoholism.
Q: Do you recall feeling irritable, sad, bitter, remorseful, happy, or courageous?
A: I blocked out emotions.
The last thing most alcoholics want is to feel or acknowledge their emotions. Many drink excessively to purposely numb, escape or hide from their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Then, there are the emotive alcohol abusers who want to cry as they tell anyone who will listen about their emotional turmoil and wounds.
Q: Did you use any other drugs? If yes, what?
A: Yes. I smoked lots of pot in high school, college and after college. Alcohol supplanted pot. I used LSD, mushrooms and other drugs that helped moderate my alcohol consumption. I did not want to drink while using drugs. I had a great time doing that stuff.
Q: Did you ever use highly addictive drugs like heroin or methamphetamines?
A: No. I knew opiates were addictive, so I avoided them. I was prescribed opiates, but never used any more than prescribed.
Q: Do you think you were dependent on alcohol or other drugs?
A: I was psychologically addicted to marijuana in college. I did not finish college because of marijuana.
Q: Were you ever arrested for alcohol-related offenses such as DUI, assault or abuse or drug possession?
A: No arrests other than traffic infractions. When my friends and I were using drugs or drinking, we would always hide each other’s keys to avoid making silly mistakes like driving under the influence.
Q: Do you or did you smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and sodas?
A: I smoke (cigarettes) now and drank lots of soda in college.
It is common for those with substance use disorders to develop addictions to nicotine, caffeine and/or sugar before, during or after their addiction to alcohol and other drugs. During my group counseling sessions, some clients always had a Red Bull, Mountain Dew, and other caffeinated beverages. Before and after group, they smoked cigarettes. It is common knowledge that AA and NA meetings have an abundance of members who are addicted to coffee and cigarettes.
Q: Who or what motivated you to get help?
A: I made a desperate phone call to my mom at four (o’clock) in the morning. For months my mom had been planning our trip to Europe. I had gotten two weeks vacation at work, but I had not packed or prepared for the trip. I didn’t even have suitcases or bags to pack anything. I just couldn’t get the motivation to get things done because I was either busy drinking, intoxicated or hung over.
My mom told my grandfather who reached out and told me I needed help. He gave me a phone number that led me to AA and eventually to Recovery by the Sea in Florida. I recovered during an inpatient program and chose to stay for their outpatient program. Once I was sober, I resigned from my job and did not return to my hometown where my addiction started. It turns out that I only had a couple of true friends. The rest of the people were around for alcohol and drugs.
Bob was self-aware enough to let go of the people, places, and things that could have triggered a relapse. Making this change is a big step in recovery that could prevent temptations that lead to relapse. As I stated in the beginning of this article, alcohol and drugs attract people with a follower mentality. Developing leadership skills and receiving counseling to improve psychological issues that cause emotional upsets are two methods of improving self-esteem. This can help the person avoid peer pressure and the unhealthy thoughts that make a person think they must do something harmful simply because everyone else is doing it.
Q: Were you familiar with AA?
A: I had read a little about AA during high school. I did not have a personal experience or know anyone who had been through the program. I dismissed it (AA) as being some sort of cult or something.
Q: Did you embrace the program or think negatively about it once you were exposed?
A: I did 90 meetings in 90 days and did two daily meetings during the inpatient program. I attended one daily meeting during the outpatient portion. My mom attends Al-Anon in our hometown.
Q: How long have you been sober?
A: One and a half years.
Q: Do you have a sponsor?
A: I have a sponsor who has motivated me to keep moving in my recovery. I also have two people I sponsor. The life of an addict is ungrateful and self-centered, but I have learned to give to others. I have learned a lot about myself through the 12 Steps program.
Q: What do you think is the best thing that sobriety has offered you?
A: “A chance at a new life.”
Bob could be any young male or female from any town that started drinking alcohol in adolescence. He dabbled with a variety of drugs and was addicted to marijuana. Bob’s addiction to marijuana impeded his academic studies and he dropped out of college. His marijuana addiction affected the Amygdala, Basal Ganglia, Hippocampus, Neocortex and other parts of Bob’s brain. The majority of marijuana smokers argue that it is a non-addictive and natural herb that causes no harm. There are mental and physical health risks plus negative consequences.
Bob said, “alcohol supplanted pot.” He decided to discontinue marijuana and focus on beer. Switching substances is a trick those suffering from the disease of addiction unwittingly play on themselves. Bob probably thought his marijuana use was problematic, so he started drinking alcohol. If anyone has ever seen an orange ‘Detour’ or ‘Detour Ahead’ sign, they know it means they will reach their destination using a different route. For the person suffering from the disease of addiction, replacing one drug for another is simply a detour on the way to their destination of a mind-altering high or intoxication. Bob was suffering from the disease of addiction before he gave up pot and began his beer-crafting obsession, which led to his second disease of alcoholism.