In my early 20s I married an alcoholic. We met while I was still in high school and he was 18. But it wasn’t something I knew about him immediately. What I didn’t realize about alcoholism is that it’s truly a disease that is present whether or not the person is actively drinking. In his case, he hadn’t discovered alcohol yet. He used to say that he didn’t like alcohol, but again, that was before he started drinking. As soon as he decided he liked it, he was instantly addicted. Not too many people crave a beer in the morning, but he craved it first thing in the morning up until right before bed. His alcoholism severed our connection for good and we divorced many years ago right after we would lose our house to his habit. I have had a very low tolerance for alcohol ever since.
Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, it is with a bit of sadness that I think of him and his choice to allow his addiction to fermented drinks to completely ruin his adult life and dictate a rather limited world where driving legally is out of the question, employment is a distant memory and most relationships are tainted. I guess you could say I have more remorse than sadness. He never got the help he needed because no one, myself included, would drag him to a substance abuse rehab or any kind of treatment center. Maybe I didn’t love him enough to want to go through that with him.
I suspect he may also have needed help for bipolar disorder or some other mental health illness. I’ll never know for sure, although I have kept in touch with his much younger sister. In the meantime, I have been amazed over the years that he has survived after countless binges. His mother used to refer to some of her older relatives as “pickled.” Perhaps he too is now one of the “pickled” ones who will survive until well into his 80s at the inexplicable mercy of his “pickled” liver.
As for this minute, he is not among one of the 559,576 alcohol-related deaths so far this year, a number counted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and displayed on the Worldometers’ counter online, where you can also see things like how many babies are being born and how quickly, how many cigarettes are being smoked and how many people are dying of cancer. Almost one-third of Americans have abused alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
In light of these and other astounding statistics of the disease, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) extends an open invitation to all Americans to participate in an official three-day alcohol-free weekend to raise public awareness April 3 to 5, and Brookhaven Retreat is encouraging everyone to participate. The bars and restaurants may not appreciate it, but if they’re smart, they’ll come up with some irresistible “virgin” cocktails right quick.
This year’s theme for the month is “For the Health of It: Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction.” Alcohol is considered the number one drug of choice among young people, and is more likely to kill them than all the illegal drugs combined.
We used to get into bars when I was 16 and the drinking age was 18, without any identification or questioning of any kind. Things are different now, 30 years later of course, yet, Andrew Pucher, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCADD, says, “Underage drinking is a complex issue, one that can only be solved through a sustained and cooperative effort. As a nation, we need to wake up to the reality that for some, alcoholism and addiction develop at a young age and that intervention, treatment, and recovery support are essential for them and their families. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”
The NCADD offers more information on their website: https://ncadd.org/programs-a-services/alcohol-awareness-month. Why wait until there’s officially nothing you can do to help someone who says, “I have it under control. I can stop anytime I want to?”
Or… “I’m happier when I drink, so why would you want to take that away from me?” “I’m not hurting anyone!”
“I go to work every day. I deserve to drink if I want to.”
Or finally, “It seems like it’s more a problem for you than it is for me.”
It’s never too late to educate yourself about how to deal with issues that affect so many people, possibly someone you love very much and stand to lose.