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Alcohol and Moderation – No

It’s kind of surprising to read some of the responses in the ‘Yes’ column. These are clearly people that do not have any real firsthand knowledge of being truly addicted themselves. Having a father, mother, sibling or friend that is addicted does NOT qualify anyone to understand what it’s like to be addicted to alcohol. Making comparisons to eating disorders and the like is comparing apples to oranges. It is true that fattening foods, to use one misguided example, may be able to be consumed by someone that has gotten their eating habits under control, but fattening foods don’t inebriate as alcohol or drugs do. Eating may cause euphoria and give the illusion of sanctuary from our problems, but it’s not the same as being drunk, not even close. Is it possible that a heroine or cocaine addict might be able to moderate their consumption? Despite the fact that they are both illegal drugs, cocaine and heroine addiction are far more valid for comparison’s sake here then an eating disorder.

By most drinkers’ standards I was a light weight. I only ever drank beer. Despite the fact that I drank about 10 of them most days, nobody really saw this as the behavior of a bona fide addict. It was only beer after all. After many years, I eventually mustered the courage to enter a detox center to start seriously dealing with my problem and was surprised by the fact that even many of the counselors didn’t see my drinking habits as all that serious. I guess I started to believe them. It was almost as if I were given a license to drink as much beer as I wanted. I knew that I was addicted to alcohol, but what’s a boy to do when no one else sees a problem? The lack of any real external confirmation of my problem set me back many years. There is no hierarchy when it comes to alcohol addiction. You can control it or you can’t. The problem may relate to something as simple as the amount of alcohol being consumed or as complex as the occasional drinker’s ridiculous behavior under the influence. It all relates to the same problem.

Before I had gotten to the point of checking myself into rehab I was going to Moderation Management meetings. MM is the lesser known of the major addiction organizations and for all intents and purposes it caters to those that are addicted to alcohol, but don’t want to stop drinking. I find it quite telling that while on a binge one night the founder of MM killed two people while driving her car and spent four years in jail for vehicular manslaughter. She had apparently resigned from MM prior to the accident and was attending AA meetings. Many see this as a possible reason for her failure. However, she later admitted that she had been secretly binge drinking for 5 years as the Executive Director of MM. Perfectionism became the reason for her failure – an obsession with perfect abstinence or perfect moderation – and now there’s an entirely new branch of harm reduction that alcohol addicts can resort to if nothing else works. It is important to note that NONE of these methods put any significant emphasis on the idea that the drinker examine WHY he or she drinks in the first place. This is why they all have ABYSMAL success rates. Read the 12 steps – there is nothing in there that focuses on examining why the addict drinks. It’s all about not drinking and this is why most people fail.

I did my 30 days of abstinence as prescribed by MM and attempted to recirculate as a moderate drinker, but it was only a matter of time before I was back where I started. I did more and more research and tried this and tried that and I eventually checked myself into a rehab. About a month after I got out of rehab I had my first beer. The next day I drank 14. I woke up one day about a month later and finally realized that I couldn’t drink, not even one. It’s that simple. Even as “just a beer drinker” I wasn’t able to moderate. I did more research and eventually came upon the idea that there were reasons why I excessively delved into the escapism that alcohol afforded me. I had some issues that I started to address with therapy and started to become more honest with myself than I had ever been. I discovered a labyrinth of coping mechanisms that I had created to deal with issues from my past that I had never fully addressed. As difficult and trying as it was, I tackled whatever came up head on and eventually got past my need to escape from “reality.” It took another year or so, but I eventually formulated my own method and was able to stop drinking.

So here it is a couple years later and I still haven’t drank. I have no idea how long it has been and frankly I don’t care. The important thing is that I feel better than ever and my life is moving forward where it had been stagnant during the entire time I was struggling to find a way to keep drinking in my life. I wasted a lot of time and I see countless others doing the same thing. It is my contention that there are far more addicts out there then will ever get help or even see themselves as the allegedly benign “problem drinker.” People think that because they only drink on weekends or only drink beer or they’re just being a 20-something that they can’t have or don’t have an addiction to alcohol. I know addicts that only have 2-3 drinks the handful of times they imbibe each month. The reason I consider them addicts is because they continue drinking despite the fact that they get SEVERE hangovers that put them out of commission the next day even having as few as 2 drinks. I even hear them say it while I’m out with them when they’re drinking. “I’m going to really pay for this tomorrow,” they’ll say. Why would someone put themselves through that even once a year if they weren’t addicted to the sensation of being buzzed on some level? Call it a personal choice all you want, but it is what it is.

People often ask me why I don’t drink. I simply say that I don’t have anything to run from anymore. Some hear it as the banter of a righteous non-drinker, but most others hear me say it and see where I’m coming from. Whether it’s stress or a long day or whatever, alcohol and drug consumption is always about running from something. A drink here and there might have some benefit, but study after study shows that drinking even a few drinks regularly can cause damage to our health and increases mental stress because of the physical stress it puts on our system. I often get fairly well thought out arguments thrown at me about how wine enhances taste and how some drinks like Campari and soda open the palette. Have you ever tasted Compari? Well, anything you taste after it tastes like Compari because of the film it leaves in your mouth. The same is true of most wines. Not only does the alcohol neutralize taste buds, but the acidity renders them useless. Maybe this is why people falsely believe that wine enhances taste. It has pretty much been scientifically proven that alcohol deadens our ability to taste things, so the idea that alcohol somehow enhances the taste of food, whether it be wine or otherwise, is yet another of the many misconceived notions about alcohol that has been blindly accepted and handed down from generation to generation.

It blows my mind when I think of the all-encompassing role that alcohol and drug consumption plays in our social society. It is considered commonplace and even a right of passage to get inebriated to a point of memory loss and laugh about it. I think back on all the brunches I have had where I and two or three friends tried to piece together the events of the previous evening and it seems absurd to me. As children we didn’t need these substances to get by. Our imagination was all we needed back then. As we get older the fact that alcohol removes inhibitions and deadens our instincts is somehow considered a positive and desirable attribute. What has this world come to? I am well aware of the fact that I live in the world that I live in, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes how much better off we would all be if alcohol and drugs weren’t a factor.