Title: Problem Drinking and Alcoholism: Words to the Wise
Author: Mark Worden
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: January 2007
Catalog Number: 801


Tony never
understood why his father drank so much until he “borrowed”
a bottle from his dad’s liquor cabinet. He drank the whole thing
with two guys he hung with after school.

The liquor
burned at first, but he stopped noticing that when a fuzzy warmth
crept over him. His inhibitions melted, he laughed, he felt happy
for a while.

When he sobered
up, the warmth and happiness were gone, but their memory lingered:
euphoria, freedom, fun. That made him look forward to his next
chance to drink, to be free again.

And that’s
just what he did. He began “borrowing” from his father’s
stash regularly. His dad was so out of it most of the time that
he didn’t notice. Tony learned to sneak money out of his mother’s
purse and to shoplift “40’s” — 40-ounce bottles of
malt liquor — from the store when he didn’t have money.

At first, Tony’s
friends joined in. But after a while, they realized there was
something wrong with the way Tony drank. He’d beg, lie, and steal
for a drink. He was hooked; he was an alcoholic.

Tony is just
one kind of problem drinker, but there are lots of others. They
often fall between the lines in the lists we’ve all seen of symptoms
of alcoholism, like this one:

  • Emotional
    and/or physical dependence on alcohol
  • Sneaking drinks,
    hiding bottles, drinking alone
  • Loss of control
    over drinking
  • Drinking in
    the morning to control shakes
  • Physical symptoms
    if drinking stops

The signs of
a drinking problem may be fuzzier, but they’re just as real —
and potentially disastrous — as alcoholism.

And they often
go unrecognized.


..One in 20

Something else
that often goes unrecognized is the extent of the problem.

Think of it
this way: If you have twenty friends, odds are that one of them
will become alcoholic, physically addicted to alcohol.

Alcohol addiction
is usually slow to develop, often taking 5-10 years of heavy
drinking before a person is physically hooked. This contrasts
sharply with many other drugs, which can cause addiction in a
matter of weeks.

And since physical
addiction develops so slowly, a person can have problems for
years before anyone points a finger and says, “Hey, maybe
you should cut down on your drinking.”

That’s the
kicker. We usually don’t consider a person to have a drinking
problem until he or she has developed into a full-blown alcoholic,
until they’re physically hooked, until their life is a total

What we don’t
seem to realize is that drinking problems take a lot of forms
and usually develop long before we identify someone as an alcoholic.

And many people
who never become alcoholics experience all kinds of life problems
that stem directly from drinking too much. And people whose lives
they touch — family, friends, and co-workers — often get hit
by the fallout.

In other words,
although only one in 20 may have an alcohol problem, lots of
people are affected by people who drink irresponsibly. And there
are almost an infinite number of ways to do that.

The examples
that follow are real, with the names changed to protect anonymity.

..War Stories

and Steve
both seniors in high school, had been dating for several months.
One night they got drunk and

had unprotected sex.

The result?
Diane got pregnant and, even though they weren’t sure they belonged
together, they got married. The marriage lasted two years. Now
she’s raising their son alone, working at a low-paying job, and
is far from happy.

Paul didn’t drink very often, but when he
did, he got belligerent. He mouthed off, insulted friends, and
was generally surly. He called it “livin’ large.”

One night he
made the mistake of directing a graphic sexual come-on to a woman
in a bar, and tried to fondle her. She smashed him in the face,
then called the police. The judge dismissed the charges against
Paul, but the dentist charged $600 to fix the teeth that had
been broken when the woman hit him.

Suzanne wasn’t very popular, so when she was
invited to a party by a co-worker at her office, she was excited.
At the party, though, she felt nervous and out of place. She
threw down several margaritas back to back, hoping that would
loosen her up.

It did. She
started telling dirty jokes and laughing hysterically. Then she
got sick. She threw up all over herself, several friends, and
the furniture. Then she passed out and had to be carried home.

On Monday,
half the office had heard about it. They don’t call her Suzanne
any more. Now it’s “Margarita.”

Danny had an agreement with his parents. He
could use the car on one condition-that he would never drink
and drive. One night, after drinking a six-pack, he saw an explosion
of flashing blue lights behind him.

Danny tried
to outrun the police, but lost control of the car on a curve
and crashed into a telephone pole. He not only totaled his parent’s
car; he also broke both his legs.


..Careless Drinkers

Diane, Paul,
Suzanne, and Danny aren’t alcoholics, yet they all suffered problems
caused by irresponsible drinking. We’ll call them careless drinkers.

Careless drinkers
are people who occasionally drink too much and are sometimes
embarrassed or troubled by things that happen when they drink.

Their problems
often result from the situations and context they drink in, not
because they have deep emotional problems, or because they’re
alcoholics. They don’t experience a lot of problems because of
alcohol, and their lives aren’t falling apart, but their problems
are real.

Young people,
especially, tend to be careless drinkers. In fact, most young
people who drink do it carelessly. They may not drink daily,
but when they do drink, they often do it with the sole purpose
of getting drunk. They often drink fast and they drink a lot.

They also run
into other problems. Women and girls report unwanted sexual experiences
after drinking too much. Speeding cars end up in ditches. Every
weekend, thousands of drinkers wake up with throbbing headaches
and agonizing memories about what they did the night before —
if they can remember it at all.

You don’t have
to be like Tony (or Diane, Steve, Paul, Suzanne, or Danny) to
have a drinking problem.

That’s because
you don’t have to be an alcoholic to have a drinking problem.

..Sign Posts

Getting drunk,
passing out, not remembering what you did, throwing up, and cringing
in embarrassment aren’t a normal part of social drinking. Neither
is being arrested, getting in fights, having sex with someone
you don’t know or like, or wrecking your car.

If you drink,
it’s not too early to take a good look at the way you drink.

Because while
there’s a 90 percent chance that you won’t become an alcoholic,
odds are a lot better that you’ll experience real problems if
you drink irresponsibly.

Look at it
this way: It doesn’t matter much whether you were an alcoholic
or just an unlucky “social drinker” if you end up getting
scraped off a highway somewhere. You’re just as dead either way.
The same goes for getting pregnant, arrested, fired, humiliated
in public, or your teeth punched in. Or simply losing your own

If you usually
drink until you’re drunk or if you often end up feeling guilty
or embarrassed about things you do when drinking, or if drinking
causes problems — even small problems — for you, then you’re
not a social drinker. And remember: You don’t have to be an alcoholic
to have a drinking problem.

If you’re a
careless drinker, do something about it now. Limit the amount
you drink, drink slowly, don’t drink and drive, don’t drink and
mix other drugs. Don’t be embarrassed to turn down a drink or
to ask for something other than alcohol. Don’t take a drink to
“be sociable” if you really don’t want it.

If you try
to limit how much you drink and fail, then you may be part of
the 5.4 percent who become alcoholics.

Don’t forget
that alcoholism takes a long time to develop, but problems can
start early. The sooner you do something about a drinking problem,
the less you — and the people you care about — will have to

..Getting Help

If you’re
worried about your drinking and you haven’t been able to cut
back or control it on your own, help is nearby.

Check the phone
book for an alcohol information center or treatment program.
The people there can tell you where and how to get help. It’s
never too early-or too late-to start.

If you can’t
find an alcohol information center in your area, phone or write
either (or both) of the following:

  • The National
    Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
    12 West 21st Street
    New York, NY 10010
    (800) 622-2255
  • Alcoholics
    P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Station
    New York, NY 10163

Just do it
— and do it now. There’ll never be a better time to get
your life back on track.

Here’s looking
at you, kid — and at the person you can still become.

..Sidebar | Bouncing
Back: Reasons & Resources

Problem drinking
touches more lives — and wrecks more families — than you might

According to
a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services…

  • 76 million Americans (43 percent
    of the adult population) report alcoholism in their families.
  • 18 percent say they grew up
    with an alcoholic or problem drinker.
  • 38 percent of U.S. adults have
    at least one blood relative with a drinking problem.

And the problem
doesn’t end with simple drinking. Physical and sexual abuse are
both linked to problem drinking, as are higher rates of divorce,
homicide, and suicide.

What’s the
solution? There are a lot of different solutions, according to
experts, and they all begin with those affected taking responsibility
for ending the problem.

If problem
drinking is a problem for you or someone you care about, do something
to stop it now. Contact the National Council on Alcoholism and
Drug Dependence at 1-800-622-2255 or a local chapter of Alcoholics
Anonymous (check the White Pages of your phone book).

And do it now.
Problem drinking is a problem that’s wasted too many lives for
too long.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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