Here’s Larry, 17 years old, so
hung over and bleary-eyed that he mumbles and stumbles through
his notes at an important high school debate. His team loses.
Larry shrugs it off.
were biased, he says. We weren’t that bad. Still, it was a pretty
rotten day for Larry. Monday. He has the whole week to look forward
to the weekend.
Larry got drunk
last weekend, and the weekend before. No big deal. It’s a regular
thing, a pattern, his style.
worries because he likes to drive while drinking. Last year,
while drunk at the wheel, Larry totaled out his dad’s car.
Larry nor his passengers were injured. And somehow in the confusion,
the police never got around to giving breath tests, so Larry
lucked out and didn’t get a ticket. The newspaper reported that
he fell asleep at the wheel.
have known about his drinking for some time, but were clueless
about how to deal with it. At least he’s not on drugs, his dad
shrugged one day, but it didn’t give Larry’s mom as much comfort
as it did his dad.
mom asked their minister to talk to Larry. During the conversation,
Larry admitted that he drank — but, then, so did most of the
guys he ran around with.
When the minister
brought up the subject of alcoholism, Larry thought of his Uncle
Ross, who died in a veteran’s nursing home. Ross couldn’t hold
a job, lived on a VA pension, and stayed drunk whenever he could
— as long as the money lasted.
Ross as a bleary-eyed loser who ripped the heater out of his
trailer one winter to hock it for wine. When drunk, Ross sometimes
cried and called Larry “a prince.” It was embarrassing.
knew what an alcoholic was. Ross was an alcoholic. He wasn’t.
I drink,” he told the minister. “I drink beer now and
then. But I’m no wino. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not that bad,
At 28, Sondra
works two jobs. One is the unpaid job of every single mom —
raising two kids without a man in the house.
But she does
all right. Her kids have enough to eat, and Sondra keeps them
in decent clothes. She can’t be accused of neglecting her kids.
Her most demanding
job is running a training program for welfare mothers. Sondra
works long hours, and often has nighttime meetings.
There’s a lot
of stress, so she feels entitled to let her hair down now and
then. When she does, she likes to dance and get a little loaded
— and sometimes, completely wiped out.
be outraged if you suggested that she might
have a drinking
problem.”I don’t drink at all during the week,” she’d
say. “Maybe a few beers with the girls after a committee
meeting. But not that much.
an alcoholic. I’m not that bad, yet.”
But let’s take a look at what happens when Sondra drinks.
For one thing,
she and a few other drinkers on the committee persuaded the rest
of the members to hold meetings at a bar, so they could “relax”
during the meetings. Sometimes things get a little loose, after
an hour or so, but not too bad.
times during the past year Sondra blacked out after a meeting.
She’d gotten so drunk that the next morning she couldn’t remember
how she’d gotten home.
occasion, Sondra got arrested for drunk driving. “I only
had a couple of beers,” she insisted. “I wasn’t that
Still, at the
time of her arrest, Sondra’s breath-alyzer reading was .18, almost
double the legal limit in her state (.10 percent, but .08 percent
in others), which meant that she’d downed more than “a couple
lost track,” Sondra says. “I wasn’t paying that much
attention. Anyway, I didn’t feel that drunk.”
Sondra didn’t feel that drunk is because she’s built up a tolerance
for alcohol. Now it takes more alcohol to give her that tipsy
One thing does
bother her, though. A couple of times in the past year she woke
up hung over in bed with a man she didn’t know. She doesn’t remember
But it’s not
that big a deal for Sondra. She claims she’s never had a really
satisfactory sexual experience. “I can take it or leave
it,” she says.
have a drinking problem?
A lot of her
friends drink the same way she does. Besides, she doesn’t drink
every day. She doesn’t drink hard stuff. She doesn’t hide her
bottles or sneak drinks or neglect her work and family like real
had a little trouble because of my drinking,” says Sondra.
“But I’m not that bad, yet.
quit any time I want.”
..How bad do
you have to get?
it. Add up the costs for a DUI charge — not just the fine, but
also the time wasted in (and out of) court, the increased insurance
rates, legal fees, and often, jail time.
add in higher health costs, missed work, and decreased efficiency.
And don’t forget the shattered relationships, lost friends, and
broken families due to drinking and alcohol-related arguments.
How bad do
you have to get? Is there a magic moment when you suddenly sit
up and announce: “By golly, I guess I’m finally that bad.”
Do you have
to wait until you’re as bad as Larry’s Uncle Ross? Do you have
to wait until you lose everything? Do you have to get “that
bad” before you can get better?
don’t have to be a falling-down drunk, puke-on-the-piano, sneak-a-drink
booze hound to have a drinking problem.
— including alcoholism — start small and escalate. The process
usually isn’t even dramatic. It takes place slowly, one sip at
..How bad do you
have to get?
You don’t have
to get “that bad.” If drinking causes problems in your
life, admit it. Then take the next logical step: Stop.
That may be
hard to do. There may be pressures to drink from friends and
If you find
it hard to quit, try talking things over with someone who understands
drinking and the problems it can cause.
could be a counselor at work or school, your family doctor, or
someone you know who’s been there — and back again.
talk it over with drinking buddies. They’re almost guaranteed
to have an investment in keeping you from making any serious
changes. Being straight with you might mean that they’d have
to take a hard look at their own drinking.
But do think
it over. And if drinking’s a problem for you, do something about
With a little
insight and a lot of courage — and the support of others who’ve
been there and back — you may never have to get “that bad”