No Spin on Causes of Uncontrollable Drinking

by Ned Wicker
(Wisconsin)

There is always “spin” on every topic today. Just watch the news. Something happens and immediately all of the cable network news entities present an endless succession of talking heads on their programs to tell us what it means.

Some shows try to go down the middle of the road on their commentary, while others have an obvious bias to the right or left, but rarely an objective perspective. So it is with alcoholism. People who have the disease, or live with people who have the disease, or have a treatment program to offer, or are trying to find a cure, will tell their story.

Alcoholism and physical addiction have been studied for a very long time, and out of many studies over the decades, we have come to know and understand this disease. For example, theories on the disease have emerged, and there are three that are widely accepted as being completely reasonable.

Theory One: There is a genetic component to alcoholism that will contribute heavily to a person developing the disease. That person may have a predisposed reaction to alcohol because of chromosomes or hormonal deficiencies.

Theory Two: There are psychological components to the disease. A person’s personality may be a factor, or there may be some other psychological co-morbidities that factor into one slipping into dependence. Theory Three: There is a sociological factor, which suggests that alcoholism is a learned response and that society, one’s surroundings, are the reason for the disease.

People often ignore their drinking issues

I don’t want to debate the contributing factors, but rather focus on “spin.” Alcoholism/Physical Addiction just doesn’t show up one day on a lab report after your annual physical. The disease is progressive; starting from that first drink and ending up taking over every aspect of a person’s life.

Regardless of how the disease develops, all alcoholics have one fact in common—they drink too much. People do not set out to become alcoholics, and even those who sometimes drink to excess will not necessarily develop the disease. Getting back to the three theories, alcoholism does not care about genetic factors, psychological factors or social factors. I don’t want to marginalize the research, that’s not the point. Alcoholism is caused by too much alcohol, which can begin with just one drink.

One person takes that first drink and something clicks. They can’t get enough, while others may slip into addiction as their consumption increases over time. But in either case, or any case in between, there comes a time when a person can no longer control how much alcohol he/she drinks. The theories help to explain this, to find key factors in determining the causes.

But for me, it’s like the guy who walks into the doctor’s office, holds up his arm and says, “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies, “Don’t do that.”

But now we hear the spin. So many alcoholics I have met over the years have expressed remorse, not that they are an alcoholic, but that they can’t drink when they are in treatment, or that Alcoholics Anonymous advocates for total abstinence.

Why drink?

My question to them is “If alcohol causes alcoholism, why drink? Is there no other way to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life?” They may want treatment, but only treatment which will allow them to manage their drinking. It’s all so unfair. I can’t drink but the other guy can.

As one who is predisposed to heavy drinking/physical addiction to alcohol, I have learned through experience that alcohol contributes nothing to my quality of life. Dropping alcohol, much like quitting smoking, is liberating, as I enjoy life, have fun with my friends, all without alcohol. I don’t have to drink. That’s a very important key. For those who can drink and not get sick, I am pleased for them. For those who get into trouble when they drink, I say it isn’t worth it.

Getting back to psychological theory, a therapist might be able to pinpoint why a person “has” to drink in order to enjoy life. I know people who “must” have alcohol at every turn. Birthday parties for young and old, sporting events, or any social gathering “must” have alcohol or people aren’t satisfied.

Can’t a father enjoy seeing his son or daughter enjoy a new swing set without knocking down a few beers in the backyard?

Getting drunk at every game

I remember the two couples who used to sit in front of my family at the Green Bay Packer games. Every game, without exception, they were “bombed” by the time they got to their seats. They slept through the game. Why? Can’t you just stay home and drink yourself stupid, without throwing money away on the game? But there is this mindset that people have to drink in order to have a good time.

Alcohol robs people of life’s little pleasures, one of which is to just enjoy without booze.

The problem is alcohol is socially acceptable. It is perfectly legal, just like buying cigarettes. Destructive, but legal is a deadly combination. Anyone can eat too much fast food, or try to subsist on a diet of Twinkies. They explain away their behavior, and those explanations are sometimes capped off by adding, “It’s none of your business.”

Alcohol does numb the pain for some

Alcohol may be a way of numbing the pain, either emotional of physical. Life may be overwhelming and so we find a way to cope. We look to alcohol as a cure for those unpleasant realities of life.

I remember the 1963 Jackie Gleason movie, “Papa’s Delicate Condition,” in which Gleason’s character would carry around a flask of “medicine.” The character did not want his children to know he drank too much. We sometimes explain away our drinking by saying, “I need a drink to calm my nerves.” Too many people have discovered that the cure for their ills is worse than the ill itself. Alcohol is not medicine it causes physical addiction when consumed to excess.

Another “spin” maneuver is denying the disease by promising to just cut back on drinking. Once the disease has set in, cutting back is not an option, as the afflicted person has no power to cut back. While there is no cure for alcoholism, it can be managed, but “spin” doesn’t help. The condition is treatable, but so often the alcoholics looks at treatment as if it were punishment. That’s a lie.

Treatment through group therapy, one-on-one sessions with professionals, will in a loving and nurturing way help a patient learn new skills and management tools. The “Friends of Bill W” meetings, 12 Step programs are designed to help a person through by establishing relationships and community. There is no judgment or condemnation, just support.

Once a person stops the “spin” he/she can move on and begin to establish a new life. There is hope. Alcoholism is complicated because kit can ruin all aspects of a person’s life, family, social, professional, etc. Putting a “spin” on the devastation is a useless activity, because left to flow downhill on its path, alcoholism will just kill the person.

“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m just a problem drinker.” Spin makes nothing better. It obfuscates. It deceives. The alcoholic needs to stop, turn around and accept the solution. The loved ones who may be enabling the disease need to do likewise. It’s a family problem, but there is hope. Don’t spin, just go into treatment and allow the treatment and recovery process to begin.

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- Matthew 7:7-8


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