Really, 10 Percent Drink That Much?

by Ned Wicker
(Wisconsin)

I could see the jaws drop around the room at the annual Wisconsin Chaplaincy Association fall conference. They were reacting to a graphic that Rev. Joe Herzanek, author of the book “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” put up on the screen during his first presentation to the group—a gripping discussion entitled “Addiction: A Disease or a Moral Failing?” Some looked in disbelief, while others shook their heads as if to say, “I thought so.”

The chart showed us that 30% of American adults don’t drink at all, while another 30% have, on average, less than one drink per week. The next 30% is interesting—2.17 drinks for 10%, 6.25 drinks for another 10% and 15.28 drinks for the next 10%, which is right on the boarder of excessive use of alcohol. That final 10% of American adults consume, on average, a staggering 73.85 drinks per week. That final 10% is where most of the alcohol problems lie, and frighteningly explains the problem we have here in Wisconsin.

More than 10 a day!

The 73.85 drinks per week statistic is more than 10 a day! That’s where our DUI/DWI crowd comes from, although anyone can get stopped after having too much to drink. It also explains the stress that alcoholism places on our justice system, jamming the courts with drunk driving cases, and placing pressure on law enforcement to do something about it. It seems cut and dried to some, just take the repeat offender and throw away the key. The debate moves forward.

Herzanek presented both sides of the disease and moral failing issue. He explained to the group, consisting of chaplains from acute care (hospitals), long term care (nursing homes), corrections to name some and chaplains from across religious and denominational lines, that a habit is a behavior performed by a person to the point where the person is not aware that he/she is doing it. Addiction, on the other hand, is an extreme form of habit, but the person has no control over it, because it becomes the need of the body.

Addiction only negative

People can have control over habits, but addiction has control over the person. Habits can be both positive and negative, while addiction is exclusively negative. With a habit a person can have normal mental functions and memory, while addiction robs the person of that function, rendering the mental ability “hay wired.” People can change or modify habits, but addictions need time, patience and determination to help them through. Disease or moral failing? Both.

Herzanek, a corrections chaplain, has seen thousands of scenarios unfold through the years. As a recovering addict, who has been sober for over 30 years, he has a deep understanding and compassion for that 10% whose lives are completely out of control and who are in need of treatment. Sadly, few of that 10% think they have any kind of problem at all. The denial of the problem is a powerful enemy of their need to get help.

A community health problem

No matter the setting, chaplains, like me, will deal with that 30% who don’t drink, that 30% who drink in moderation, the 30% who push the limits and the 10% who are losing the battle. The stats were jaw dropping, but for the people in the room, the call to action was received loud and clear. The problem is not just personal, not just a family issue, but a community health concern. Disease or moral failing is debate that is worthy of discussion, but the need for people to get help and get into recovery, is undeniable.

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- Matthew 7:7-8


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