I’m 5 years sober, and I got sober when I was 41 years old. I started drinking when I was only about 14 years old. I come from an alcoholic family where alcohol was readily available and normalized. Many alcoholic families let their young people drink and place it under the mask of “well they’re going to drink anyway, may as well do it at home where we can monitor it.” Unfortunately my drinking was never monitored by anyone, and as I got older, I started using it in increasingly dangerous and addictive ways.
When you’re young, you think you will never age, never get sick, and you can do whatever you want with your body. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, that’s part of the beauty of being young. But when you begin drinking at a young age, you think you can keep it up for the rest of your life — you can’t.
Here are 3 things I wish I knew about alcohol when I was young. I learned these things as I got older, but I wish I understood them at a younger age.
1. All parts of your body will age faster with excessive alcohol use
I’m not talking about just wrinkles or physical aspects of aging; I’m talking about organs and the inner workings of the body. People who drink heavily are aging their kidneys, liver, heart, and other organs faster than they realize. Alcohol is a toxin that must be managed by several organs in the body. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will put a lot of pressure on your body, and cause health problems earlier.
I was in my 40s when I quit, and by the time I got there, I was already showing signs of stressed organs. My nervous system was shot, I was getting bad heart palpitations, my hormone balance was off, my skin looked puffy and red, and I had black circles around my eyes. I also developed nerve pain in my hands and feet and had early-onset arthritis. Every part of me was inflamed, and it was getting worse with each passing year.
2. You will feel sick most of the time
When we’re young, we can get over hangovers quickly. But for heavy drinkers, you learn to drink without getting hungover, which usually requires drinking daily or frequently to avoid withdrawal. Not having hangovers anymore is a bad sign. It means you’re drinking way over the limit of “safe drinking,” and in a few short years, you won’t feel well most of the time. You may be able to escape hangovers, but you won’t escape the damage that gets done.
Most alcoholics don’t feel well, but they don’t want to admit it because they’d have to confront their drinking. Alcoholics are entrenched in denial and they often cover up the negative effects of alcohol even from themselves. They go to the doctor feeling sick and hoping to get help. But they don’t realize that alcohol is the reason.
As a teenager, I saw the older adults in my family looking rough and struggling with many health issues. I can tell you that they never once thought that alcohol was the culprit. We just chalked it up to our family having “bad nerves.” Had I known that I would follow in those same footsteps and feel sick all the time, I would have thought twice about my drinking as a young person.
3. You will suffer and struggle to cope
Excessive alcohol not only damages the physical body but also wreaks havoc on mental health too. Addiction and mental health go hand in hand — in fact, 50% of people with a mental health disorder abuse substances, including alcohol. Many people with mental health issues use substances to provide some calm or alter their struggling mindset. But this only makes the mental health issue 10 times worse. Also, heavy drinking will actually cause mental health issues, especially anxiety as that is the number one withdrawal symptom.
When both the phsycial and mental aspects of our wellbeing are affected, it leads to suffering and an inability to cope. Every person who drinks excessively will suffer in some way. Had I known this when I was young, I would have been more conscientious about my drinking.
Most of us think nothing bad will happen to us when we’re young. So we do things like risky drinking without thinking much about the consequences later in life. However, the path towards dangerous drinking that makes us ill starts when we’re young and so it’s a crucial time for knowledge and decision-making.