I’m a former nurse and recovering alcoholic; I write about sobriety and health issues in addiction. A while back, I wrote a piece about how dangerous alcohol is for the liver. One commenter said, “sobriety is great and all, but what if you’re homeless, mentally ill, and dealing with a lifetime of abuse? Sometimes alcohol and drugs are the only things keeping you going.”
The truth is, she’s absolutely right. Many people like to think that alcoholism and addiction issues are about personal weakness. If only the person with addiction would “get their act together,” then all would be well. But this is not only way too simple, it’s not realistic and can be dangerous. Alcohol abuse and addiction usually begin with the need to overcome pain, either physically or emotionally.
It seems that many Americans use alcohol to cover pain and as such, they are trying to cope. Unfortunately, coping with life by abusing alcohol is going to eventually cause health issues. But that doesn’t mean alcohol isn’t a good coping strategy for some people.
Right now, 85.6% of Americans drink alcohol, and 25.8% engage in heavy binge drinking. The CDC says that heavy drinking is anything above 8 drinks per week for a woman and 15 drinks for a man. These numbers definitely show a lot of alcohol use in the US. Indeed, experts say that alcohol and drug abuse is on the rise.
However, getting sober means finding support and helping yourself to re-learn how to cope with pain without the use of alcohol or substances. This is much easier said than done for many people. If you have enough resources like money, support, time off work, a comfortable place to live, and access to coping strategies, sobriety is much more possible. This is not the case for many people who may not have the resources like this.
Unfortunately, 46.7 million people in the US live below the poverty line. This number may increase further as the pandemic has eroded more of the economic and social fabric of the US. Interestingly, alcohol use also increased during the pandemic as well, no doubt because it caused even more pain and suffering for many people.
What we may now be facing is a kind of crisis, if you will, where many people without enough resources are turning to substances like alcohol to help quell the pain. It doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to think about how hard it must be to not have resources and support while struggling with an addiction.
Even though many addiction counseling and treatment facilities can successfully help with chemical dependence, they may not always address the issue of physical and emotional pain. Pain is a complex thing that doctors have always struggled to treat, especially emotional pain. Also, emotional pain is likely to elevate physical pain as well. Because of this, we have many people opting to self-medicate using substances like alcohol.
But also, what if you don’t have the money for treatment? What if you don’t live in an area that has counseling and addiction help? What if you barely have enough energy and strength to get through the day because you have to work two jobs or worse — you don’t even have a job? For people without resources, the pain is elevated much more. Often, alcohol or other drugs may be the only thing keeping someone afloat each day. This is not weakness, this is survival.
Unfortunately, until we can create a society that helps its people live without so much pain, addictions like alcoholism will continue. It would be good for many of us to understand this so we don’t label alcoholics as bums or weak people. Even people with resources are still coping with a tremendous amount of pain and as such, may not be able to commit to sobriety. Imagine how hard it is for people without resources?