I have been sober from alcohol for 6 years and I also have a mental health and addictions nursing background. Alcohol addiction runs in my family in a very serious way. I’d say I know a few things about alcohol addiction and how it affects our physical and mental health. I not only lived it, but I helped other people live through it as well.
One thing I repeatedly see in online discussions about alcohol abuse is that somehow, the person who abuses alcohol brought it on themselves or deserves their afflictions because they continue to drink heavily. There’s also a misconception that heavy drinking and “alcoholism” are somehow not the same. Many people who drink heavily will accuse other heavy drinkers of not being able to control their drinking. It’s a really strange manifestation of the denial often inherent in alcohol misuse. Hence, there is a lot of blame and criticism of those who are labeled an “alcoholic.”
The truth is, alcoholism and heavy drinking are not that different from each other. Often, we make ourselves believe that heavy drinking is normal if we are somehow able to function — meaning we can hold down a job, maintain a home, and look after our basic needs. The truth is, heavy drinking is still alcohol misuse which is the same as alcoholism. The difference is how entrenched the drinking becomes, which may have more serious consequences on our lives.
Some people can drink heavily and still feel confident they are managing their lives despite the many ways that their drinking proves to be problematic. Heavy drinking affects relationships, productivity, family life, physical health, and mental health. Labelling someone an “alcoholic” that can’t control their habit and thus they are a “bad” person, does nothing to further healing for alcohol addictions and misuse.
So let’s be honest shall we? Heavy drinking and alcoholism are within the same sphere and neither label makes the person who engages in alcohol misuse a “bad” person.
We’re not wrong or immoral for abusing a substance that helps us escape the horrors in our lives. The truth is, there are many ways to escape pain and horror, alcohol is just one of them. However, the difference between alcohol and things like doomscrolling, shopping, internet, or whatever we do to escape, is that alcohol can actually kill us. More so, before it kills us, it can ruin our health, mental health, relationships and anything else we care about. Alcohol can disable us and make our lives so much worse.
I advocate not just for abstinence or help for alcohol misuse, but more so, to educate people so they understand their relationship with alcohol better. Because most people have no idea at all how alcohol weaves itself into every fabric of our lives and slowly erodes it. Also, people don’t realize that the way alcohol erodes our lives is through our physical and mental health. And once alcohol has a hold on our brains and emotions, the less capable we are to make good decisions.
We’re not “bad” people for choosing to drink heavily. We just need to understand exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. We also need to know when we’re getting ruined by alcohol. Because as it stands, 107 million people worldwide have an alcohol misuse disorder — this includes everything from slight heavy drinking to very serious alcohol dependence. And while 107 million may seem like a lot, there are many more that likely chose not to report their drinking habits — such is the power of denial in alcohol misuse. Unfortunately, most people are oblivious to the ways that alcohol affects their health and mental health.
The rhetoric around “alcoholics” being bad people who can’t get their drinking under control is actually fueling more heavy drinking that leads to even more deadly consequences. Instead, maybe we can understand that all heavy drinking is designed to mitigate pain and discomfort. Many things are designed to mitigate pain and discomfort. However, not all of them will cause health and mental health issues the way alcohol can.
People in pain will always choose something to self-medicate — be it alcohol or other less dangerous things like playing online games all day. The point is, if we become more familiar with how alcohol causes even more pain, then we are in a better place to make proper decisions. And if we understand that all heavy drinking is problematic, then we can stop trying to demonize some people over others.
The facts are that alcohol causes the following:
- Damages the brain which also hinders decision-making.
- Causes and worsens mental health problems.
- Stops us from processing traumatic events which can lead to our healing.
- Creates a vicious cycle that slowly erodes everything until we are lost to ourselves.
- Can and will cause disability over time.
- Stops us from doing productive things to help our pain and discomfort.
- Doesn’t stop at our personal ruin, instead, it goes on to ruin the lives of those we care about as well.
We’re not “bad” people for drinking heavily, we just need to understand the consequences so we can make informed choices.