I quit drinking six years ago after decades of alcohol abuse that left me sick, emotionally distraught, and seriously depressed. As a former nurse, I also have a professional understanding of addiction. So when I quit, it lit a fire in me to research more about alcohol addiction and how it affects people physically, mentally, and spiritually.
While I write a lot about the health issues inherent in alcohol abuse, I am committed to a non-judgemental approach. I also know that the stigma and judgments of others prevent people from seeking help earlier on, which only adds to the decline in physical and mental health. I’m certain that people are not given the right education about alcohol and its effects on the body and mind, and I aim to improve that. But I feel strongly about not contributing to the anguish that people who abuse alcohol face.
Why? Because I have been there, and I know that despite the harmful effects of alcohol, it is used primarily as self-medication for deeply repressed pain. To be honest, before alcohol almost killed me, it saved me. In my earlier addiction days, I truly don’t know how I would have survived the anguish I felt without alcohol. And until we acknowledge the role that alcohol often plays in people’s lives, we won’t get anywhere with addiction.
People use alcohol because it is legal and widely available and does seem to quell people’s emotional and physical pain from earlier traumas and ongoing stress. Like me, alcohol initially saves people from horrible anguish that would otherwise threaten their lives. The trouble is, over time, alcohol will turn on you — always. But by then, the addiction is so entrenched that the nervous system is entirely dependent on the drug to the point that quitting can often be life-threatening.
Currently, 85.6% of US adults drink alcohol, and 25.8% have an alcohol use disorder. These numbers are staggering, which shows the gravity of the problem. But it also shows an awful lot of people who turn to alcohol for something they need to survive. Medicating pain, whether it’s through illicit drugs or prescribed medications, is about survival. It’s about finding a way to tolerate the horrendous anguish that those who abuse alcohol often feel.
It’s imperative that professionals and the general public acknowledge this very delicate relationship that people have with substances like alcohol. Because until we address the anguish, we will never stop the addiction.
The obvious reasons for the anguish have a lot to do with past trauma as well as issues accessing basic determinants of health such as meaningful work, shelter, social support, healthcare, food, and child care. However, having been through alcohol addiction myself and reading much research on its roots, I would say that unprocessed trauma is the biggest issue of all. Indeed, statistics on the connection between alcohol addiction and PTSD reveal the depth of this relationship clearly.
If you or anyone you know suffers from alcohol addiction, please know that the desire to medicate the pain is understandable and not some deep flaw of willpower. Anyone in pain will be desperate to find a way to live with it. Alcoholics are survivors first and foremost.
Having said that, once we understand the deeper issues around how alcohol impacts our wellbeing, we will inevitably be faced with having to take responsibility for the harm that alcohol has on our lives and our loved ones. This clash between the need to quell pain and the need to take responsibility is often the darkest part of life for the alcoholic.
My hope is that by increasing education for the general public, the more we can understand this delicate relationship. And the more we understand, the more we can advocate for addiction as well as the needs that alcoholics have in overcoming the addiction.