I believe that alcoholism is a nearly unmanageable, and poorly understood disease that plagues the days and nights of millions of people. I believe that in some cases it is a behavior problem, especially in the beginning. But in many, many other cases it is self medication for lack of an effective alternative. In still others, I believe drinking is the option of choice because not drinking hurts so bad. I believe there are many other reasons for alcoholism, and each practitioner may be so for one or several of them, and that is why it is so hard to treat.
I believe that due to the complexity of effective treatment, and the fact that alcoholics are notoriously poor, research into the disease is unpopular. Who wants to create a new drug that cannot possibly fetch the kind of prices as Viagra, or smoking cessation drugs? I also believe that there is a stigma ascribed to alcoholics, owing to the belief that alcohol abuse is a personal weakness—rather than a disease—researchers steer clear of the subject.
I believe that the stigma that surrounds practicing alcoholics is perpetuated by former alcoholics. The Alcoholics Anonymous program, which cannot claim a very high success rate, claims that recovery from alcoholism is a simple choice. Because there are those types of alcoholics that can choose to end drinking, and many more who choose to suspend it thinking for a while that they have chosen long term sobriety, but ultimately failing in their efforts, the simple choice answer becomes the only one offered. When practicing alcoholics simply cannot yet, or maybe ever, make that choice—they are accused of not wanting help no matter how badly the do.
I believe that nearly every alcoholic wants help with their disease, but do not know how to ask for it. I believe many want to give help to alcoholics, but do not know how to give it. As a result of this overall lack of understanding alcoholism remains a vicious, heartbreaking cycle that can seem unbreakable.
I believe that the government has failed its citizens who are afflicted with alcoholism. While tax dollars are spent at the reported rate of ten billion dollars per month in response to the attacks on 9/11, which killed two thousand nine hundred and seventy six people, practically no tax dollars subsidize research into alcoholism, which threatens one hundred and forty million alcoholics worldwide (according to the world health organization). Of those millions, estimates are that sixteen million are American. These figures say nothing of victims of alcohol related crimes and accidents.
As an alcoholic, I am plagued with all the stigma. I am called weak. Accused of refusing help. What help? Choose not to drink? I stand before a drink and cannot choose not to drink it, no matter how I try. I see others have a drink, and maybe even drink heavily, but are indifferent to it. I wonder how this can possibly be. If I drink one drink, I will continue to do so until I pass out. Then, when I wake I will do so again, and again, and again.
If we believe the things we espouse—protection of our citizens, particularly—we must end the distaste our society has for alcoholics. We must get behind the research that is being done into pharmaceutical treatments, and into understanding the specific brain chemistry of alcoholics as we have gotten behind cures and medications for AIDS.
Where is the philanthropic giant that champions cures and studies for alcoholism in the way Bill Clinton has for anti-retroviral drug dissemination to HIV carriers, or Bill Gates has for education availability for all. Where is our hero? Many of us feel we have been ravaged by the disease of alcoholism, and—contrary to popular belief—are powerless to do anything about it. Are we so worthless as to not merit a champion?
Where are our priorities? Those who have seen combat are at greater risk to have alcohol problems. We will go to war and create alcoholics, but will not help them once they are. Our congress will fuss over who is at fault for this or that for weeks, and never even bring forth the idea of sanctioning alcoholism studies. I venture to guess that it is never even a consideration to our government. Never sees one moment’s interest.
I believe that if we gave Alcoholism just a small percentage of the energy we put into war, or HIV cures, we would make huge gains. I believe we alcoholics would be very appreciative.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.