Amidst all the stories out there about the best holiday drinking games comes news even worse than the recent one about how middle-aged white men are killing themselves in record numbers. Didn't think worse news was possible? Well, try this one on: Almost 31,000 Americans died from drinking in 2014, a nearly 40 percent increase since 2002. In other words, Happy New Year, America! We don't seem to be having the greatest time.
Some More Math for Ya
Here's how the whole thing shakes out: In 2014, there were 9.6 deaths for alcohol-related reasons per 100,000 people. If you're already alarmed, brace yourself for the really crazy part: This stat doesn't include deaths from drunk driving or homicide. If the study also contained those, the number, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, would be more than 90K.
Is Denial About Addiction the Problem?
While there's surely a confluence of reasons for this majorly depressing stat, one theory out there is that there are hordes of opiate addicts out there getting treatment and going on their merry ways sans painkillers and heroin. Problem is, if they believe alcoholism and addiction are two different beasts, just giving up the junk (or the pill) can mean turning to the vodka and vino — and consuming it alcoholically.
Let me go on the record here and say oh I get it. As a regular coke user who also liked her Ambien (and painkillers), I was fully willing to concede to the fact that I was a drug addict before I got sober. I knew those counselors and AA folks were going to try to convince me that I had to give up alcohol as well since they liked to push their agenda about how alcohol was a drug and a whole bunch of other stuff I barely listened to. But I had arguments ready for them.
Here's How I Saw It
I calmly explained that things were different for me — that I barely liked alcohol. (This was true; I barely liked anything at that point.) But I went along with their program, giving up drinking along with drugs — until, after six months, I decided they were crazy alarmists and I could have a glass of wine. One bottle of red and 4.5 hits of Ecstasy went down my gullet that night. And so I began subscribing to the gateway theory — that if I drank, I wouldn't be able to turn down drugs. It was only a year or so after I'd quit it all that I saw how I'd always drank alcoholically. My perception had been so off — when I was drinking, I was able to justify all sorts of things as normal, like driving drunk and making out with losers. It was only when I had significant time away from the way I partied that I could see how abnormal it was.
My point is this: I get how addiction transference can happen and also how fervently most drug addicts do not want to quit drinking. It can feel like (and may be) the only friend you've got left. There are certainly people out there who can get off heroin or coke or some other hard drug and not immediately start drinking alcoholically. But in my experience the majority cannot, so why risk finding out the hard way if you're one of them?
Then Again, It Could Be the News
There could, of course, be other reasons for all the drinking deaths. There's no arguing with the fact that we live in a tough, depressing world; it's hard to not want to drown out news about terrorists and gunmen shooting up schools. While the world has always been tough, the news comes at us from every angle now — if we're not getting it through 24-hour news channels or our New York Times home page, we read about it amidst all the humble bragging on Twitter and Facebook. Who wouldn't want to drink to escape?
In the end, there's no simple solution or even conclusion that can be drawn about any of this. But here's hoping that becoming aware of how dangerous alcohol can be can wake us up.
Let's hope we can do better — meaning worse — in 2016.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
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