Let’s Face It—America Has An Alcohol Problem

AA. This is a term everyone knows, whether they have an addiction or not. AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous, which has helped save my life. It is an international recovery program that uses Twelve Steps to better one’s life. It is a program for those who struggle with alcoholism, although there are several recovery groups for all addictions. In this case, it is a different form of AA that I will be discussing. I want to talk about AA, America’s Alcoholism.  

It’s true. America has a drinking problem.  

The top 10% of people who drink are drinking 74 drinks per week. That’s 24 million adults over age 18 and works out to a little more than four-and-a-half 750 ml bottles of Jack Daniels, 18 bottles of wine, or three 24-can cases of beer. 

In one week. Or, if you prefer, 10 drinks per day. 

The second tier is drinking the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine per night. These figures come from Philip J. Cook’s “Paying the Tab,” an examination of the costs and benefits of alcohol control in the U.S. 

Yes, I was in that 10%. I drank the equivalent of a 750 ml bottle (“a fifth”) of vodka and some wine every night during my worst years drinking. I had vodka in the closets, in the car, in water bottles scattered about. I drank those things behind the scenes along with the 3-4 glasses everyone else saw me drink.  

And here I am years later…sober. It took years of denial to accept the fact that I had a drinking problem. However, 24 million people do not think they have a drinking problem. Society tells us that it is normal to drink in excess. For example, I was recently at a party, and the people there each had 4-5 drinks within 2 hours. Why is this considered normal?

Social drinking is a part of America’s culture. However, engaging in the activity multiple times a week could give way to heavy drinking, defined as four or more alcoholic beverages a day for men and three for women on five or more days in a month.  

“America has a Drinking Problem,” by Kate Julian hits the nail on the head on many levels. The full article is fascinating, going into the history of drinking. One thing that struck me was this:  

“Around the turn of the millennium, Americans said ‘To hell with it’ and poured a second drink, and in almost every year since, we’ve drunk a bit more wine and a bit more liquor than the year before. But why? One answer is that we did what the alcohol industry was spending billions of dollars persuading us to do. In the ’90s, makers of distilled liquor ended their self-imposed ban on TV advertising. They also developed new products that might initiate nondrinkers (think sweet premixed drinks like Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade). Meanwhile, winemakers benefited from the idea, then in wide circulation and since challenged, that moderate wine consumption might be good for you physically.” 

We, as Americans, see things and buy into it. “A glass of red wine a day is healthy!” we say. Welp, okay! Let’s drink the bottle!  

Many people tend to feel relaxed when drinking socially. This is because alcohol affects brain function, changing moods and behaviors. It binds to receptors in the brain that boost dopamine levels, which activate pleasure. Some people think that drinking will make them happy, while the whole time, they are simply adding a depressant to their body.

It’s hard to be the one not drinking in this society. Once during my sobriety, I was sitting with some friends (all drinking friends), and one of them was talking about someone she knew. She said, “She’s not fun anymore; she doesn’t even drink.” 

Wait a minute. Just stop.  

I wanted to start a conversation about this, but I knew it wasn’t the time. It wasn’t the place, and I just wasn’t feeling a conversation about it. This lady didn’t know my story, and she didn’t notice I wasn’t drinking. This is a good thing. I like it when people think I am one of the crowd; I like it when I fit in.

Why is it that when someone stops drinking, they are immediately considered not fun? Think about it. Why do people feel that non-drinkers are boring? Just because we aren’t poisoning ourselves in order to feel intoxicated means we aren’t fun? We are still humans; we are still fun. Why is it that alcohol is required to have fun? I still am able to join in conversations, to laugh, to be in everyone’s company. Honestly, I don’t make a fool of myself or say things that I will regret. I won’t wake up feeling awful the next morning, and I won’t feel ashamed of things I may have done. 

Why is it that we have to put a substance in our body that makes us not remember some of the most important and fun times of our lives? We get drunk at weddings, we get drunk at graduations, we get drunk at family reunions, we get drunk at social gatherings, we get drunk at birthday parties. We get drunk at everything of which we should want to have the clearest memories. 

So why say people who don’t drink are no fun, when in retrospect, we are the ones who have clarity and will actually remember everything? We are the ones enjoying life without memory loss and hangovers. How much fun is a hangover?

I believe there are many ways to recover; I do not believe AA is the only thing that works. In this scenario, however, I’m trying to get people to think differently about AA, in both of its forms. I’m just one little soul trying to make a difference in a huge world, and I hope this gets the ball rolling. 

If we can’t talk about these things, we will just continue to be a drunk society, ignorant to the fact that sober people actually are living a healthy, wonderful life that is indeed fun. We do not need America’s Alcoholism in our lives because we have the potentially life saving recovery program of AA.