Shrinks agree: number of boozers is just crazy

Last week, Time Magazine reported that 14 percent of all Americans have experienced problems related to alcohol.

“In the new research, the study authors interviewed more than 36,000 adults about their lifetime drinking behaviors. The report shows that 30% of those interviewed had been a problem drinker at some point in their lives and 14% currently had problems. Many of the people had never been treated,” the magazine wrote.

That’s like 1 in 7, or one dude standing around every other pub table in the country. As one of them, I can tell you that number is not lofty.  It’s likely conservative, because it’s an almost certainty that when people are asked about their drinking they report about half. They don’t even know they do it. It’s our defensive mechanisms at work. My shrink from years ago asked me about drinking and immediately said, “Cut it in half.”

Only later did she tell me that if I did what she asked, she figured I’d actually drink the amount I reported. She was more than 80 years and had been doing that for pretty much 50 years because it had proven so reliable.

Try it out. Ask someone you know how much they drink. If they drink five nights a week, they’ll say three. If they average four drinks a night, they’ll say a couple. It’s ingrained, because when we say “drunks,” we mean someone else.

The bottom line in this extensive study: There are a whole lot more of us drunks out there than anyone wants to admit.

The genesis for this study flows from changes in a book psychologists use to diagnosis their clients. The latest version has what is called Alcohol Use Disorder, and it can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. Each iteration of this book (called the DSM) has tweaked our mental disorder classification of addiction. Addiction is a mental illness. Psychologists and psychiatrists have to to classify it and treat it. But also by classifying it, they can study its prevalence, which is what this study did. They found out its prevalent. And yes, that’s an understatement.

The numbers don’t bother us too much because so many more than 1 in 7 drink. It’s not like, say, heroin use, where if you use you most likely have a problem. So if you get three gals shooting up smack the number that has a problem is three. Pretty easy.

With drinking there is nothing easy about it, largely because we are heavily, heavily invested in minimizing the problems associated with it. Nobody at happy hour wants to be confronted with the problems involved in the custom

But let’s do a little visual exercise. Picture your favorite watering hole. Picture your friends gathered there, watching their favorite sports team in a big game. Picture the crowds. Hear the noise. Smell the foods. See the servers hustling between tables. Enjoy the loud talk and flirtatious looks. Then see that server drop off your table’s order. A basket of fries. A draft beer. A couple glasses of wine. The health nut that orders a salad at a bar, who is made fun of by the loud guy with a triple cheeseburger. One by one the orders are set down until they come to the person next to you. See that person? Your best friend maybe or your significant other. Their order comes and it’s a spoon, a rubber tube, a lighter and a syringe.

“Here’s the heroin you ordered,” the server says. “Can I get you anything else?”

“No, I’m good here,” the friend says, while clenching the tubing in his teeth, tieing it off and slapping his arm for a vein.

Would that be a problem? Would you feel any ethical problem about being there?

But if same friend sucks back four Long Island Teas, gets stupid loud, has to be carried out to the car and barfs in the backseat, we laugh about it later and say, “Geez, you went too far that time!”

One in seven are boozers. Likely more. Most likely one in, say, four have some level of Alcohol Use Disorder. That’s not so funny is it? It’s worth calling time out and considering just for a minute before you head on back down to the bar.


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