Do You Lie About Alcohol?
At my annual physical for many years I had essentially the same conversation about alcohol with my doctor.
Doctor: Steve, how much alcohol would you say you drink?
Steve: [pause] Oh maybe 2-3 drinks a day, 4-5 days a week.
Doctor: You really should consider cutting that back some.
Steve: OK. I will. I promise. (Sure thing, doctor)
A truthful answer would have been:
Steve: 4-5 drinks a day, 7 days a week. (That’s two times what I admitted to)
Doctor: You really need to cut way back, or even abstain altogether. You’re consuming a very harmful amount of alcohol.
At this year’s physical the conversation was radically different then the bogus ones I had been having with my doctors and with myself for many years. When she asked about alcohol consumption this year, I said, “Doctor I’ve been sober for 2 weeks, and I expect to continue.”
That conversation was 8 weeks ago, and I haven’t had a drink since. Two Months Alcohol Free!
I’m quite sure the first conversation above is probably replicated in many doctor’s offices, especially with older patients. Sadly, in many situations, individuals—especially older individuals—minimize or hide their drinking from loved ones and medical professionals. This may be due to the fact that social etiquette creates a disincentive for doctors and other professionals to extensively question older patients about alcohol and drug abuse. And as my doctor confided last month, not least among the reasons that medical professionals don’t always question their patients more extensively about their drinking is that a significant proportion of doctors are also suffering from the same alcohol use disorder (AUD) as their patients. Neither wants to reveal it to the other.
Social conventions aside, it is clear that older folks need to be more sensitive to potential substance abuse issues, rather than niceties that sweep their problems, and possibly their addictions, under the rug. As I pointed out in my last post ( Boomers are Bingers ), drinking among us Baby Boomers is definitely on the rise; especially binge drinking (5 drinks in 2 hours for men, 4 for women). As I laid out in the above post, the dangers for our health are considerable.
But I didn’t stop drinking because I wanted to change the boomer statistics. I also didn’t stop drinking because I had reached a rock bottom place in my life—NO DRUNK DRIVING ACCIDENT; NO SLOPPY DRUNK FALLING DOWN OCCURANCE AT A PARTY; NO THREATENED DIVORCE; NO LIFE-THREATENING REACTION TO A MEDICINE I WAS TAKING.
I quit because I finally came to realize I had to and I wanted to.
It’s hard to pinpoint a specific trigger for my decision. Certainly my wife’s constant concern played a huge part. She had made her thoughts amply known to me although she had long-since abandoned constant reminders—which she knew generally stiffened my resolve to continue drinking. If you tell me to do something for my own good, the kid in my brain stiffens my resistance rather than acquiesces. I HAD TO DECIDE FOR MYSELF.
Annie Grace, This Naked Mind
But why March 12, 2021, and not years before? Well, the evidence is that I listened to a podcast during a morning walk on March 11 (suggested by my wife): Dan Harris’ “10% Happier Podcast” , in which he interviewed Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. I was hooked—or should I say “unhooked?”
I came home from my walk, ordered her book on Kindle, and by the next day had embarked on her 30-day guided experiment to be Alcohol Free. That experiment ended more than a month ago, and I’m contentedly, make that enthusiastically, still alcohol free. I have no intention of resuming my drinking.
How Did It All Start?
Let me back up a little. I was among many baby boomers who went off to college in the 60’s and 70’s, when there were dire warnings about drugs, but barely a word about alcohol. We thought little of drinking heavily on weekends, and even at 18, 19 and 20 years old, we were enabled by our college administration acting “in loco parentis.” Not only did the institution turn a blind eye to our bingeing, but even served alcohol to us at college functions.
I don’t remember drinking regularly in young adulthood, although when we did it was often $2.50 half-gallons of Gallo Hearty Burgundy—a cheap binge, and a whopping headache.
I think the real trouble began years later after my divorce, when I had 4-5 nights a week free of any home-bound parenting responsibilities. Working in the television news business at the time, those nights were almost always spent at the local bar with a number of workmates. Heavy drinking and smoking were de rigueur.
Tragically, my two best bar-mates of that era both died terribly prematurely—in their 50’s and early 60’s—no doubt from the effects of their drinking and smoking. Type 2 diabetes, pancreatic cancer and throat cancer took their lives. I could probably come up with a dozen other colleagues who have died from alcohol-related causes but that still did not trigger my alcohol free decision.
My subconscious alcohol habit had strongly taken charge, and no rational thought about its dangers was able to rein it in—even while lots of people in my sphere were ailing or dying.
I had plenty of other data that should have worked to free me from the addiction. Shortly after arriving in a new city with a new job all the way across the country, I got a startling notice from the municipal court in the city I’d recently moved away from informing me proceedings were advancing since I had failed to report for a court appearance for a driving infraction. I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO RECOLLECTION OF SUCH AN EVENT!
But the date on the summons shocked me into realization that it had indeed occurred, and I had blacked it out. It was late the night of my going away party from the former employer (following a long night of binge drinking) and at an intersection near my home where I had apparently run a stop-light.
The Proximate Trigger
Thankfully, after years of patient counseling by my wife, a couple of practice 30-day abstentions, and a podcast, book and 30-day Alcohol Free experiment led by Annie Grace, I have now quit. I think the key for me was Annie’s advice to shed the guilt and shame about drinking (which never works as a motivator for me). Alcohol has a nefarious way of taking over your sub-conscious—it is addictive, obviously. It’s not the weakness of my willpower that kept me from quitting. But the strength of the addictive power of the substance. Grace’s method is to focus on the hard data about alcohol’s undeniably harmful effects and how it operates on the brain to keep you habituated…even when it is not doing anything enjoyable for you.
Instead of forcing myself to “quit something I like that’s harmful,” Annie gives the rational brain (the prefrontal cortex) the scientific ammunition to out-argue the subconscious amygdala constantly creating cravings. It turns out, I WANT TO NOT DRINK. A subtle shift, perhaps. But, if you’re as pig-headed as I am, stopping something harmful that I’ve persuaded myself that I like is not nearly as efficacious as doing something I want (refraining from alcohol) because it’s healthful and rewarding to do so.
Isn’t Moderate Drinking Good for You?
Several friends I have told of my voyage to sobriety, while generally supportive, have observed that they believe moderate drinking is OK or even good for you and perhaps I can become a moderate drinker in the future.
If you search “alcohol harms” or “alcohol dangers” online, you’ll see results from credible organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), or medical sites like the Mayo Clinic or WebMD. What you won’t find are popular publications like the NY Times, Huffington Post, or the Washington Post.
Try the reverse and search for “alcohol healthy” and you’ll see articles with headlines like “Drinking for Health” from popular but unscientific media outlets.
The alcohol industry attempted to infiltrate the medical research industry by partially funding a NIAAA study aimed at proving moderate drinking is healthy for you, but the study got pulled after the publicity and is now mired in controversy.
A major global study reported in Lancet (No Level of Alcohol Consumption Improves Health), Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, “considers the extent to which moderate levels of [alcohol] consumption are protective for some health conditions.” The results of the study, which considers negative health effects for the consumer as well as negative health effects for the community at-large, are “clear and unambiguous: alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer.”
I think the jury verdict is in. Even moderate consumption of the toxin ethanol is harmful.
Oh, and one more thing. I’m obsessed about Quicken and track everything we earn and spend. We’re saving about $500 per month on alcohol purchases. Whatever shall I use the $6,000 annual savings for?
Not a bad reward for doing the right thing.