If your New Year’s resolution is to cut back your drinking or cut it out altogether, why wait until January 1?
The interesting thing about alcoholism or drug addiction is that the only people who wonder if they might be alcoholics or drug addicts…are alcoholics and drug addicts.
Most of us go through life without ever asking, “Am I a hippopotamus?” The question never arises because the answer is no, we are not hippopotami, and we know it. But if you have the slightest suspicion or inkling that you might have a problem with alcohol, then you almost certainly do have a problem. There’s no shame in having the problem; the only shame is having the problem and not doing anything about it.
Many people who drink too much on occasion, but don’t drink every day, or have never faced legal or financial consequences because of their drinking, question whether they might be alcoholics. That’s because most of us think of alcoholics as Skid Row bums, the guys (or gals) with the squeegees and buckets of filthy water, ready to wash your windshield, or better still, not wash it, for a price.
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Those poor people are almost certainly in the grips of addiction, but they’re not the only ones. Alcoholism and addition don’t care if you went to Yale or jail, whether you live in a penthouse or under a bridge.
If your personality changes when you drink or use, chances are, you have a problem. If a spouse, child, other relative, friend, or coworker has ever said that he or she likes you better when you’re not drinking, then you have a problem. If you have ever found yourself longing for a drink or a drug and knowing that it’s just a few more hours until you can tie one on…you have a problem. And if you have ever gotten pulled over for driving while under the influence, it wasn’t bad luck. You have a problem.
The good news is that stopping drinking allows us to address the underlying issues that triggered the emotional pain that made people drink or take drugs in the first place. Without the alcohol or drugs coursing through one’s system, one develops the presence of mind to recognize and resolve the emotional issues that otherwise would have only gotten worse.
It’s hard for most problem drinkers to imagine life without alcohol or drugs. Most of them see alcohol and drugs as the solution, not the problem. Unfortunately, the longer one drinks, and the more one drinks, the greater a tolerance the body develops for alcohol, which means one needs to pour more alcohol into a system worn down by too much drinking or drug-taking to achieve the same effect. And the more damage those increasing levels of alcohol and drugs do to one’s body.
Alcoholism is called the “great eraser,” because it wipes away all the values that we have, any concept of right and wrong, any sort of moral compass, in order to accomplish one goal—killing pain. Relationships, work, personal finance, reputation…none of those things matter in the quest to get to the next drink or drug.
So if your New Year’s resolution is to cut down or cut out the booze, the pills, or the gambling, or the addictive relationships, or whatever else your drug of choice might be, let me tell you a story.
Almost 30 years ago, around the time I gave up alcohol, a friend of mine had a few too many drinks at work at a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. On that rainy Southern California winter night, his car passed through a construction zone, went into a skid, crossed the double yellow line, and hit an oncoming car, killing the driver.
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My friend didn’t know any of this until he woke up the next morning in custody, only to discover that he had committed manslaughter in a drunken blackout the night before…a crime he still can’t recall but for which he served 17 years in prison.
He has since rejoined society and created a foundation to help teens avoid alcohol abuse. But nothing he can do will restore the 17 years he lost…or the life he took.
This year, there won’t be as many New Year’s Eve parties, due to the pandemic, but that won’t stop a lot of people from drinking and using drugs, driving, and creating horrific outcomes for others and for themselves, on December 31 of this year and on every day of the New Year.
That’s why I say that if your New Year’s resolution is to put the plug in the jug or quit taking drugs, you may not want to wait until New Year’s Day.
You might say, “Something like that could never happen to me,” but until it happened to my buddy, it hadn’t happened to him, either.
The easiest way to make a start on a life without alcohol or drugs is to Google Alcoholics Anonymous in your city or town and call the phone number you’ll find on the local AA website. A volunteer—a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous—will take the call, listen to your story with compassion, and point you to a nearby AA meeting or a 12-step meeting on Zoom.
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You know you get one phone call after you’ve been arrested, right? Unless you’ve got the next 17 years to spare, you might want to make this call right now.
Have a happy, safe, and sober New Year.