The Scourge of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

I’m often reminded the terrible price my family has paid because of alcoholism and substance abuse. It’s the primary reason I’ve never been one to drink or to “get high.” As mentioned in these pages* before, I tried marijuana as a teenager. Just like president Bill Clinton, “I didn’t like it, and didn’t inhale, and never tried it again.” While there were few who did, I believed Bill Clinton. Believe me.

When it comes to alcohol, I admit it… I tried that once as well. I was 19- years old and a new Airman at Vandenberg Air Force Base. I’m not sure why, but I think it was to just see what it would feel like. So — young and stupid — one evening I drank a tall glass of Bacardi Rum. Beyond the silliness and fog of that night, I paid the awful and memorable price the next morning. I learned what it felt like.

I’m happy to say I never drank or used again. Once experienced I never saw the need to. To me, there is zero attraction to drink or to use drugs, even in moderation. I’m able to get high on life without dulling my senses and resorting to the mind-numbing use of artificial means. My high is as good as anyone’s. Go ahead world, call me “crazy”!

Since those poor, but thankfully isolated choices, I’ve often been asked why I don’t drink or do pot… and my answer has always been the same: I grew up seeing how alcohol destroyed the lives of my loved ones and how it affected the lives of their families. An uncle, torn by the ravages of his combat experience during World War II, turned to alcohol and it ruined his life. Other uncles and aunts were also alcoholics and passed it on. Two of my cousins were killed in auto accidents because of drunk driving. Another was killed in his efforts to distribute. Other family members have spent time in jail, and in prison because of their addictions. Others have been in and out of rehab. Wasted years, worse yet… wasted lives. There is never total recovery. Once addicted, it is always with you.

My family’s story is just one among the millions of others whose lives have been touched by what some consider accepted behavior. It is not. It angers me to see how casual people are about the use of alcohol and “recreational” drugs. Now communities and states are legalizing the use of marijuana. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but they see it as a cash cow. A bandaid for previous mistakes of overspending and over-indulgence. Not even our government can escape the nonsense!

The price society pays is ENORMOUS and devastating to millions of families and individuals who are its innocent victims. Some of the most gifted, celebrated artists and entertainers of our times have lost their lives to the lure of alcohol and other abuses. The list is endless and none of us truly escape its far-reaching consequences.

Alcohol it seems is universal. It’s part of our culture, required in ritual celebrations, it’s being social, it’s part of the gathering and it’s always been here. It’s used by everybody, reputed by nobody.

It makes strong men weak and leads the weak to believe themselves strong. A husband’s fondness for drink will often overcome his love for his wife… his family… and even for his God. Jobs are lost, wages wasted, life savings swallowed up and productive lives destroyed. Wives and children are victimized, beaten, abused, deprived and abandoned.

The damage extends to communities and society. Crimes, corruption, even murders are committed and horrible deaths are suffered on our nations roads and highways. Terribly wasted lives, lives cut short, families destroyed, unintended consequences at a huge immeasurable cost in lives, dollars, misery and the human spirit… all because of alcohol.

~~ Adapted from the Ken Burns documentary Prohibition

A friend recently described his use of alcohol as “escapism”.  To me that’s just another tired, old excuse. What are people really escaping from? Nothing! There is no avoiding the realities of the world. “Masking” may be a better word, and it’s only temporary. Those seeking to “escape” in the end, or at the very time they’re hoping for relief, will only find disappointment. Often they’ll find they’ve only made their lives, and the lives of those they love, worse. Alcohol and other substance addictions are a scourge on mankind.

Yes, I get high on life. While we all face challenges (and I’ve had my share), things we’d rather ignore than confront, there are always things to be thankful for. Life itself among them. One needs only to visit a cemetery and read the headstone inscriptions to realize just how very lucky we are.

I am forever grateful I escaped those addictions. For whatever reasons, I guess I was lucky. I can only thank the friends I chose, my faith in God, and the knowledge things could always be worse.

We take far too much for granted. We’re often like sheep, never questioning the standards others of our society have established. We just go-along. The notion that alcohol abuse is normal, or an acceptable escape from stress and hardship is a sad commentary indeed on our values, how we think, and who we are.

 * See #s14 & 15 at this blog.

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