America's Drug Wars
 Story | Photography | Read Others' Stories |

Alcohol Is This Nation's Biggest Drug Problem

I am an alcoholic. Lucky for me, I stopped drinking before alcoholism ruined my life. As a matter of fact, when I stopped, I was on the dean's list, working as an apprenticed electrician, running 35 to 50 miles a week, and a frequent flyer to church. That was twelve years ago.

There's no doubt that I chose to drink in the beginning. At that time, I didn't see myself as being any different than other social drinkers. The problem was, once I started I never found a reason to stop. Eventually, I lost the ability to stop at all. No matter how hard I tried, drinking responsibly never seemed to be an option. People who drink alcohol are apt to engage in behaviors they wouldn't normally engage in because alcohol alters the mind. Some call it an attitude adjustment. But mixing alcohol with my brain spells disaster, and mixing alcohol with the estimated 18 million Americans that have alcoholism translates into complete mayhem: 100,000 people die yearly, jails are over crowed, injuries and illnesses abound, families self-destruct, and everyone pays through the nose.

In the face of such overwhelming destruction I find it disturbing that I never hear public health messages that say: Some People Shouldn't Drink! It's almost as if society doesn't believe people like me exist: until we get into trouble that is!

For me, the message to drink responsibly is a deadly one. I cannot drink, period!

But I still live in an age where being open with my disease is not always wise. It's better kept to myself unless talking in guarded circles. Furthermore, attempts to educate family and friends who might have the illness usually go unheeded. Even suggesting the remote possibility of having alcoholism normally invites the response: "You're Nuts".

Attempts to warn others of alcoholism are ignored not because it's a disease of denial, but because people are merely reflecting the beliefs and attitudes of a culture that has a love affair with alcohol. Denial is not a symptom of the disease, it is a symptom of society. Talking about alcoholism in this country is like trying to hold a conversation at a rock concert: no one can hear and few want to listen.

I joined a new group recently called Project Vox. Project Vox is a group of people who are in recovery from addiction like me. Some of our members have friends, family, and other loved ones who are in recovery from addiction. Many of us also know people who were not so lucky and died from this deadly disease.

Project Vox is the megaphone that I, and others like me, are using to get the message out that some people shouldn't drink at all, and that there are solutions for alcoholism. With any luck, maybe the medical community will hear, or the public health department, or even the community leadership.

In the meantime, I must resign myself to living in an era that pumps huge sums of money into jails and interdiction, and where a judge is more likely to hand down a diagnosis of alcoholism than a family physician.

Tom McHale
Flint, MI

< return to index   next >

©2018 American Public Media