Where is Your Red Line?
Experience has taught me there is an acute distinction between people who have too much to drink at any given occasion, and those whose lives spin in the whirlwind of addiction. A person who has had too many drinks at a party is not necessarily a person who lives with alcohol use disorder.
The person with an alcohol use disorder does not always remain the life of the party.
It is important to consider the differences between them.
At social gatherings, we watch amused as the life of the party amuses, entertains, creates a few laughs. Eventually, we see them overindulge, act poorly, mistreat others, create a disturbance. They talk incessantly. Over-dramatize their problems. Knock things over. At some point in the evening, it stops being funny.
When this poor behavior is taken to the extreme, the media is quick to cover the stories– brawls, DUI’s, domestic violence and more. Those people, we hope, don't represent the majority of Canadians who drink.
In contrast, there are “the others”. The ones whose drinking extends beyond the night of the party. The ones whose lives are substantially changed because of the frequency of their drinking.
There are many of them. A 1991 report commissioned by Public Health Canada estimates one in eight kids under the age of 18 in Canada live in alcoholic families.[i] According to statistics in a 2013 CAMH report by Norman Giesbrecht and Ashley Wettlaufer, between 1997 and 2012, per capita consumption of alcohol in Ontario rose 5.6%, which means the percent of families in which alcohol is a problem has done nothing but rise.
That being said, as alarming as these statistics may be, they suggest that most of the people we mingle with at a social gathering return to an alcohol free existence the following day. If one in eight kids go home each night to an alcoholic household, seven in eight do not.
Undesirable behavior at a BBQ or party can ostensibly be attributed to a lifestyle choice to consume a high level of alcohol at a particular moment in time, which creates short-term consequences no one enjoys and a miserable ‘morning after’ for the person who drank.
So at what point exactly, in our minds, does that life of the party become a person with an alcohol use disorder? Where is our own personal red line of tolerance of alcohol use disorder?
When the life of the party repeats the same pattern of behavior every time we see them? When a group vacation makes us realize they drink excessively every day? Or is it only when their drinking begins to affect us personally. They call too often, taking away precious evenings, voice slurred and thoughts muddled. Their problems of failed relationships and social rejection somehow become ours. They convert us into their caregiver or support person, ruining parties that used to be fun.
Is that when we stop laughing at the life of the party? Is that when we no longer like that person in our life who suffers from alcohol addiction? Do we then transfer that dislike to everyone who suffers from the same disease? Is that when we start to assign blame to the condition and say the person is to blame? Or is it only if their disease affects us in some way?
People suffering from alcohol addiction do not choose to drink. They do not choose to suffer from their disease. They don’t choose to lose their jobs, their families, their financial security or their homes because they love the taste of alcohol.
They drink because a switch in their brain fails to tell them they have had enough. The cravings drive them to drink more, no matter how severe the consequences are.
We need to understand addiction for the disease that it is. Only then can we fully love and support the person we desperately want to save.
[i] Children of Alcoholics Prepared by Jane E. McNamee, MA, and David R. Offord, MD, FRCPC, Department of Psychiatry, McMaster University http://www.dronet.org/lineeguida/ligu_pdf/childalc.pdf