Alcoholic Hell: One Drink Too Many

Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC

drunk mother lying on couch

Channeling writers William S. Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, and Philip K. Dick, Josh Brolin, in a brutally honest Instagram rant, described his passage into alcoholic hell:

Drunk: when you think you’re having a rip roaring time and the next morning you wake up and your brain has broken into a frenzied beehive and your body is shattered shards of sharp glass desperately searching for what fits where and your spirit is being eaten by worms with great white bloodied teeth and your heart has shriveled into a black prune churning your intestines to the point where dysentery feels attractive.

Actor Brolin’s nightmare is the domain of countless individuals, seduced, poisoned and imprisoned by the demon, rum. Often referred to as alcoholics, the current, accepted term is now Alcohol Use Disorder. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–V), published by the American Psychiatric Association, integrated the previous DSM–IV disorders (alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence) into a single disorder called Alcohol Use Disorder. Although AUD can range from mild to severe, it is important to realize that recovery is possible regardless of severity.

Federal health statistics show that alcohol consumption has been rising for two decades, and is now greater than before the government-imposed Prohibition (1920-1933). Americans are drinking more than they have in 100 years. In late 1910, just before Congress banned the sale and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages, each American teen and adult was downing just under 2 gallons of alcohol a year on average. These days, it’s about 2.3 gallons. That works out to nearly 500 drinks, or about nine per week. In 2015, 20.8 million persons aged 12 or older were classified with an alcohol use disorder, representing 7.8 percent of the population.

For Baby Boomer (1946-1964) Martin, drinking was a mindless compulsive behavior. He drank, drink after drink, sometimes fast and sometimes a bit slower. It didn’t matter how he did it because he was always thinking about his next drink. He usually drank while watching TV. Martin reflects a common trend in America. We are drinking too much. 1 in 12 adults, or 17.6 million people, have alcohol abuse or dependence issues, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Many retired Baby Boomers like Martin feel they have “arrived.” After decades of job-related stress, many feel entitled to the sweet nectar of the Good Life, eating and drinking excessively. For those individuals, alcohol is representative of something used to celebrate accomplishment, rites of passage, and personal relationships. Medicinally, it helps relieve stress and anxiety, and induces sleep.

Still, over time, drinking can lead to increased tolerance, dependence and abuse. The data is troubling, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the United States each year. It also accounts for 1 of 10 deaths among working-age adults and shortens the lives of those who die by an average of 30 years. Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or anyone younger than 21. In 2010, excessive alcohol use cost the US economy $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink, and $2 of every $5 of these costs were paid by the public.

                                                            Total abstention

Research shows that alcohol in moderation may be beneficial to those who are not alcoholic or heavy drinkers. Moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of nonfatal heart attacks, possibly because alcohol can boost high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, which can be protective against arterial blockages. But there is clearly more to the discussion and it is imperative to consider the dangers of this sedating substance that can quickly conquer and slowly kill.

Alcohol is a dangerous, addictive substance that has destroyed countless lives. Even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a list of cardiovascular problems, including stroke, aortic aneurysm, fatal hypertensive disease and heart failure, plus a lowered life expectancy. Alcohol consumption is also linked to higher risks of several types of cancer, including breast cancer and cancers of the digestive system. A paper published in the Lancet suggests that every glass of wine or pint of beer over the daily recommended limit will cut half an hour from the expected lifespan of a 40-year-old. The report says the risks are comparable to smoking.

This interpretation of moderate drinking is not likely to be welcomed by the $1,400 billion global alcohol industry, which has embraced the idea, backed by the medical establishment, that moderate drinking may be good for you by lowering the risk of a heart attack.

Despite popular misconceptions, cherry-picked medical data, and wishful thinking, there is scant evidence that light drinking might help people stay healthy. Some individuals cannot drink in moderation and immediately crave more of the drug. For those individuals, a behavioral change is in order. There should be no drinking in moderation or controlled drinking or sugar coating what has been widely identified as a problem. Drinking leads to a pathway of no good. The problems are bad or worse and there is no silver lining. For individuals like Josh Brolin, giving up alcohol is the only choice.

Dry January

For some, total abstention makes the most sense. According to 2018 research by the Royal Free Hospital published in the British Medical Journal, there are a lot of benefits when you quit drinking for a month, including: lower blood pressure, reduced risk of developing diabetes, lower cholesterol, and reduction in levels of certain blood proteins associated with cancer. About 77% of participants reported better sleep and 58% reported weight loss.

The Dry January movement began in 2012 as an initiative by Alcohol Change UK, a British charity, to “ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days.” The program met immediate success as millions of people, including American drinkers, took up the challenge, and a recent YouGov poll found that 14% of U.S. adults had planned to participate in Dry January.

Not drinking for an entire month demonstrates several things. It challenges individuals to abstain from alcohol for a given period of time and to experience what sobriety feels like. It also allows individuals to reevaluate their relationship with and control over alcohol.

Although he is now sober, Josh Brolin admits that he misses the fun and spontaneity that alcohol once gave him. He remembers those crazy days of endless partying and mornings of “never again” remorse. But along with countless others, he has made a decision to abstain. Brolin says both poetically and cryptically “I want to live more drunk. I want to live drunkenly. I just don’t want to take the drink.”

Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health, and music journalism. His book The Death Proclamation of Generation X: A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy of Goth, Grunge and Heroin explores the dark marriage between grunge music and the beginning of the opioid crisis. You may contact him at jungle@epix.net