By Ragan McNeely, LMHC
Supervising Clinician Substance Abuse Services
Alcohol Awareness Month has been held every April since 1987, sponsored and founded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., (NCADD).
The Council was founded by Marty Mann, who was amongst the first group of women who got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous in the mid to late 1930’s. An educated, charismatic woman, Marty Mann came out publicly as an alcoholic in recovery, to campaign to increase our awareness and understanding of the disease to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism that too often prevents us from seeking help.
When we think about substance dependence or abuse, or addiction in general, we tend to think about the “hard” drugs. We hear the evening news reporting an “epidemic” of deaths from opiate overdose; we remember the early terror over crack cocaine, the huge, disparate number of people in our local communities incarcerated for drug related offenses. And now we are considering legal cannabis dispensaries in our neighborhoods. There is so much sensational news!
What we tend not to think about and what is not in the news, is what is constantly in the background, what is always present and integrated into our culture, accepted in most of our homes, advertised on billboards, and in the subway on our way home. Alcohol is the first drug that most all of us will try, mistakenly off the coffee table, or getting “just a sip” from a parent or caretaker, at the age of three or four, six or eight. Alcohol is the first intoxication most of us will experience and it is the real “gateway drug,” which leads to all others.
Yet we minimize the effects of this most prevalent substance, that most savagely impairs us, that leads to far more emotional abuse and violence, that causes more accidents and fatalities than all the other “hard” drugs combined. Alcohol does more damage to the body and is more toxic to it than most any other drug of abuse, except tobacco, which is the most deadly by far. Thank goodness alcohol is no longer prohibited, because that didn’t work. Thank goodness it is taxed and regulated. But do not think for a moment that it is less harmful to the public than the so-called “hard” drugs.
Most of the addicts we treat start with alcohol, smoked weed, maybe tried pills, maybe came to cocaine with alcohol to come down; a very few try heroin. Oddly, we hear less denial from these patients and they often present desperate for help. In contrast, many of the non-“drug” addicted alcoholics we see are deeper in denial: “It’s legal… it’s at the corner store… everyone drinks…” They are emotionally harder to reach, less likely to seek help, sometimes more cognitively and neurologically impaired, and more at risk of accident and injury. Somehow, there is just more denial in the bottle.
And yet we host it, we accept it, we don’t speak about it, we minimize it, we look the other way, we even laugh about it on Monday mornings. But at least one in ten of us, around 15 million of us in the U.S., just can’t drink in safety. Why the stigma? These are just facts, not meant to be sensational. But they are particularly hard to swallow, when they are closer to home.
If you have another moment, read Marty Mann’s words below:
Whittier Street Health Center’s Substance Abuse Services clinicians specialize in the treatment of addictions and dual diagnoses individuals. We provide group therapy, Suboxone Groups, Relapse Prevention, and a Structured Outpatient Addictions Program (SOAP). For more information, please call us at (617) 989-3009 or (617) 989-3224.