When it comes to alcoholism, we seem fixated on discussing the underlying causes. Some people have childhood trauma as a factor. Others face tremendous stress or financial issues. Still others struggle to grieve the loss of close friends or family members. The underlying issues vary making predicting occurrences of alcoholism challenging. But all of these underlying issues have one thing in common.
It’s the alcohol.
Why isn’t alcohol consumption the leading indicator of the disease of alcoholism?
According to a Reuters article from June of 2010, lung cancer is the most common form of cancer worldwide. The article cites research that indicates that 90% of all cases of lung cancer are caused by cigarette smoking. Lung cancer killed 1.2 million people a year a decade ago. The conclusion is easy. Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, and lung cancer kills a ton of people. So, cigarettes kill people.
Have you ever heard anyone discuss the underlying causes of cigarette consumption? I haven’t. Cigarettes are addictive, they have a stress-soothing effect, and their use was previously driven by cultural acceptance. That sounds a lot like alcohol.
Yet, when it comes to alcohol, we get stuck talking about underlying causes. The World Health Organization estimates that over 3 million people die from alcohol each year. Three million is a lot more than 1.2 million. So why does the tragic and morbid data always lose our attention to theoretical discussions about underlying causes?
It’s the alcohol. Clearly, the alcohol is the problem.
The World Health Organization also reports that obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975. This is all while our consumption of sugars has drastically increased over the last century. In fact, according to the USDA, the average American consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day accounting for over 500 calories. In 1822, it took the average American five days to consume the amount of sugar found in one 12-ounce can of soda. According to the National Institute of Health, obesity and being overweight is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Again, there is an easy conclusion to draw. We eat more sugar, and our obesity rate is increasing dramatically. Obesity is deadly. So, sugar is killing people.
The underlying factors that sometimes cause people to consume large quantities of sugar are similar to the underlying causes we identify in cases of alcohol abuse. Stress, insecurity, trauma, loneliness, depression – all of these things can result in abusive consumption of alcohol or sugar. I’m going to be insensitive here for a second to drive this point home. I apologize in advance. When you see an obese person eating cake, do you think, “I wonder what traumatic situation that person is dealing with?” or do you think, “Why is that fatso eating so much sugar?” Again, I’m sorry for the derogatory comment, but I call myself a drunk all the time, so maybe you’ll give me a pass? That question might not be politically correct, but it’s the question that bounces around in our human minds, isn’t it?
I’ll tell you why the cake eater is obese. It’s the sugar, and we all know it.*
Stay in your lane, Matt, and stop insulting people. Is that what you’re thinking? It sure is what I’m thinking. OK, so let’s talk about alcohol. According to a Washington Post article from August of 2017, 12.7% of American adults are alcoholics. That’s an increase of over 5 percentage points from 1990. An AP article from January of this year (before the spike in drinking caused by the pandemic) reports that alcohol consumption has been increasing for the past two decades, and is now in excess of the per capita consumption that led us to try prohibition. As I said earlier, over 3 million people die each year, worldwide, from alcohol-related causes. So, alcohol consumption (which is increasing) is a requirement for alcoholism (which is also on the rise), and alcoholism kills people. That means alcohol is deadly.
I guarantee that last sentence made some moderate drinkers and hard-core Alcoholics Anonymous devotees bristle. It’s like when it is said that guns kill people, and NRA folks spit angrily that, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes. True. But all too often, those killers use guns to do the killing. I have no personal experience, but I don’t think it’s super easy to kill someone without a gun. A knife or a big rock will do the trick, but the effort required is significantly higher while the success rate drops considerably. Leaving out the gun part is like ignoring the role alcohol plays in alcoholism.
Still, ignoring the role of alcohol in alcoholism is both completely illogical, and at the same time, 100% acceptable to a tremendous percentage of Americans.
I’d like to say something now about not being able to see the forest through the trees, but my writing coach taught me to stay away from overused cliches. So I won’t.
But for God’s sake, look at the fucking forrest for once. It is right there. We are drowning in the fucking forrest.
Ok, so let’s recap. I’ve now insulted people who battle their weight, gotten political and offended roughly half the country (but probably made friends with some Scandinavians), irritated the old-school AA crowd, and dropped a couple of f-bombs to turn-off the adult-language sensitive. I’m sorry (but only to those who battle their weight, because you are just like us alcoholics – I feel you and I’m sorry for using the word, “fatso”).
It’s the alcohol. I didn’t suffer childhood trauma. I wasn’t hungry or without shelter. I had a stressful job, but no more so than most of my friends. I drank because I was fearless as it related to booze. I knew alcoholism to be deadly. And I thought depravity and lack of control to be the causes of alcoholism. There it is – do you see it, or are the fucking trees in the way again? I thought what many, many, many of us think. I thought alcoholism to be the disease of the weak degenerates. My alcohol was for pleasure and relaxation. Their alcohol – those people – their consumption was evil and despicable. Not mine. I was living the American dream.
And now we are in a pandemic that is causing alcohol consumption to skyrocket. I could cite statistics, but I’m not going to, because unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, under a rock is a great place to clandestinely drink, so you know what I’m talking about under there, too, don’t you (see how I put a twist on that overused cliche)?
Here’s one statistic from the pandemic. The divorce rate is up by 35%. My source is a phone call with my dad over the weekend, but he seemed pretty convincing. Guess what is a leading cause of divorce. You guessed it! Alcohol! Way to ignore those fucking trees and stay with me. It was pretty easy though, really. Guns, sugar and cigarettes don’t even make the divorce-rate top-ten. And some crusty AA old-timer sitting on a folding chair drinking bad coffee in your living room and barking, “It works if you work it! IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT!” while you are trying to watch the news will cause divorce, but is extremely rare.
In fact, it is just as rare as someone contracting alcoholism without consuming alcohol.
Underlying issues are serious and deserving of our attention. Underlying issues give my wife migraine headaches at least once a month. Underlying issues cost me sleep, have resulted in no Big Ten football this fall (I just lost the Scandinavians), and are the two words used at the start of every sentence when a politician is hoping we are too stupid to understand that he’s lying to us. And underlying issues lead to self-medication.
We self-medicate with things including, but not limited to, sugar, alcohol, porn, excessive work, shopping, excessive exercise, other drugs, owning more than three cats, moving off the grid to under a big rock, and writing articles that insult large swaths of people. Underlying issues aren’t the cause of alcoholism any more than cats or house-rocks are.
Alcohol is the cause of alcoholism. And I’m going to start cutting down some fucking trees until more people can see it with me. It’s time for an unobstructed view. It’s time for a soberevolution.
If you’re willing to join me, I hope you’ll join our book launch team for our new release to be published on September 23rd. It’s titled, soberevolution: Evolve into Sobriety and Recover Your Alcoholic Marriage, and it’s available for presale in Kindle ebook or hardcover on Amazon right now. But if you’d like an advance copy, check out the details about the book launch team, and you could be reading it right away!
If you are ready to see the forest, and you want to leave the cause of your alcoholism behind (you know, the alcohol), please think about joining us in SHOUT Sobriety for people battling their way through early recovery.
*I generically reference sugar to encompass added sugars by various names like fructose, maltodextrin and corn syrup, and also processed carbohydrates like white flour. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has been packed full of sugar and simple carbs since the convenience of highly processed foods was introduced in the 1950s. As a child of the 1980s, my generation represents the first generation of processed sugar victims. Sugar is used here as an umbrella term that covers much of what is broken about our food system.