An alternate title for this article is:
“How Aliens Confirmed Earth is Devoid of Intelligent Lifeforms”
Think about it for a minute – pretend you know nothing about the role alcohol plays in our culture, or in your personal life. With a completely open mind, read my fair and honest explanation of alcohol as I would describe it to an extraterrestrial being:
Alcohol is something we ingest to aid in celebration, confidence, mourning, stress-relief, pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment of life. It works by taking our optimally functioning brains that are at or near a state of equilibrium, and inhibiting our neurological function. It makes us laugh at things that aren’t really funny, spend time with people who don’t really care about us, have intimate contact with strangers, make decisions we later regret, operate motor vehicles when we are not qualified to do so, and say things that are embarrassing to ourselves and others. It also is scientifically proven to increase depression and anxiety, and it is a leading cause of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, divorce, suicide, many other diseases, and countless forms of accidental death. Drinking is something we call, “fun,” and we do it regularly and willingly.
And that, my friends, is a completely plausible reason we think we are alone in the universe. Maybe the aliens want nothing to do with us. Could you blame them? We have taken a poison that is objectively destructive to ourselves, our families and our society, and we have developed a culturally endorsed obsession for it.
Alcohol is bad for us. Period. I didn’t say alcoholism is bad for us. I didn’t say alcohol abuse is bad for us. As they say, we can’t beat it if we can’t name it. We are content to “other” the alcoholics, and judge alcohol innocent of all charges. We can never hope to solve alcoholism – with its over 15 million American sufferers (more than suffer from cancer) and over 3 million annual alcohol-related deaths (more than COVID-19) – until we turn our fixation away from recovery and toward prevention. Until we admit the truth about alcohol, we are just playing Russian roulette as we develop our glorified drinking routines. Will we or will we not contract alcoholism? Are we one of us, or are we one of them? In a Carville-esque simplification of the problem, it isn’t us with our genetic compilations, traumatic childhoods and lack of willpower.
It’s the alcohol, stupid.
OK – I’ve got to calm down. I can’t expect you to keep reading if I call you names. I don’t think you’re stupid (but the aliens do). It’s not our fault we worship alcohol despite the consequences. We are ignorant (which is a tiny upgrade from stupid). Here are the five reasons we don’t know sobriety is better:
#1 – Moderate Drinkers Don’t Know Any Better
Nothing is more esteemable in our society than being a moderate drinker who can have one or two or three, and leave it at that. A drinker without a problem is so damn attractive that we never consider the consequences of the commitment to moderation.
I know lots of people who feel a need to be in control in group situations. They have tempers that they work to keep under control, deal with “normal” levels of work-related stress, and manage mild depression and anxiety. They think these annoying maladies are unavoidable, and think their human experience is as good as it is supposed to get. They don’t see the limitations alcohol is putting on their potentials. They don’t drink excessively, so they never consider the role alcohol is playing in their lives. They try to eat better, get more sleep, do more yoga, learn to meditate, read Brene Brown and exercise into a talking mirror. But the role alcohol plays in their dissatisfied lives never makes a blip on the radar.
#2 – Catastrophic Cure and Causation Confusion
Alcohol doesn’t alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. It causes all three. It is classified as a depressant, and it downregulates our pleasure neurotransmitter function. Drinking to manage stress, anxiety and depression makes as much sense as plucking nose hairs to fend off a sneeze.
We drink moderately and think we are reducing our risk of contracting diseases. Alcohol is a carcinogen. Drinking red wine to make our heart strong is like sprinkling a little asbestos on our Cornflakes to boost our immune system. Does that analogy feel like a stretch to you? It’s because the lie is so ingrained in you that thinking otherwise goes against your very core belief system.
In late 2020, the USDA published their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 edition. Despite clear evidence that two alcoholic drinks per day for men results in significantly higher all-cause mortality (because drinking is implicated in so many of the causes), the USDA stuck with their traditional recommendation of two drinks per day for men. Even the scientists ignored their own findings, and several of the committee members talked openly about the baffling contradiction following publication of the guidelines. We aren’t comfortable with the truth. Alcohol flows among us with impunity for the crimes it commits against humanity. It isn’t a question of research. It’s a question of cognitive dissonance (can’t you see the aliens shuffling back to their spaceships).
#3 – The Sober are Terrible Ambassadors for Sobriety
There are a ton of gleefully sober people among us, but they don’t spend much time glorifying sobriety for two reasons.
First, they are focussed on climbing that next mountain, conquering the next beast and generally growing in enlightenment and understanding of the universe. They don’t have time to convince you of what the aliens already know. They are moving forward at too fast a clip, and they can’t let your drunk-ass slow them down.
The second reason sober people don’t waste time talking about the glories of their sobriety is because they can count. They know how wildly unpopular sobriety is in a culture where 70% of the adult population drinks regularly. There are only a few of us determined and belligerent enough to scream into the wind. The smart and sober people don’t waste their time. Where would they talk about sobriety, anyway? Everyone they encounter in social settings where people are conversing about spontaneous topics are already drinking. When was the last time you attended a social engagement that didn’t feature alcohol? If you want to know what awkward feels like, try talking to drinkers about sobriety while they are actively drinking.
#4 – Recovered Alcoholics Talk about Drinking Debauchery
No one wants to hear from Bradley Cooper or Jamie Lee Curtis about the serenity of their Sunday afternoons, or how many hours of restorative sleep they get each night. When Robert Downey Jr. is interviewed about his addiction, the questions are about overcoming struggles and jail time. No one wants to know about the enlightenment of a sober Ironman. They want to know how hard it was to weld and fabricate the flying suit. We show some interest in the comeback story, but we rarely consider sobriety to be anything more than the necessary compromise of a person with a weakness.
Even in AA meetings, sobriety is spoken of as a relief from the incarceration of addiction. Recovering alcoholics return to meetings for years, even decades, to tell their rock-bottom stories. Little time is given to talking about accomplishments that were inconceivable when alcohol was actively part of the story. All eyes are open wide for the crash and burn. But the peace sobriety offers anyone – addiction or not – that story leaves us yawning.
#5 – $$$
I am a capitalist. I don’t believe in this half-regulated, innovation-suppressing, quasi capitalism with inexplicable tax breaks for people and corporations most equipped to pay taxes that we’ve warped our economy into in the United States, but I do believe in a true risk/reward capitalism model that incentivized creativity and hard work. So it’s hard for me to villainize the big beverage companies for trying to make a buck (or billions of bucks) at our expense. They are selling a poison that we’ve legalized, lusted after, linked to success, and legitimized in every possible way. If hundreds of millions of people wanted to buy a hotdog from me, I’d probably fire up the grill. It’s not Big Beverage’s fault we are lemmings.
Do I find their tactics despicable (like encouraging us to drink morning beers to wash down our breakfast pizza)? Yes. But no more so than I think body shaming by diet-pill companies or equating a Lexus with a huge bow to holiday happiness is despicable. Marketers learn as much as they can about human tendencies, then exploit them. Our only defence is education and cultural undumbing. When it comes to alcohol, even the scientists can’t face the scientific truth sometimes. We have a long way to go in the undumbing category, and massive amounts of advertising spend will continue to inflate the presence of Big Beverage until we stop drinking up everything they spew out.
We are experiencing a cultural awakening when it comes to racism, women’s oppression, economic inequity, and political cowardice. In many ways, it is worse than we realized, but we are waking up. Yet, when it comes to the most oppressive epidemic of our country’s history, we remain locked in our ignorant slumber. Until we add alcohol to the list of oppressors, our society will remain a casualty of our own preconceived notions.
Until we name the problem – alcohol, not alcoholism – we have no chance of making the situation better.
At least those really smart aliens will leave us alone.
If you are ready to explore sobriety – either because it is better, or because you NEED to stop drinking – please check out our SHOUT Sobriety program.