The Antidote to Alcohol

The Antidote to Alcohol

“Antidote” – Definition, Merriam-Webster: a remedy to counteract the effects of poison

 

There is no arguing that alcohol is a poison. You can claim that the key is moderation, or that when consumed responsibly, alcohol can enhance your life. The science and medical communities are slowly uniting around the fact that there is no safe amount of alcohol for human consumption. So, it’s a poison with a toxic impact on our neurology and biology. If you can accept that fact, I hope you’ll keep reading. If not, nothing else I have to say is going to reach you.

 

I’ve been studying alcohol and alcoholism for over six years now. If you include my own personal first and second hand research, I am in my fifth decade of alcohol, and its impact, taking a high priority in my life. After all that time, all the reading, all the watching and listening, all the stories, all the successes and all the failures I have experienced and witnessed, I am absolutely convinced of one thing:

 

Self-esteem is the antidote to alcohol.

 

In an article published by Gallup in the last week of 2022, 63% of Americans report themselves to be drinkers. That number has remained remarkably consistent since Gallup started asking the question in 1939. I have the stated lifetime goal to be a part of the sober majority in America. I want to see 51% of us proudly claim our independence from alcoholic beverages – an industry with sales over $222 billion in the U.S. in 2020. I’m not in an unrealistic hurry. I want to see us reach majority status before I die.

 

We have a long way to go. That 14% won’t come easy.

 

And the fact that the statistics surrounding consumption have not improved in all the years following the repeal of prohibition is proof that what we are doing isn’t working. No matter how easy it is to slink into a church basement to find a meeting, we still drink and destroy and kill at the same rate. Except…

 

We stayed at the same alcohol-induced devastation rate, that is, until the pandemic.

 

As the annual host of the “Great American Beer Fest,” I live in what is arguably the epicenter of our national drinking problem. We have over 150 breweries in Denver, with over 25% of our residents claiming to binge drink according CBS 4 (local affiliate). According to the Colorado State Police, 246 of the 672 traffic fatalities in 2021 in our state were alcohol related.

 

According to Dr. James Burton, medical director of liver transplantation at the University of Colorado Health System, COVID has resulted in an increase in depression, an increase in anxiety, and a very related 250% increase in the home delivery of alcohol. Dr. Burton can share lots of alarming statistics, like the 325% increase since 2020 of people waiting for liver transplantation nationwide, but he boldly analyzes all the data and makes this simple proclamation:

 

“Alcohol is the biggest problem in America right now.” – Dr. James Burton, medical director of liver transplantation, UC Health

 

Woah. That is a medical doctor saying the quiet part out loud, and in no uncertain terms. He is not lumping alcoholism in with other addictions so “responsible drinkers” can point the finger at meth or opioids. He isn’t even blaming addiction. He is blaming alcohol. The tide is turning, and the pandemic has brought the epidemic into clear view. But since “scared straight” tactics have proven ineffective for decades, not even a bold statement like that of Dr. Burton will likely get our attention. So what will? What will people respond to and resonate with?

 

The answer isn’t easy, but it is simple. The answer is positivity. We have to make sobriety cool. People are eager to run toward the next big thing. We are reluctant to embrace a lifestyle shrouded in shame and weakness.

 

This brings us back to the cure. The antidote for alcohol is self-esteem.

 

On Monday, NBC’s Today show aired this story about “Section Yellow” at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay is one of fourteen NFL franchises that have fan areas or seating sections reserved for sober spectators. I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusive nature of the NFL, and by the national media coverage.

 

This is important. This is what we need if we are to pick off 14% and reach the sober majority. The story showed fans cheering and celebrating all decked out in Packers fan wear. They weren’t cowering in church basements. They also weren’t spilling beverages on each other and getting into fights like the drunks in the stands. One Section Yellow patron explained that they, “…know how to have fun.” Another supporter of the movement described how proud she was to participate in the most popular sport in America with others who are celebrating sobriety.

 

Proud. She said proud. How do you think her self-esteem was doing?

 

In a viral social media clip put out by Anthony Hopkins this holiday season, he celebrated 47 years of sobriety. He talked about 12 step meetings and the support that saved his life, but there was an underlying message that he repeated over and over again. He urged viewers to, “Be proud of yourself.” He said it so many times that it was impossible to ignore. His message about sobriety was really about self-esteem. If you are paying attention, and looking for the key to 47 years of sober success, the use of the word, “proud,” is both fascinating and totally encouraging.

 

In mid December, CNN released an episode of This is Life with Lisa Ling titled, “We Have a Drinking Problem.” The episode, filmed in Denver, opened with Ms. Ling taking a phone call from a woman who was in active alcoholic relapse. The episode also featured somber scenes from recovery meetings, and a mother shaming her adult daughter about her inability to conquer her addiction to alcohol. I watched the episode because friends of mine, Billy and Christy Wynne, told me they were interviewed by Ms. Ling.

 

Sure enough, Billy and Christy, and their impactful alcohol-free movement, Awake Denver, were featured from minute 56 to 58:30. Two and a half minutes out of a 60 minute episode was devoted to the couple’s mission as described by Christy: “We really want to make it cool to not drink.” Cool. Proud. Self-esteem. Do you see it?

 

On the high side, 60 minutes of television programming contains 15 minutes of advertisements. That means there was at least 42:30 minutes of coverage of the shame, statistics and rock-bottom moments of alcoholism covered by Ms. Ling and CNN. Five and a half percent of the 45 minutes of airtime was allocated to positivity and self-esteem. While I am incredibly proud of the work of Billy and Christy, I really wish Lisa and her producers would have led with it. I wish they had aired more of the clearly truncated interview. I wish they had gotten away from the reporting of sadness that clearly isn’t working. As the Wynnes know, we need an awakening. Not more of the same.

 

Sobriety is a huge blessing in my life. Without sobriety, I would not be succeeding familially, professionally, spiritually or relationally. I am proud of my sobriety, and the resulting self-esteem keeps me sober. It is a symbiotic relationship not available to moderate drinkers, or binge drinkers seeking moderation. I don’t want to tell you how bad my drinking was. I want to tell you how awesome my sobriety is.

 

That’s the message that will convince the 14% to join us.

 

This is the time of year, every year, when our population spends the most time collectively considering our relationships to alcohol. “Am I an alcoholic?” “Do I need to stop drinking, or can I cut down?” “Will a ‘Dry January’ reset my drinking so I can better moderate for the rest of the year?” There are hundreds of online surveys that can help you find the answers.

 

But here is the problem…we are asking the wrong question.

 

We are trying to find ways to keep a toxic poison in our lives. What we should really be trying to find are tools to help us feel good enough about our sober selves that we don’t have any need for alcohol.

 

If you see a story about “Section Yellow” in Green Bay, or you watch Anthony Hopkins’ video about being proud, or you learn more about Billy and Christy and Awake, share that. Tell that story. Don’t gossip about the ambulance that took your neighbor to detox in the middle of the night. Shaming alcoholics doesn’t work. But getting excited about the self-esteem of sobriety just might.

 

Happy New Year. How are you going to show up in 2023?

 

If you are interested in a positive approach to sobriety, where self-esteem is the goal, and abstinence is more of a result, check out our SHOUT Sobriety program.

SHOUT Sobriety

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