This post was originally published on April 22, 2015.
In today’s news…water is wet, dogs chase cats and alcoholism may cut short your life. That last bit is according to a study published in a journal called European Psychiatry, which reported that “mental problems as well as significant physical health impairments are associated with alcohol addiction.” No shit, Lennie Briscoe.
Specifically, the study found that alcoholics who were treated in British general hospitals for health problems died an average of 7.6 years earlier than non-alcohol dependent patients. Their deaths were due to “the interaction of several concomitant physical illnesses,” which Google tells me is when a second illness attacks an immune system already compromised by something else. It’s like when you think you’re coming down with a cold or even a touch of the flu but, hey, it’s Friday night and you’ve got plans so you go out anyways and get wasted because cold syrup is basically alcohol, which makes a vodka and orange juice a health elixir, right?
Behaving Like a Monster
Anecdotal studies of my own confirm that alcoholism leads to wear and tear on the body, and that just one night of hard drinking can shoot a person’s mind and body all to shit. When I began my illustrious career as a drinker, I’d get wasted once or twice a month, explosive and regrettable evenings that would leave me crippled with physical and emotional hangovers that would last for days. The older I got, the more I got used to it, until those hard nights progressed from once or twice a month to every weekend to “weekends are for amateurs” and “Tuesday night is as good as any to get shit-faced drunk.”
Losing keys, bar fights with strangers, puking on subway platforms and in taxis, questionable choices including but not limited to those in the romantic arena—these were just some of the “concomitant” issues I dealt with when I was a drunk. I disrupted your classroom and made a scene at the work event. I hurt your feelings and showed no remorse. I hit on your fiancée when I had a fiancé of my own.
At my engagement dessert party, I got so drunk I knocked over the dessert table, sending the cake one of my fiancé’s friends had made flying to the floor. And then I laughed, because—as I announced to the shocked-silent room—I didn’t like that person anyway.
In other words, I behaved like a monster. While alcohol affected me physically, emotionally, this alcohol-induced behavior was even more destructive. It alienated me from my family, friends and eventually myself. The worst part? I didn’t know why I behaved as I did. Later the night of the engagement party, when I cried myself to sleep, I couldn’t have told you what was wrong.
Some months later, I left my fiancé, thinking he was the problem. I quit my job and ended friendships, basically cutting ties from everyone because everyone else was the reason life felt so unmanageable. In the end, I was all alone—and something still felt wrong. It was just me and the strangers I drank with, a bottle and a glass. My body was exhausted. Mentally, I felt broken. Under constant physical and emotional stress, I felt dis-eased. Still, I couldn’t put my finger on the cause.
Ultimately, I didn’t end up an alcoholic in a hospital bed, like those involved in the European Psychiatry study. Even so, it’s certainly the case that I wanted to die—and probably would have, had I not quit drinking. If I hadn’t gotten sober, I don’t think I would have died from cirrhosis or gastrointestinal hemorrhage or gout as a result of my drinking. I might have gotten liver or esophageal cancer, but probably not. More likely, I would have died “accidentally on purpose.” I would have ridden my bike into oncoming traffic, like I sometimes fantasized about doing. I would have shot myself in the head, another particularly violent fantasy. I would have gotten killed by one of the strangers I carelessly let into my house.
In other words, I would have died in one of the ways I suspect a lot of alcoholics die. Before even realizing we’re alcoholics, we suffer accidental deaths from alcohol poisoning or binge drinking. We die accidentally from the misuse or abuse of drugs. We die in accidents caused indirectly by alcohol, such as drunk driving. We die because people kill us. We kill ourselves. According to the NIH, nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
In a sea of misinformation, some of it sponsored by the good ole liquor lobby, I appreciate a study that tells the truth about alcohol, even if that means stating the obvious: alcoholics die. Another obvious finding of the study: early intervention is key. In other words, you don’t have to be hospitalized for alcoholism for there to be a problem. In my experience, even high-functioning alcoholics are at serious risk. People with stories like mine are absolutely at mortal risk due to our alcoholism. In fact, I wonder if our life expectancy isn’t cut even shorter.
Since we’re all stating the obvious, I’ll just end this with a message to anyone who’s ever gotten so drunk that they’ve flipped over the cake at their engagement party: it’s never too soon to get help.