Alcohol Is Most Harmful Drug followed by Heroin and Crack.
Alcohol is the most harmful drug to the drinker and others overall, heroin and crack are the second and third most harmful, Professor David Nutt and colleagues wrote in the medical journal The Lancet today. When all factors related to self harm, harm to others, dangers to the individual and danger to society are considered, alcohol comes out on top. BBC World Service
I had been living in New York City for two decades when my husband and I decided to get the hell out of Dodge and move to the suburbs. I have to admit that I love where we live, even though it does bring to mind the classic 1975 film The Stepford Wives. The people are pleasant and it sure is pretty out here. But when we first moved out the cocktail parties were relentless. The get-to-know and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses parties. The rounds of suburban small talk. The spectacular and enviable homes and gardens. The glorious food and the gorgeously stocked bars. And of course the pungent smell of the Alpha Dog parenting. "Oh, did I forget to tell you? Little Winthrop is off to Harvard early admission right after he finishes negotiating peace in the Middle East and winning his second Olympic gold medal in Curling” I'll be told, never having asked. "I thought Winthrop was eight...” I say, somewhat dumbfounded. "Oh but he is!" his parents exclaim ecstatically. "Imagine! All that before third grade"
But I digress. When I moved here in my 11th year of sobriety I didn't have a lot of quick answers when someone offered me a glass of wine or a drink. I caused myself a lot of grief those early years in the ‘burbs, stumbling, making fake excuses and eventually saying "No thank you" when offered a cocktail. There were countless evenings when I would lie and say I couldn't drink because I was on a course of "strong antibiotics”...again...and yet again. People must have thought I was just a walking petri dish of unassailable bacteria. And for no other reason than my own insecurities, I almost always felt compelled to apologize profusely for simply choosing not to drink.
This happened much more frequently when I was younger but the worst was when someone would loudly bring attention to my abstaining from alcohol. The horrified expression and the volume eleven "What do you MEAN you don't drink?!" As if I had said I only eat freshly barbecued kitten meat. "Well, why don't you just have a glass of champagne?" Or “Here, have an Aperol spritz, that's not even a drink." Or once, after an actual crowd had gathered to look at me, this strange sober creature, freshly arrived from the zoo, "Well at least now we all know who’s NOT going to be fun tonight." That particular line came from a highly educated, well respected, self-described "empath." Finally, after years of this idiocy I just stopped caring. When I say I don't drink I still occasionally get the vacant cow-eyed gaze and the gasped "Never?" "No, never." I say, "you know, as in the word never?" I can now calmly reply, after years of not being able to, "I don't drink alcohol...ever."
Usually that's enough, but once in a blue moon it's not. Every now and then I'll still get stunned silence and then a barrage of quite personal questions, or logical sounding reasons why I should drink. Right then and there. From complete strangers who know nothing of my past. This drink pushing almost always comes from someone who is made highly uncomfortable by a sober person, someone who may in fact be questioning their own drinking habits. I know what that feels like. When I was drinking if I met someone who didn’t, I would steer way clear. I did not like or trust anyone who didn’t drink, case closed. "Just one. Just tonight. Come on! One's not going to hurt you. It's just a hard seltzer" they might say. "You've never had one? Oh it's amazing. Fat free! Delicious. Here, just have a little sip." As if my not drinking anything alcoholic poses a very real threat to their own enjoyment. And that's when I will say very clearly, to whoever is harassing me, "No, I don't drink alcohol ever. In fact, I don't do ANY drugs ever.”
Suddenly curious strangers surround me like a bunch of angry meerkats, all stretched out necks and bared teeth. “What? What? What do you mean by that? I don't do drugs. I've never once in my entire life done a drug” they exclaim. "I'm a doctor for God's sake." Or a captain of industry or a teacher or an athlete…whatever it is they do for a living the one thing they will never admit to doing is drugs. "Then what” I will ask, pointing to the dregs of their second double martini "is that?"
Once those words have escaped my lips I sort of (but not really) regret it. The outrage is real. I don't have the bandwidth anymore for this sort of nonsense but if they push too far I ask for their email address, and then my “Alcohol is, in fact, a drug” information onslaught begins. It's not that I judge people who drink. I don't. In fact at most events I attend almost everyone drinks but me. My husband drinks. Close friends drink. I’m fine with that; it's a non-event for me if others imbibe. But watch out.....because if someone is going to harass me for not drinking I just might harass back. And I just might point out that big old glass of drugs in their hand, a glass filled to the brim with what I like to call "America's favorite narcotic”.
Actually alcohol is not classified as a narcotic. Alcohol is classified as a drug in the CNS category. It is a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol is in the same drug class as our nation's other epidemic, opioids. But most people I know don't drink to excess. The majority of my friends and family drink for the taste or to relax at the end of the day. Who am I to deny anyone that pleasure? If you can drink responsibly, I am happy for you. Sometimes I wish that I could too.
Because life is short and time is precious I no longer like to be around people who are showing the effects of alcohol. So what do I do in those situations? My favorite game plan is deploying the old Irish goodbye. "I'm just running to the rest room" I will say, and that's the last they will see of me. No long goodbyes or excuses as to why I have to leave, I’m just outta there. Because when people start getting tipsy they won't care if I’m there or not. If they want to get buzzed and hang with other buzzy people that’s great and probably quite fun. But it's not fun for me, not anymore.
So what are the effects of this drug, alcohol? According to The Lancet: Delayed reaction time, cognitive impairments, slurred speech, unsteady gait, distorted perceptions, distorted judgement, lessened inhibitions, weight gain, sedation. And that’s just the the very tip of the iceberg. Interestingly enough, if ingested in smaller quantities alcohol can at first present in the body as a stimulant, the side effects of which are talkativeness, over-confidence, improvement in mood, increased heart rate and the one I chased to the very gates of Hell, euphoria.
Sometimes my husband and I attend large cocktail parties where the majority of the guests are complete strangers. Usually these are for some work or school cause or to benefit a charity. I used to dread these events with a passion. I would arrive late and leave early, standing on the outskirts of conversations, plotting the least conspicuous escape route and counting the seconds until I could make a run for it. I don't do that anymore. In fact, as I've relaxed into my sobriety I sort of enjoy these parties. I get there early and I like to stand by the front door and watch the show. And what I have noticed is that sometimes a couple will arrive at the imposing front door blinking like confused moles emerging into the sun after living underground all of their lives. Their discomfort is palpable. They will glance around nervously and hatch their plan, as they whisper to each other and one of them pretends to look for something in their coat pocket. Then, as if navigating a Navy Seal level obstacle course, they will run, eyes averted (lest they have to stop and talk without drink in hand) to the nearest bar or passing silver tray of booze. Then and only then, once they have their pacifier, their blankie, their alcohol, can they relax, sometimes before even taking their first sip. Once they have a glass of something alcoholic in their hands I will watch them start to melt. Melt out of their nervousness and insecurity and melt into the party, and into the strangers, and into the joy of connecting with others. That's what alcohol does for most. It has its faults but it certainly is an excellent social lubricant. So I watch these people clinging to their glasses like a lifeboat and sometimes I'm still a little jealous. I used to be very angry. "Why does everyone get to grease the goddamn wheels but me? I want one. Where’s mine? My binky? My pacifier? It’s not fair!" But something has changed within me. As an alcoholic I know that I can no longer indulge in the social ritual of drinking that I see others enjoying with impunity. The profound change I have experienced through working the 12 steps of A.A. is that I no longer need to drink, and even more miraculously, I no longer want to. I now accept that I am on a different path than most of the people I interact with. A sober path. A less comfortable path at first perhaps, but not when looking toward the end game. For me, sobriety is a courageous and authentic way to live. I never thought I would imagine this day but now I can walk into any situation without needing the existential armor of alcohol or drugs. In A.A. we come as we are, without pretense, without superficiality, with an open heart. And that’s how I try to live life today. That is not to say I don't get nervous at times. I do. That just seems to be my nature. But I'm learning to be comfortable with that too. I'm learning to feel all my feelings and realize that although they’re scary, I can handle them all. Even those cocktail party jitters. Thankfully, living in recovery seems to be becoming more and more accepted in society. Now people sometimes question my not drinking with empathy and curiosity which is heartwarming.
So to anyone out there who has never “done a drug" but feels free to aggressively question someone's decision to NOT drink, I raise my sparkling lemonade and say "Here's to America's favorite narcotic. Cheers!"