The Real Cost Of Drinking — Part 1

Your spouse is nagging you to stop drinking so much.  Your boss has put you on probation (or at least warned you about the possibility) for problems with tardiness, due to hangovers that make it hard to get going in the morning. And the other night?  You know you breathed a sigh of relief when the police officer whose lights were flashing pulled over the car in front of you — just as you were on your way home from having a few beers at the local pub.

Perhaps you dodged a bullet — a potential DUI with very serious consequences — this time.  But what about next time?  Will the real cost of drinking be more than you’re willing to pay?

Alcoholics and excuses

When your spouse nags you, you get defensive, saying you don’t drink more than anyone else. You enjoy your local microbrews and fine wines — who doesn’t?  Besides, you’ve got a good job (for now), you’re not passing out or blacking out, and you’ve never had a car accident or gotten a DUI (of course, you didn’t mention the close call the other night…).  You enjoy “a drink or two” (or five or six, but who’s counting?) like everybody else.

So what’s the problem? Why is everyone making such a fuss about your alcohol consumption?  Alcoholics are deadbeats who can’t keep a job and bums passed out in an alley clutching a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag.  And you’re nothing like that!

If any of the above statements or scenarios ring true for you, then you’re very likely in denial about your alcohol problem.  You can fight, kick, scream, and shout ‘til your hoarse that you’re a “social drinker” not an “alcoholic”, but at this point, no one’s buying it any more.

You have a problem.  You are about to find the cost of drinking.  The price tag is a lot higher than you think and it could get a lot higher very quickly…

Alcoholics and denial

Living in denial is very common for anyone with an addiction.  Alcoholism is especially tricky to face because drinking is so socially acceptable — unlike an addiction to cocaine or heroin.  Having a few drinks is even expected at times.  Happy hour and dinner meetings often include cocktails, as do many other work-related social events.  Dinner with friends almost includes a bottle or wine, and what’s a summer BBQ without a few beers?

The problem, however, is what you consider “a few” is what most people (except those also in denial) would describe as “a lot”.  The sideways glances, whispers, and not-so-subtle attempts to cut you off when you’d had one too many should have given you a clue.  But, like most pre-recovery or “off-the-wagon-again” alcoholics, you blew them off or chose to ignore them.

Denial is a very serious problem that goes hand in hand with alcohol abuse and dependence; one that can lead to disastrous circumstances if something doesn’t change very soon.

Which type of alcoholic are you?

There are three types of alcoholics: those who have to hit rock bottom and lose everything (or almost everything) before finally getting help; those who begin to realize just how much their drinking problem was (or soon would be) costing them, and get help before sustaining major (or further) losses; and those who keep on drinking even when their life is crumbling all around them or has completely imploded — and they just don’t care.

If you’re reading this, you’re not likely in the third category, and hopefully you’re not yet in the first.  But there are at least a few cracks in your wall of denial, and you’re ready to look (or at least take a peek) at the bigger picture — the real cost of your alcohol use.  Hard as that is, it’s a major first step towards overcoming this powerful addiction.

The cost of drinking — current and future

No one really likes to evaluate the cost — or potential cost — of their behavior.  It can be very painful to admit to mistakes, and easy to feel overwhelmed with regret when we do.  But the sooner you do it, the better your chances of a positive outcome and minimal damage.  So now’s as good a time as ever to really look at the cost of your alcoholism:

Your important relationships — Whether you’re single, in a committed relationship, or married with children, your closest relationships are going to be impacted by and suffer as a result of your addiction.   This can happen for several different reasons.

For example, your friends may get tired of the “Jekyll and Hyde” personality changes that occur when you drink.  Your spouse may get tired of lying about your absences at work or being embarrassed at dinners with friends.  Your children are hurt when you miss their recitals or soccer games, and don’t want their friends to know that their mom or dad drinks too much.  Your significant other may get frustrated or angry because you’re not reliable.  And coworkers get tired of picking up your slack.

Alcoholism can do very serious — and sometimes permanent damage to your relationships.  This damage may include:

  • Loss of friends
  • Separation or divorce
  • Loss of custody of your children
  • Loss of respect from the very people you value the most

Your career — Unless you’re independently wealthy and don’t need to work, your job is your livelihood.  Losing it could have very serious ramifications beyond just a bad or lackluster reference from your current or previous employer. 

Careers that took years — and even decades — to train for and establish are often severely damaged or completely ruined by alcoholism.  For example, the surgeon whose medical license was revoked after losing a patient due to drinking on the job, or the high profile politician who lost an election or had to step down from office when his excess alcohol use became front page news.

Individuals in high stress jobs are especially vulnerable to alcohol abuse and alcoholism if they don’t have healthy ways to manage the stress and demands.  Some executives and CEOs are functional alcoholics who skillfully hide their heavy drinking from others.  In time, however, their house of cards often ends up crumbling — if they don’t get help first.  Alcohol abuse can also be a problem for individuals who hate their job, and drink as a way to get through the workweek.

Continue with “The Real Cost of Drinking,” part 2.

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