Thursday: 3 Things Most West Indians Don't Realize About Alcoholism (Part II)

Yesterday, I posted Part I of my series of posts on alcoholism and you can read that post right here. I’m not going to give much of an intro today, just dive into Part II:

What most people don’t realize about alcoholism

Not only do we believe many common myths about alcoholism, we’re missing some important information in understanding alcoholism as a disease rather than a moral failing. Make no mistake, empirical research agrees that alcoholism has a powerful neurological basis.

1) Cues to drink work differently for alcoholics than non-alcoholics

This is one of the strongest components of alcoholism that I learned during my Physiological Psychology class at Middlebury College. Before we engage in any habit a series of “cues” work at both the conscious and subconscious levels to prime us for the behavior we’re about to engage in. For example, waking up in the morning primes me to walk to my coffee maker and put on a pot of coffee. Sitting with my cup of coffee primes me to turn on my meditation app every morning. Cues exist all around us but for addicts, cues related to their addiction are “more salient”. In layman’s terms, alcoholics notice cues that prime them to engage in drinking more than non-alcoholics. The cues also have a stronger effect on them, releasing dopamine even before they’ve engaged in the behavior that they’ve grown accustomed to (having a drink).

Because of this, I argue that the presence of large billboard advertisements for alcoholic beverages along our highways in Saint Lucia poses a particularly strong danger to alcoholics. Keep in mind that not all alcoholics are aware that they have the disease and most are likely not aware of the myriad of cues in their environments priming them to drink. In some states in the US (which isn’t a perfect place, mind you) alcohol is kept in separate sections of the grocery store because the state realizes that alcoholics are not in control of how these cues affect them and even walking past a bottle of liquor in the grocery store can be enough to cue binge drinking in an alcoholic.

This also makes quitting alcohol difficult in a society with few social and medical support systems. When you drink alcohol, your friends, family, jobs and activities that you associate with drinking can all become cues that stimulate a powerful release of dopamine in your brain — all outside of your awareness. This is why a key part of Alcoholics Anonymous involves admitting that you have no control over alcohol. While there are some valid issues with AA (see the second point), the program touches on an important point about alcohol addiction. The addiction really does control you. The release of dopamine stimulates a strong reward for engaging in alcohol consumption and related behaviors that is legitimately stronger in alcoholics.

West Indians need to realize this because whether we are coping with our own relationship towards alcohol, larger cultural attitudes, or addictions that exist in friends or family members, we need to divest from the moral approach to alcohol addiction. For me, understanding the scientific facts allows me to do this best.

2) Faith based programs are not necessarily more effective than administering drugs

Christian cultures tend to have an intensely moral view of addiction that can be hard to shake. This isn’t a judgment, but a fact of our society that reflects beliefs that I’ve found to exist within myself and others. I was surprised to read about the inefficacy of AA, a program which I know has personally helped many individuals recover from their addictions, in contrast to treatments that view alcohol as a strictly medical problem. While I can’t divest completely from the social problems that lie at the root of addiction, I can’t ignore scientific evidence of superior treatments for alcoholism.

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous, an incredible piece published in The Atlantic highlights all the evidence that suggests we need to look for alternative treatments to alcohol addiction that don’t rely on blaming addicts and holding them wholly responsible for their “decisions” with regards to their illness.

I’m open to this view because in a country with few social support systems, especially with regards to mental health, we need to explore every option open to us. This article was SO GOOD that I couldn’t just pick one quote to post here so PLEASE, I urge you to read this article when you get a chance.

3) Alcoholism runs in families

Early onset of alcoholism is highly correlated to alcoholic families. The incident involving the drunken teenagers was not created in a vacuum, nor is this behavior entirely the fault of the party promoters and security. While I agree with the idea that there should be stricter management of 18+ parties, or any adult venues, the notion that this was “caused” by party promoters ignores an important truth of alcohol addiction. Teenagers that belong to families with alcoholics are more likely to begin drinking earlier. While this is entirely genetic or from learned behavior is up for debate. And remember, this does not mean that all individuals who are exposed to alcoholic families will mimic this behavior. This statement is simply a risk analysis and important to understanding the far reaches of what’s widely recognized as a family disease.

What’s interesting about this fact is that while it’s widely debated by those who tout anecdotal evidence of this one person whose parent is an alcoholic who never touches a drink, this facet of alcoholism has been noted as early as Plutarch and Aristotle’s time in Ancient Greece and has been confirmed by contemporary scientific research. Therefore, when we treat alcoholism, we cannot treat it as a problem with an individual and must address the multitude of familiar factors that contribute to early onset of binge drinking.

Up until this point, I have not discussed meaningful solutions for alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction and excess alcohol consumption amongst young people. How can we discuss solutions if we have not laid out the problem, understood the problem and what motivates it, and come up with an empathetic approach? I have cared deeply many alcoholics in my life at various stages of recovery as friends and family members. I have also cared deeply for many children of alcoholics who have suffered the brunt of their parent's disease. Before I touch upon any possible solutions on the individual level, familial level, and cultural level, tomorrow, I’m going to tug at your heartstrings a bit (hopefully) and explain why this issue is so important to me and why it should be important to you, even if you’re tempted to judge binge drinkers and alcoholics as “irresponsible” and therefore somehow deserving of their fate.

Wednesday: Another F*cking Alcoholism Post Because Why TF Not (Part I)

I’m trying out my “edgy please come click me” titles so if it’s NOT working for you, please leave me a COMMENT down below chastising me for being inappropriate and WACK AF! If you’re already over it, then let’s hang out, chit chat about alcoholism and reflect a little bit on our culture. Why? Because we’re f*cking nerds, that’s why! Deal with it!

For some reference, here is my first post about alcoholism on this blog that actually made it through my five rounds of editing on this blog Intersectional Feminism: Addiction & Discrimination: https://www.westindiancritic.com/blog/marijuana-alcohol-how-we-focus-on-one-substance-while-ignoring-the-other

Here is my other post, 1 year later about alcoholism and substance abuse:

(2016) Alcohol Addiction: Our Silent Public Health Emergency

I’ve written a bit more informally, but none of these posts made “the cut”, so suffice it to say, these two posts summarized my thoughts up until that point about alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse in general.

Today, I’ve decided to make my daily post about alcoholism because of a recent event in Saint Lucia, “Live N Colour”, an end of summer party marking the end of Carnival season for young people in Saint Lucia. One of our country’s most prominent newspapers, The Voice, tackled the issue of teenage drunkenness at the party, an issue which rose to prominent attention due to a viral photo of five or so teenagers passed out drunk and covered in powder in disturbing positions that made the teenagers in question look dead. The image rightfully raised cause for concern, however due to the fact that those teenagers were likely minors, I will not be sharing the photo here. You can view an article about the subject on The Voice website here.

While the seemingly annual occurrences of fatal car crashes related to youth consumption of alcohol have promoted various anti-alcohol abuse pledges, these public displays against excess intoxication seem to have been muffled by the louder voices of ongoing cultural practices, family culture, and repeated instances of Heineken billboards and Chairman’s Reserve billboards plastered across our country’s highways. While I just pointed out the cultural component to alcoholism, this isn’t to say that the country I’m currently in (the United States) is actually any better. Alcohol addiction is present and highly visible to me in both countries, even if of course, we do things differently in Saint Lucia. So do not think this is a “compare and contrast” kind of blog post.

I wanted to cover five subtopics here somewhat informally since again, this is my daily blog post and doesn’t require the rigor of hours of research and citations that I would publish along with my long form blogposts. Here are the five subtopics and I’ll move quickly through them so that you don’t get bored and decide to flame me for coercing you to read something longer than a tweet.

OK, are we ready?!

Common myths about alcoholism that crop up during publicized alcohol related incidents

Myth #1: The blame and responsibility for alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction lie solely in the hands of the alcoholic. Alcoholism and abuse are personal failings that reflect poor character.

Truth #1: I understand why it can be hard for people who have never struggled with alcohol abuse to understand that it is not a personal failing. Personally, I have no trouble turning down a drink and I rarely drink despite keeping a fully stocked liquor cabinet in full view right in my home. If you’re like this, you might see someone binge drinking and think that they just need to control their behavior. The truth is, alcohol abuse and addiction are rooted in many factors, not just personal choice. There’s a large genetic component to alcoholism which predisposes different people to alcohol abuse. Even if something may seem easy for you or me, this doesn’t mean it’s the case for everyone else.

When searching in recovery circles, I found this graphic that accurately depicts some of the different root causes of addiction and where they may lead if someone doesn’t turn to alcoholism. It’s not just a matter of mimicking behavior, but how people are predisposed to respond to their environments. Some people grow up with alcoholics and become alcoholics while some grow up around alcoholics and never touch a drink in their lives. This doesn’t mean however that these people are immune to codependency, overeating, or abusing another drug.

 
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Myth #2: Alcoholism isn’t a problem as long as you’re “high functioning”.

Truth #2: This one can be the most frustrating as it enables many intelligent alcoholics with severe issues related to their alcohol abuse to deny that their alcohol consumption is an issue. Many “high functioning” alcoholics hold down jobs and keep their lights on, enabling them to live in denial for years. Most of these alcoholics would be unable to appear “normal” without the people they surround themselves with covering up their addiction for them. While their friends and family suffer, they are able to maintain the façade that their drinking falls within normal limits. This quote from The Recovery Village outlines the issues many high-functioning alcoholics are covering up. I urge you to focus your attention on the bold and underlined section of this quote:

They ask friends or family to cover up for them. A high-functioning alcoholic might ask her husband to call in sick to work for her when she’s struggling with a hangover, or borrow money from a friend to pay bills when she’s spent too much on alcohol. In reality, high-functioning alcoholism is usually made possible through the enabling behavior of loved ones.

They restrict their drinking to specific times, situations, or beverages. You might hear a high-functioning alcoholic say, “I never drink on weeknights,” “I only drink at bars,” or “I only drink beer.” These self-imposed limitations might help the alcoholic convince himself that he is in control of his drinking when in fact, he often breaks his own rules.

They isolate themselves in their private time. High-functioning alcoholics may act sociable and outgoing at the office or at company parties. But when they’re not at work, they often prefer to spend their personal time drinking alone or at bars. They may even discourage their family from inviting guests to the house because they don’t want their drinking habits to be exposed.

They break personal commitments because of their drinking. A functional alcoholic may receive awards at work for meeting high-performance standards, while forgetting an important anniversary or missing a family celebration because he or she was drunk or hungover.

They secretly struggle with mental illness. Many high-functioning alcoholics use their substance abuse to mask psychological disorders like depression, social phobia, or an eating disorder. They may suffer from anxiety about their competency or their material security. When they’re not under the influence, they may be moody, withdrawn, tearful, or irritable. They might even talk about suicide or attempt to harm themselves. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 25 percent of functional alcoholics struggle with depression.

Functional alcoholics are often intelligent, hardworking, and well-educated. Their professional status or personal success can make it hard to approach them about having a “problem” with alcohol. However, it is impossible to continue drinking heavily for a long period of time without suffering the physical and psychological consequences of alcoholism, such as liver disease, heart disease, neurological damage, cancer, or depression.

Click here to read the full article.

Here is some more troubling information about high-functioning alcoholics from another website Blueprints For Recovery

People who are in denial about the harm of being a “high functioning” alcoholic often:

Joke frequently about alcohol addiction

Keep employment but not earn raises or promotions

Get arrested for driving under the influence (DUI)

Binge drink to “relax”

Forget conversations and activities that occurred while drinking

The clear trouble with “high functioning” alcoholics is that their addiction may not catch up to them for many years, but the long term effects of binge-drinking are not up for debate; they’re verifiable scientific facts. High-functioning alcoholics are likely to underreport their drinking as well due to remaining in a high stage of denial. Since around 20% of alcoholics are “high functioning”, this allows many to hide their trouble with alcohol abuse for years.

Myth #3: Some alcohol consumption is actually healthy.

Truth #3: Oh sweet summer child… Sadly, the facts just do not back up this commonly held misconception. The negative effects of alcohol consumption especially on a regular basis vastly outweigh the benefits. Additionally, alcoholics are likely to drink far more than “moderately” and far more frequently. They underreport their drinking yet rely on studies to validate their addiction that rely on alcohol consumers taking in the smallest doses — which they themselves are unlikely to consume. This article digs deeper into the myth regarding a glass of wine a day and was written by a physician. This article discusses common “big alcohol” myths regarding alcohol consumption and debunks every single one.

Reuters recently summarized a large 2018 study with this quote which more accurately portrays the effects of regular alcohol consumption:

Blood pressure and stroke risk rise steadily the more alcohol people drink, and previous claims that one or two drinks a day might protect against stroke are not true, according to the results of a major genetic study.

We believe a lot of horse shit about alcohol whether or not we are big drinkers. While education in and of itself will not necessarily stop an alcoholic from having their fifth pint of beer and calling it their second, it will certainly help those of us who want to learn more about alcoholism and alcohol consumption to contextualize their behavior and will help us to understand our deadly culture surrounding drinking.

Stay tuned for Part II of this post tomorrow! When I’m done with the series, they’ll all be linked and combined into one post.

Monday: Financial Literacy Apps Are A B.S. Solution To Ending Poverty In Black Communities

Two celebrities have gone viral recently for investing in a “financial literacy app” designed to help “end poverty in the black community”. The celebrities in question do not in fact live in black communities and their estimated net worths are $60 million and $300 million respectively. For anyone who doesn’t know, these numbers sit firmly in the “accountants manage my money and I could throw $100,000 into the bin annually for the rest of my life and it wouldn’t matter” territory.

The median net worth of Black Americans is $9,590 which is vastly different from a net worth in the millions. I strongly doubt this is because Black Americans are mismanaging $59,990,410 throughout their lifetimes. In fact, if you take the median income of $38,000 annually and extrapolate, you’ll find out that Black Americans median lifetime earnings will be $1,300,000.

I have my doubts that learning how to have a savings account will cause an additional fifty-eight million dollars to materialize out of thin air. If that’s the case, then I’ve been doing savings all wrong, clearly. Actually, screw it. Let’s do the math. If the median household invested every single dollar they earned and their earnings compounded annually at an interest rate of 6% due to investment in the stock market, their lifetime earnings would still only be about $4.5million — again, nowhere near $60 million dollars.

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I’m sharing this to demonstrate just how easy it is for people with large amounts of money to remain totally out of touch with the lives of the average people in the Black community they claim to want to help. I wasn’t raised sucking on the teat of media propagandized celebrity worship, so I don’t feel any particular need to be “grateful” that these celebrities are “trying to do something to help” either.

Financial literacy is clearly not going to bring in massive amounts of wealth considering you could have zero expenses and never attain celebrity levels of wealth. I’m the last person who will argue that financial literacy is “useless”, but it’s not a solution to socioeconomic problems facing black communities. The solution also posits the problem as one of individual choice rather than structural issues that disenfranchise black people and black communities in general.

Government policy has gone out of its way to stymy black wealth building specifically as discussed in The Color of Law : A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, a book which discusses how black people were blocked from acquiring land and property by de jure practices of the US federal government. De facto practices also prevented Black Americans from acquiring wealth and one of the most prominent examples of this was when a white mob destroyed an area known as “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the 1920s. These examples point to a different locus of responsibility than a financial literacy app aimed at the black community would suggest.

I’ve seen an alternative theory which suggests that “all Black poor people are financially literate anyway”. This is another black and white way of looking at the problem that frankly isn’t true either. The fact that any Black people are financially illiterate is still not the cause of their poverty regardless. We don’t need to pretend to have advanced financial literacy to critique this “solution”.

It’s quite rich that people who by and large have teams of people to manage their money believe that they understand how to live within a budget of $38,000 a year — before taxes! Their solutions are quite obviously out of touch. Giving away 80% of their wealth would probably do more for “the community” than creating an app, but that’s another discussion for another day. Quite simply put, instead of coming up with detached top-down solutions, our attention would be better served by focusing on grassroots activists who spend all day interacting with people living below the poverty line or middle class people. These people know what they need and individuals who won the socioeconomic lottery are not somehow intellectually superior to them.

Believe me, if you know many rich people, you will quickly understand that having a team of people to manage your money isn’t a sign of greater intellect or financial literacy. Rich people are simply less impacted by terrible money management because they have more money at their disposal to insulate them from the consequences of their stupidity. Not all rich people are good with money, not all poor people are bad with money, and that’s the bottom line here. Instead of looking for individuals to blame, we need to tackle the systemic issues that have left the black community with a dwindling net worth and low wages. Is there any way we can get an app for that?