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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Alcohol and alcoholics

I understand the romance of alcohol: the world is a more appealing place when you're drunk. Every drink you have may temporarily lower your IQ by roughly 7 points, but also raises your euphoria level commensurately.

You also become, in a way, more narcissistic. You'll feel yourself wittier, better-looking, and tougher than you are. (Who wouldn't want to be those things?)

Of course, when you're under the influence, other people can seem more charming and attractive too. (Who wouldn't want friends like that?)

People who drink are essentially making a deal: you become a less appealing person, but the world becomes a more appealing place. And that's not an entirely bad trade.

Occasionally people will comment on this blog when they're drunk. I can't know that for sure, of course, but they leave that impression. For instance, Mistie Johnson, who objected in strong terms to this post on "dime pieces" from 2013. It seemed to me that she entirely missed the point of the post, which was the effect that an incredibly beautiful woman can have on you.

Mistie made her comment at 12:37 AM on a Sunday morning. Out of curiosity, I Googled her, and it turns out she lives in southern California, which means she wrote in at 9:37 PM on a Saturday evening, a time when people are more likely to have imbibed. Again, I don't know that she had imbibed; but that was my impression.

A couple of drinks actually can make you seem "wittier" -- by virtue of your freshly-uninhibited tongue. But they really don't make you any smarter. And more than a couple will definitely make you dumber.

Think of the impression you get of drunks when you're stone cold sober.

They lean in close to you as if they have something significant to say, then recite some tired old cliche as if they're letting you in on the most fascinating secret of the universe. You look at them and nod, but inside, you're thinking, I can't wait to get away from this bore.

Or they say something banal and think it's funny.

They throw up and think that's funny.

Think of rock stars who trash their hotel rooms. I've never quite gotten that: what's fun about breaking a lamp, or turning a bed upside down? I guess you have to be drunk to understand. This is how a one year old behaves: walking along a bookshelf, pulling out all the books. Or, maybe, how a not-yet-house-trained dog will.

There's nothing wrong with being in touch with one's inner child -- as long as the outer grownup is in charge.

The saddest cases are people who drink all the time, and effectively make themselves stupider on a more permanent basis.

I've never known an alcoholic who wasn't missing something upstairs. It's almost as if they want to be stupider. 

Think of the public embarrassments who are described as "a hot mess." They're usually alcoholic.

Think Lindsay Lohan. Mel Gibson. Tracy Morgan. Charlie Sheen. Joaquin Phoenix. David Hasselhoff.

Think of Boris Yeltsin, the ineffectual slob who presided over the handing over of formerly nationalized Soviet enterprises to the oligarchs:

If either his predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, or his successor, Vladimir Putin, had been in charge during that period, that wouldn't have happened, and Russia wouldn't be quite the vast criminal enterprise it is today.

Speaking of Putin, George W. Bush once said about him, "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul." When I heard that, all I could think was, that's an alcoholic talking. (Bush is a supposedly reformed alcoholic.)

Putin, knowing Bush was a reformed alcoholic -- and therefore vulnerable -- must have proposed a couple of toasts, knowing that Bush would accept from a sense of diplomatic obligation. And Putin, sly former KGB agent that he is, would have known that he would then have Bush at a disadvantage.

And sure enough, Putin then allowed Bush to gaze into his "soul."

Alcoholics talk, but don't listen. They don't fulfill their responsibilities. They usually can't stay married for long. And they walk around in a self-imposed fog. After a while, they start to act befuddled even when they haven't had anything to drink.

Alcoholics act as if they're you're best friend one minute (for no reason), then turn temperamental the next, both with equally little reason. They lose their inhibitions, and effectively turn into children. (Our inhibitions may be a burden to us, but they are a boon for those around us.)

And if you try to hang out with them, you'll find the day revolves around the imbibing of beverages.

They may have all the promise in the world, like the 21-year-old Johnny Manziel, but they casually just toss it away. And you always end up wondering, what exactly is going through their minds?

The answer is, alcohol.

This isn't even to mention the physical side effects. Their midsections grow larger as their arms and legs shrink. Their skin becomes papery, and their faces take on a slack look. These things are inevitable as we age, but why hurry the process along?

It's all about self-indulgence, and a lack of self-respect.

Some say that alcoholism isn't a vice, but a disease. Yes and no. It's a vice that, indulged often enough, becomes a disease.

Should I be more sympathetic? Maybe. But there are plenty of people far more deserving of sympathy: people with genetic disorders, or who catch a real disease, or who are exposed to toxins through no fault of their own.

I think I'll save my sympathy for them.

(I know, this sounds as if it could have been written by the Ladies' Temperance Union. Or maybe Ebeneezer Scrooge. But, it's still all true.)


Steven said...

Sometimes when I drink, I become more positive and outgoing and then I notice a positive reaction from people.

Conversations with strangers can be a lot more fluid and less awkward when both are tipsy.

It can be great for bonding. Or for romance.

And when you get a bit drunk, you immediately stop worrying about whatever you've been worrying about.

When you get really drunk, the much lower inhibitions can lead

I experience it as a positive in my life and I don't drink that often, sometimes once a week, sometimes not even that. I think it can be a good thing in moderation.

If its the first time you've drank in a long while, the euphoria can be a lot stronger. Like any drug.

Alcoholism is horribly destructive, and drinking too much is bad for your health, and drunk guys can be a pain, and some can be worse- violent and abusive. There's a massive negative side but I'm glad I live in a non-Muslim society where it is permitted and part of the culture...maybe that's selfish. I know a very good argument can be made against it- far too many people are alcoholics- but when you I'm out and tipsy and the world has a little extra glow, its seems worthwhile. It seems to add something to life for that moment.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I agree. I've always had a hard time seeing how alcoholism could be a disease. To me, it's a self-induced habit. On my paternal side of the family, we had family members who were alcoholics. For this reason, I make a point of not getting drunk, buzzed. When I start getting light headed, I stop drinking. I drink in moderation because I don't want to develop a drinking disorder.

- Susan

Shaun F said...

John - That is a pretty accurate assessment of the drunk/alcoholic. I wanted to add a significant detail about the physical symptoms. One can actually become physically dependant on alcohol. It’s akin to being a puppet on strings. They become slaves to the idol they serve, which is the bottle. Needless to say all the narcissistic, self-centred behaviour is amplified (especially over years of misuse and all the accompanying enabling behaviour), and the end result can be pretty grim. A person can actually drink themselves to death and you can’t stop them. Which is a very hard thing to watch. There is a strong propensity for the drunks to play victim card, manipulate people, and make excuses. Usually this can improve after they’ve been dried out for some time and can learn to start taking personal responsibility for putting the pieces of their lives together again. But without a family of people that care for you where does one start? Detox? Treatment? AA? Therapy? Man. For example, a former male client about twenty two, - crashed his car drunk, went to work drunk, and showed up in court drunk. Up in treatment initially his attitude was - “No, I don’t have a problem - that’s the way I roll” (or something to that effect). Although his conduct was the norm, for himself, it sure wasn’t normal. Now that he’s out, he has one hard road ahead. What does a twenty two year old guy do who can’t drink or have sex or any form or relationship for one year, and all he has to look forward to is video games, AA, and “sobriety?” And if you’ve ever been to an AA open meeting (I’ve been to some) - they aren’t very inspiring, kind of like a bar - without alcohol, but the same seedy characters. I agree that your sympathy and charity can be better invested elsewhere. I sincerely hope you never see it amongst those you care for.

Pavonine99 said...

The only smart alcoholics I know of were those who were so bright that they could afford to spare a few IQ points, but while they were smarter than most sober people, there was no way they were at their peak form.

There are a lot of alcoholics who drink to cope with trauma, and/or who are genuinely good-hearted, even gifted people, and I have sympathy for them. I wouldn't say, however, that I personally have sympathy for someone who's probably a jerk/idiot even when they're sober. So, yeah, alcoholism in and of itself isn't the pity card some people make it out to be.

John Craig said...

Steven --
What you say is true: the world does have a little extra glow when you've had a couple of drinks, and it does serve as social lubrication in what might otherwise be awkward gatherings. I'm not a teetotaler myself, though I only drink rarely. But I don't like being around drunks when I'm sober, and I've never known an alcoholic for whom I've had any particular regard.

John Craig said...

Susan --
I've generally avoided alcohol in the past too, though more for health reasons. And while it can add an extra glow, as Steven said, I don't always enjoy it, sometimes it can just make me sort of numb (though that can be useful at times too).

John Craig said...

Shaun --
I've actually always wanted to go to an AA meeting just out of curiosity, that's been on my list of things to do for a long time. I understand they don't like spectators, though; I suppose I could fake being worried about turning into an alcoholic.

You're right, alcohol only exaggerates people's existing characteristic. What's that old expression, there's no such thing as a mean drunk, only a mean person who gets drunk? True enough.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
That makes sense: no matter how smart you are, alcohol makes you dumber. So someone with an IQ of 150 may still be smart after a few drinks, just not as smart as he was.

Shaun F said...

John - I have gone as a visitor/guest at various points in life. If you go, you should try a couple to get a better sense of them. If memory serves, they do a kind of opening intro round table where you say "Hi I'm John, I'm an alcoholic." You would obviously omit the latter. There is a format and chair person.

John Craig said...

Shaun --
Thank you. I wouldn't be going at any time in the near future anyway, I'm pretty busy at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of envy (no that's the wrong word) let's try "recognition-of-the-special-fun-being-had" vis-a-vis Johnnie Manziel...there is nothing tastier than actually being full of potential, on top of the world, and then throwing it away...

it is similar to the difference between having the love of your life for decades (reality and disappointment creep in) versus losing her in some tragic accident near the start, and then the whole episode of the love can be held in your heart like a lightning bolt that you never even saw go out

people have a good capacity for sadness, many have a preference for sorrow over joy, you can be sorrowful in a way that constantly renews itself for decades, THAT SELDOM IS THE CASE WITH JOY, sorrow wears better

when we look at Manziel we can say "he is a talented boy, who has enrolled himself in a difficult course-of-study, that may produce someone very wise"...or again we can quote the ancient RABBI AKIVA : "The reformed sinner stands in a place that the righteous cannot attain."

John Craig said...

Anon --
You have a point, and I agree with your analysis of losing "the love of your life" vs. the inevitable letdown of having her for decades. And yes, sorrow does linger for longer than joy.

But I'm not sure the analogy works with alcohol, and alcoholism. Long term use is just debilitating, period, and Manziel is not only throwing away his chance at glory, but at financial stability too. The worm's eye view of life may bring more wisdom than the bird's eye view, but not when it's viewed while drunk.

The Rabbi Akiva's saying is true, but I doubt he was referring to drunks. Jews rarely become alcoholic; in fact it was a big part of Jackie Masons schtick on Broadway when he had that one man show that when the show was over the WASPS would go somewhere to drink while Jews would head straight to the delicatessen.

Runner Katy said...

My step mother in law passed away from alcoholism last year and she was not the typical alcoholic, not mean or manipulative or victim playing. She didn't even drink in front of any of us. We all suspected this for years and she would drink when no one was around, to mask the pain of losing her son when he was a new father in his 20's (car accident). Over time, the signs and symptoms were more evident to us, but she thought she was still hiding it well. We didn't know that we could have said or done anything to help her, since she never did anything that caused much harm. She would give away warm clothes and blankets to the local homeless that she actually needed to keep in her own home, and would go on shopping sprees for toys and clothes for my daughter, her granddaughter (what does one say to that? "no, I don't think you should be doing that?") and was extremely loving and generous. Basically, I came to the conclusion that some alcoholics are just committing a slow, sad suicide.

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
Now you're making me feel bad. Your stepmother sounds like a fine person, who just had one vice, but who had a good excuse for wanting to numb herself.

Certainly more understandable in a case like hers.

Runner Katy said...

Oh I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to make you feel bad about the post. You are so right about most alcoholics falling into this category and not deserving our pity. I would venture to say that 75% or more fall into this. I just wanted to point out that there are others suffering from depression that turn to alcohol (and end up addicted) that don't show these signs, but other signs. I wonder what (if anything) loved ones or friends could possibly do to help these sad souls?

John Craig said...

Runner Katy --
I was semi-joking there, I don't really feel bad -- though your stepmom did deserve sympathy.

To answer your question, interventions and rehab, I suppose. Though some are beyond the point of no return.

mark said...

Is it proper to comment on the post you linked to about 10's in this post? Perhaps, you could reply to this comment in a post about Hillary. Your son should lighten up. He is delusional or fairly handsome so his perspective is different than his average guy friends. As far as tens go, I have a type so my ten is going to be different than your ten. It shouldn't be extremely different but different. Conversely, I can recognize a ten and not be that impressed by her. Sort of like a very good athlete that isn't that fun to watch.

Anyway, George W. Bush struck me as a guy who thought he could use charm and show his good Christian heart to his adversaries and win them over. I found it more arrogant than naive and it really bothered me. I think someone should have told him that while he was sizing up Putin , Putin was sizing him up and coming across as a good old boy isn't always a very strong deterrent. He also thought working with Democrats in Washington would be just like Austin which made me wonder how closely he followed politics outside of Texas in the 90's.
But if I'm on the jury I would acquit the Vodka in this one, I think he may have wanted Putin to see the quote and be a little warmer in the next meeting.

John Craig said...

Mark --
My son is actually fairly lighthearted about these things, he was being at least semi-facetious in most of his comments, he's not really declaring a fatwa. Agreed, we all have different types.

You could be right about Bush; maybe he was trying to win Putin over, thaw relations. But he sot of made himself a laughingstock with the way he tried to do it.

Anonymous said...

there are different types of drunks and alcoholics. My father would be considered an alcoholic, as would his father (my Grandfather). my father drank 5 or 6 nights each week, but only got drunk once or twice a week..he was always pleasant to be around when he had a few drinks, and I avoided him when he was on the wagon. He would hit the bars after work almost every night, but usually made it home for dinner except Friday nights. It bothered my mother a lot. He thought my mother was crazy for criticizing his drinking, since he never missed a day of work. My grandfather owned a bar and drank 10-12 shots of whiskery each night while he was tending bar. But he would only get drunk a few times each year. When he was 65 he sold the bar and then would only drink moderately about once a month, he lived to 94. his longtime girlfriend would start drinking beer at noon each and everyday, she drank about 12-14 beers each day and I never saw her drunk. (maybe I never saw her sober) She was a grandmother to me, since his wife died when he was 40 and he started dating her.

one issue I noticed with my dad and me, 2 drinks has no effect on us. Thus we tend to drink faster and more to get a buzz. My father could drink a 6 pack and be fine, and would seem fine after 8 drinks, but then an hour later the booze would catch up with him. not sure if others have this, I could drink 6 or 7 drinks and appear fine, but then 2 hours after I stop I am more intoxicated than an hour earlier. It seems we don't absorb the booze quickly thru our stomach, but it gets absorbed in our intestines thus the delayed effect. Some people have more of this enzyme which slows down the absorption of booze.
I rarely drink now, stopped drinking when I was 25 because I started getting hangovers. I still don't know how my dad drank so much up until he was 55, since he had a physical job, worked in a warehouse loading trucks and boxcars.

John Craig said...

Anon --
You're right, there ARE different types of drunks and alcoholics, and I was probably generalizing too much.

Wow, your grandfather had some capacity. You never know about health habits and longevity. My grandfather smoked a pack a day till he was in his 80's, then cut down to just a few cigarettes a day, and lived to be 103. (Me, I've lived like a Puritan fitness fanatic my whole life and was just diagnosed with prostate cancer at 61.)

Interesting about the delayed effect with you and your Dad. Your theory about absorbing it in the intestine rather than stomach makes sense.

Anonymous said...

one reason my grandfather sold the bar, it did start effecting his liver, so around age 60 he started to cut back dramatically. His brother died of cirrhosis and he wanted to avoid the same fate.

I think my father may have had an anxiety condition, which is why he drank so much. He could never relax , but after a few drinks he was mellow, and never became a loud boisterous drunk. but he probably did lose 10 IQ points. Funny that even my mother's family thought she was over reacting to his drinking, because they rarely saw him drunk. he would never drink too much around the holidays or at family gatherings. But he finally admitted he probably had a drinking problem when he was about 55. he died at 59 from lung disease, due to his heavy smoking.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Your father may well have had that problem. They say that nicotine also has a calming effect. Still, between the two habits, that adds up to a lot of self-destructiveness.

Anonymous said...

I use alcohol to self medicate anxiety/trauma. I can almost never relax (not since my mid 30's). But have also used sporadically to treat anxiety since I was 12 years old.

Alcohol is great because it does work and you can feel can normal for a while. Especially for trauma. I try and only use it when I'm in really unbearable pain.

Being drunk (or even a two beers buzz) isn't as good as just being content(mentally healthy).


John Craig said...

Andrew --
As long as you don't make it a regular thing, that's a good use for it.

I have to admit, I've had a drink or two a couple times in the past before giving a public speech. I suppose you could call that medicating away a trauma as well.

stylecounciler said...

Disease, or personality disorder?