Human beings are selfish by nature. But the most selfish thing we do is believe that our journeys and our experiences effect only us, when that is simply not true.
People seem to think their struggles are vastly unique to them. While we all experience our own emotions and reactions to situations in our lives, sometimes the pain is the same. But we will never know that unless we share our stories.
This was the case for 50 year old Tina Kane, whose ex-husband passed in 2009 from alcoholism. “I was selling all his old recording equipment,” said Tina, “and a man walked up and asked why I was doing this. I told him that my ex-husband had drunk himself to death, and he just kind of stared at me. I didn’t know why until he sent me this email.” (See email pictured below)
Alcoholism currently affects a documented 30% of the United States population. This does not account for “functioning alcoholics,” or people who abuse the substance but still maintain jobs, families, and have never sought treatment.
Below, an interactive graphic with data provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlines what percentage of people from each age group (by gender) are affected with alcoholism.
According to Healthline, while the specific causes of alcoholism are unknown, the dependency known as addiction comes when a person drinks so much that it causes chemical alterations in the brain that emphasize the pleasurable effects of alcohol, making the drinker crave it. Eventually, the brain alters to an extent where the body believes it needs alcohol to survive, like water.
Michael Cosver, a teen alcoholic, speaks on his experience with alcoholism. “It was like I could feel it coming, but I didn’t think it would ever be this,” says Cosver. “We’d be at parties and everyone was drinking. Everyone. And people would throw up and black out all the time. But I guess it was different for me because it started happening more and more where, like, I would hit people up to drink and they’d say no. And I’d get mad they didn’t want to drink as much as me. And then I started drinking alone. And I guess that’s a problem.”
Registered Nurse Moira Miranda works in the rehabilitation center at Mills-Peninsula Hospital. “You’d be surprised how many people come in and out and back again,” said Miranda. “And it’s hard, especially when my daughter was in elementary and middle school because I’d see teachers, parents, people I knew from my daughter’s school. And I’m cleaning up their puke and watching them struggle with addiction. And the hardest part was saying nothing because you see these patients out in their normal lives at parent night and meetings and they seem normal, but they are addicts.”
Not surprisingly, studies have shown that children of addicts tend to seek out addicts as life partners due the the codependent behavior they develop after living and growing up around addiction. However, in an article by PsychologyToday, psychologists actually suggest that an addict paired with a non-addict is the most beneficial relationship one can have. Having a relationship with a non-addict shifts focus away from the addiction into a more “normal” lifestyle that can help aid with recovery. However, in the event of relapse or emotional turmoil, it can be hard for a non-addict or someone who has little experience with addiction to cope emotionally, mentally, and physically.
This is a very real disease. It is frequently joked about and brushed off, but it kills nearly 88,000 people in the U.S. annually, making it the third leading cause of premature death in the United States.
You never know when sharing your story could be the jump start to someone’s recovery. While you may think you walk a lonely road, the more you speak out, the more people you will find are on the same path you are. Do not be afraid to share your story; you have the potential to save someone’s life.