Alcohol Awareness Month – April, 2014 – raising awareness about both sides of the drinking equation.
There are two sides to the drinking equation – the person doing the drinking that causes drinking behaviors and the person on the receiving end of the drinking behaviors – that is, the person experiencing secondhand drinking (SHD).
It is an unbalanced equation to be sure.
The secondhand drinking side is conservatively estimated to be five times the number of persons on the drinking side. This means approximately 90 million people are directly affected by SHD – a person’s drinking behaviors, while roughly two to three times that number are indirectly affected.
As such, it is likely most readers know someone or know someone who knows someone or they are the someone who has experienced secondhand drinking. For secondhand drinking is the term to describe the negative impacts that coping with, or being forced to cope with, a person’s drinking behaviors has on others – the co-worker, fellow-student, innocent bystander, spouse, child, parent, in-law, close friend – even the tax payer and citizenry of a community.
Adding Secondhand Drinking to the Alcohol Awareness Month Celebration
April 2014 marks the 27th annual Alcohol Awareness Month celebration. It was founded and is sponsored by the NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), and this year’s theme is “Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow.” This theme was chosen “to draw attention to the pervasive impact that alcohol, alcohol-related problems and alcoholism has on young people, their friends, on families and in our communities.”
So part of my effort to spread the word about April as Alcohol Awareness Month this year is to raise awareness about the other side of the drinking equation – the side of secondhand drinking. This awareness effort is not about stopping a person’s right to drink. It is about sharing the impacts, causes and remedies of SHD in order to help the 90 million Americans directly affected and the millions more who are indirectly affected.
What Happens to the Person Experiencing Secondhand Drinking?
To give you an idea, ask yourself if you (or someone you know) have been on the receiving end of behaviors described in the above sidebar? Have you ever experienced the repercussions of those exchanges – deeply hurt feelings, coping with the fall-out of someone driving while impaired, trying to survive in a neighborhood riddled with nightly drinking behaviors and paying the social costs thereof – especially the trauma impacts on children, recovering in hospital from a concussion after a brutal beating, debilitated by depression or anxiety, forced to leave work frequently with crippling migraines, taking medications for stomach ailments or sleep disorders, questioning yourself and believing somehow there was something you did to provoke the behavior or just being the innocent victim of a person’s drinking behaviors or another’s SHD experiences?
Take Joanne, for example…
Joanne was the designated driver for her company’s Happy Hour one evening. She sipped her Diet Coke® with lemon and watched her co-workers’ antics escalate as each one insisted on buying the next round. She’d spent most of her time talking to the woman from accounting who had stopped drinking after the second round. But Joanne lost control of her car on the drive home, when her last drop-off, Jackson, the most intoxicated of the group, grabbed the steering wheel, shouting, “Turn here!” Jackson had unclipped his seatbelt just moments before and was thrown from her car when it rolled on impact. He is quadriplegic now; Joanne refuses to leave her house.
Joanne’s secondhand drinking experience freeze-framed that moment in time from whence her life was chunked as “before the accident” or “after the accident.” And it sent secondhand drinking ripple effects deep and wide throughout Joanne and Jackson’s extended families, as well – a young man in a wheel chair completely dependent on 24/7 care, remodeling the home, changing jobs in order to share caregiving shifts, draining all financial resources for medical bills, marriages destroyed under the strain as siblings’ lives were consumed with helping Jackson – and equally Mom and Dad, legal wrangling to get coverage from Joanne’s insurance, even though it wasn’t her fault; and – a young woman’s family emotionally processing the inconceivable, relieving the horror for months on end through depositions and endless hours of insurance and legal dealings, constantly searching for how best to help their daughter overcome her despondency and despair, wondering if Joanne will ever get married, have children or become the vibrant, talented, lover-of-life Joanne she was – before the accident.
Secondhand drinking is what happens to Susan most nights when her husband, who repeatedly promises to stop or cut down on his drinking, can’t seem to keep his promise. When Susan confronts him, he starts his offensive attacks. He accuses her of checking up on him and stares her down as he pops open another beer, and asks, “What’s the big deal, can’t a guy have a couple of drinks after a hard day at work.”
Susan gets defensive and soon they are engaged in a crazy, convoluted argument. The next day at work as a detective with the Oakland Police Department, Susan rehashes those arguments over and over in her mind, unable to fully concentrate. Her co-workers know something of what she’s going through and cover for her because “she’s such a good person,” and “it’s what we do.”
But there’s more. Suzanne’s partner and fellow detective is experiencing major stress-related symptoms due to his constant worry about Susan’s ability to “cover his back” when out in the field. He keeps having to pick up the slack back at the office, as well, while she robo-dials her husband and spews seething sound bites of what happened last night when he does answer his phone. And now her partner is going home tense and angry and has trouble sleeping at night.
Or Adam and his mom…
Secondhand drinking is what’s been happening to Adam and his mom, who are the family of a veteran who turned to alcohol after his tour of duty ended –alcohol to relieve his untreated PTSD, fears he will never find a job and confused feelings about returning to civilian life.
For Adam, the SHD was most obvious at school. One example occurred on a Monday after a particularly rough night of his parents arguing about the drinking and his dad’s “accidental shoving” of his mom. Adam couldn’t concentrate in class and was embarrassed when his schoolmate snickered because he failed to answer the teacher’s question. He was fuming by recess and tracked down his classmate, punching him in the face. For that, Adam was sent to the office, only to have his parents called because he’s a behavioral problem – again. Adam’s mom had to take Personal Time Off (PTO) from work to go pick him up. Though she has PTO, she knows her boss and co-workers are fed up because her absence will mean another delay in the production schedule. She checks the review mirror to change lanes en route to Adam’s school but rests momentarily on her reflection, startled that it’s her face – she looks nothing like she remembers.
But it’s not just Adam whose classroom experiences have changed. Through him, SHD unwitting passes along to his teacher who now dreads Fridays (along with Mondays) as that’s when Adam really seems “off” [what his teacher doesn’t know is that things at home get even crazier on the week-ends and that this is due in part to the unhealthy coping skills his mom has developed around the SHD]. His teacher leaves her home running through scenarios of what she can do to help Adam, beyond not calling on him in class, because Adam “is getting worse” – he goes “looking for trouble” and usually finds it. She knows this “whole thing” is unfair to the other students, who keep losing lesson time when Adam experiences one of his outbursts, but she also knows being sent to the office isn’t helping Adam change his behaviors. Lately her principal has been questioning her ability to control her class.
and John’s Co-workers….
Secondhand drinking is what happens to John’s co-workers when he shows up for work hung over more times than they care to count. He’s their shift supervisor and the only certified forklift operator. They know he is still impaired – it’s obvious. But what can they do? He wasn’t drinking on the job, and besides, what are they going to say? He’s their boss. So they go along with John getting behind the wheel, in spite of the risks to their safety.
For more on the impacts of Secondhand Drinking, please click here.
What causes drinking behaviors?
Obviously, it’s drinking. But this is where things usually go sideways because people offer all sorts of excuses for the drinking behaviors because “s/he’s not an alcoholic” or “he hadn’t eaten all day” or “she’s such a nag, she provoked him.”
The fact of the matter, however, is that drinking behaviors occur when a person drinks more than their liver can metabolize (get rid of). Contrary to popular belief, a person cannot vomit, urinate or sweat out the alcohol – it only leaves the body through the liver. And ON AVERAGE, it takes the liver about one hour to metabolize the alcohol in one standard drink. [Notice I said, standard drink. 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of regular beer and 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof hard liquor are all equal to one standard drink.]
This average of one hour to metabolize one standard drink can vary widely depending on gender, stage of brain development (meaning teen brains don’t handle alcohol the way adult brains do), whether taking medications, genetic differences, mental illness, stress – there are a host of reasons to explain why one person drinking 2 drinks results in drinking behaviors and another person drinking the same two drinks does not.
Not only all of this, but because of the way the body processes alcohol (through the liver and not the digestive system), it means drinking water, eating a big meal or taking a walk around the block will not sober a person up. The only thing that does is time – time enough for the liver to rid the body of the alcohol in each standard drink. Six drinks will take six hours.
And while the body waits for the liver to metabolize each standard drink, the chemical in alcohol – ethyl alcohol – is traveling though the bloodstream to body organs that are highly vascularized (lots of blood vessels), like the brain. It “sits” in these organs waiting to be metabolized by the liver. While waiting to be metabolized by the liver, the alcohol chemically changes brain function that in turn changes a person’s behaviors. Too much alcohol for their brain and a person slurs their words, can’t think straight (as in thinks they’re good to drive or insists on arguing some random, stupid point), stumbles, looses coordination, says those mean, nasty things, experiences memory lapses, starts a fight – all because the ethyl alcohol has chemically changed the way their brain works. It is these brain changes that cause drinking behaviors, the direct cause of SHD. But as we saw in the examples, there are indirect causes of SHD, as well – like the stress impacts Susan’s partner experiences or the regular disruptions of class experienced by Adam’s fellow students and teacher.
Celebrate Alcohol Awareness Month – Raise Awareness About Both Sides of the Drinking Equation…
Since NO ONE SETS OUT to cause secondhand drinking and NO ONE SETS OUT to cope with it in unhealthy ways, BreakingThe Cycles.com’s 2014 Alcohol Awareness Month celebration will run posts throughout the month to raise awareness about both sides, including how to remedy the impacts of SHD. In the meantime, here are links to previous posts to help with raising awareness:
• Understand How the Body Processes Alcohol – Reduce Secondhand Drinking
• What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem
• Secondhand Drinking Prevention
• Screening for Alcohol Misuse and Secondhand Drinking
And if you prefer the more traditional celebrations of April as National Alcohol Awareness Month, click on this link for logos, proclamations, press releases, background information, etc., as provided by NCADD.
© 2014 Lisa Frederiksen
In case you are reading this out of sequence, here are the links to all posts in this series:
- Part 1 Alcohol Awareness Month – Two Sides to the Drinking Equation
- Part 2 Why the Term Secondhand Drinking (SHD)
- Part 3 The Brain and the Secondhand Drinking Connection
- Part 4 Causes of Secondhand Drinking
- Part 5 Fight or Flight Stress Response System – Secondhand Drinking Connection
© 2014 Lisa Frederiksen