Secondhand Drinking – Impacts of a Person’s Drinking Behaviors

We generally do not think much about what happens to people whose paths cross with those of a person who misuses alcohol beyond the obvious, such as an auto accident caused by a drunk driver. It is unlikely most of us have ever encountered the term, Secondhand Drinking (SHD), although, now, reading it, we may draw a comparison to that of Secondhand Smoke. Yet, secondhand drinking can forever alter people’s lives. Portions of the following information are taken from a five-part series to celebrate Alcohol Awareness Month – 2014:

What is Secondhand Drinking

Secondhand drinking is the impacts of a person's drinking behaviors on others. These impacts can cause significant harm to a person's physical and emotional health and well-being, as well as the quality of their life.

Secondhand drinking – impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others – can cause significant harm to a person’s physical and emotional health and well-being, as well as the quality of their life.

Secondhand drinking (SHD) is a term to describe the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. Drinking behaviors are not intentional. Rather they are what happen when alcohol changes the way a person’s brain works. Approximately 90 million Americans experience secondhand drinking. They include spouses, children, parents, co-workers, in-laws, classmates and friends, even innocent bystanders. They are the people affected by drinking behaviors, such as verbal, physical or emotional abuse, driving while impaired or sexual assault. It is estimated that two to three times that number of people are indirectly affected by secondhand drinking. This is typically the ripple effect of someone’s drinking behaviors or someone’s secondhand drinking experiences. These people are often the in-laws, friends of friends, co-workers, fellow classmates, even tax payers and the citizens of a community. You’ll better understand this as you read the examples below.

What Happens to the Person Experiencing Secondhand Drinking – Impacts of a Person’s Drinking Behaviors    

People on the receiving end of drinking behaviors experience a range of negative impacts, such as:

  • Deeply hurt feelings, loosing one’s self-esteem, walking on eggshells.
  • Having to deal with the fall-out of someone driving while impaired, whether that is death or injury or ticketed DUI, for example.
  • Trying to survive in a neighborhood or home riddled with nightly drinking behaviors.
  • Recovering from a concussion after a brutal beating.
  • Developing depression or anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Being forced to leave work frequently due to crippling migraines.
  • Taking medications for stomach ailments or sleep disorders.
  • Questioning oneself and believing somehow there was something you did to provoke the drinking behavior.
  • Unable to concentrate at work or in school, worried about what happened or will happen.
  • Believing there is something you can do to make them stop the drinking or the drinking behaviors.
  • Losing friends, dreading social events, trying to keep track of a constant stream of white lies and cover-ups.
  • Changed family dynamics, divorce.
  • Developing a substance abuse problem.

Examples of Secondhand Drinking Impacts and the Ripple Effects

Joanne… 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.

Susan 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. As is evident, secondhand drinking can affect just about any one of us, whether it be directly or indirectly. For more information on Drinking Behaviors and Secondhand Drinking, check out these articles:

Secondhand Drugging | Drugging Behaviors are Similar in Concept to That of Secondhand Drinking | Drinking Behaviors

Secondhand Drugging is the impacts of a person’s drugging behaviors on others. Drugging behaviors occur as a result of brain changes caused by misusing prescription medications, such as opioid pain medications, antidepressants or simulates for ADHD, or illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, meth or Spice.