Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 3
To use a metaphor often used in addictions, alcohol is the elephant in the room. While crystal meth is the current drug strategy target, alcohol addiction continues to devastate families and communities in numbers far greater than the drug du jour. This is not to say that drugs like crystal meth aren’t devastating and kill people, but these drugs are illegal and don’t typically have the level of social acceptance that alcohol, readily available and obtained through a reputable dealer, has. Alcohol is usually offered at social gatherings and comes to be synonymous with celebrations. It is what you drink after work with friends, what you have at parties. But its dark side is the impact on generations of families of alcoholics, on deaths due to intoxicated driving and alcohol induced suicide and violence, and its unquestioned place in our society.
Alcoholism takes many forms. Binge drinking is now a recognized problem on Canadian university and college campuses. The functional alcoholic still exists in many Canadian families and we have all seen the destruction caused by alcoholism with people living on our city and town streets and in aboriginal communities. And yet, resources for treating alcohol addiction remain woefully underfunded. Families still struggle for years trying to get help and many, too many, fall apart because of it. This was my experience and the experience of many who write their stories for this issue of Visions.
For many people with mental health issues, alcohol starts off being the way they manage their symptoms. It works well for a time to quiet distressing emotions, fears and anxieties—even eases social interaction. But, as will most drugs, alcohol can quickly turn into the problem and can ultimately mask the presence of other problems. Alcoholism makes the diagnosis, treatment and recovery from mental health issues much more complex. It also layers on another type of stigma: lack of willpower. While we as a society might be more willing (now) to accept a diagnosis of mental illness, the idea of addiction is still rife with moral judgment and condemnation. Really, where does that get us?
Isn’t it about time that we generously funded a cross-substance addictions system that has adequate resources, multi-level models of assistance and detox/treatment for those who ask for it, when they ask for it? Aren’t our families, our communities and our children worth it?
About the Author
Christina is Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mid-Island Branch. She has an MEd in Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies and is working towards her doctorate in Policy and Practice in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria