Today we’ll look at the account of a woman who discovered (to her chagrin) that after a long and pleasurable career as a drinker, her body, apparently on its own, has decided that she’s had enough:
I’ve heard stories about this sort of thing as long as I’ve been in field. Among late-stage drinkers, for instance, who describe a point where their lifelong tolerance for alcohol simply disappeared, to the point that a few sips off a communal jug was enough to get them high. That’s usually attributed to a damaged liver that can no longer metabolize alcohol the way it once had.
Then there are longtime maintenance drinkers, the sort about whom people say ‘you’ve never seen them drunk but you’ve never seen them sober, either.” Eventually that can change too. “I couldn’t hide my drinking anymore,” one complained to me. “I tried switching to vodka, they say it has no odor. But people still seemed to know I’d been drinking.” He didn’t realize the odor came not from the bottle but from his own toxic sweat.
Sometimes the change is due to an interfering physical problem. Many years ago I worked with a college student who’d unexpectedly lost her ability to keep alcohol down — she’d drink to quell the shakes and it would surge right back up again. She experimented with other ways to absorb alcohol, rather than by mouth, but none of them were successful. I’ll spare you the stories, they’re pretty horrible.
The late Jim Milam had a theory that people who would eventually develop chronic alcoholism were actually unique specimens from the outset. In other words, the transformation wasn’t from nonalcoholic to alcoholic (or “cucumber to pickle” as the saying went), but the result of a longitudinal progression from early to middle to late stages of a disease. In support, he noted research suggesting that many initially experienced problems within the first couple years of drinking, but had learned to manage their drinking by sheer force of will.
That was interesting because of the widespread belief that alcoholism was evidence of weakness of will. Just the opposite, claimed Milam. Eventually the alcoholic’s iron control began to fail, if sporadically, and problems re-emerged. Usually things were worse than before.
It was then that they began to seriously consider giving up alcohol altogether.
Anecdotes abound. For instance, the ability of people in treatment to look back and recall with clarity their first drink. Try asking someone who’s never had a problem to do that. Or AA co-founder Bill Wilson’s memorable description of his own initiation into drinking — a world-changing experience.
All this is highly subjective, of course. I’m not sure how it could be measured scientifically. The science does, however, consistently support the notion that genetic influences play a major role.
Or as one recovering physician put it: “I was making choices about drinking, sure. But looking back, it’s obvious they weren’t entirely my own.”