The Healing Place

Bourbonism Does Not Equal Alcoholism

Bourbonism Does Not Equal Alcoholism

Some have suggested that Louisville’s eagerness to promote “Bourbonism” will result in a rise in alcoholism throughout our community. This position comes, in part, from a lack of understanding of alcoholism.

An increasingly robust bourbon industry and its enthusiasts will not influence rates of alcoholism, nor will it help or hinder the likelihood of an individual developing alcoholism. Above all, individuals with alcoholism ultimately are accountable for their own actions and how they choose to deal with the ramifications of the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, alcoholism is by definition “…a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect (physical dependence), or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”

The critical part of this definition is that alcoholism is a disease. Scientists have even suggested that alcoholism and addiction are brain disorders. Despite that, there continues to be a lot of stigma related to the disease of alcoholism/addiction with suggestions that it is an issue of morals, weakness of character or upbringing and ultimately a choice made by the person who is afflicted.

There are two influences that help perpetuate the stigma related to alcoholism/addiction.

The first is a lack of information by the general public. “There are life-long risks of addiction. Just because you’re well doesn’t mean those risks go away,” stated Joseph Lee, medical director at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, in a USA Today article by Nancy Armour. The Healing Place and other recovery and treatment programs supply alcoholics and addicts with the tools necessary to manage their disease on a daily basis.

Silence is a second negative influence. For far too long, alcoholism has been hidden by active alcoholics/addicts, as well as their families, friends and co-workers. Denying the problem will not make it go away. Stigmatizing those who struggle with addiction will not motivate them to seek help.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducts the National Survey on Drug Use and Health on a regular basis, assessing the prevalence of alcohol and other drugs of abuse among the U.S. population. The most recent report indicates that the rates of alcohol dependence/abuse have declined from 2002 to 2012. In 2012, 17.7 million Americans (6.8% of the population) were dependent on alcohol or had problems related to their alcohol use. This is a decline from 7.7% in 2002. This decrease has happened in the face of an expanding selection of alcoholic beverages throughout the country.

It is important to remember that distillers and brewers are not responsible for the disease of alcoholism. The prevalence of alcoholism is not increasing nationally and the manufacture, distribution and sale of bourbon are not the culprits of addiction.

Instead of directing energy toward discouraging the promotion of the bourbon industry, which has become an economic boon for Kentucky, we should focus on helping alcoholics restore themselves to productive lives. Their disease would exist regardless of the proliferation of any distilled spirit.

It is undeniable for those who suffer from the disease of alcoholism and addiction, along with their families, that the consequences can be devastating. For each alcoholic/addict, it is presumed that eight people are affected by their disease and many of those are innocent victims. We must provide treatment and recovery services for those who are suffering, as well as offer prevention services to children in our community. Before this can happen, the addict or alcoholic must examine their life, step forward, and take responsibility for their own recovery. Those who are in recovery now live in the mainstream and often do not celebrate their recovery publicly. The Healing Place celebrates recovery and stands ready to help those in our community who are ready to take the first step.

This Op-Ed originally appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal.