Addiction: Life in a Bottle
Whether it’s alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, addiction’s grasp can be hard to shake -- but it’s possible, and it’s worth it.
As an aspiring novelist in his early 20s, Carl (not his real name) equated
the glamorous life of writing with boozing.
"Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and more contemporary writers were
known as big boozers. If it was good for them, why can't it be good for
me?" he thought.
But he didn't get the results that he wanted when he drank. The words
wouldn't flow and plus, he realized that his attitudes related with drinking
and writing had isolated him from the rest of society.
Because he felt "too good" for the mainstream work-world while he
was an alcoholic, he thumbed his nose at an admission to law school, and didn't
initially seek employment that would make use of his master's degree in
writing. Instead, he worked as a taxi driver and eventually as an editorial
assistant for a publishing company to make ends meet.
It wasn't until he started going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings that
Carl recognized how self-destructive he had become -- getting drunk with his
passengers as a cabbie and calling in sick as an editorial assistant to cure a
hangover or to quench his thirst for drink.
When he became sober, Carl felt a lot better about himself and felt a sense
of belonging with the rest of the world.
"I began to bring my full energy to the workplace, and not hold myself
in reserve because I was saving myself for a bigger life as a writer," says
Carl, now in his 50s. He notes that his shift in attitude opened opportunities
for him. He was promoted to an editor position, and one of the short stories he
wrote as a hobby even won a literary award.
This story is not much different from others with addiction in that their
obsession with something -- in Carl's case, alcohol -- controls their behavior
and attitudes about life.
Addicts need to satisfy a hunger, and that need takes on a higher priority
than other responsibilities, including work, says Lawrence S. Brown, Jr., MD,
MPH, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
This disregard for responsibility can be expensive for society. According to
a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 1995 alone,
alcohol and drug abuse cost the economy an estimated $276.3 billion in
decreased productivity, increased accidents, absenteeism, job turnover, and
That figure could arguably swell once the cost for pain and suffering and
other compulsive behaviors are factored in.
According to a review of studies by the Illinois Institute for Addiction
Recovery, up to 3% of the U.S. population is addicted to gambling, up to 3%
with food, up to 8% with spending, and 5% to sex.