I was in graduate school in an activist-scholar program. An advisor in the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program asked if I wanted to join her to travel to a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The plan included a side trip to Fort Benning, Georgia for an annual demonstration outside the School of the Americas. Another student would be joining us. I agreed to go and we drove over 25 hours to get there.
School of the Americas Watch (SOA)
The School of the Americas has been renamed several times and today it is called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC. Activists and intellectuals who know about it call it the School of Assassins. SOA Watch has held a vigil outside SOA/WHINSEC every year since 1990 that is accompanied by an encuentro of people from around the country to learn and share their knowledge of resistance movements associated with the consequences of U.S. military assistance and intervention in Latin America.
We drink for a reason, having a reason to drink makes you an alcoholic.
It was on this trip that my advisor shared that she was an alcoholic and would need to attend meetings during our travels. We also attended Catholic mass in Atlanta. The trip was an adventure, but the most memorable moment was one I heard repeated several times. Even one drink makes you an alcoholic, because people drink with an intention–to get drunk, to destress, to celebrate. These reasons were apparently signs of alcoholism.
At the time, I thought this woman with a reputation for being “crazy” was …well… crazy. But she was not and that was a comment meant to dismiss this brilliant woman’s work and ideas. When she related that any drink makes you an alcoholic, she was sharing a very simple idea.
The idea that we drink for a reason and thus are alcoholic is not that far fetched. It actually aligns rather well with the definition of alcoholism: having a desire to drink or a preoccupation with alcohol.
In other words, wanting to drink alcohol itself is alcoholism. You want to drink for the effects of the alcohol. This desire is itself destructive in this way of viewing alcoholism.
The deviation between these ideas and symptoms is where alcoholism takes on a different meaning. This is when alcoholism gets associated with destructive behavior.
Symptoms of alcoholism–according to the Mayo Clinic–include:
- “I need a drink!”
- Spending a lot of time getting, drinking, and recovering from drinking
- “I’ll never drink again!”
- Being unable to limit your alcohol intake
- Developing a tolerance for alcohol
This is by no means an exhaustive list of symptoms, but I have written some of the Mayo Clinic’s list of symptoms in terms of how we speak about drinking in our day to day lives.
There are certainly other symptoms that are more extreme, but defining a problem by its extremes is inaccurate and dangerous.
Trauma and Alcoholism
Maybe we are alcoholics for drinking. But maybe our drinking is the trauma of life in this world. I believe both to be true.
Living in today’s world means suffering innumerable traumas, in the moment, in our past, inter-generationally.
Yet at the same time, many (most?) cultures have incorporated alcohol into their social practices in one way or another. It may have been for rituals or festivals or some other type of special occasion, but alcohol was present.
A deeper dive into the history of alcohol around the world might reveal something, but I will not be the one to do so. Such an endeavor takes years or even a lifetime. I will dabble here and there with historical takes on alcohol and its place in our culture(s).
Today I do call myself an alcoholic. Some people think I am being sarcastic or that I am not serious. But there is truth in comedy. There is truth in the contradiction. Everyone drinks alcohol for a reason.
Do I really think I am an alcoholic? No. But this advisor’s definition had meaning behind it that I took to heart. I thought it profound in that it made me think.
As a thinker, I appreciated the take. It has continued to influence how I think about alcohol. It has made me reflect and be conscious when drinking.