Viewpoint: Alcoholism can hit close to home

Beer infographic finalishReporter mugs Wednesday day one

By Josh Gill

College alcoholism is anchored in the powerful illusion of the attractive drunk — the young college student with a bit of money in his pocket, little responsibility and a selfish recklessness that appears as a zest for life.

His cavalier attitude and wild abandon make him charming, reminiscent of alcoholic heroes such as James Bond or Doc Holliday.

College alcoholics can play the game as well and with as much charm as any binge drinker, but the binge drinker can walk away from it with their life while the alcoholic is left in an uncontrollable spiral toward a grim fate. The frightening thing is about the attractive drunk, he isn’t trying to deceive anyone. He, just like my friends and I once did, has bought the illusion himself, hook, line and sinker.

The illusion that everything is fine is strengthened by the fact that the college years are often a time of denial, a time in which it is uncommon and frightening to admit the reality of one’s problems whether they be small or grave. College can become a kind of young-adult Neverland in which one can choose never to truly face their problems, until it is too late to prevent those problems from damaging one’s life.

For many students, college is a time to grow out of that mindset of denial and become responsible individuals, but for the addict, the mindset of denial is a prison from which escape requires an earth-shattering degree of honesty and courage.

Despite warnings, the alcoholic can remain blind to his or her condition because addiction does not operate on principles of rationality. I am sure some of us would say that college life in general does not operate on principles of rationality, and if my own experience is any indication, I’d say that’s a pretty true statement. That is one more reason why identifying a problem like alcoholism in one’s self or one’s friends during college can be hard and that is why we must be honest.

I am not advocating or demonizing the use of alcohol, but I am acknowledging that it happens among Baylor students, as does alcoholism. What I am attacking is the dishonest approach we take toward drinking in this community.

We cannot afford to continue in the delusion that Baylor is a place of almost monastic purity simply because it promotes Christian standards. We cannot persist in thinking the alcohol abuse that does occur among Baylor students is just a normal phase for every one of the participants and alcoholism is not a serious possibility for college students.

That approach almost killed my friends and me, and it kills nearly 2,000 college students each year.

Many people, myself included, did not recognize the signs of alcoholism because they were masked by an environment in which binge drinking is commonplace, and not just among us. When everyone is drinking to excess every weekend, how can we tell who is actually hooked on the substance and who is just practicing youthful recklessness?

How do we, as a community, help solve the problem of alcoholism among our peers and ourselves? In short, through honesty, awareness and grace. If you drink, be honest with yourself about your motivations and your habits. You are the only one who can make the choice to admit to having a problem and get help for it if you do have one. Do not destroy your life to preserve your pride.

Keep a caring eye out for each other as well. Hearing that you might have a problem is easier if the observation comes from a trusted friend.

Grace is needed as well. Those who are suffering with addiction need to know that they will be met with welcome and help rather than judgment and misunderstanding. Alcoholism is not a problem of willpower or self-control. It is a disease and it is a death sentence if nothing is done to treat it.

For the Baylor community, specifically, we need to be honest about what role alcohol is playing in our social lives. We need to acknowledge that youth is no guard against addiction, nor is a dry policy.

My friends who dealt with addiction were not stereotypical low-life alcoholics. They are normal college students and because of their youth and charm, their drunkenness was attractive.

Addiction is no respecter of age, gender, social status or institutional policy. It strikes indiscriminately. That is why we must all do what we can to help solve this issue.

If we could make this community a place where people felt safe being honest about their issues and where that honesty was met with love, grace and help, we would go a long way toward preventing the damage that alcoholism and other forms of addiction bring to people’s lives.

As for my friends who suffered from addiction, they are in sobriety programs now of their own accord and they are moving on toward brighter futures. Personally, I believe the humility and courage they have demonstrated in their paths to recovery is something toward which we should all aspire.

Josh Gill is a senior English major from Atlanta. He is a reporter for The Lariat.