The first and hardest step is admitting you have a problem.
Restraint? Moderation? What’s that?
I always indulge to the point of excess.
Before I came to Boston University as a graduate student in fall 2013, I was a regular California pothead. I took my first toke at 17, and from that day forward, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t get high. For eight years, I smoked astronomical amounts of marijuana everyday. At the peak of my usage, I was smoking at least an eighth of an ounce of weed, $40 worth, every two days. At my old apartment in Santa Barbara, California, the hardest decision of my day was deciding what piece to smoke out of. I had two bongs, four pipes, a bubbler, a vaporizer, a joint roller, two grinders and enough rolling papers to bind a book.
Blunts for breakfast.
Bong loads for lunch.
Dime bags for dinner.
I would take a hit before I even got out of bed in the morning and didn’t stop inhaling until I was so stoned I couldn’t open my eyes.
But marijuana wasn’t my only vice. As a restaurant manager at a wildly popular California beachside bar, taking shots, tasting wine and sipping on beer was part of my job description.
On any given night of partying, it wasn’t an uncommon practice for me to throw back more drinks than I could count on my 10 fingers, and for a long time, I considered beer a legitimate breakfast beverage. Why drink coffee or orange juice when I could just drink Bud Light instead? And tequila? I’ve never met a liquor I loved more. Straight? On the rocks? With lime? Gimme dat.
Up until a few months ago, if you had tried to tell me that I had a substance abuse problem, I would have brushed your concern aside and told you I was just enjoying life in my 20s to the fullest. And besides, all my friends were drinking and smoking as much as I was. I was just following suit. It was just that California lifestyle, baby.
Even when I got to Boston for school last fall, drinking seemed to be a requirement to participate in social activities and actually enjoy yourself. I was back in college, surrounded by young adults that, like me, were ready to make new friends and take Boston by storm. And let me tell you, there’s no better way to break the ice than with a little dose of liquid courage. With a cocktail in hand, I was fun, friendly and fearless. But more than that, I was so sloppy.
Even though I was surrounded by students who liked to drink beer at bars, it didn’t take me long to realize that my alcoholic behavior was out of control. Getting kicked out of clubs, waking up with new tattoos, sleeping with strangers and reckless drunk texting were just some of the regrettable consequences of my uncontrollable consumption habits.
Still, even waking up with fuzzy recollections of the night before, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I had a problem. The statistics were telling me that virtually all college students were experiencing the effects of widespread drinking. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol, and about half of the college students who consume alcohol do so through binge drinking.
However, the problem with drinking is not necessarily the drinking itself, but the problems that arise from drinking in excess. Each year, according to College Drinking: Changing the Culture, approximately 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries, and 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. In the same age group, 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape, and more than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem.
Unfortunately for me, the probability of becoming an example of one of these troubling statistics is much higher than that of the average student, because I come from a family of addicts, and research shows that alcoholism often runs in families. The NIAAA reports that genetics influence our likelihood of developing alcoholism and are responsible for about half of the risk of alcoholism.
With a history of substance abuse on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family, it’s likely that I inherited the genes not only for freckles, red hair and green eyes, but also for a love of clear liquors.
Just days after my 26th birthday this past summer, I decided that it was time to take a little alcohol vacation. However, when I took my own vow of sobriety on July 9, 2014, my reasoning for sobering up was less about admitting that I had a dependency on alcohol and marijuana and more about being determined to lose enough weight that I would be thinner than my brother’s bride at their October wedding.
But today, I think I’m finally ready to admit to myself, and to the world, that I am a substance abuser. On the flip side, I’m also proud to announce that I am 90 days sober.
Ok. Fine. Maybe sobriety is causing my social life to suffer a little bit, but let me tell you what I don’t miss. Debilitating hangovers that leave me bedridden for a whole 24 hours. Feelings of mortification when reading the explosion of sloppy, late night drunk texts on my phone. Cringing at the unbelievable amount of money that my bank statements say I spent on Pabst Blue Ribbon and the 14 pounds of bloat that had accumulated on my thighs and midsection.
Thanks barkeep, but I don’t need to see a cocktail list. I’ll just take a tall glass of iced water with lemon instead.