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Awareness: A Vital Starting Point for Addiction

Awareness of an issue like alcohol addiction is an important first step. What next?

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But If You Get Stuck at Just Being Aware, New Problems Are Bound to Arise

“You’re not gonna leave it like that, are you?”

The question was fair. I had, after all, asked my friend why the clutch in my 1979 Ford Bronco kept slipping when I stepped down on the gas.

I was living in western North Dakota. This was about 17 or 18 years ago. I had purchased the vehicle as my beater hunting rig. It was black, white, and mixed with varying shades of paint-bubbling rust. It had a 400 cubic inch engine that got about 11 miles to the gallon, and its exhaust system was topped off with a Cherry Bomb glasspack muffler which barked its presence to anyone within four miles of earshot out on the prairie.

Several times my wife had to borrow it because her vehicle was in the shop. She told me she laughed every time she stepped on the gas, and kept laughing after she returned home. It was dirty, it stunk, and you could have scraped enough dog hair from the upholstery to knit a nice sweater if you wanted.

I loved every minute I spent in it.

Back to the issue with the clutch. My friend the mechanical wizard told me that I had better get it working correctly. He explained how this particular vehicle’s transmission worked and how easy it was to fix it.

“Besides … awareness of the problem doesn’t fix the problem; it’s just the first step,” he said.

Well, I eventually did fix the clutch. Some other poor soul has been stuck with that old Bronco since I sold it two or three years after that conversation. My friend’s wisdom, though, ended up sticking with me through other problems I encountered in life. One of them was my drinking.

Becoming aware of my addiction.

I remember waking up one day to dispose of an empty bottle in my favorite hiding spot, above the ceiling tiles in the basement. When I stood on a chair to access the tiles, I could see the assortment of glass and plastic bottles I had racked up over several years (I’d never throw them in the trash one by one—my wife would catch on too quickly).

“Well, holy shit. I’m an alcoholic,” I said to myself, looking at all the glistening plastic and glass lying askew in the drop-down ceiling. It was like a hidden diorama of the map of my life to that point. The booze bottles would soon be replaced with pill bottles, but it was all the same. I was an addict. This was something I knew. I had awareness.

But being aware of a problem and actually doing something about it are two different things.

“Being aware of a problem and actually doing something about it are two different things.”

Awareness is still important!

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Established in 1987 by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, the month seeks “to help reduce the stigma so often associated with alcohol addiction by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public each April with information about alcohol, alcohol addiction, and recovery.”

Nowadays, it seems like there’s a new month, week, or special day set aside for pretty much any social issue, political advocacy topic, or general interest. (Sheesh! There’s even a Ford Bronco Super Celebration day held annually.) However, considering the ubiquity and availability of our nation’s #1 psychoactive drug—alcohol—I wholeheartedly support any plan to raise awareness of the problems immoderate alcohol consumption contributes.

When you consider that over 17 million (million!) people suffer from alcohol use disorder or physical dependence on alcohol in the United States alone, you begin to realize what a pandemic we’re dealing with. If one out of every twelve adults were to contract a new illness that medical professionals determined would degrade and eventually take that person’s life … it’s a safe bet that people would become hysterical over the news. But this happens all the time with alcohol and, more often than not, people shrug their shoulders.

So awareness of the issue is very important. And it’s the first step. What next?

What happens after awareness?

If I had ignored the problem with my old Ford Bronco’s clutch, it would have never resolved itself. So too, the issue with alcoholism or alcohol dependency requires a response, not simply awareness. In the case with my vehicle, new problems would have also inevitably creeped in. I’m sure the same would have happened with my addiction. That’s why there is another segment of awareness that’s equally crucial to addressing the problem. Namely, the solution for addiction.

Millions of people do find the treatment they need to lead productive, fulfilling lives without alcohol or drugs. It’s true that many do relapse. But relapse is a part of many illnesses. What’s important is that many do find long-term recovery. What’s more, the sobriety periods people claim—even if they relapse—are real and eventually bear fruit to longer-term solutions. For example, it took me three inpatient treatments, several outpatient support programs, and ongoing care to finally achieve a longer-term recovery. Notice that I wrote “longer-term” solutions, because I don’t believe I’m ever “done” working to retain my sobriety.

This April will come and go. Next year will play host to another Alcohol Awareness Month. What we can do today is realize that this problem can never be defeated in a vacuum. We need each other, and we need good quality data to make the next step, and to allow people to recover their lives and become aware of their own behaviors. The various modalities for recovery continue to expand as addiction research progresses. It’s my hope that others who are suffering will find the new effective resources they need to reclaim their lives.

Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer, an award-winning Hazelden author, and a public speaker on recovery from addiction. He lives with his family in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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