In my vast and storied drinking career of 20+ years, the damage to others was minimal. I mean, I was never in a drunk driving accident, I never even got a DUI (stumbling home on foot from dive bars solved that problem); the drunken brawls I was in usually happened at home with my ex, and there weren’t any arrests due to my insane behavior. The only person I was hurting by getting sloppy, blackout drunk seven days a week was me.
Or at least that’s the story I like to tell myself.
In reality, there were countless people affected by my drinking. From the landlords I didn’t pay and the employers I worked for while intoxicated to the innocent cashiers who had to help my slurring and sloppy ass at grocery stores and liquor stores and the cab drivers I would harass from the backseat, there were a slew of people taken down by my tequila-soaked tsunami. When you add those people to the list of family members, friends, coworkers, roommates, and neighbors who all suffered some sort of emotional fallout due to my drinking, the damage doesn’t look so minimal. It looks like a small town after a tornado.
Studies Show Impact of Alcohol’s Harm to Others
So when a new study came out last month about secondhand drinking, I could certainly identify.
Nearly 9,000 participants answered questions from two surveys, the 2015 National Alcohol’s Harm to Others Survey and the 2015 National Alcohol Survey. They were asked if they had experienced any or all of 10 different types of harm caused by someone else’s drinking. Coming from an alcoholic home and being an alcoholic myself, I feel like I could answer, “Hell, yes!” to all of these questions without even seeing them. Causing other people harm is the only way I’ve ever known alcohol to work. I am not from civilized red wine sipping stock. For the record, the types of harm included being pushed or hit, feeling threatened or afraid, being a passenger of a drunk driver, marital problems, family problems, and financial problems, all caused by another person’s drinking. A staggering one in five answered what I would have answered: Hell, yes, they’ve been affected by the drinking of others.
Researchers believe the number is probably even higher, given the study only asked the participants about the last year of their lives. Personally, this also checks out. I couldn’t even begin to come up with a total and comprehensive list of folks affected by my drunken douchebaggery over the years.
According to the study, 23% of women and 21% of men reported experiencing at least one of those harms during the last year. Not surprisingly, women experienced the fallout of someone else’s drinking in marital problems, financial problems, and being the passenger of drunk drivers. Women were more likely to be the victim of violence, sexual assault, and harassment from someone who was drinking than their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, felt the reverb in the form of property damage, vandalism, and harassment, in addition to drunk driving woes. Folks 18 to 25, the study found, felt the effects of alcoholism the worst, which makes sense as alcohol use disorder is on the rise in that age group. Children were not interviewed for the study but as a kid who grew up in an alcoholic home, I experienced the ill effects of secondhand drinking on a regular basis.
All the things the survey mentions — personal violence, damage to property, feeling unsafe — that’s all part of daily life when you grow up around alcoholics…
Find out more on How advertising normalizes drinking, how alcohol can destroy communities, and what “It’s not that bad…” often means in the original article Secondhand Drinking: When Your Alcohol Problem Becomes Everybody Else’s at The Fix.