To raise awareness of alcohol addiction, we continue our series of blogs written by people in recovery. According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Over 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol-related problems.
Alcohol addiction affects people from all walks of life. Here’s one physician’s story in his own words.
One year ago this month I entered Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC) to receive treatment for alcoholism. Akin to my wedding day and the birthdays of my children, the day I entered treatment marked a fundamental change in my identity — I was now a recovering alcoholic.
How I Got Here
My journey as a budding alcoholic turns out to be rather mundane. I began drinking in college, and immediately felt deep comfort in alcohol. I began binge drinking routinely and took advantage of any event serving alcohol. As I entered medical school in New York, I crossed the line to drinking more regularly and steadily — not yet out of control, but perhaps more dependently. Despite the periodic blackouts, hangovers and embarrassing acts associated with excessive drinking, I made it through medical school and onto further training.
At age 30, we welcomed our first child, a son, and I crossed another line — drinking secretly. I began concealing alcohol in our apartment and drinking alone after work. At this point, I was convinced to seek professional help to determine if I had a problem. Based on the lies I told them, they didn’t think I did, so I continued drinking.
Shortly after our second child was born, this time a daughter, we moved to Texas. I was certain moving out of the stressful big city would eliminate my “need” to drink regularly. What I didn’t count on was my ongoing “want” to drink — now, not to deal with stress, but just to feel normal. This felt like another line had been crossed.
Admitting I Needed Help
After a few years, my drinking rapidly progressed to the point of developing the “shakes.” This scared me enough to ask for help, but not enough to stop drinking. I distantly participated in Alcoholics Anonymous and an outpatient rehab program, and I acknowledged a problem, but I was too scared to dive in completely as an alcoholic. So I continued to drink, simply to deal with the fear of needing to drink (this disease is full of conundrums). Finally, after 23 years of drinking, the pain of continuing outweighed my perceived pain of quitting. It was then I surrendered and entered Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC).
As a physician, I was directed to the Professionals and Executives (P&E) program at PaRC. I tried to “hide” in the group on that first day using all of my avoidance moves — smiling, keeping quiet and taking deep breaths. My innocent act didn’t fool my counselor –somehow he was able to call me out on my inner thoughts, not anything I said. He saw the fear in me, which was comforting somehow. This guy seemed to know me (or my type), so what the hell, I started letting things out.
This, I would later realize, was the same power felt in an AA meeting — familiarity and trust with fellow alcoholics allows me to access and share my deepest fears, thereby eliminating the desire to drink out of fear. Being in the P&E track allowed me to see that I’m not different. I’m just another alcoholic who is capable of recovering.
Ultimately, I spent two weeks in the residential treatment center, and a total of five weeks in the recovery program at PaRC.
Moving On After Treatment
Today, I attend a weekly aftercare session at PaRC and five AA meetings per week. Additionally, I self-reported my alcoholism to the state medical licensing board and submit to weekly urine drug testing.
My life is unrecognizable — specifically the amount of ease and joy I experience every day. I am now a loving husband, devoted parent and responsible physician. This had been my biggest fear — that if I admitted to being an alcoholic, I would not be able to be anything else. Turns out, finally accepting that I am an alcoholic was the only way I could be those other things.
If you or a loved one is suffering with addiction, PaRC can help. Visit parc.memorialhermann.org or call (877) 464-7272.
To learn about our program for Professionals and Executives, watch this video below.