Archive for November, 2012

What is “an average alcoholic?”

Sunday, November 11th, 2012


Click HERE for audio version of this article

Let me ask you: Are you above average or below average as an alcoholic? And what criterion constitutes being called an average alcoholic? Do you have to be a despicable person? Must you lack all morals? Do you have to stink of b.o. and have bad breath? Does your house have to be messy? Must you have lost your driver’s license? Been arrested? How do you become an average alcoholic?

Isn’t calling someone an average alcoholic – without knowing anything about them – just as racial or prejudicial as saying, “The average black man, the average Hispanic, the average Jew, the average homosexual, the average Democrat, the average woman, the average Scorpio, the average sudoku player…” This is horrific stereotyping and propels prejudice.

To be an average alcoholic would mean that everyone who drinks is the same. Regardless of whether they are a social drinker, binge drinker or an outright raging alcoholic – they’re all the same. That also means that the only successful method of treatment would have to be the same one for all of us and that any former drinker (alcoholic) is to be considered as the same, once they have stopped. Doesn’t that sound a bit closed minded or prejudicial to you?

There may be, and there often are, many similarities in traits, behaviors and actions among us drunks. But our drinking habits and histories aren’t all the same. And most important our resulting problems from drinking aren’t all the same. Just attend an AA meeting and you’ll hear all the different resulting problems people have.

“I couldn’t keep a job…”

“I was always in debt…”

“I was terrible… I beat my wife…”

“I couldn’t control myself and I always got into fights…”

“I would expose myself…”

“I spent all my money and I lost my car, house, job…”

“I would sleep with anything that had a pulse…”

“I would poop myself and throw up all over the house…”

It would go on and on. At times I thought it was turning into an auditory contest of who could outdo the other with tales of debauchery. But this was not always the case and if I claimed it was then I would be guilty of saying, “At the average AA meeting, here’s what will take place…” I must be watchful in my own writing so that I don’t make broad, sweeping statements and incorrectly invoke the use of averages.

I understand the usefulness, even the need to use averages in certain situations or reports. Such as average seasonal temperatures, rainfall, snowfall, miles per gallon, or “on average how much money do YOU spend on booze?” etc. But are YOU average as a person? Do you think you’re average? Would you like to be considered or called average? Now maybe in some categories you are average but not in others.

Remember that an “average” is obtained through a mathematical equation. Which means that you take a sampling of data from a spectrum, which includes both ends of the extremes, and then you divide the sum by the number of samples or occurrences. For instance, when you hear a statistic like: “The average internet user spends 4.3 hours per day on the internet.” That “average” is the result of a mathematical equation compiled of usage data from many users. You may spend far less time than 4.3 hours. But due to your interests or occupation you may spend triple that amount of time. So once again I will agree that there are appropriate uses and need for equating averages, but I feel it’s inappropriate to start pigeonholing people into averages. I believe this is the basis behind prejudice and racism.

Even a former drinker can fall prey to the fallacy of human averages. I recently had a conversation with someone who is 3-1/2 years sober. She began her journey of sobriety as a very dedicated AA follower going to meetings 6-7 days a week. (Her husband felt he was abandoned during this time, but that’s a different story.) I casually asked during our conversation how many meetings she now attends. “Maybe once or twice a week, but always on Sundays because that’s when my home group meets.” It was nice that during the course of our conversation she didn’t answer with preprogrammed babble and catchphrases. She has thoughts and opinions of her own. What really stood out was when she said, “My most recent sponsor has told me many times that our goal should be to become comfortable with life and that our life shouldn’t revolve only around meetings. We should live by the steps, but we have a life outside of meetings.” I think it’s pretty cool that a sponsor would say something like that. This woman speaks highly of AA and she has used the 12-Step program in a way that is serving her purposes well.

As we continued our conversation she said, “I have to apologize Mark. I’m only on chapter 3 of your book. I like it so far, but I don’t think that the average alcoholic has the willpower to do it the way you describe.” This statement sparked me to ask the question… “What is an AVERAGE alcoholic?”

Was she an average alcoholic? She had never lost her job. She’s a dedicated, faithful wife (married 27 years) and a responsible parent. She didn’t go out drinking at bars or clubs; she drank secretively at home. Her home had always been well appointed and kept clean. From all outside views, one would never have guessed that she had a drinking problem. It was her own internal emotional turmoil that led her to going public to her family about her drinking.

And it was her using the term “average alcoholic” which sparked me to write this article. I personally don’t think there is such a being as an “average alcoholic.” About the only thing that we drunks universally have in common is that we tend to drink too much – too much of a legal product. I also disagree that an alcoholic lacks the willpower to overcome their dependency. I will agree that while in the midst of drinking it’s difficult for some of us to control our continued intake. But once the volitional intake has been stopped, mental clarity can take over, and then it becomes a choice – our own choice – if we will ever drink again.

In closing this article, I ask that you refrain from generalizing, pigeonholing and averaging people – especially yourself. We each have expressed our alcoholic dependency in different ways. Our road to dependency and our evolution in sobriety can be far from “average.” While we all as human beings have a lot in common, we also have unique characteristics and traits to each of us. You are uniquely you, with beautiful warts, blemishes, scars and all. Our unique attributes are what add to defining an average.