Alcoholism and Writers

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. I mention that not just because it’s something everybody should pay attention to, but because writers in particular seem to find it cool to talk about getting sloshed, snockered, loaded, pie-eyed drunk. In almost every piece in a writers’ newsletter about the last writers conference some author went to, nine times out of ten there’ll be an elbow-jabbing reference to time spent at the bar. The implication is that real writers drink like guppies. Alcohol is such a theme in the lives of some writers that their fans study their work and studiously compare their pre- and post-sobriety writing — as if the alcohol was the only determining factor in their output or talent.

Regardless of the myth about alcohol going hand-in-hand with literary genius, the fact is that too much alcohol not only harms the body that consumes the hooch, it also harms the families of the drinkers. By too much alcohol, I mean more than one drink a day for a woman and two drinks a day for a man. I mean drinking so much that you can’t remember what you did. Or said. Or went. If that has happened only once or twice in your lifetime when you were young and dumb and lucky enough to live past it, you’re probably not an alcoholic. But if it happens regularly, you have the disease of alcoholism. And let’s be honest here, alcoholism is a disease like diabetes or asthma, and it has to be treated as a disease. Furthermore, alcoholism isn’t cool, and it won’t make you another Hemingway. Unless you’re thinking of the way Hemingway’s life ended.

If you feel that your inner genius comes out while you’re drunk and causes your writing to soar to poetic heights, remember the Lot Syndrome. Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had sex with him because he was the only man around and they figured if they were to have babies they had to have them with him. Lot has always been cast as the innocent victim of his daughters’ nasty plan, but if Lot had been too drunk to know what he was doing, he wouldn’t have been able to do it. If a writer is too drunk to know what he’s writing, he won’t be able to write anything at all. If you need to lose your inner critic to write well, find some other way to lose it rather than pickling your liver.

More important than any other reason for an alcoholic to stop drinking is the effect alcoholism in the home has on children. Growing up with an alcoholic parent causes children to become adults beset by guilt, fear, shame, depression, low self-esteem and loneliness. Your children deserve better, and so do you. If you’ve been aware for some time that alcohol is ruining your life, this month is the time to take charge. Every city has AA meetings, and AA has the best track record of any treatment plan. If you try one group and don’t like it, try a different group. You’ll find people from every profession   — including writers — who are ready and able to help you learn how to have sober fun. And when you’re completely sober, your inner genius will still be there, smarter than ever.

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