What Alcoholism Is Really Like

Published February 10, 2020 by:
alcoholism - what being an alcoholic is really like

“Normies” (I call them the Upright Citizen Brigade) think alcoholics are skid row bums, the homeless staggering and screaming in the street, or maybe Frank Gallagher from Shameless. In reality, it’s probably their neighbor who seems to ruin every party he’s invited to. It’s probably their quiet but depressed cousin Amy who always has four boxes of wine in the garage she got on special at Costco next to the 48 rolls of toilet paper and the five-gallon jug of Hellman’s mayo. She’s always seemed a little off, but she pays her bills on time and you can count on her for socks on Christmas or maybe she’ll go wild with a gift card to Applebee’s.

The Illusion

We have likable alcoholics and addicts on TV: Don Draper in Mad Men, Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me, Calamity Jane on Driftwood, Karen Walker on Will & Grace, Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec, Kenny’s mom and dad in South Park, anything with Charlie Sheen in it, Homer from The Simpsons, Peter Griffin of Family Guy, Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie, the entire cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and everyone’s favorites Norm and Cliff from Cheers. They (kind of) make alcoholism cool and funny. They don’t seem to have real problems, with consequences from drinking. They make severe alcoholism look all warm and fuzzy.

Alcoholism in Pop Culture

The reality of alcoholism and addiction is much different. Take Charlie Sheen for instance. We all know Charlie just got a year sober but damn boy, you had some DARK times there for a while. Family issues, he spent $50k on hookers, arrests, trips to the hospital after marathon partying, ODs, jobs lost. He even called himself a “high priest and Vatican assassin/warlock”. It got a little weird, right?

Charlie Sheen played a drunken, drugged-out songwriter on TV and was drinking and drugging so much he was even too wasted to play a drunk. That’s literally never happened in the history of irony. I’m a lifelong atheist and even I thought he needed Jesus. But what a turnaround Sheen made. Way to go Mr. Sheen, you’re the comeback kid. Props!

Then, we have the guys who play drunks and addicts who are sober in real life. Like Alec Baldwin playing Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Ted Danson playing Sam Malone on Cheers, a reformed drinker. Nicholas Colasanto who played coach on Cheers. One of the most outstanding examples is Russell Brand who starred in Get Him To The Greek playing an absolutely whacked alcoholic/addict on full tilt. Russell is my personal hero for being such and outstanding and real advocate for people in recovery.

I could go on, but that’s enough name dropping. In the U.S., we glorify drinking and drug use. Our heroes are hard drinkers and hard partiers, people with no limits. It’s sex, drugs and rock and roll. If you’re not drinking like a fish and have a hellacious drug habit, while smashing everything in sight, you’re a nobody. You aren’t cool.

It’s like the skinny jeans hipsters with beard oil and a coke habit the size of Peru, who only drink a local microbrew; these doofuses are the new cool. You have to do bottle service at the club or you have to have a craft cocktail. If your drink doesn’t include 15 ingredients added in 10 stages with a fired orange peel shaken over dry ice while the bartender smiles cleverly, you aren’t one of the cool kids. Your drink today must be as pretentious as possible. I half expect a full production, Vegas magic trick when friends order a cocktail today.

The Reality of Alcoholism

But, I digress. Alcoholism is usually quite boring and lonely and horrifically depressing. You have to remember alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, of course you’re depressed. Before I got sober, I never heard of closet drinkers and people who drank alone.

I remember meeting and talking with my first closet drinker. I kid you not, she actually only drank in a closet. I had heard that sometimes people drank at home alone. I never did. But she didn’t want people to know she drank at all, so she stashed booze in her bedroom closet and only drank it there. Her husband didn’t know, her kids didn’t know, her friends didn’t know. She got two DUIs before her family figured out it wasn’t some “big mistake”. It was her secret. She lived in shame and guilt. Imagine being her and admitting you have this huge secret and you also need help. Imagine being a guy who only drinks at home alone. And the only attention you’ll ever get is your intervention. The only time a friend or family reaches out is your intervention. So, you go to rehab, get fixed, go home, and now you go back to nothingness. This is why any support group is good. This is why 12-step groups that have meetings every day are so good for you.

Real Life Alcoholism isn’t cool at all. Many people in active alcoholism are, well, jerks. And that’s putting it mildly. They’re abusive verbally, emotionally and physically. At times, all they care about is the next drink. You, the kids, the dog, the job, school, everything is a distant second place. They’re constantly broke. They’re constantly needy. They’ll use you, abuse you, and leave you. As Russell Brand says, “addicts are bloody wankers, they’ll steal your sh*t and help you look for it”.

I’ve transported a good 700 people to detox. The only problems I’ve ever really had, 90% of them, were from the drinkers. Angry, suicidal, entitled, belligerent, and just generally pissed off and uncooperative. They were always impossible to make happy. I’ll take a heroin addict on his way to detox on Christmas anytime over an alcoholic.

The Glorification of Alcoholism

Why do we glorify alcohol and drug use? It has a lot to do with advertising and big money and the media. The biggest advertisers in the world are beer, wine and hard liquor makers, followed by drug makers. Watch TV tonight, you’ll be inundated with beer commercials and commercials for every drug under the sun. Wait till legalized recreational cannabis use hits every state. We see all this and we’re programmed to accept it as normal, as acceptable behavior, as desirable, sexy, and cool. It’s what families do. It’s at every sporting event. It’s at every upscale event. It’s at every celebration and at every funeral. Alcohol and drugs have become our national go-to option for every emotion or want, need or desire.


Real Life Alcoholism kills 88,000 people a year. I think at this point, we can forget about convincing people not to drink or use. Or that alcohol and drugs aren’t sexy and cool. I believe we can only try and get the people who are alcoholics and addicts to make changes and get clean and sober. We all knew deep down that we needed help or we needed to stop, we just couldn’t get it together enough to get sober and really never wanted to stay sober for any length of time.

We weren’t shocked that people thought we needed to get to rehab. We weren’t shocked that we got the DTs, we had them before. We weren’t shocked we needed meds and a medical team to get through withdrawal. But for a thousand different reasons we just didn’t do it.

So, don’t buy into the bulls**t of the beautiful people. Booze and drugs don’t make you cool. Influencers aren’t influential, they just get paid to sell you more stuff. You’re being led around by some fake people, with a fake life, with a fake face, with a fake filter, selling you garbage.

How about some real freedom? Think for yourself. Examine everything. Explore it all. Accept nothing as fact, then find the correct answers. Find them yourself.

And get and stay sober, we need more fun and interesting people on this planet.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to us at 877-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Our addiction specialists are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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