Alcohol: The Great Equalizer

Drinking on TV 1960s
If you’re as old as I am, you remember how alcoholism was treated in the 1960s. Popular entertainer Dean Martin nearly always had a glass of amber liquid in his hand. Otis was the “town drunk” on the gentle comedy show The Andy Griffith Show. And Foster Brooks was known for his portrayal of a “lovable drunk” in Las Vegas shows and on television.

But the families of a person addicted to alcohol knew the real pain of this situation. They knew about the secret abuse and angry tirades. The shortage of money and loss of jobs. The divorces and broken homes.

How are we dealing with the reality of addiction to alcohol these days? Any better? If the three movies titled The Hangover, The Hangover Part II and The Hangover Part III are any indication, not much. Heavy alcohol consumption is still being glorified in dozens of reality television shows. Some television shows specialize in featuring teens engaging in heavy drinking.

And let’s talk about college towns for a moment. To be honest, bars and restaurants adjacent to college campuses count on the sale of alcoholic beverages for their profitability. The director of a non-profit working to save college-aged youth from alcohol-related injury or even death said,  “Every night they are lured by cheap drink specials. Couple that with easy access to alcohol, and glamorous, fun, sex-filled advertising imagery, and you have a very appealing message.”

“Every night they are lured by cheap drink specials. Couple that with easy access to alcohol, and glamorous, fun, sex-filled advertising imagery, and you have a very appealing message.”  

And what about Spring Break? It’s an annual event that’s become known for its alcohol consumption and debauchery. According to Forbes Magazine, the average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day while on Spring Break trips, and women reported consuming 10 drinks per day.

To balance the scales the slightest bit, there are now a handful of television shows focused on recovery from addiction, either in the context of a reality show or as a fictional theme.

Maybe it’s time we grew up and faced the problem of alcoholism without flinching, without fiction and without television cameras. This is a life-threatening problem that affects millions.

Who Suffers from Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism?

Let’s start with how many suffer? According to an annual survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 14.5 million people suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Sixty-seven million have engaged in binge drinking in the last month. More than a million of those binge drinkers were under 18 years of age.

And who were these people?

They came from every age group. Every ethnic category, both sexes. Professionals and the unemployed. Mothers, fathers, teens, senior citizens. Alcohol is the great equalizer. It cuts down people of every possible description.

Here’s a few specifics for you.

Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

  • More than six million underage Americans were heavy drinkers last month.
  • Nearly seven million seniors aged 50 to 54 were heavy drinkers, along with 2.5 million people 65 or older.
  • More than 34 million people who were fully employed engaged in binge drinking last month.
  • More than two million unemployed people did the same.
  • Heavy drinking was spread all over the country, with the South ranking the highest.

Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)

  • Of those suffering from alcohol use disorder, nine million were white, 1.5 million were black or African American, more than two million were Hispanic.
  • More than nine million had some college or graduated, and 3.4 million graduated from high school.
  • Nine million were men and 5.3 million were women.
  • More than ten million were employed full or part-time and 933,000 were unemployed.

Alcohol takes down bankers on Wall Street and homeless people in Anchorage, Alaska. High functioning alcoholics—those who can still maintain careers and homes—fill our history books and movie screens. Names like Betty Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Joe Namath and Keith Urban appear on these lists.

Time for a New Era

Stop drinking
Photo by GeorgeRudy/

I suggest that if you truly care about people, you really don’t want them to drink. You might have to step away from the amusement you might feel when they drink too much and lose their dignity in a tumble. Young men and women might be in the habit of making a game of seeing who can drink the most and act the silliest but it’s truly time to put these childish entertainments away.

Around the world, more than three million people die each year from the effects of alcohol. Some die immediately from alcohol poisoning. Others die slowly, as alcohol destroys their livers or hearts. Many, many millions more become ill or ruin their lives and the lives of their families.

The most empathetic action possible for a person who is drinking excessively, who can’t limit or control their drinking is to help them find a program that can help them. It could be a residential rehab or a support group with frequent meetings. The most important thing is to get them to start on the road to recovery and to support them through all their ups and downs.

The worst thing you can do for a person who’s drinking too much is ignore it and hope it will go away. It too often takes a catastrophe to compel an alcohol-dependent person to stop drinking, like a traffic accident in which someone is severely injured or even killed. If that’s what it takes for them to turn the corner, they could end up spending years in prison instead of being able to get on with their recovery.

Supporting sobriety with your own example and your friendly, kindly insistence on recovery could end up saving multiple lives.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.