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Washington Post today had an article on alcoholism based on a study in JAMA Psychiatry. (Published online August 9, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2161). It is a sad report on the rapid increase in alcoholism in the United States. I find this to be a very sad report because the causes of alcoholism were shown in the Grant Study of the Harvard students of the late 1930s followed to the present. It would not be as serious a problem if the public was simply given the widely available information of what to do and what to avoid. It is a called a disease because it has an effect on the body and mind, but it is a very slow disease to acquire.

What has been published and promoted is that people with strong loving parents and loving social relationships in their adult lives live happier, healthier, wiser, and wealthier lives. That information was recently published in the Harvard Gazette, and it would appear to be blazingly obvious. The problem with publishing that Pollyanna information is that it doesn’t confront in a helpful way the agonizing social problems facing most people.

One of the major findings of the Grant Study was that alcoholism takes several years, generally over a decade, to become chronic and severe to the point of seriously interfering with a user’s life. Drinking for pleasure doesn’t lead to alcoholism because after a couple of drinks another one doesn’t lead to more pleasure and numbs the social interaction and so the person stops drinking.

What does lead to alcoholism is drinking to suppress anxiety and pain, and that numbing effect doesn’t come until several more drinks have been consumed. Furthermore, the drinks don’t solve the problems; they only numb the feelings resulting from the problems, which continue and grow worse. That requires more drinking, leading to a general worsening of the problems, which requires more drinking. If these simple facts were clearly stated and promoted to college-age drinkers many of them would avoid drinking for momentary relief and long-term failure. I have promoted the slogan that if it were common knowledge would save many lives:

Drink for pleasure not for pain.

I suspect the same line of reasoning would apply to the current opioid epidemic.

Take drugs for pleasure, not for pain.

When the drugs are no longer giving pleasure, stop taking them.

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