CDC: Alcohol Kills More People than Opioids

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON FOX5NY.COM

Alcohol-related causes kill 88,000 people—more than from opioids—each year in the United States, according to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But when it comes to alcohol and health risks, it can seem like no one is talking about it.

"It's such a painful spiral of shame and self-loathing and hiding," Lisa Smith, a lawyer and author, said. "You're living this awful double life."

Smith knows a lot about alcoholism because she was in the throes of it for more than a decade. By 2004, she had also started using cocaine and then hit rock bottom.

"Finally there was one morning I woke up thought I was having a heart attack, I thought I had actually killed myself or had overdosed," she said. "And in that moment, I decided I wanted to live."

Smith has been sober for almost 16 years and wrote a book pulling back the curtain on her struggle with drinking.

From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased by 35 percent, according to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The increase was steeper for women.

"The rise among alcohol problems for women, and subsequent illness and death has risen to really, really worrisome proportions," said Eliana Leve, the director of New York services for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

More women are seeking treatment for alcoholism than men at Hazelden in New York, Leve said. She believes there's more stigma for female alcoholics, which can be a barrier to seeking help.

"It is a disease, you're not a bad person," she said of combatting the stigma. "It is an illness, a chronic illness."

Smith said she hopes the latest statistics will serve as a wakeup call.

"We have to stop treating what's actually a drug as if it's not," Smith said.

The bottom line about alcohol-related deaths is that they're preventable. The authors of the University of Washington study said their analysis shatters the myth that one to two drinks a day is good for your health.

USA Today: Alcohol is Killing More People, and Younger. The Biggest Increases are Among Women

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON USATODAY.COM

OAKTON, Va. – The last time lawyer Erika Byrd talked her way out of an alcohol rehab center, her father took her to lunch.

"Dad, I know what alcohol has done to me," she told him that day in January 2011. "I know what it has made me do to you and mom. But that wasn’t me." 

By the time she died three months later, Byrd had blocked her parents' calls because they kept having her involuntarily committed. They once had a magistrate judge hold a hearing at her hospital bed. He ordered herto undergo a month of in-patient treatment. 

Byrd, who died in April 2011 at the age of 42, is among the rising number of people in the United States who have been killed by alcohol in the last decade.

It's an increase that has been obscured by the opioid epidemic. But alcohol kills more people each year than overdoses – through cancer, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis and suicide, among other ways.

From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased 35 percent, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The death rate rose 24 percent.

One alarming statistic: Deaths among women rose 85 percent. Women once drank far less than men, and their more moderate drinking helped prevent heart disease, offsetting some of the harm.

Deaths among men rose 29 percent.

While teen deaths from drinking were down about 16 percent during the same period, deaths among people aged 45 to 64 rose by about a quarter.

People's risk of dying, of course, increases as they age. What's new is that alcohol is increasingly the cause.

"The story is that no one has noticed this," says Max Griswold, who helped develop the alcohol estimates for the institute. "It hasn't really been researched before."

The District of Columbia, less than 10 miles away from the Venable law office where Byrd was a partner, had the highest rate of death from alcohol in the country, according to the institute's analysis. Georgia and Alabama came in second and third. 

Alabama, in fact, ranked third among states with the strongest alcohol control policies, as rated by medical researchers in a 2014 report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

States can influence drinking – especially dangerous binge drinking – with policies such as taxes on alcohol and restrictions on where and when it can be sold.

Psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer at the nonprofit Well Being Trust, says the larger health challenges in the South are to blame for high alcohol death rates. Southern states typically rank near the bottom in national rankings in cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall health.

Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas and Tennessee rounded out the five states with the strongest alcohol control policies, the researchers reported. States with more stringent alcohol control policies had lower rates of binge drinking, they found.

Nevada, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and Wisconsin had the weakest alcohol control policies.

David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University's school of public health who has specialized in alcohol research for 30 years, notes that the beer industry holds considerable sway in Wisconsin.

Amy Durham, 46, suffered triple organ failure after she stopped drinking six years ago. She was in a coma for 10 days. (Photo: Caron Treatment Centers)

Binge drinking is sending far more people to the emergency room, a separate team of researchers reported in the February 2018 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers, who looked at ER visits from 2006 to 2014, found the largest increases were among the middle aged – especially women. The number of teenage binge drinkers landing in the ER during that time actually declined.

Older, often lifelong drinkers don't need only to have their stomachs pumped. They frequently have multiple complications from their drinking.

Their often bulbous bellies need to be drained of fluid, which builds up from liver cirrhosis, and their lungs cleared of aspirated vomit, says Dr. Anthony Marchetti, an emergency room doctor at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Georgia.

They might also have brain hemorrhages or internal bleeding, because booze prevents their blood from clotting properly.

By middle age, Marchetti says, long-term drinking can also lead to heart failure, infections due to immune suppression, a type of dementia from alcohol-induced brain damage, stomach ulcers and a much higher risk of cancer.

As opioid overdoses, which kill about 72,000 people a year, grabbed America's attention, the slower moving epidemic of alcohol accelerated, especially in Southern states and the nation's capital. About 88,000 people die each year from alcohol

Making matters worse, alcoholism is trickier to treat – and criticize – than opioid addiction. 

"Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin," Miller says. "A lot of people will read this and say 'What's the problem?' "

Benjamin Miller is a psychologist and the chief strategy officer at the non profit Well Being Trust. (Photo: Well Being Trust)

It might be a more socially acceptable addiction, but alcoholism is at least three times costlier to treat than opioid addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's a far more complicated midlife crisis to address.

The proven approaches – taxes on alcohol and limits on where and when alcohol is sold – are often rejected because the liquor industry has considerable clout with policymakers.

Ron Byrd says his daughter Erika was "beautiful inside and out."

To him, there's no question about what caused her death. 

That's despite the fact there was no alcohol in her system when she was found dead at home. She was so sick, Byrd saysshe hadn't been able to eat or drink for days.

"The death certificate never says alcoholism," he says. "It said heart arrhythmia and heart valve disease. But nobody in our family had heart problems."

Attorney Lisa Smith has been in recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction for a decade. The New York City woman wrote the memoir "Girl Walks Out of a Bar" and co-hosts the podcast Recovery Rocks.

Attorney Lisa Smith is the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, her award-winning memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law.

Smith speaks at legal conferences and law firms such as Byrd's about the hazards of lawyers' high-stress days and booze-fueled dinners with clients. But she's fighting forces far larger than her profession. 

"It is poison, and we’re treating it like it's something other than that because there‘s big corporate money behind it," she says. "A lot of people are getting really rich on something that is toxic to us."

Deaths of despair

In its Pain in the Nation report this year, the Well Being Trust called losses from drugs, alcohol and suicide "despair deaths."

The three are closely related. Suicide is the third leading cause of death from alcohol, after cancers anddigestive diseases. One in five individuals who die from opioid overdoses have alcohol in their system at the time of their death.

Drinking can lead to cancers all along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the colon. About 15 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases are considered to be caused by alcohol. A third of those cases affected women who drank 1.5 drinks or less a week, according to a 2013 report in the American Journal of Public Health.

The "direct toxicity" of alcohol damages the nervous system from the brain down to the spinal cord and to peripheral nerves, says Marchetti, the Georgia emergency physician. It's common for people in the late stages of alcoholism to have numbness in their feet and legs, which makes walking difficult even when they aren't impaired. 

Emergency rooms are the most expensive place to treat problems. Between 2008 and 2014, the rate of ER visits involving acute alcohol consumption rose nearly 40 percent, according to the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. For chronic alcohol use, the rate rose nearly 60 percent.

The increases for acute and chronic alcohol use were larger for women.

People who drink throughout their lifetime develop a tolerance for alcohol. But as they age, they lose muscle and gain fat and become less tolerant.

That leads to increased injuries and illnesses, says Rick Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the Alcoholism study.

But why are so many people drowning so many sorrows?

Ashley Marie Hartshorn began drinking heavily after the birth of her third child and a murder committed by her stepfather. (Photo: Family photo)

Brenda Padgett believes it was postpartum depression that led her daughter to take up the heavy drinking that ultimately killed her last year.

Ashley Hartshorn, who lived in Hendersonville, North Carolina, had already suffered the trauma of hearing her stepfather kill his girlfriend while she was on the phone.

Then Hartshorn testified against him in court, which helped send him to prison for life.

The depression came after the birth of her third child in February 2012. 

"She wanted so badly to quit drinking, but the shame and the fear kept her from being able to allow herself to reach out for help," Padgett says. "Like many, we were ignorant to the effects that alcohol has on the body.  I thought she had time, time to hit rock bottom and time to seek help.

"I never knew that only five years of alcohol abuse could take the life of someone so young."

Neither did Nancy Juracka. Her son Lance died in 2006 after just three years of heavy drinking. He was 36.

Lance Juracka, who grew up in Hermosa Beach, California, was intimately familiar with the scourge of alcoholism: He knew an uncle and aunt had drunk themselves to death before he was born. He even produced a short documentary about alcohol abuse while at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. 

He started drinking when he got a job in Las Vegas reviewing shows – and was continually offered free drinks. 

"Once he got a taste for alcohol, it really did him in fast," his mother says. "I don’t understand how Lance’s liver went so quick."

He headed back to California and ultimately moved back in with his mother.

He started a painting business. But his workers told Juracka he would just drink vodka or sleep.  

"I thought I was going to lose my mind, I was so frantic," she says. "I would sit up all night with him so he wouldn’t choke on this vomit.”

Joseph Garbely, an internal and addiction medicine physician at Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, says research shows that 10 percent of parents think having two or more alcoholic drinks a day is reasonable to reduce their stress.

But why? It's not as if liquor is becoming more accepted.

Consider, however, the lack of public service announcements about the effect excessive alcohol has on health or families.

Ali Mokdad is a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. He notes that alcohol-related education focuses on drunk driving. 

Miller and others point to the high level of workplace stress that began accelerating during the recession, loneliness linked to social media and increasing pressures on working mothers. 

In fact, social isolation can be both a cause and the result of excessive drinking. Parents whose children drank themselves to death in their 20s and 30s often describe the drinking in isolation seen in elderly alcoholics.

Few who drink excessively while young will become alcoholics, much less drink themselves to death. Those who are in recovery for alcoholism say people who turn high school or college binge drinking into a nightly coping ritual are at the most risk.

Amy Durham came close to dying from alcohol six years ago, when she was 40. And she barely drank until she was in her 30s.

The child of an alcoholic father, Durham never thought she could or would lose control. 

"I didn't even know what was happening to me," she says.

She attributes her plunge into alcoholism to unresolved trauma from growing up in an alcoholic home, the stress of her work as a school principal, a "toxic" romantic relationship and grief over an inability to get pregnant.

"I just needed to be numb," she says.

Ron and June Byrd lost their daughter, Erika, to complications from chronic alcohol abuse in 2011. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

Ron Byrd says Erika, too, dreamed of having children. After two divorces and stage 3b breast cancer, however, the chance was slipping away. 

"She wanted so desperately to have a baby," Byrd says.

Durham is now corporate director of alumni relations at Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers, where she was treated. 

"I wasn’t able to see that my drinking was a problem until it was almost too late," she says. "I put limits on myself and would say that i'd only drink two glasses of wine in a social setting and then go home and drink a lot in isolation." 

When her father died in July 2012 of esophageal cancer, Durham says, she began a "very bad downward spiral."

She remembers his funeral.

"i was trying to be nothing like my father, but I couldn’t wait to get out of that church and drink," she says. "The shame of what was happening to me was more than I could bear."

Like Hartshorn and Byrd, Durham started with white wine. But she ended up drinking copious amounts of vodka.

Amy Durham, now director of alumni relations at Caron Treatment Centers, is shown with Caron's Dr. Joseph Garbely, who helped save her after alcohol nearly killed her. (Photo: Caron Treatment Centers)

By the time her family got her to a hospital, Durham was in triple organ failure and wound up in a coma for 10 days.

That was followed by six weeks of dialysis.

When she arrived at in-patient rehab after the dialysis, Durham says, her body and eyes were still yellow and she was carrying 100 extra pounds of fluid – half of it in her legs.

She says fellow rehab residents – no strangers to the telltale signs of addiction – quickly looked away as she passed.

Men vs. women drinkers

When men crash and burn from alcohol, Mokdad says, the spectacle is often public. They get into bar fights, get cited by police for drunk driving or lose heir jobs.

A more typical trajectory for women starts with evening wine as a way to de-stress from the work day – either in a professional setting, or home with young children.

Author and podcast co-host Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, writer of "Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay," believes this stems from stubborn gender roles and norms surrounding stress. 

"Moms just aren't going to call home and say they're stopping for a couple drinks after work with friends or going to the gym to unwind," the Los Angeles woman says

Otherwise, they might feel like parenting failures as they compare themselves to other moms. So they drink wine while they make dinner, which can lead to a nightly pattern of excessive drinking.

Author Stefanie Wilder-Taylor co-hosts the podcast For Crying Out Loud and is in recovery from alcohol addiction. (Photo: Courtesy of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor)

That describes nurse practitioner Eileen O'Grady, who quit drinking 12 years ago.

O'Grady, who lives in McLean, Virginia, says her two sons, now in college, never really saw her drunk. But she couldn't bear the thought of continuing her destructive double life. She would drink continually from dinner until she went to sleep, she says, and then start again the next evening. 

For O'Grady, the last straw came after a night of especially hard drinking with another mom in her neighborhood.

The other woman, a schoolteacher, vomited in O'Grady's car. She returned the next day to clean it up. 

O'Grady hasn't taken another drink.

"I could see my life if I kept going," O'Grady says. She is now active in her local recovery community and working as a wellness coach. 

Her schoolteacher friend taught classes until last fall. Within days of leaving the classroom, she was in a hospital with end-stage liver disease.

She died in hospice on Jan. 3.

At least 15 people at the woman's memorial service asked O'Grady how her friend had died. They were stunned to learn alcohol was the cause.

The woman was poisoning herself with a half-gallon of vodka a day, O'Grady says, yet no one knew beyond her immediate family, O'Grady and a mutual friend in the neighborhood. 

"We're closeted," O'Grady says. "We're not in bars getting in fights."

Eileen O'Grady is a nurse practitioner and wellness coach who has been in recovery from alcohol for 12 years. (Photo: Courtesy of Eileen O'Grady)

As for Durham, she was on a liver transplant list for about five months in 2011 and 2012. Then she learned she no longer needed a new liver.

"Livers have a great capacity for recovery," says Dr. Michael Lucey, a professor and head of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Wisconsin medical school. 

Durham was once in a sorority at University of Mississippi, where beauty was competitive and a popular saying was "pretty is as pretty does."

"But there was nothing pretty about my drinking," she says.

If she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Durham says, she wouldn't think twice about getting treatment and talking about it.

Durham stopped drinking six years ago Thursday. She says she surprises people with how openly she shares the gritty details of her near-death experience.

"I want to show the world what recovery looks like, especially for women where stigma is still the way it is," Durham says. "I want people to know there is hope."

Erika Byrd, who died in 2011 due to alcohol, is shown with her mother June Byrd in Waikiki Beach at sunset in Hawaii in 2003. (Photo: Family photo)

Erika Byrd called her father in hysterics on April 9, 2011. She had been fired after failing to turn in paperwork to continue getting disability coverage through her law firm.

"I don’t want to want it, but I want it," Byrd recalls her saying, sobbing.  

"I said, 'If you can stop drinking you can do anything,' " Byrd says. "I told her, 'We love you, Erika,' and she hung up."

Byrd and his wife were getting ready to go to church the next day when there was a knock on the door. A pastor stood with a police officer. Erika was dead.

A doctor from the National Institute for Mental Health called to ask if the Byrds would consider donating Erika's brain for research.

They said yes.

"She had done everything she knew how to to beat this terrible disease," Ron Byrd says. "I would think she would want it."  

If you are interested in connecting with people online who have overcome or are currently struggling with health problems mentioned in this story, join USA TODAY’s "I Survived It" Facebook support group.

Everyone In My Law Firm Knows I’m Sober (and I Don’t Care)

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THE TEMPER

The morning I decided to check myself into a psychiatric hospital for a medicated detox, my biggest fear wasn’t that I had no idea what I’d find behind the doors of its locked-down unit. It wasn’t telling my friends and family about the ‘round-the-clock alcohol and cocaine addiction I had been hiding. It wasn’t even the idea that I might not be able to drink again. No, my biggest fear was that my law firm would find out that I had a substance use problem.

I was terrified of the stigma surrounding addiction in the office. As in so many other industries, in law firms, alcoholism and addiction are too frequently viewed as weaknesses or moral failings. I’d heard people in the workplace make fun of “drunks” and worse. On top of that, big firms have historically had a dangerous “work hard/play hard” ethic. It’s a bullshit way of telling employees, “Don’t just work 70 hours a week. Also spend a chunk of your personal time bonding over drinks with your colleagues and clients.” In the bar telling war stories until 2 a.m.? Great. See you at 9 a.m. sharp and be ready to work yet another 12-hour-plus day.

This lifestyle is somehow not expected to take a toll on your physical or mental health, either. If you can’t handle it and you show cracks, you probably just can’t cut it. It’s not the job—it’s you. And the worst part about stigmatizing addiction and mental health challenges is that it discourages people from getting critical, life-saving help when they’re struggling.

In the bar telling war stories until 2 a.m.? Great. See you at 9 a.m. sharp and be ready to work yet another 12-hour-plus day.

I spent five days in the hospital and then went straight back to work, refusing longer inpatient treatment because I was too afraid to tell my firm I needed to go away for a month. Of course, if I’d needed surgery or treatment for another physical problem, I wouldn’t have thought twice. But go out for a month to go to rehab? I’d never seen it done before, and I certainly wasn’t going to be the first to do it.

Upon my return to the office, I made up a lie about why I’d been out the week before. I gladly accepted compliments from coworkers about how much better I looked. “Yes!” I wanted to answer. “Isn’t it amazing what can happen when you stop ingesting wine by the double bottle and cocaine quite possibly cut with laundry detergent?” But, somehow, the timing wasn’t right for that.

I was working on the administrative side of the law firm, having switched out of practicing law several years earlier when it became incompatible with my drinking. One or the other had to go and, at that time, it wasn’t going to be alcohol. No longer representing clients, I’d felt liberated in my drinking. I never would’ve guessed that one day I’d feel liberated in kicking booze to the curb instead.

I changed jobs after about a year sober. I kept my sobriety to myself, sharing it with only a handful of colleagues to whom I grew close over the years at my new firm. It was my business and no one else’s. Then, a couple years ago, when I had the opportunity to publish my book, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, about my downward spiral and eventual recovery, I took it. But it meant going public with my story, so I prepared for the worst and hoped for the best at work.

A lot of people in my office knew that I wrote in my spare time, but few knew what I wrote about. I started visiting my colleagues’ offices, knocking on their doors and sticking my head in. “Hey,” I would say, “I wanted to let you know that my book is being published.” When that was met with congratulations and excitement, I would walk in, shut the office door and say, “Now, let me tell you what it’s about….”

The responses I received were revelatory. I expected stunned silence or open discomfort, but I was wrong. Yes, I got a lot of questions, ranging from, “How long ago did that happen?” to “Did you ever get arrested?”

But I also got overwhelming understanding and compassion. Several times, before I could even get my story out, a colleague would interrupt me to talk about their friend or their cousin or their law school roommate. It quickly became apparent when I spoke about my substance use and mental health challenges that no one was hearing about these issues for the first time. Many had one degree of separation from someone who struggled. Who knew?

I heard things like, “You could have told us,” and “We would have wanted to help you.”

What was most eye opening, though, was hearing from former colleagues at the firm I’d been at when I bottomed out. I feared their reactions more than any others’. I’d been drunk and high in the office. I’d carried cocaine in the office. What would they think when they read about it? I assumed best case, I’d never hear from them; worst case, they’d lambaste me publicly in response to the story.

Once again, I assumed wrong. Of course, I don’t know how every individual personally reacted, but the people who reached out to me were incredible. I heard things like, “You could have told us,” and “We would have wanted to help you.”

Still, no one was more surprised than me when they invited me to visit the firm and tell my story to their attorneys and staff. They wanted to raise awareness and hopefully prevent others from going through a similar experience alone. I was terrified, but mostly grateful and honored, the day I spoke.

My decision to open up in the office does not mean I would recommend anyone else do the same. Getting sober is an intensely personal decision. Sharing that information with others is equally personal. Particularly in early recovery, when sobriety is at its most fragile, there’s no need to fill everyone in and add additional pressure to your decision not to drink. That’s how I had handled it for ten years, straight up to the point at which if I didn’t tell them, they might learn about it on a trip to their local bookstore. I had to get ahead of the story.

Then after my book came out, it took me a while to process the fact that several of my colleagues had actually read it. There were now senior partners in my firm who knew the raw details: my breast reduction; the bad sex I had in college; that special evening I fell off a bar stool moving in to kiss an unreceptive guy on a blind date. They saw it all.

But they also saw me pick myself up. They saw me ask for help and receive it. They saw me finding gratitude in little things, like learning how to put on pajamas and go to sleep at night instead of passing out, which had been my practice for years. They saw me show up, one day after the next, for my sobriety, for my job and for my life.

I have chosen to shout from the rooftops about my addiction and recovery. It’s certainly not for everyone. But over the last few years, two things have become crystal clear to me. First, the stigma surrounding these issues in the workplace must be smashed if we want people to get appropriate help. And second, our colleagues and friends may be more ready than ever—and certainly more ready than I ever expected—to offer that help and support us along the way.

Was I Ready for Sober Sex?

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON LIGHT HUSTLER

At one o’clock on a Sunday morning in 2005, I sped west toward Salt Lake City in a rented Ford Fiesta on Route I-80, escaping my friend’s wedding at a Park City yoga studio. I gripped the wheel as if it were a waterski handle. A pitch black sky surrounded me and I swore the car was on two wheels going around the tightest hairpin turns I’d ever encountered. I was 39 years old and had lived in New York City for 15 years. The closest I usually came to driving was standing in the front car of a subway train. That evening, however, called for drastic measures: I was following home the stop-in-the-street sexy French chef I met at the wedding.

It was my first “sober anniversary,” marking one year since I had used cocaine or alcohol. For the first time, I had navigated a wedding reception without so much as a sip of champagne or an ounce of regret. This next part of the evening, however, came with the highest degree of difficulty. My recovery program had strongly suggested waiting a year before entering into a new “relationship.” Sex with strangers had never been included in my definition of that term, but people in recovery thought otherwise. I had listened to their advice and kept my pants on.

When I first heard talk of a celibate year, though, I had bristled. Seriously? I was supposed to give up alcohol, drugs, and a year of sex? That was an awfully tall order. I decided at first to reserve judgment on whether to follow this particular suggestion. But to my surprise, I found in the early, most fragile days of recovery, getting naked with someone new while stone cold sober was unimaginable, downright scary. A whole host of new and tricky things called “feelings” started showing up in all facets of my life. Ten years of daily drinking had allowed me to shut them out so effectively that not even watching “The Way We Were,” my Achilles heel of movies, could make me cry. If I ever felt emotional or the least bit unhappy, a quick dry martini or three could fix that. Without the booze and cocaine, suddenly I was weeping at television commercials. These were confusing days. I had my hands full just figuring out how to avoid melting down when there was a line at the dry cleaner on Saturday morning. It was unlikely my fledgling sobriety could survive a ride on the emotional rollercoaster of a new relationship, or even a one-night stand.

But after a year spent healing and living a life that restored my self-esteem, I had reached a point where I could see sex possibly happening, albeit in an extremely dark room. Addiction had robbed me of the belief that I deserved anything clean and happy in life. It was the voice in my head that started telling me how awful I was from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning. By the end, self-loathing and desperation to shut the voice up led me to do anything necessary to continue drinking and using drugs all day while hiding it from everyone around me. I may somehow have been managing to do well at my big law firm job, but a high-functioning alcoholic and addict is still an alcoholic and addict first and foremost.

Over time, I had begun to like the person I saw in the mirror in the morning, something I never expected. I even thought I had something to offer other people, other than picking up the bar tab. I also missed having sex.

My friend Randi, the bride, must have sensed I was ready to hang up my chastity belt. At her Park City wedding, she seated me next to Pierre, a French chef. He was a six-foot plus stunner with electric blue eyes and better cheekbones than mine. I pictured him stepping out of a Moncler skiwear photo shoot, jauntily removing tinted goggles. I instantly berated myself for wearing a pink sequined Betsey Johnson dress instead of my standard pre-sobriety head-to-toe black. The dress that screamed “happy” to me in the store dressing room instead screamed “toddler beauty pageant” to me at the wedding.

Despite my questionable fashion choice, Pierre was immediately flirtatious and, in response, I was immediately petrified. How did people connect without drinking to relax? I was traumatized when he dragged me out onto the dance floor and started moving like he knew what he has doing. The jumping and fist pumping I performed at Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts could not help me in this situation. Who dances at a wedding, or anywhere else for that matter, without drinking?

After mercifully guiding me off the dance floor, Pierre attempted some conversation. Clueless, I decided to pretend I was someone charming and interesting despite not guzzling an Absolut Citron between sentences. I had learned in recovery that acting “as if” I could do something was a good way to face a new challenge. For example, I had learned to act “as if” I was someone who felt comfortable and competent in the office. When I was drinking and using drugs, I had felt like a fraud at work, just moments from being discovered and fired. After immersing myself in recovery for 12 months, I felt like I belonged at the conference room tables in my office high above Times Square.

Somehow, this approach worked in the romantic realm that night as well. Pierre turned out to be funny and thoughtful, two of my favorite traits. I acted impressed when he used a dessert spoon, a salt shaker and a votive candle to map out how much closer to the airport I would be the next day if I left from his house instead of the condo I had planned to crash at with four other women. In the true spirit of a one-night stand, we were both planning my morning departure before we left the wedding. Now this was familiar territory. My heart started to race and I fought back a sudden urge to kiss him on the spot. I remembered what it felt like to want to connect physically with an exciting new person.

But despite my enthusiasm, the idea of sober sex, whether with a serious boyfriend or a near-perfect stranger, seemed so intimate, so personal — and, therefore, so terrifying. Randi talked me through the reasons Pierre was the ideal partner for the inevitable first time. She identified three of them, specifically: 1) he was ridiculously attractive, 2) I would never have to see him again, and 3) he barely spoke English. I really could not ask for anything more. It was time to reactivate myself from the waist down.

A short time later, I was alternating between keeping my five-inch heels on and trying to drive barefoot. Neither was going well. I was sweating in a way no air conditioning could fix. As I struggled to keep Pierre’s taillights in view on the six-lane highway, a barrage of thoughts raced through my brain. What if I lost him? What if I didn’t? Why didn’t I bother to get a bikini wax before this trip? If I made it to his house and I set the alarm for 4:30 a.m., would I have enough time to shower and then likely get lost on my way to the airport for my 7:00 flight back to New York? Cell phone alarms were not a default then and I worried about whether Pierre might have two alarm clocks, so I could feel comfortably backed up. Missing my flight was not an option. Sobriety had gifted me with a fantastic new job and I needed to be there on time Monday morning.

I turned on the car radio and stabbed at the buttons. I stumbled upon the Rolling Stones’, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” one of my favorites. At the end of the song, the DJ came on. Just as I was about to switch the station he said, “Daylight savings time tonight. Don’t forget to move your clocks ahead one hour.” Wait, what? It was daylight savings time? If the DJ hadn’t said it, I never would have known. I wouldn’t have changed the alarm clock at Pierre’s house. I would have overslept and missed my flight. Thank you, DJ. Thank you. I took this happenstance as a sign from the universe, one I was meant to follow. I hit the gas.

When we finally got to Pierre’s driveway, my nervousness and sweating didn’t stop, but any ideas about changing my mind and finding a nearby motel were gone. As he carried my bags to the second floor, he said in heavily accented English, “I have three bedrooms here. If you would be more comfortable not sleeping in my room, you can use one of the others.”

“Oh, no. I’m sleeping with you, thanks,” I said way too quickly. Discussions of alternative sleeping arrangements had never been part of the deal in my pre-sobriety situations. My stomach churned with anxiety and anticipation. Did I seem too eager? Not eager enough? Was there lipstick on my teeth? Could I sneak in two more Altoids when he used the bathroom? Is this how sober people all feel when they’re with someone new?

Just when I thought my brain would never quiet down, Pierre kissed me. He pressed me up against the wall in the hallway and kissed me like he knew me. All of a sudden I was right there, in the moment. The stress and panicky thoughts slipped away. Almost instantly, I realized I didn’t even have to act “as if” I were someone who knew how to handle this situation. I could just relax and be my sober self.

Pop Sugar: 17 Heart-Wrenching Memoirs About Addiction

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON POPSUGAR.COM

It was the day after an emotional This Is Us episode: Justin Hartley's character had painfully descended into a Vicodin addiction and viewers feared the worst. He stole a prescription pad and wrote himself a fatal dose of fentanyl, the addictive and sometimes deadly opiate drug. As a fan of the show, I was heartbroken, but as a young woman with an affinity for stories like Hartley's character's, I knew there was a bigger message here and that he absolutely was not alone.

Over the last few years, I've developed a keen interest in addiction memoirs. Sure, my Facebook feed has since filled with ads about "getting help," but there's something about these stories that captivate me unlike any other genre. Memoirs are raw regardless of the topic, but when an author is writing about their addiction, they're forced to face the demons that they've masked behind a bottle of booze, or whatever the vice, and it is absolutely felt by the reader. POPSUGAR Executive Editor Nancy Einhart and I realized we're both avid readers of these stories after said This Is Us episode. We both enjoy swapping book recommendations with our moms and have compiled a list of emotional addiction memoirs that have stuck with us.

Ahead, check out 17 gut-wrenching memoirs about each author's unique experience with addiction; books we've read, books our moms have read, and books that have been recommended to us. Each with different stories to tell but all with a story that will shake you to your core. Whether you're struggling with addiction and are looking for stories to inspire sobriety, or you simply value reading about the topic, these memoirs will make you laugh, cry, and evoke emotions that only works of nonfiction can bring about.

1) Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith

Lisa Smith was the quintessential functioning alcoholic . . . until she was not. Girl Walks Out of a Bar is Smith's honest and raw perspective about her hauntingly contrasting life: by day, she's a successful corporate lawyer, and by night, dependent on copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine. Although she was able to hide her addiction at work, the round-the-clock binges couldn't hide the self-hatred and downward spiral Smith was on. It's not your typical addiction memoir, but her story is a cunning take on alcoholism in the world of corporate law. When you get to the part about her recovery, you'll find yourself cheering her on as if she were your best friend. A true success story you won't be able to put down. — Perri Konecky

2) The Night of the Gun by David Carr

Longtime New York Times writer David Carr, who died in 2015, takes a journalistic approach to his own addiction story in The Night of the Gun, piecing together what really happened during his hazily remembered years of crack addiction. His memoir doesn't shy away from upsetting details: handing the mother of his children a crack pipe as her water broke and relapsing years later when he convinced himself he could handle having one drink. This incredibly well-written and well-reported memoir is like nothing I've ever read. — Nancy Einhart

3) How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

How to Murder Your Life is essentially a Wiki guide on exactly what the title suggests. Former beauty editor Cat Marnell recounts vivid memories like elevator rides with Anna Wintour and detailed hallucinations of rats in the Condé Nast fashion closet. She had a magazine career many could only dream of, but her side hustle of doctor-shopping around Manhattan's finest psychiatrists came with a price. Marnell's dark turn from prescription medication dependency to abusing exuberant amounts of heroin, cocaine, and all the pills she could find took a toll on her life that not even the chicest under-eye concealer could hide. It's dark, it's self-destructive, and it's compelling in a way that only someone who has come to terms with their journey could write. — PK

Visit POPSUGAR.COM to see the full list!

When Saying No to a Boozy Work Event Isn’t an Option

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON WORKITHEALTH.COM

Handling an alcohol-laden work event is tricky in recovery. Lisa Smith, author of 'Girl Walks Out of a Bar,' shares her strategies for attending boozy work events in sobriety.

Before I got sober, I liked to think that I was the life of the party. At a work conference, retreat, or even just a meeting with a cocktail reception to follow, I would watch the clock and count the minutes until the bar opened. The closer it got to cocktail hour, the more impatient I was for the time to tick by.

Once I finally had a glass of vodka or wine in my hand, I felt both relieved and emboldened. I believed that when I heckled my colleagues into drinking more and faster, they liked it. They must have found my stories funny, even when I recounted them in a slurred and too-loud voice, right?

It wasn’t until I sobered up that I realized, while some people might have thought I was fun to be around, many others likely found me somewhere on the scale between annoying and completely inappropriate. It certainly wasn’t the look I had been going for.

I have a lot of gratitude around the fact that I don’t have to live like that anymore. But, of course, everyone else doesn’t stop drinking when we get sober. Navigating the brand new waters of nonalcoholic options at work parties and dinners felt like learning a new language.

Here are a few things I do to help me handle work festivities sober.

1. Arrive With Your Head In A Good Place

Over time, being around a crowd of people drinking at a party gets easier, but even once you’re used to it, it’s smart to take care of yourself before the cocktails start flowing. If you can greet the situation with as much peace as possible in your head, you’re halfway there. For me, this means making sure to get to a meeting the day of the dinner or party, talking to more sober friends, and trying to keep my prayer and meditation routine on track. The best defense can be a good offense.

Another good way to prepare is to think about HALT: if it can at all be avoided (and of course plenty of times it can’t), don’t go to the event feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

This can be easier said than done. For me, hunger is the worst. If I’m hungry, I’m a beast. Maybe I go overboard on this, but if I’m going to a dinner I know is going to be long and full of people pouring booze, I eat beforehand. I’d rather not say, “no, thank you,” in the voice of Darth Vader when the wine is being poured for the third time and I haven’t had anything to eat yet. I also keep snacks in my bag at all times. Not only do I have something to munch on at the ready, but also I have comfort in the fact that if the pangs start, I’m covered. It helps me avoid becoming obsessed with when we’re going to be served. The fewer obsessions, the better.

2. Remember You’re Not Alone

Despite the fact that I would have argued vehemently to the contrary before sobering up, there’s a strong chance you will not be the only person skipping the booze at a work party. For example, someone might be on medication. In early sobriety I told the people I used to drink with – the only ones who asked – that taking medication was the reason I wasn’t drinking. It had the benefit of being true; I have been on antidepressants since I entered detox in 2004. They are not supposed to mixed with alcohol.

Someone might be training for race or on a specific diet or doing something like Dry January or maybe it’s a Tuesday night and they just don’t want to drink tonight. Much to my surprise, there are in fact people who don’t equate work events with being compelled to drink. Especially at a large function, even if you don’t see them, just remembering you’re not the only one can be comforting.

3. Have An Exit Strategy

Here’s a fun fact I learned in sobriety: some people actually show up late to cocktail parties and leave early. I had no idea. But in all seriousness, having a good idea of when and how you would like the night to end can help. My mental plan might be something like, “Cocktails start at 6:00, and so I’ll show up at 6:30. I’m going to be back in my hotel room (or on my way home) at 8:00. Then I’m going to relax, watch ‘Law & Order’ reruns and get a good night’s sleep.” For me, standing in the middle of a group of people who are drinking is less unpleasant when I can hear the theme song to “Law & Order” in my head.

When it’s time to hit the road, a simple, “I need to get going,” is all anyone needs to hear. No apologies for leaving at an appropriate, yet still early time. The words, “Good night,” are a complete sentence.

Of course, even the best-laid plans can easily be derailed. But having a blueprint for the evening can make it less stressful. And as one of my favorite sayings goes, you will never wake up in the morning regretting the fact that you did not drink the night before.

Hi, Sobriety: Our Changing Relationship with Alcohol

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THESYNDNEYMORNINGHERALD.COM

“Grey-area drinkers” aren’t falling-over drunks, but nor is their relationship with booze healthy. In recent times, many have been giving up or cutting back – being sober is the new black.

By Brook Turner

Kristen Allan vividly remembers the moment she decided to quit drinking for good. It was April 2017. Her brother and his family were visiting from Queensland and they had gone to dinner at a friend's house. "I was surrounded by kids and family and somehow it came up that I was freshly out of a relationship," Allan recalls.

Children. Family. Relationships. They were old conundrums for Allan, now 45, conundrums that had always seemed to crave a drink. Small and slight, she looks every inch the ballet dancer she once was as she sits in a Sydney cafe nursing a hot chocolate, albeit with a sneakers-and-no-make-up chic all her own. In her mid-teens, she attended the specialist high school at the Victorian College of the Arts. Living away from her family in Queensland, she learnt to play as hard as she trained. "Usually with ballet you'd smoke and drink coffee. We just threw alcohol in as well, because we were those hard ballet girls: no pain, no gain. I'm tiny, but I was always the girl who could keep up with my brother, who's six foot four."

After giving up ballet in her 20s, she moved to London where she worked on Savile Row and in PR. It was the 1990s, the height of Cool Britannia, its presiding spirits Kate Moss and the hard-drinking Young British Artists, led by Damien Hirst. "It was a big drinking culture," Allan says. "You'd drink at lunch time and after work your bosses would say, 'Let's go back to the pub.'" Returning to Australia, she fell into hospitality. The perfectionism that had driven her dancing career meant she excelled, managing fashionable Sydney eateries Vini and Berta in Surry Hills, but the industry also "fed that thirst", she says.

"I had always been a big drinker, and hard liquor: whiskeys, martinis, negronis. If I was going to drink, I was going to do it well. I loved scotch – that burning sensation – and I learnt a lot about wine because I was working in really good restaurants. You'd taste the wine to make sure it wasn't corked or something, but you'd also drink through service to get through service. You weren't drunk, but it was constant, and your tolerance was so high."

Something began to shift in the years leading up to that 2017 family dinner. "I started playing with giving up at end of 2015," Allan says. "I'd just finished two years of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby by myself with IVF. I spent 2015 travelling and trying to recover, and successfully pushed the grief away with booze. It got to the end of the year and it was a combination of things: I was thinking about fostering and I knew I had to be at my best emotionally to do that. I just decided I didn't want to be that single woman who was a mess and drinking a lot. I think I also began to notice that it wasn't serving me."

As her friends never tired of pointing out, Allan was not an old-style alcoholic. Nor did she ever have the classic rock-bottom, lose-everything moment. She could go for days without drinking. But she preferred to tuck away a bottle of wine at home on her own, more if she was celebrating or had company.

"Looking back with the clarity of mind I have now, I was using alcohol to keep me performing at the level required: you can go to work, you're at the top of your field, but you need alcohol to keep you small, because you don't know what's out there. You just think, 'If I stay this small person, everything will be safe.' It becomes your comfort zone."

By April last year, there had been another fork in the road. Allan had started a relationship with a man who had a son from a previous relationship.

"I really bonded with [the son]. We'd go to the footy together, and it all seemed so right that I started drinking again because I had all this anxiety about not having children and somehow I felt it was going to be okay. Then we split and everything was taken away. No one warns you about that situation when you bond with someone's child – there was huge grief."

It all came to a head at the family dinner. "Because I hadn't been drinking that much, it was like I was standing outside myself, watching as I drank and drank and drank – red wine and plenty of it. And the next day I knew exactly why I'd done it because I didn't have the family; because I felt this shame at being me.

"I knew I was through because I had a really beautiful bottle of wine some friends of mine in the Adelaide Hills had made and I decided that would be my last. But after two glasses, I just felt numb. It was the first time I'd really felt that dead feeling, and I thought, 'That's it. I'm drinking because I'm ashamed of who I am. I don't want to f…ing feel like this anymore, I don't want to feel like I'm dead.'"

Sydney cheese-maker Kristen Allan toyed with giving up drinking before an epiphany changed everything.Photo: Jennifer Soo

Allan's story is deeply personal, her honesty searing. She is emblematic of a growing wave of people – particularly those approaching or traversing middle age, not least women – who are reassessing their relationship with alcohol. While each story is individual, the themes are common: issues-management via imbibing; a growing disquiet culminating in a crystallising moment or moments, often involving children, followed by a period of what can only be called self-discovery and reinvention; often chronicled – and supported – online.

Few would fit the cliched profile of an alcoholic. Most are closer to what American nutritionist and TEDx talker Jolene Park has dubbed "grey-area drinkers", people who have come to live somewhere between "an end-stage, lose-everything drunk" and someone who, as she says, drinks "a glass of champagne at a wedding and never drinks again for weeks". A wellbeing expert and one of the first people Kristen Allan found online when she gave up, Park has said of her own pattern of drinking, where a glass of wine tended to turn into a bottle: "What people didn't know was how much I loved the 'off' switch that wine provided to my 'on' – and often-anxious – brain."

As she has also said, that sort of pattern used to be considered pretty acceptable. But we live in increasingly sober times. According to the latest large-scale study, the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), Australians continue to drink less, a change driven particularly by young people, who are drinking later and less. Overall, both the proportion of Australians drinking daily and those drinking in excess of lifetime-risk guidelines – no more than two standard drinks on any day – declined between 2013 and 2016. Half of recent drinkers moderated their drinking within this period, with concern for health being the main driver.

Significantly more teenagers abstained in 2016 than in 2013 (82 per cent compared to 72 per cent), while the average age among 14- to 24-year-olds trying alcohol for the first time increased (from 15.7 to just over 16 years of age). Of course that trend is neither uniform nor universal – young people are more likely to binge-drink, for instance. At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aged 70 or more are the most likely to drink daily.

As for what lies between: "In 2001, the peak age for long-term risky drinking (more than two drinks per day) was 18 to 24. That has now moved to 40 to 49," says Matthew James, deputy director of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which releases the NDSHS report. "There is evidence of an increase in lifetime risky drinking among people in their 40s and 50s, and the peak age for men is their 40s and for women is their 50s."

But this isn't really a story about statistical trends. It's about individuals – a wave of individuals and, increasingly, a community of individuals – who are reassessing their relationship with alcohol. They might be in their mid-30s, 40s or 50s. Alcohol has come to play an increasingly critical role in their daily lives, identity and functioning, and they're sick of it.

"Alcohol is so imbued in our culture as the thing you do when something good happens, when something bad happens, when anything happens – and when we're bored," says Dr Emma Miller, lecturer at Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health. In cutting back, or giving up, this growing cohort is challenging the ubiquity of alcohol and helping to forge a new, more nuanced drinking culture. Whether – and how – this wave registers statistically over time remains to be seen, but it certainly shows signs of growing.

Take Dry July, which launched a decade ago with 1000 people signing up after radio presenter Adam Spencer plugged the campaign on air. In the five years to 2017, about 19,000 people signed up to each annual campaign, which involves giving up drinking for the month, mostly raising money for charity in the process. This year, the number of people signing up almost doubled to more than 36,000. And some aren't going back from what has become an annual ritual, either in July, or February with Febfast or October with Ocsober.

John Stewart, the former headmaster of Tudor House in the NSW Southern Highlands and the Green School in Bali, signed up to Febfast this year along with his wife Sophie after a mildly indulgent Christmas. "Sophe lasted 'til day two, but I got through February and just found I didn't have the urge to drink," says the 51-year-old father of four, a keen surfer who already only drank on weekends. "It got to the end of March and it hit me that it was the first Easter I had been through without a drink in 35 years. I started imagining the swimming pool of alcohol I had swum across in that time.

"And the other element was my kids [aged 15 to 23]. Alcohol is just so prevalent on social media; people highlighting their dependence in a way that has become totally acceptable. I wanted to show them that it's not necessary to drink. It wasn't like I was taking it up as some great cause, I just suddenly began to notice how pervasive alcohol is."

Since he quit, Stewart says two of his closest friends have joined him on the wagon. "I just got a text from one," he says. "It said, 'Got to get myself out of the haze. Had enough.'"

Chris Raine saw his Hello Sunday Morning non-drinking blog spiral into an international online movement.Photo: Jennifer Soo

Chris Raine has been watching that wave break across the shores of Hello Sunday Morning (HSM), which he started as an online blog nine years ago to chronicle his experiment with giving up alcohol for a year. Now 31, Raine says things had gone awry in his mid-teens, after he quit playing state-level tennis, which had – rather like Allan's ballet career – given his life structure and purpose. When his friends began blogging alongside him on HSM back in 2010, a social network was born, which subsequently turned into an online movement, largely funded by local, state and national government grants.

In October 2016, HSM moved into clinical support, launching Daybreak, an online app that helps members change their drinking habits – whether giving up or moderating – through a combination of peer support and coaching from a clinical psychologist. Almost 30,000 people, mainly in Australia but with users in the US, UK and Canada, have signed up to Daybreak since. Seventy per cent are women and the peak age is just shy of 43, though with significant cohorts on either side.

"It's fascinating that a movement set up by and for young people, the demographic drinking less and late, has been increasingly inhabited by Gen X and Baby Boomers," Michael Thorn, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, says of HSM. "It's very much an individual rather than population-movement thing – to go to for help when they realise they have a bit of an issue with their drinking." So much so that the federal government recently gave Daybreak $3 million to fund a further 20,000 Australians to undertake the program over the next three years.

"When I first started, not drinking for a year was something that made me a career," Raine says. "Now it's become much more culturally acceptable." As for the typical Daybreaker, "they might be your weekend binge-drinkers who need more clinical support than the system is currently giving them, but most have complicated relationships with alcohol." There's usually a lot of pressure on them to, on the one hand, "fix" this part of their life, but on the other, to keep their drinking a secret from friends and family who've been burnt by it.

As for the strong female representation, HSM psychologist Briony Leo says the typical profile is "a mum of one or two, working part-time and with a busy life. For some members they are managing a mild to moderate mental health condition like anxiety, in combination with normal life stress such as finances, relationship and social commitments. Others might be dealing with a parent's illness, parenting issues, family dynamics or grief and loss."

Occupational therapist Karen Shaw was one of the almost 1200 people who signed up to Daybreak last December. The Melbourne mother of two daughters says she was an habitual, rather than daily, drinker. "I'd think nothing of sharing a bottle of wine with someone and a bottle would never be left unfinished," she says. "I'm a huge wine snob, I'm known for knowing my wine, it's part of my identity. More than that, it's about the way you socialise, connect people, the way you honour and commiserate."

Like Kristen Allan, Shaw's trigger to give up was at once specific and cumulative. It was December 10, 2017. Her eldest daughter had just finished her final piano exams. "It was a bit poignant, the end of an era," she says. "It was just before Christmas and I had taken a friend out for the day for her birthday. It should have been a happy occasion, but I was just so sick myself. I felt like I was going around in circles in my life, and if I'm honest, I have always had a level of depression and anxiety. I decided I was going to manage my mental health better and decided the simplest place to start was zero alcohol. I didn't know I was really going to do it and I still don't know how I did it. I just had this crystal-clear thought."

Shaw has been surprised by how fundamental the change has proved. "It has taken seven months, but finally I can feel a real sense of change. It wasn't just about alcohol. It was that alcohol was a default position and had always been in my life. More interesting than not drinking was the impact on other things like relationships. You only realise what a big drinking culture we have when you take a step back and see it with open eyes."

That women predominate HSM members is no surprise to Dr Karen Coates, a former GP specialising in health and wellness assessments for women, who also runs workshops at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast hinterland. She says for many 40-something women, drinking is more stress-management than social. "Often, the wheels fall off in their mid-40s with teenage children and all sorts of other pressures. I have had several women who start to drink too much, but they do it in the closet. They're the role model for the family, but with a bottle of vodka in their room."

Clinical psychologist Dr Sally Hunt, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle, is finalising a report on the reasons why Australian women drink. "I see women with a drinking problem as women with a coping problem," she says, pointing to the number of roles women now juggle and the trend toward having children later. "You have a cohort of women who are in the workforce, setting up patterns of how to be adult, going out for drinks and setting up a lifestyle pattern that's similar to their male colleagues prior to having children. They then resume that lifestyle after kids. And of course, women also experience the physical ills of alcohol at a lower dose than men, they suffer the health consequences sooner because they're physically smaller."

Those consequences are increasingly serious and difficult to ignore. "If you look at population trends, 10 to 15 years ago, it was young people who were the biggest drinkers," says Flinders University's Emma Miller. "Now middle-aged women aged between 45 and 65 years are the biggest drinkers among women. That's where I do most of my research, the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in those 'middle-aged' women. It is increasing and some of this – perhaps one in six cases – can be attributed to alcohol consumption."

“Alcohol is so imbued in our culture as the thing you do when something good happens, when something bad happens, when anything happens – and when we’re bored,” says Dr Emma Miller. Photo: Nic Walker

That the times are changing is increasingly apparent anywhere books, booze or counsel are sought or sold. In the 1990s, a whole generation identified with Bridget Jones as she nervously tallied the daily alcohol units that never quite matched her resolutions. This decade's equivalent is Eleanor Oliphant, the two-bottles-of-vodka-a-weekend Glaswegian heroine of the award-winning UK bestseller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The debut novel by former Glasgow civil servant Gail Honeyman, 46, recounts Oliphant's gradual emergence from her anaesthetised shell, and sparked a bidding war resulting in a six-figure advance. Actor/producer Reese Witherspoon snaffled the film rights within days of its publication last year and the book has since sold more than 1.1 million copies in 30 countries.

In fact, women-and-wine has become its own publishing category since US journalist Caroline Knapp's acclaimed 1996 memoir, Drinking: A Love Story. Twenty years after Sex and the City immortalised the cocktail as lubricant and symbol of sophisticated relationships, alcohol is the new Mr Big, the subject of a dizzying array of books about women busting up with booze, with titles including Sober is the New Black, Mind Your Drink, The Sober Diaries, The Sober Revolution, Drunk Mom, Mindful Drinking, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Glass Half Full, Girl Walks Out of a bar: A Memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

Paralleling that boom has been the proliferation of online blogs and communities, which include Club Soda, Hip Sobriety, Sober Evolution, Sexy Sobriety, This Naked Mind, Living Sober, One Year No Beer and Smart Recovery. "They have really got into the mainstream psyche," says Lucy Rocca, the British author of four books on the subject, who founded her own online community Soberistas – which now has almost 50,000 registered members, 90 per cent female – in late 2012.

"There is a glut of books on the [UK] Sunday Times bestseller list and what connects them all is a very similar story of middle-class, normal, respectable women drinking. It's like we have all fallen foul of this myth that wine is Mummy Juice, that life is like Sex and the City, all about going out for cocktails, and then we get to 40 and we realise the negatives that come with that lifestyle. People are just so relieved it's not just them."

It's a tide that Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking, watched washing across her desk working on women's magazines in the UK before deciding to write her own memoir/self-help book charting a middle course. "There were so many books on giving up and it had become huge on social media," she says. "Half my Instagram feed was about giving up and the other half were images of women with martinis. There just didn't seem to be any middle ground between being hammered all the time and being totally sober."

American writer Kristi Coulter offered perhaps the most incisive take on the subject in her 2016 essay Enjoli, which chronicled her first season of sobriety. It has since spawned a blog, Off-Dry ("I got sober. Life got big") and a well-received book of essays, Nothing Good Can Come from This.

"That summer I realise that everyone around me is tanked. But it also dawns on me that a lot of the women are super double tanked – that to be a modern, urbane woman means to be a serious drinker," Coulter writes in Enjoli. "The things women drink are signifiers for free time and self-care and conversation – you know, luxuries we can't afford. How did you not see this before? I ask myself. You were too hammered, I answer back. That summer I see, though. I see that booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we could be making other kinds of noise."

For anyone of a certain age, the "You've Come A Long Way, Baby"' slogan Philip Morris used to launch Virginia Slims cigarettes in the late 1960s comes to mind. Just how far we've since come was underlined last month, when online wine seller Lot18 tried to launch a selection of Handmaid's Tale-themed wines timed to the final episode of the show's second series. So fast and furious was the reaction online that the pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blanc – named for Offred, Offglen and Serena Joy respectively – had to be withdrawn from sale the same day. Lucy Rocca isn't the only one who wonders if alcohol is on its way to becoming the new tobacco: Catherine Gray in her 2017 book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober wrote: "In 50 years' time, our grandchildren could be saying, 'I can't believe people used to drink for fun?!'"

Ben Branson launched Seedlip, a boutique non-alcoholic liquor, in 2015 – and it’s a hit. Photo: Supplied

These days the latest thing in London is "conscious clubbing" and sober raves such as Morning Gloryville, and The Shine, a booze-free "volunteer-produced inspirational variety show" imported – why does it seems so inevitable? – from the US. Former wild boy Damien Hirst called last drinks on his drinking more than a decade ago, in his early 40s. As for his former Cool Britannia consort, at 44 Kate Moss's favourite tipple is reportedly Seedlip, "the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirit". Underlining the changing times, British multinational beer-and-spirits company Diageo – home to Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Guinness among drinks – took a 20 per cent stake in Seedlip in 2016, reportedly the first non-alcoholic drinks investment in its 257-year history. Seedlip has since become both its fastest-growing brand (albeit with a minority stake) and the bestselling liquor brand at David Jones, after it launched in Australia a year ago. "We are all trying to be good these days," the 35-year-old founder of Seedlip, Ben Branson, says during a promotional trip to Australia earlier this year. "Good is the new cool."

A former graphic designer, Branson began experimenting with herbs and distillation five years ago, around the same time he co-founded a boutique marketing company. The son of a mother whose family had farmed for generations and a father in marketing, he was initially driven by the lack of sophisticated options for non-drinkers like himself, coupled with an autodidact's fascination with medieval herbs, remedies and techniques. Then his marketing brain kicked in. "I began to research it and to understand the cultural forces at work. That alcohol volumes were in decline globally. That young people were drinking less and better. That they were more likely to brag about how long it's been since their last drink than what bar they fell out of," Branson says. "And then we had this crazy thing called social media, which was driving some hugely interesting behaviours in terms of people suddenly having this public image that needed to be curated to make their best selves appear to the world, as if everyone lived the most wonderful lives all the time."

In 2015, Branson abandoned his marketing company, got the Seedlip crest he'd just designed tattooed on his arm, and threw himself into his new venture full-time. That year he made 1000 bottles, using a still bought online and installed in the 14th-century cottage he shares with his fiancée outside London. His initial approach to the head buyer at UK department store Selfridges was unpromising. "It was, 'I'll give you 15 minutes and I hate anything that doesn't have alcohol in it,' " Branson says. The meeting lasted an hour, and the buyer not only took an exclusive distribution deal but introduced Branson to "every bar that mattered in London".

That first thousand bottles of Seedlip sold out in three weeks, the second thousand in three days and the third in 30 minutes on the Selfridges website. Three years later, Seedlip is in 16 countries and 100 Michelin-starred restaurants. "I put 99 per cent of our success down to timing," Branson says. "It was the right product at the right time; there was this pent-up demand." As for Australia, "It's our fastest-growing market," he says. "We've just put two 40-foot containers of Seedlip on boats in the past two months."

Karen Shaw signed up to the Daybreak app last December. “I’ve been laughing a lot more lately,” she says.Photo: Darrian Traynor

Of course, nothing under the sun is completely new. Before Seedlip there was Claytons, sold as "the drink you have when you're not having a drink", back when alcohol was being targeted as a factor in Australia's road toll in the 1970s. Though having sampled both, this writer would have to say we have indeed come a long way. As Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education's Michael Thorn points out, too, people have been giving up and taking up alcohol for a very long time. And there have always been communities to support them, from temperance societies to Alcoholics Anonymous.

But this does feel different. As other communities have proliferated, the number of AA meetings held in Australia each week has remained fairly stable at about 2000 for a decade now. And it may just be an age and stage thing, but everywhere I go, Gen X and Baby Boomer drinking buddies have called it quits. Some have stories of near-death experiences or career or relationship suicide. Others have come to derive the same pleasure from sobriety that they used to find in drinking. Still others have simply moderated with age.

And that is very much the ethos of moderation's new evangelists: that one's relationship with alcohol – like sexuality or, increasingly, gender – is an entirely personal choice. One of many. Ben Branson may not drink, but he certainly smokes. Hello Sunday Morning's founder Chris Raine still drinks, though rarely and far more moderately than he did as an event promoter in his early 20s. "The challenge I have is that I would be untrue to myself if I didn't drink, because I actually think it has value in my life," he says. "I think there's a cultural value to it and a ritual of it and as long as that's not globally enforced, as can happen, then all is well."

"It's a really personal thing," agrees Kristen Allan. "Alcohol and moderating don't work for me, but I don't regret any of the drinking I did. I miss it. We had a great time together, but I've come to that part of my life where I don't want to do it anymore. The voice of sobriety has become so much stronger than the thirst to drink."

Karen Shaw says she's treating her sobriety as a scientific trial. Prejudging whether she'll continue would cruel the experiment, but modelling sobriety to her daughters has been important. She's also taken up running. "I have been laughing a lot more lately," she adds. "And I don't have a chemical laugh, it's genuine."

Interestingly, each has a new sense of purpose. Through Daybreak, Raine has fallen back in love with Hello Sunday Morning, from which he had considered walking away after completing an MBA at Oxford University a few years back. "We started building all this stuff for Daybreak and we went, 'Hang on a minute, we really f…ing love this, it's what we were born to do,' " he says. Green School's John Stewart was already deep in the planning stages of a new school in Byron Bay when he stopped drinking. And since she gave up, Kristen Allan's taken the upmarket cheese-making business she had started in a small way to a whole new level.

She has told her story "in case someone reads this who has that little voice but isn't quite sure," she says. "Because there's a stigma to not drinking. People just don't get it; it isn't just about alcohol. It's all intertwined: mental health and feminism and not playing small and finding your strength and being vulnerable and imperfect." A few months ago, she hit her first anniversary of sobriety. "I was on the floor of the cheesery, sobbing," she says. "I'd been living this very small closed-in life, and not drinking forced me to look at myself and say, 'Okay, sort this out.' "

So, exactly how much better is life without a drink? "The one thing I'm entirely sure of is that I will never have a drink again," she says. "That's how much better it is!"

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.

 

 

 

Taking It on the Road: Tips for Sober Business Travelers

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON WORKITHEALTH.COM

Traveling for business?
Tips on how to stay sober from Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar.

Only a few weeks after I got sober, I had to travel for a work conference. I would be ejected from my newly established recovery cocoon in New York City and parachuted like a first time skydiver into the great unknown of San Francisco four days. I was terrified.

Until I crashed out from alcohol and cocaine, drinking was, not surprisingly, a big part of my work trips. Drinking commenced at the airport the moment I passed through security. (I had convinced myself I was a “nervous flyer” and needed multiple drinks to relax me.) Drinking continued as soon as possible after I boarded the plane. I always bought two drinks at a time because, really, who knows when row 25 would be served again? As I handed over my credit card, I would give the flight attendant a tight smile. “Nervous flyer,” I would say, lest he think of me as some kind of drunk.

“Was I really supposed to fly across the country without drinking?

And, of course, once on the ground in another city, all bets were off. Isn’t a work trip a party at heart? It was time to put that work hard/play hard ethic into practice. I would push through my hangovers at the hotel gym in the morning, drink vats of coffee to power through the workday, and count the minutes until the cocktail party or happy hour began. Unfailingly, that set off a long evening of imbibing, which quite possibly included saying regrettable things to colleagues that would make me feel sick the next day.

Huh. Now that I put it that way, it doesn’t sound like such a great party. But it was the only way I knew. Was I really supposed to fly across the country without drinking? I had to attend the happy hours and the dinners. Was I really supposed to not drink alcohol at those kinds of events?  

I needed advice. So, I asked around and got suggestions. They helped immensely. I won’t pretend the first trip was easy, but it did end up being more manageable than I expected.

Here are a few ideas to help you stay sober on the road:

1. Plan ahead and bring your tools.

Ask yourself, “What helps me at home that I can recreate there?” One helpful thing is to call the hotel and ask in advance to have all alcohol removed from the room. At home, I don’t sleep two feet away from wine and vodka – why should I do that just because I’m in a hotel? Hotels get this request all the time for any number of reasons. They’ve heard it before, they don’t ask questions, and they’re happy to do it.

If you belong to 12-step or other support groups, research where nearby meetings are and pack any literature or meditation books you use. Figure out beforehand when you might exercise, where you can get coffee in the morning, or how else to recreate any part of your sober routine that’s important to you.

 

2. Leave yourself extra time.

Travel is stressful enough without feeling as if you might miss your flight or train. Pre-sobriety, I would leave for the airport early so I could start drinking. In sobriety, I learned to leave for the airport early so there was no need to panic if I hit traffic or a seemingly endless line at security.

 

3. Stay connected.

Your phone is your friend. Before you go, load it up with the numbers of people to whom you can reach out if the going gets tricky. Also load up on apps and online resources. It’s nice to know they’re at your fingertips. If you're a member of Workit Health, let your coach know about your trip so they can help you prepare.

 

4. Navigate the social events.

Almost invariably, business trips involve cocktail parties, dinners, or other events that include alcohol. It’s likely you’ll need to attend at least some of them. I have learned never to go to these events hungry, even the dinners, because if I’m hungry, I’m irritable and uncomfortable. I don’t stuff myself in advance, but I do my best to get on solid footing. If possible, I arrive late and leave early, something that, if alcohol were being served, would have been unimaginable before I got sober.

“Like so many other things in recovery, after your first sober work trip, the next ones aren’t as daunting.

Also, one of the most surprising things I’ve learned on work trips is that not all of my colleagues drink. And it’s not because they’re all in recovery. Back when I was leading the party charge, I managed to not notice the people who were sipping club soda or skipping after dinner drinks at the bar because they wanted to get up early for the gym, or because alcohol doesn’t agree with them, or because they prefer Diet Coke. Who knew such people existed? Now I take comfort in not being the only one passing on the wine. In fact, I realize that many people who push others to drink are trying to feel better themselves about their own drinking. I’m grateful not to play that role anymore.

 

Like so many other things in recovery, after your first sober work trip, the next ones aren’t as daunting. You may not look forward to them, but you can come home proud, with no hangovers and no regrets. And that never gets old.

Back to Work: Tips for Office Life in Early Recovery

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON WORKITHEALTH.COM

How can you stay sober during the transition back to work?
Tips from Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar.

Sitting on my flimsy cot at the psychiatric hospital on the fifth and final day of my detox from alcohol and cocaine, I looked at the doctor in the chair at the foot of my bed and shook my head. “No,” I said. I sounded like a two-year old refusing to eat my peas, but I was actually a 38-year old lawyer refusing to take my doctor’s strong recommendation that I head straight to an inpatient rehab for at least 28 days. I would only agree to attend intensive outpatient treatment at night.

Forgoing inpatient rehab, my doctor stressed, put me at needless risk while my recovery was at its most fragile. I’ve always been a rule follower, so why did I ignore this directive? One reason: I feared the stigma of addiction in the workplace, which for me was a law firm.

As far as my colleagues knew, I had been out that week to deal with a “stomach issue.” If I were to stay out for longer than five days I would need to produce a doctor’s note and possibly consider a leave of absence. I wasn’t willing to do that.

When I left the office the previous Friday afternoon, my co-workers viewed me as a smart, hard-working, reliable member of the team. Sure, many of them had seen me drink a lot – some of them had sat on the barstool next to mine. But somehow I had kept my spiraling addiction under wraps. If I went away for a month, I was afraid the reason for my absence would spill out and I would be viewed as weak, defective, and even untrustworthy upon my return. I was determined to keep my personal reality out of my professional life.  

But how to do that? (It’s worth noting, 14 years later, I would strongly suggest to someone sitting on a hospital cot that they decide differently than I did and go to inpatient treatment.) Based on my experience, whether your colleagues know about your recovery or not, I have a few suggestions for re-entry into the workplace.

 

1. First Things First.

When I got sober, I was told anything I put in front of my recovery I would lose. That’s still true today. The most important thing I do on a daily basis is not pick up a drink or a drug. There are plenty of times I feel just “too busy” at work to break for a recovery meeting or other action essential to my mental health. A big project is due, so I feel the need to work late and skip my meeting. A colleague invites me to breakfast and I feel like I should accept, even though it means I won’t get to the gym, when regular exercise helps keep my depression at bay.

To counter these thoughts, I remember that just about every time I’ve heard a story of relapse, it had included the fact that the person’s recovery had taken a back seat. Of course, there may be people who can stay sober without prioritizing it above all else. I’m confident I’m not one of those people and I’m not interested in any experiments to confirm that fact.

 

2. Your Recovery is Your Business, No One Else’s.

Getting and staying sober is an incredibly personal decision. No one is “entitled” to know your story. I had no intention of relapsing, but what if I did? I was afraid sharing the fact of my addiction early on with my colleagues would add pressure, so I kept quiet.

Everyone’s story is different, though. For many, what brought us to recovery involved a situation in the workplace. I would still make the same suggestion. What you decide to share and with whom you decide you to share it (beyond those who unavoidably know) is entirely your decision.

 

3. “No,” Is a Complete Sentence.

Upon my return, I had no idea what to say to my work friends whom I liked, trusted, and often joined for drinks. So, I chalked up my new seltzer-and-cranberry-juice habit to “being on medication.” People nodded understandingly and no one questioned me further. In fact, I was taking antidepressants and instructed not to drink, so the truth did the trick.

When other people at cocktail parties or work dinners asked me, “Aren’t you drinking tonight?” I learned to answer, “No.” If they looked at me as if I had just spat in their Chardonnay, I would follow up with, “I’m just not drinking tonight.” I was pleasantly surprised at how often the conversation ended there. It turns out most people aren’t the way I was before I got sober, heckling and pressuring other people into drinking. I learned that others care a whole lot less about the beverage in my hand than I had ever imagined.

After detox, I realized I needed to chase sobriety every bit as much as I had chased drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t something I could do alone, but it also wasn’t something that had to involve people from the office.

In fact, the connections I made with my work colleagues, as a present, fully engaged team member grew stronger. So what if I missed some work lunches, skipped some cocktail parties, and ducked out earlier than usual for recovery meetings? There has never been a day those choices haven’t been worth it.