I was expecting to encounter addiction while doing Grace and Main’s downtown roving feasts, and I have. But I was expecting the addictions to be to crack or other illegal narcotics. While those addictions do exist, and they are ruinous to the lives of their victims, I’ve been surprised to discover that the most prevalent and destructive addiction among the extreme poor I’ve met in the downtown community is to alcohol.
I’ve met people who spend all their day drinking. As one woman told us how badly she wants to quit her hands were shaking and her voice cracking. She looked terrible and it was obvious she was battling a powerful urge to drink. It was one o’clock in the afternoon.
I’ve met people who spend almost all their disability checks on alcohol. They sell their food stamps to people who pay half price for them and use the money to buy alcohol. One man tearfully told me that he was never going to drink liquor again, having wasted $80 the night before on a prostitute (who wanted the money for crack). He woke up ashamed and broke, and had been too drunk to consumate the act anyway. I’ve seen men my age who looked 20 years older. I’ve gotten to know a man who has a heart of gold and is as fine a person as you would ever want to meet–when he is sober. When he is drunk he is violent and dangerous. I could go on and on.
I recently saw a report of a study which found that 20% of Americans binge drink (consume 8 or more drinks in 4 hours) at least once a month. That number is the highest ever.
I’m no teetotaler and no puritan. I enjoy a glass of wine before bedtime and the health benefits of moderate drinking are very well established.
But without a doubt alcohol is an extremely dangerous and destructive drug. If our little part of the world is any indication of what is happening elsewhere, it is more destructive than the drugs we throw people in prison for using.
This is a fact that I wish more folks understood.