Problematic Drinking Is The New Drinking Problem


We have these myths about what a drinking problem looks like—the person who has bottles hidden everywhere, the guy slurring his speech at a business lunch, the woman who drank so much she lost her kids and her job—and they make alcoholism into a monstrous Disney villain that we must defeat and eradicate whenever we see it. “____ has a drinking problem,” is something we say both seriously and as a joke: the horror of it all makes it comical in that sarcastic, macabre way. No matter if we’re laughing at it or gawking at it or shaking our heads at how awful it is, we’re always pushing it back into the shadows of addiction. Problems. Mental illness. The darkness we don’t want to deal with. The problem that only has one solution: stop.

We don’t see multiple sides to the problem of drinking, we see it as one very specific problem that plagues a specific group of people. Everyone else is fine.

I don’t have a drinking problem, but my drinking has always been problematic as hell.

Drinking to get drunk is the only kind of drinking we—at least a lot of young people—learn how to do. You’re supposed to just unlearn it at some point, to start being cool with happy hours, a cocktail here, a beer there. But what do you call it when you really like it and hate yourself a little for it, a little more every time you screw up?

What do you call the kind of drinking that isn’t a drinking problem?

When I was 19, I used to take a bunch of shots before I went out in the cold–vodka jackets on, ladies! I used to carry a plastic handle of vodka around in my purse and I thought that was funny, in a dark way. I felt self-aware. I wasn’t that girl. I took care of those girls. I could hold my liquor. I could keg stand. I could get drugged at a frat party and make it home safe and I could tell people I got drugged and they could choose not to believe me because look at her—”you black out for fun, why would anyone need to drug you anyway?”

I could curse you out, I could eat three slices of pizza before I went to sleep and wake up looking good and go to work and I could get off work and go out and meet up with you later and make out with you if I’d had three beers, six beers, two shots, one LIT—I could do whatever the hell I wanted to my body and my body would accept it and bounce back.

I could vomit in the morning, I could do it again the next weekend, I could puke and rally, I could do it the next night, I could always meet you for a drink! “We could always get drinks?”

I wasn’t drinking on the week days, I was fine. I saw people drinking in class, for christ’s sake. I was fine. I saw people embarrass themselves at social networking events. I saw people.

I was fine.

I was always telling myself I could drink less, and I would drink less, and then I would be fine.

I kept telling myself I was fine and I was, but I blacked out at least once a month until I turned 22. That’s a good three years of blacking out regularly, sending apology texts, wondering if I’d said anything stupid, spending the weekdays hydrating and eating salads and stressing about papers to finally get to thirsty thursday at a bar or a frat or a chill living room spot, whatever. I was having fun and I could recover fast, you know? I was losing my wallet, my keys, my cell phone, some memories—but I always got them back.

Someone would tell me what I said or did and we’d laugh or say “it happens.” People get wasted. Drinking socially is more acceptable than not drinking socially, or at least that’s how it feels to me when I’m around alcohol—is that my rationale? Am I scared of what would happen if I drank less?

I guess I’ve been wanting to drink less since age 16, but I’ve never had a “drinking problem.”

But I wasn’t fine, and I don’t think that should be an alarming or outlandish statement to make.

It doesn’t sound fine when I lay it all out there. I can’t even remember all of it, right? I was having fun and the consequences were never huge. But I did so many things that were neither good nor bad: they were just useless.

My drinking wasn’t a drinking problem in the dark scary way that we all see Drinking Problems. No one had an intervention with me. No one told me to stop. We were all drinking together.

My drinking is a drinking problem because no one sees it as one—I guess I can only call my drinking problematic, because the way we see it is problematic. We see it as being in our 20’s, as “overdoing it,” as “at least you’re not that girl.”

I hurt my body, I did things I might not have done sober. I woke up crying, I spent a lot of Sundays anxious and waiting for everything to go away so that I could sleep and start over, wake up brand new and ready to finally start being healthy, to start drinking less, to grow up.

All of that sounds problematic to me. I have no jokes for it, not here anyway. It doesn’t sound funny. It sounds serious. I think it’s a problem that it never seemed to sound that way before.