From Dedicated Student to Black-Out Binge Drinker
In college, I was an eager student. I had always prided myself on my ability to be present in the classroom, for my love of learning, and for my dedication to my grades. I was the classic over-achiever. At eighteen, I was spending the weekend nights doing one of two things 1) studying or 2) reading and writing poetry.
How then, at twenty-one years old, was I driving drunk almost every weekend and putting myself in the riskiest of situations?
My freshman year of college I moved in to the dorms with one of my best friends from high school. She was my rock. I knew I was going to a college that was labeled as a party school, but I also knew I was about to attend one of the best broadcasting schools in the country. Plus, I didn’t want to move out of state. I couldn’t imagine not being close to my family.
I soon learned that my desire to stay focused on my education was not in alignment with about 70% of my classmates. What did they want to do? They wanted to party. At eighteen, I decided to join them one night. A friend of a friend got us into a bar and we decided to drink apple martinis all night. I don’t remember that night being fun as all I recall is my hangover. I was sick all night and because I was sick, I almost didn’t make it to my favorite English class. After that nasty hangover, I decided not to drink. It didn’t bring me joy. The feeling of missing out on what I loved the most never left me. I loved to learn.
For over 3 years, I rarely drank. However, at twenty-one, my life as a non-drinker turned into a life as a risky drinker. I turned 21 in Nice, France. I was with a couple of my girlfriends and we had decided to go on a back-packing trip through Europe. For the majority of the trip, I didn’t go out at night and drink with them. Because of this: they labeled me Grandma. I was the grandma of the trip because I would go to bed early and I would stay in when they went out. I wasn’t accustomed to a life of drinking.
The night of my birthday, I decided that I better live it up. I was turning twenty-one. I started the night drinking red wine and the taste was so awful to me I had to mix it with Coca-Cola. As I progressively got more intoxicated, I started taking shots. I remember that night because I truly did have the best time. I was with my best friends and we had met some fellow travelers who made us laugh all night.
When I returned home from Europe, I had one semester left of school. This semester was entirely different than all my other semesters. I wanted to drink. I wanted to make new friends. I wanted to party. Drinking was normal at my age. Binge drinking was a thing that the majority of people at my school did. We were in college! I soon learned that when I drank, I didn’t stop. I would drink until I passed out. My friends often had to bring me home in Taxi’s because they were so worried about me. I also started driving drunk. I became the problem friend. No one wanted to look over me.
I knew many women like me. Once they started drinking, they didn’t stop. I didn’t realize I had a problem because I didn’t drink every day. I drank three nights of the week. I was enjoying my youth. I was still achieving the same results in school. I just thought I was having fun.
As I look back on this time of my life, I realize I was a problem drinker. I thought that you only had a problem with alcohol if you were an alcoholic. I knew I was not an alcoholic. Also, I didn’t think you had to worry about your drinking unless you were drinking every day. Many people believe that you don’t quit drinking until you hit a rock bottom. However, alcohol use has now been put on a spectrum. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to quit drinking. If you see that drinking has become a problem for you, you can quit.
The DSM-5 has labeled what we once knew as alcoholism to alcohol-use disorder. Addiction is a spectrum disorder and has qualifiers that range from mild to moderate to severe. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism created the following questions to assess whether you or a loved one may have an alcohol-use disorder.
In the past year, have you?
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
Today, we know that early-intervention in problematic drinking is key to allowing someone to gain control over their life. If I had known that my alcohol use at twenty one would have been labeled as mild to moderate, perhaps I would have stopped drinking much earlier. My drinking only got worse and because of this, I became addicted to numbing out. I found relief in other substances and became a severely-addicted person for over five years of my life.
Lara Frazier is a truth-teller, a sobriety warrior and a writer. She is a FIERCE believer in the power of owning our stories and is a strong advocate for addiction recovery. Lara shares a story of healing: in sobriety, through addiction, in life and love, and in all the other big huge moments of fear and magic that we rarely talk about, but we should. Find more of Lara’s work on her website at www.larafrazier.com or follow her on Instagram @sillylara.