Category Archives: Binge drinking

How to be invisible.

Image courtesy of Heavypong at

Image courtesy of Heavypong at

A few years ago, the bar owners around the campus of the University of Illinois realized they were missing out on some major revenue because St Patrick’s day fell during Spring Break. Which meant there were no students around and no therefore no partying. Not wishing to miss out on such a lucrative opportunity they created ‘Unofficial.’ Which is ‘unofficial St Patrick’s Day’ to take place the week before. ‘Unofficial’ has since become a huge event with students traveling from other colleges to take part in the, um, ‘celebrations.’

When I lived in Champaign, my husband and I walked around the college bar area checking out what it was like. There is something incredible about being over 25 and being on a college bar scene. It renders you completely invisible.

Drinking is part of the college scene and after finals, a lot of kids need and deserve to cut loose. Partying is fun. I did it.
But then someone dies and the reality of binge drinking at college comes crashing home. Twenty-three year-old Jonathan Morales fell from a balcony to his death during this years ‘Unofficial.’ It is the third student death related to the ‘Unofficial’ event. Morales is just one of an estimated 1825 college students to die of alcohol related causes this year.

What do we do? Ban drinking? Ban ‘Unofficial’? It wouldn’t stop it, it would just drive it under ground. Kids would still die, injuries and sexual abuse would probably go un-reported.
But we have to do something, right? Kids can’t go to college and keep dying this way.
1825 young people is far too high a number for us to feel comfortable with.

My friend Joe Schrank has a rather controversial suggestion and I have to say I think it’s worth considering. Prohibition isn’t the answer, instead, we have to accept that young people want to party we just want to lower the risk of them doing so. Schrank’s suggestion is to ban the sale of hard liquor on college campuses and only sell beer. Of course you can still get very drunk on beer, it’s just really hard to drink lots of it very quickly in the way you can with hard liquor. Second, he suggests the legalization of marijuana, as marijuana is very hard, if not impossible to overdose on.
Of course marijuana comes with risks, there are many mental health problems associated with using it. I don’t want my kids to use it. I don’t want my kids to use anything. But is that realistic? I hope they are going to college and I want them to have fun and I can also remember what it’s like to be young adult with all that freedom and no responsibility. Most of all I want them to be safe. I would at least like a discussion on what we could do to make kids safer when they party at college.

I know there is no perfect solution here. If marijuana is legalized then it is essential that the taxes from it are plowed into drug prevention and treatment. No substance is without risk.
Right now, I’m not seeing a lot of outrage to these events or to the amount of kids who die each year. I believe they are preventable. But right now these deaths are invisible.

Benefits of being alcohol free

Vector Alcohol Free stamp
Taking the step to be alcohol-free is a difficult process for many. Millions of dollars are spent each year in the U.S. just to reduce our dependence on it. However, there are so many positive life experiences that come from putting the bottle down for the last time. It may be hard to see this when a significant portion of events in your life are based around a social scene that partakes of alcohol, but it’s important to recognize that the good things that you experience are not due to alcohol, and can continue to be there when you stop drinking. Here are some of the benefits of being alcohol-free…

More energy every day

Nothing quite puts a damper on your day like waking up with a hangover. Hangovers have a knack of taking over your entire morning, and then making the entire day seem like it blew by without any productivity. For most people, these days happen on the weekend, when they have the luxury of not working the next day. Think about what this means, though: the only days that you don’t work are wasted away feeling the awful ramifications of the night before? This is no way to go through life (for more information about hangovers, check out this blog series). Giving up the alcohol means that you will have more energy every day, and will be able to finally start to use your time to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do, but always seem to slip away.

Friendships on firmer foundations

One of the biggest obstacles to giving up alcohol, many people find, is that so much of a person’s social circle can depend on a scene that frequently partakes in alcohol. Because of this, there is a false assumption that giving up alcohol will mean giving up their friends. However, this is certainly not true! Your friends are more than the nights out drinking. Setting aside alcohol, even for a while, means that you will get to explore more of the things that you are both passionate about together.

Things like hiking, book clubs, movie nights, competitive unicycling, and musical theater are all things that you might like to do with your friends, and you’ll find that you’ll get to explore them a lot more if your friendship is not based on alcohol. At events, you can also find fun beverages to enjoy that don’t require alcohol. Check out this nifty list of fun beverages you and your friends can make for a holiday dinner. On the chance that your friends stop wanting to be around you when you stop drinking, then it’s time to realize that they are not very good friends to have, anyways.

Lose the liquid calories

Alcoholic beverages may be tasty, they may help you relax, and they may have fun and exciting names. However, the one thing that they certainly are not is healthy. Even a light beer is usually going to cost you over 100 calories! After a few of those, you’ve practically had a meal. Alcohol can be a major obstacle for people who are trying to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. For many people who drink, regularly, they will be cutting down thousands of calories a week by simply cutting alcohol out of their diet. On top of that, most people do not make wise eating decisions when they are drunk. An entire pizza to yourself at 2 A.M. almost never sounds like a good idea. However, if you are drunk, then it seems to makes perfect sense! Having less of these instances in your life will make it easier to live a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Better sleep habits

Alcohol is a particularly unique substance in the sense that it is both a stimulant and a depressant; an upper and a downer. During a night out, however, the stimulant side of alcohol is in full effect. Alcohol can keep an individual partying through the night, and even well-past sunrise. When a person at this level of drunkenness gets home, it is likely they are going to sleep well past the roosters crowing, and still wake up with that hangover we talked about, earlier. Getting up at 3 P.M. means that you are probably going to stay up past a reasonable bedtime on the following evening, as well, and so the cycle continues. Putting your alcohol use to rest will help you create a healthier sleep schedule, and lead to a better lifestyle, in general

Tools out there for at risk kids – guest post

By: Alek Sabin
Tools out There for at Risk Kids pic 3
Growing up is a hard thing to do. The series of experiences that carry us from the innocence of our early youth to being full-fledged adults ready to take on the world is a beautiful journey, but not necessarily a pretty one. However, there are some kids out there who have an even harder time, due to the background that they come from, whether it be a socioeconomic issue, or just a problem with their home life. Nowadays, these kids are labeled as “At-risk” or street kids, and have often seen or experienced things that nobody their age should ever have to. Being forced to grow up a little quicker, in such a short amount of time, often makes them difficult to handle for adults who are used to thinking of youth in only a certain way. However, there is absolutely no excuse that our society should have for letting any young people slip through the cracks, while we should be lifting them up to help them succeed. In honor of that pursuit, here are some tools out there for at-risk kids…

Government agencies

The first line of defense that is out there fighting for at-risk kids is government agencies that are designed to help kids from poor economic backgrounds. Although it is difficult for a government agency to be set up to actually deal with the issues directly, there are dozens of different funding agencies that are meant to provide financial support to programs in geographic areas that can deal with the problem at the heart of the issue. These funding agencies are spread throughout the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, among many, many others. However, this is only one small part of the puzzle for helping at-risk kids, and isn’t much good on its own.

Court classes (link)

Many different at-risk kids are far more likely to end up in trouble with the law, whether through drug abuse, vandalism, or other general petty crimes. However, the issue that we are currently seeing is that our justice system is putting them into a pipeline where they will continue with these behavioral trends for the rest of their lives. This is a problem. Our criminal rehabilitation facilities are simply creating an environment that breeds more crime and makes it harder for people to escape from this lifestyle. However, there is already a much better option that is being utilized in many different cities: court classes. Court classes are specialized classes that are meant to educate youth and adults on the dangers of certain actions, such as domestic violence, underage drinking, and general addiction. For more information about court classes, check out this link here.

Early education

Sometimes the best way to help at-risk kids is to prevent them from ever actually being classified as at-risk. Studies have shown that one of the best ways to do this is to put kids in early education programs. The problem right now is that kids from lower-income backgrounds aren’t necessarily getting the early education that they will need to help them thrive in educational environments later on. However, there are many programs that are designed to help lower-income families provide pre-K education to the kids who need it most. By getting into education, earlier, kids develop skills and mindsets that will help them succeed, later on.

Specialized education

Early education is great and all, but it doesn’t actually provide anything for the kids who are already past that point and actually in need of the most help. However, for most at-risk teenagers, what has been found to be incredibly effective at helping them see purpose in their lives is specialized education. Usually, this is accomplished through charter schools that focus on specific types of education that aren’t found at standard public high schools. These focuses could range from advanced robotics engineering to performing arts, but they are usually geared around topics that are invigorating and challenging for these kids who need to find something that works as an outlet for their own intelligence and creativity.

The SHAIR Podcast- my story

I was delighted to be a guest on Omar Pinto’s The SHAIR Podcast recently. If you haven’t checked out a sober podcast yet then you must. The SHAIR website has over 50 different downloads available for you to listen to. Stories from addicts and alcoholics that are moving, funny, bold, brave and inspiring.

Omar is a terrific host and I loved talking to him about my story; how I got sober and what my life is like now. I lay everything out, I discuss my panic attacks, suicide attempt, my loneliness and isolation and how I got in recovery. I didn’t hold back (and there is some swearing!) I also talk about the emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery and how vital they are to sustainable recovery.
You can download and listen to the podcast here.

Can we change college binge drinking?

It can be tough sending your kid off to college. They’re finally leaving the nest eager to spread their wings and become adults, whilst getting an education that will hopefully lead to a successful career. Of course you want them to fulfill their potential and make their mark in the world, but as a parent you naturally worry. Are they managing their money; are they studying; making friends; did they remember to eat? Even when your child is officially an adult you still worry about them being safe, wanting them to have a full college experience, but nothing that could endanger them, right?
College is the bridge from adolescent to adulthood. A rich enlightening college experience can shape you for the rest of your life.

Image courtesy of t0zz at

Image courtesy of t0zz at

It can also kill you.

Because, besides learning, we all know that a big part of the college experience (unofficially) is being able to party unsupervised. In fact, some colleges are known primarily just for their partying. And as parents we just roll our eyes and say ‘kids, what are you gonna do?’ Because abusive drinking is now so ingrained in our culture, we really feel there is nothing we can do and it’s just a harmless part of growing up.

Is that right?

Because each year over 1800 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol related causes or injuries.

Are you shocked?
That is a staggering figure. My jaw hit the floor when I first read it. 1800 kids die each year because of alcohol abuse? Did you know that? More importantly, are you ok with it?
How about this for some more scary figures:
696,000 college students per year are assaulted by another intoxicated student
97,000 college students per year are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or rape.

People, we have a crisis on our hands and nobody is paying attention. My eldest son is 14 years away from being a college freshman and these figures are not ok with me. They are horrifying.
I feel a tremendous need to do something.
I would like to begin a conversation with other parents on how we can address this and make college campuses a safer experience for everyone (by the way non-college peer groups have significantly lower rates of abusive drinking and drunk driving).

Although I think alcohol has a place in our culture and we know prohibition doesn’t work. I do believe our attitude and complacency towards abusive drinking needs to change. And it needs to change now.
I don’t believe in prohibition, as I really don’t think it’s the answer. I believe the solution lies in balance, honesty and changing people’s attitudes towards alcohol. Moderate drinking needs to be the norm and if you choose to be alcohol free you should not be treated like a freak.
We have done this before with smoking, eating habits, seatbelt wearing and all manner of behaviors that we eventually found to be unacceptable.
We can do it with alcohol.

I will be exploring this subject further in the coming months and am interested in hearing from anyone who is interested in this subject. Let’s work together to change it.

How can we help Luke Gatti?

If you surf the Internet you may have come across an incident last week where an intoxicated young man was filmed abusing canteen staff whilst he demanded mac ‘n cheese. Of course someone filmed him at his ‘finest’ moment stuck it on YouTube and he went viral for all the wrong reasons. He was pictured the next day packing up his stuff in his dad’s car before being whisked away from the University of Connecticut in a cloud of shame and disgrace.
My colleague Joe Schrank and I have been following this story closely as we think there is more to it then meets the eye. Joe Schrank is one countries top recovery advocates. A qualified social worker he regularly appears on TV to give his professional input on many matters relating to addiction and substance abuse. Schrank was pretty upset by the way Luke Gatti was treated by UConn, he feels the university has failed Luke and he should be offered support instead of being shamed and mocked in this way.
He wrote the following:

“What is to be learned by the incident with Luke Gatti? He is the young man who made some unfortunate choices which ended up producing a viral video maelstrom. Clearly America has much to learn about alcohol abuse. Luke has been called “entitled brat” and “bad egg who ruined the reputation of UCONN “. Late night talk show hosts all had a field day. As a social worker and person in long term recovery, I have a much different take on this. I see a young man who likely meets criteria for some alcohol use disorder which is never helped by shame and public flogging. Certainly Luke acted poorly but like Pope Francis “who am I to judge”? Part of educating young people is to show them the error of their ways and help them do better next time. Luke is at a vulnerable stage of development, away from home, not fully formed cognition for risk assessment and in an undergrad system absolutely awash in alcohol. What does UCONN expect? What do any of us expect?
It’s time we as a culture look at this differently, especially on university campuses. There is a moral imperative to not dismiss these kids as “brats”. Luke may, in fact, have behavioral issues but that’s now reason to cast him aside and shame him. Additionally, a common misconception about treatment and recovery is that it offers an excuse. Quite the contrary, part of Luke’s treatment plan would be to repair the damage he caused without excuses. We have an opportunity not only to directly help this young man but to send a message to universities. 1800 kids a year die on university campuses as a direct result of alcohol. Is it possible the problem is more complex that brattery? I have no idea if this will reach Luke or his parents but I hope it does and I hope they know I can help and I will, pro bono”.

It turns out Luke lives just a few miles from me and Joe and I have been trying to put out some ‘feelers’ to contact Luke and his family. If you know them and could forward this post on to them Luke or his family can contact me directly through my blog and I will put them in contact with Joe Schrank.

Joe Schrank at TEDx Brooklyn

College binge drinking

It seems like college binge drinking is getting more and more attention these days. According to Inside Higher Ed, at least 8 freshman deaths on college campuses in the U.S. have been linked to binge drinking. Old Dominion’s Sigma Nu made headlines this week with their unique take on welcoming female freshman. Have we got to the point that our teenagers are going to college just to party? What about the learning bit?

Image courtesy of photostock /

Image courtesy of photostock /

There is a deeply ingrained belief in our culture that drinking, and in particular drinking to excess, equals fun. And college is all about having fun, right?
I was one of those kids. To me the whole point of being grown up was about being able to party and get drunk. I couldn’t wait to be able to do that without someone looking over my shoulder. I firmly believed that drinking equaled not just fun, but the best time it was possible to have.

Any situation, which enabled that was where I wanted to be and was therefore the point of college.

Unfortunately I was deluding myself, the fun always had a price and usually a pretty heavy one, but the biggest shock was how much this belief robbed me of other experiences. You see, I was actually lying to myself. I thought I drank to unwind, relax, connect with people, and to have fun, but the truth was I hadn’t developed those skills and instead used alcohol to fake them.

It seems like I’m not the only one.

Believe me, as a reformed drinker I’m not trying to preach about the evils of alcohol and usher in a new temperance movement. What I am advocating is a little more honesty and discussion around the reasons we drink so much, so often.
I’m not buying the fun part that we are constantly being sold on.

We send our kids to college so they can learn valuable skills to earn themselves high paying jobs and therefore live successful happy lives. But it seems to me we are forgetting the more necessary skills of emotional intelligence, connection, and meaningful relationships that are really the basis for happy and fulfilled lives.
I believe the binge drinking culture on campuses is denying kids the ability to learn these essential life skills.

We need a little more balance here, folks. The conversation we need to be having is not necessarily about abstinence and it’s definitely not about prohibition, it’s about balance and honesty. There is just something wrong with our culture when every social situation seems to involve alcohol and the promotion of heavy drinking as a way to connect and have fun.

We have some serious red flags going up about our delusional relationship with alcohol and need to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Because isn’t that what college is really all about…change and difficult questions?

How much does alcohol cost your business?

At the beginning of 2006 The Sunday Telegraph ran an article on entrepreneur Penny Streeter, who relocated her business from the UK to Cape Town when she reached the end of her tether with lazy staff who regularly threw ‘sickies’ when they were merely hung-over.
Staff regularly throwing ‘sickies’, particularly on a Monday or Friday is a common phenomenon in British industry, indeed many business encourage social drinking as a legitimate method of networking and conducting business.
Absenteeism due to alcohol misuse is costing British industry £2 billion per year. If left untreated alcohol problems become progressively worse resulting in; inefficiency, illness, accidents, recruitment costs, loss of valuable staff, loss of revenue and business.

Image courtesy of Naypong at

Image courtesy of Naypong at

British industry is failing to adequately address this problem, most people feel woefully ill-equipped to deal with a member of staff who has a suspected alcohol problem. It tends to be ignored with the hope that it will go away, this is rarely the case.
A good example of this is Charles Kennedy who had a well known alcohol problem and who wasn’t confronted on it until it was too late; I wonder what his career or indeed his party would be like now if someone had addressed this with him months or even years earlier. By not challenging someone on their excessive drinking we are colluding with them to stay in denial of the problem.
Recognizing someone has an alcohol problem at an earlier stage means valuable members of staff can get help with their problem before it has a detrimental impact on their career or the business they work in.

In moderation there is certainly no problem with using alcohol to relax or celebrate, however it can’t have escaped your notice that we have a spiralling alcohol problem in this country.

Problem drinking or alcoholism is often misdiagnosed as stress or depression;
sufferers will often visit their doctors and get prescribed anti-depressants, sleeping tablets or valium to deal with symptoms. Most people will put their problems down to ‘stress’ and hope that a prescription from the doctor will fix it. As a therapist I know there is no such thing as stress, stress is actually fear, suffers will deal with the symptoms of fear but not the root of the problem, thus medication is only ever a temporary solution usually leading to further problems.

The key to dealing successfully with an alcohol problem is to address the underlying feelings and ‘faulty thinking’ of a problem drinker, once someone has addressed this, their whole behavior will change and the desire to drink will leave them.

How to spot an alcohol problem
• Someone who regularly drinks to excess and makes excuses to justify or rationalize their (unacceptable) behavior.
And has one or more of the following:
• A diagnosis of ‘stress’
• Frequent ‘sickies’, particularly on a Monday or Friday
• Performance levels at work dropping
• Seemingly valid excuses for not delivering on commitments
• Shaky hands
• Smells of alcohol

What is an alcoholic?
• An alcoholic doesn’t necessarily drink every day or first thing in the morning.
• An alcoholic can stop drinking for periods of time
• Once an alcoholic has started drinking it’s very difficult for them to stop
• An alcoholic feels ‘uncomfortable in their own skin’
• Alcoholics feel lots of fear and shame about themselves
• Alcoholism is much more to do with how someone thinks and feels rather than how much they drink

To my Sober Women Warriors

Image courtesy of marin at

Image courtesy of marin at

I am sober because of the good women who came before me. I am alive because of the women who stuck around and gave me advice and support when I needed it. I am well, because of their generosity and selflessness.
I have been lucky to meet many sober women warriors in my 15 years of sobriety. Whenever I felt close to defeat, one of them would show me how to carry on, for one more day. If they could overcome, then I could too.

My relationships with women when drinking, were not always good. I had a couple of close female friends (angels) but I generally felt suspicious, competitive and hostile to most women. This was mostly down to my own insecurities and low self-esteem. I always felt ‘less than’ when around women my own age, I would compare myself and always find myself lacking. One of my ‘drugs of choice’ was attention from men so other women were always competition for that. I always felt hostile to anyone who was trying to steal what I felt was rightfully mine.
All of this just added to my loneliness, it kept me separate from people, as I could never form close connections. My interactions were mostly artificial.
When I got sober I had to learn to be a friend. I had to learn how to trust women. Because women were my lifelines in early recovery, they were my teachers and mentors.
One of my greatest discoveries in sobriety has been that other women are my soul sisters, and not my enemy. Today, I have an abundance of close female friends who enrich and sustain me, and without whom I could not survive.

I read somewhere once, that you can always tell how you are doing spiritually, by how you feel, when a beautiful women walks into the room.
(I love that this could equally apply to a man or a woman).
In the past I would have thought ‘bitch.’
Now, I would think ‘she’s so beautiful.’ Because when my sister’s shine bright I shine too, nothing is lost, everything is gained.
Sober women warriors are the strongest women I know. They are a force to be reckoned with, they don’t give up, their strength and courage makes them beautiful.
Sober women warriors have much work ahead of them. There are so many young girls out there who are frightened and alone. Booze has slain them, they are without a path. They are ashamed and embarrassed, their self-esteem is crushed. If this is you, then know that sober women warriors walk amongst you. You can borrow our strength till you get yours back. You need never be alone again we will love you, until you can love yourself. You need never feel ashamed or embarrassed, we will teach you how to laugh and turn your failures into assets.

You may not know it, but you are a sober women warrior too.
Welcome to the tribe.

We need to know more about Palcohol

My (slightly sarcastic) open letter to Mark Phillips who created powdered alcohol has had a really big response. It seems that a lot of you are as concerned about the potential abuse of this, soon to be unleashed product, as I am.

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at

Joe Schrank, interventionist, social worker and frequent contributor to Fox news, Huffington Post, Gawker and Salon also shares these concerns. Joe has many years working in the addiction field and is a strong advocate for the recovery community. He is also not shy of speaking out when he feels passionately about something.
Despite being sober for over 18 years he is not a supporter of prohibition and has in fact spoken out in support of Marijuana legalization, much to the delight of the pro-marijuana lobby and confusion of the entrenched recovery community. Joe and I both believe that keeping Marijuana illegal creates more problems than it solves and that taxation should be diverted directly to drug education and treatment. We are not pro-drugs, we are anti-abusive drug laws.

Because of his experience of abusive substances Joe is very concerned about Palcohol.
Palcohol’s website states some ‘facts’ about the product that really needs further elaborating on. If you read the FAQ’s on the site they seem to be claiming that there really is no threat of abuse by the product as it can’t snorted, it is not easily concealed, and will be really expensive so kids won’t want it. That in fact, there is simply no threat of powdered alcohol causing the same problems that liquid alcohol causes.
Um, right? We are scratching our heads about how these claims could be made as facts by the founder Mark Phillips, when he really has no idea how Palcohol is going to be used/abused if made legal.

Believing these questions should be at least debated so we can all begin to understand this product better. Joe Schrank is offering to debate Mark Phillips on the concerns the recovery community has over the product, whilst giving Mr. Phillips an opportunity to present his case as to why he feels Palcohol is perfectly safe. The debate would be put up on YouTube.

Joe Schrank - recovery warrior

Joe Schrank – recovery warrior

Would you like to know more about Palcohol? Do you think that we need to know a lot more about this product and that the founder needs to engage with the recovery community before he unleashes Palcohol into the world?