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What a month of sobriety has taught me

According to the National Institute for Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 5,000 underage people die nationwide from alcohol abuse. Of those, 1,900 deaths can be attributed to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, 1,600 to homicide and 300 to suicide while under the influence. The remaining have been ruled accidental (drownings, falls and other accidents). In a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20 make up 11 percent of alcohol consumption in America, with 90 percent of this behavior categorized as binge drinking. NIAAA defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.”

The onset of my alcohol abuse began at 16 when I was introduced to alcohol as a social outlet. Everybody else did it, and I chose to follow the crowd and participate in an activity that would end up affecting me for the rest of high school and through my senior year of college. I faced many consequences as a result of my reckless behavior; I had my stomach pumped and was sent to the emergency room my first year of college, I broke my foot in two places this past January, and have broken and lost more cell phones than I can count on both hands. All of these negative things were happening to me, but I couldn’t put down the bottle. What started out as a fun thing to do with friends, soon turned into a dangerous and daily coping mechanism.

I used alcohol to cope with anxiety, a hard day at work or a fight with a loved one. Instead of confronting a problem, I chose to drink about it until one day I found myself dry heaving and crying on a  bathroom floor. I was tired of living a life where I would drink to forget; I wanted to live a life worth remembering. I picked myself off the bathroom floor, looked at my mascara-stained reflection and longed to get to know the person staring back at me, to heal the most important relationship I have — the one with myself. I couldn’t acknowledge my problem until I was forced to face it head on, and deal with it without the help of my favorite crutch.

The past 33 days have been hard, full of temptation around every corner in the form of breweries, brunch and a best friend’s 21st birthday. But I’ve been successful in finding new crutches to aid me through my walk in life. The first two weeks were full of anxiety, but equal to my anxiety was the support I received from friends and family. The “I’m so proud of you” and “good jobs” I received from teachers, counselors and siblings were more supportive a crutch than my urge to drink. I quickly realized that these influences are so much more than a crutch — they are a lifetime of assurance, stability and confidence that I could never find at the bottom of a bottle.

After the emotional benefits, the mental and physical benefits soon followed. I dropped 10 pounds in two weeks simply by ridding my diet of alcohol. I took up working out and picked up a book to suspend my reality when I felt the urge to drink. The mental benefit has been astounding; I am able to understand my anxiety instead of drinking it away, and I have completely broken away from the sluggish and tired cloud that constantly surrounded me. I am more clear-headed and myself in this past month than I have ever felt, and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me. While I was headed down a path of self-destruction, I have completely rerouted my life and am now headed toward a brighter, better and healthier version of myself that I used to hide beneath dollar well drinks.

If you or someone you know display addictive tendencies or use alcohol as a coping mechanism, our campus is full of free resources to get the help you need. You can make an appointment at the Student Life Center for substance-abuse counseling located in the Memorial Union, send me an email or talk to a trusted advisor or professor. Your potential is endless and there is an arsenal of professionals willing to help you achieve it.

Taking control of your life happens one day at a time.

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