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An Open Letter to Society from a Recovering Alcoholic

 Societal Pressures that Contribute to Addiction

Dear Society, You suck. Honestly, people say they don’t know what they would do without other people, but I do. I would thrive. I wouldn’t have to worry about social pressures, about perceptions, or about attitudes. Since you clearly thought genetic susceptibility to addiction and mental disorders weren’t bad enough, you went and had to make it a lot more tempting to give in to the addiction. Just a little more for just a little relief, I told myself. Tomorrow would be better, I told myself. The stress will go away, I told myself. I’m not saying this is entirely your fault, society. Clearly, I have my own issues to deal with, my own responsibilities to take care of. I don’t blame you for my addiction or for the mental health disorders of others. But you certainly have not made it any easier. So this letter is for you, society. I encourage you to take a step back, release your prejudices and your preconceptions and your invalid notions. I encourage you to take a listen rather than to take a stand. I encourage you to hear what I have to say. It’s not pretty, but it’s real.

You Started the Pressure from an Early Age

Why did you start pressuring me at such a young age? Even as an adolescent I felt the pressures of society. I felt the pressure to be somebody, to be somebody else, to be something else. I felt the pressure to know what I was doing, to express myself, but to take what came. I felt pressure from my newly formed sexuality without fully understanding what it was about or being given the tools to handle it with respect and self-esteem. I felt like I had to be beautiful or handsome even though I always felt ugly. I felt the pressure to always do more. Looking back, I know that these pressures did not just come from myself. They weren’t some internal struggle of an adolescent drama queen. They came from outside, from you. They came from others that told me I had to be this, or I had to do that. I wasn’t an alcoholic as an adolescent, but these pressures started me down a path that led to a life of stress that begged for release. I had my first drink at eighteen. I thought it tasted good, but most of all it made me feel better.

You Gave Me New, Worse Social Pressures in College

From there, you didn’t let up. As a young, freshly minted high school graduate I spent one single, solitary summer blissfully unaware of how alcohol can change your life forever. Then I entered the hollowed hellscape of a state university. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my college years, but it’s only looking back that I realize just how terrible for me they were. And a lot of it stemmed from just how terrible you truly are. You, with your sneaky social pressures disguised as the normal college experience. Saddled with academic pressure on campus, social pressure off campus, and parental pressure from back home, I slowly became more and more stressed out over the course of my freshman and sophomore years. I started going to more parties, accepting more drinks. At the time, I thought I was just enjoying the college experience. Now, I realize I started using alcohol as a coping mechanism before I even turned 21. You failed me on two fronts, society. First, you let me inherit the educational and financial stressors of my parents when I entered college. Second, you swept in with the social pressures of my fellow peers and college students. You told me that it was normal to drink a lot and that it was normal to drink as a way of alleviating stress. This is the Social Pressure 2.0 that normalized your impact on my life and normalized my drinking. This is the social pressure that made me what I am today: a recovering alcoholic.

You Didn’t Let Up on the Pressure

Not that I need validation, but I did not some research on this. Do you know what it has to say about you? The World Health Organization says that environmental risk factors (a fancy word for social pressures) that increase the likelihood of addiction include poverty, social changes, peer influences, employment status, type of occupation, extreme changes in family situation, academic stress, social deprivation, depression, and even cultural attitudes. As an adult, these environmental factors took a different form. I started a promising career in business after college. This career quickly turned into stress cesspool of the demand to perform, to produce, and to always work more. When my self-esteem and self-validation are found in my work, I need a release from the stressors of work. That release, as I had discovered in college, came in the supposedly easy form of alcohol. But that isn’t the last trick you played on me.

You Didn’t Give Me the Support I Needed

Even when I realized I had a problem, your pressure to have a perfect life, free from guilt and hang-ups, weighed down on me. You didn’t give me the emotional support, the information resources, the physical assistance, or the feedback on my detrimental behavior that I needed. You let me be an alcoholic because you didn’t tell me to be anything else. You didn’t tell me that it was okay to be free, that you would help me be free. You gave me a stigma instead of a lifeline. And for that, society, you suck. Sincerely, A Recovering Alcoholic