Health West Edition

HEALTH MATTERS: The cost of alcoholism in the African-American community

The price of alcoholic beverages during happy hour can be attractive, especially on a stressful day. When you think about the underlying cost of that two-for-one drink, is it really worth the possible and numerous repercussions that can occur?

In observance of National Alcohol Awareness Month, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that growing up with alcohol abuse in the home can cause an adverse effect on children and often leads them down a path of alcohol abuse at an early age.

Ronald Timms, who is from Arkansas, is a longtime resident of the Los Angeles area. Timms recalls his struggle with alcoholism at 19. He watched both his parents’ long history of alcohol addiction.

“Just about everyone in Arkansas drank,” Timms says. “We were under the age limit but getting liquor and drinking at home, in the streets, at school was the norm — it was a big part of our culture.”

His parents split, mainly because Timms’ father was a mean drunk and physically abusive. Timms’ mother left and the kids stayed with their father.

“My dad was an embarrassment,” Timms recalls. “He would show up at my school sloppy drunk.”

In spite of his resentment of his parents, Timms fell into the same drinking pattern like his parents and friends. He couldn’t stop. Wine and beer were his constant companions.

It was his escape from the social problems in Arkansas — lack of health care, discrimination, unemployment.

Timms was nearing college age. According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college-age students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol every month and at least one of three participated in binge drinking. Other reports state that the under 21 group are often victims of homicide and motor vehicle accidents both fueled by alcohol; physical assaulted by another intoxicated student; and experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

When Timms turned 21, he headed to California to live with his mother. Unfortunately, the drinking had taken hold of him and the reunion was not pleasant. Timms, the youngest of five children, constantly fought with his mom and siblings and was arrested repeatedly for being drunk in public.

There were several occasions that Timms had to be restrained and hospitalized. He was angry and became violent when he drank.  Timms’ family felt he would cause them harm. The alcohol had taken control of his mind. Soon, he was no longer welcomed in any of the family members’ homes.

In 2014, it was documented that among children ages 12 to 20 years old, 5.3 million were binge drinkers, and 1.3 million were heavy drinkers.  Statistically, alcohol plays a high percentage in tragic situations:

• Forty percent of highway crashes, suicides and fatal falls.

• Fifty percent of sexual assaults and trauma injuries.

• And nearly 60 percent of deaths caused by fires, drownings and homicides.

Timms was forced to live on Skid Row for about a year. One day after half his wine bottle was empty, he had a spiritual awakening and wanted to change. He walked into a nearby building and police officers took him to USC-County Medical Center.

Timms was examined by a nurse and diagnosed with alcoholism. That was a turning point for him because he didn’t want to be like his father.

Health professionals admit that are differences in patterns of drinking and access to health care and programs. Fortunately, Timms was placed in a program to detox, get therapy and join Alcoholic Anonymous. He was sober for a year, enrolled in school, was employed, and enjoyed success until he felt the need to find another escape.

For a year and half, he was a functional addict. He smoked marijuana and binged on cocaine and crack but didn’t drink.

The guilt and dependency led him to the horrible feeling that he knew being sober had to be top priority. He had to repeat the cycle at 26.  At 27, Timms returned to AA on a regular basis.

Older people tend to suffer from alcohol-related chronic illness, while younger groups tend to experience more alcohol-related injuries. Alcohol is shown to cause or contribute to the following health conditions: liver disease or cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage or dementia, high blood pressure an irregular heart beat and cancer.

Timms’ mother lived to be 82 but suffered for years from cancer and other medical complications. His father died at 65 from acute alcoholism.

For 31 years, Timms has been clean and sober. He was able to succeed as a business owner and a family man. His experiences and ability to overcome the challenges that addiction played in his life gave him the experience to help countless people in the AA community. He ended the generational cycle of alcohol dependence. The alcoholism may have contributed to his high blood pressure.

A colleague who spent her adult life working with women addicted to alcohol offered some food for thought. One of the signs is the need to drink even when alone or when you go through an emotional upheaval and turn to alcohol beyond social drinking.

“Alcohol doesn’t solve problems; find another way to cope with life,” she said.

Her recommendations to cope were:

• Communicate your feelings to others – professionals or friends; it helps to talk it out.

• Surround yourself with positive people who support you. Keep negative energy away from your environment.

• Exercise — get out of the house and enjoy the outdoors.

• Pamper yourself.

• And monitor your internal thoughts to do the right thing and not let external opinions get the best of you.

Mikey, my nephew, in his late 20s, chose to be a teetotaler, which is someone who abstains from alcoholic beverages. His choice was based on some of the statistics about college drinking and irresponsibility but, most importantly, he lost a classmate in a car accident that occurred after she left a frat party alone.

He is enjoying life, traveling the world, teaching English in Brazil, and meeting new people. You can still be the life of the party without a drink in your hand. The choice is yours — a carefree life or a life alcohol-impaired.

Marie Y. Lemelle is a public relations consultant, the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR.

Please send “Health Matters” related questions to healthmatters@wavepublication.com and look for her column weekly in The Wave on online.