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Alcoholism, a cure? and some thoughts

Wine GlassAfter working in the wine world for more then 10 years, there is an aspect of the community that despite being a handicap of the industry, is still difficult to understand and deal with. If you are wine retailer, writer, importer, distributor, or otherwise, you come to think of yourself as an aficionado of wine, and consequently, immune to the scrooge of alcoholism. Your mind tells you that the people who you work in “the biz” are all responsible and moral individuals who are only in the industry because they love alcohol for its camaraderie, history, culture, relationship with food and as a social lubricant. However, as a retailer, you know which customers have monkeys on their backs. We’re talking about the guy who “discretely” slips in a pint of schnapps as an after thought when buying a pack of smokes or the grandma with the standing order for a case of gin once a week. In the backroom, we would make uncomfortable jokes among ourselves as we tried to justify feeding their habit, the poison that will eventually kill them. Because, in reality, we’re just doing our job, right?

Over time, we learn to accept reality for what it is, understanding that we can’t control an individual’s personal choice. But there is another reality of the industry that eats at me more profoundly. Since I have entered the wine business, and I’m know I’m not alone, I have discovered the evil disease supposedly meant for those who don’t understand the joys of fine wine, scotch, or a good beer has slipped behind the curtain from customer to coworker. To those outside of the industry, you might perceive this issue as identical to a consumer’s addiction, and one that you just deal with as part of the job, but it’s not. Why? Because while a customer is distant and easier to disconnect with, a co-worker hits close to home. We experience this in the sales rep who shows up with half the sample bottle missing and a little too much chatter for a Monday morning. And while this scenario is rather obvious, there are always the less obvious situations, such as Christmas parties, where we tend to get swept up in the holiday spirit. But generally, those close to you can always tell the “needy” from the “social” drinkers, like the guy who seem to have forgotten the word “spit bucket” while tasting, or who grabs the bottle to pour “another taste” before anyone else is done with their first glass.

This element of the industry is the hardest to deal with for two reasons. First, they tend to be friends who debate wine and terroir with you late into the night. They are also the ones who love the wine, like you love the wine, right? Which leads to the second reason, the reflection that you see in your friend, could be you. As we all know, alcoholism is not an easily defined thing. And if you want to go to the extremes, I have had perfectly responsible friends scared into thinking they were alcoholics by zealous parents, spouses, or otherwise, convinced they had the bug, when in reality, their social sphere did not have room for alcohol of any kind. A brilliant beer aficionado went into treatment because someone suggested that he enjoyed it too much. In the end a puritanical relative led to his guilt taking away something he enjoyed. It’s all about balance.

I bring all this up after reading in today’s BBC front page that there is talk of a “cure” for alcoholism. -”Dr Olivier Ameisen, 55, one of France’s top heart specialists, says he overcame his own addiction to alcohol by self-administering doses of a muscle-relaxant called baclofen.”- The article goes on to say that he believes that with baclofen the need to drink can be done away with allowing people the ability to drink without “worry”. Studies have yet to be done, and the article does not talk about types of alcoholism (physical or mental) that this method of treatment can help. That said, it does repeat, “But many other specialists are skeptical, warning of the dangers of so-called miracle cures.” Fair enough, but wouldn’t it be nice for once to have a miracle cure?

I’ve had friends whose lives were destroyed by alcoholism. Gabriella grew up with a mother who suffered terribly from the disease and a father who used it as a lubricant to avoid her mother’s habit. I’m sure everyone reading this can point to people they know who are either suffering currently or recovering in one program or another. Wouldn’t it be great to have a simple solution to deal with this disastrous issue? So as we head into the holiday season full of office parties, friends gathering for spiked eggnog, and long feasts with fine wines, let’s take the time to remember that there is nothing wrong with a little buzz! In fact, go for it – over indulge a bit, but remember that once you need that buzz…it’s time to talk.

Cheers and stay safe!

Ryan Opaz

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  • Amanda

    Well stated.

  • 1WineDude

    Sounds like a substitution of one addiction for another?

  • RichardA

    Thanks for such a responsible post. I agree that we all are familiar with addiction, whether it is family members or friends. I know I had encountered such with both friends and relatives. And it is never easy, especially if the person so afflicted denies the reality. There is definitely a danger though in the alleged cure just substituting one addiciton for another. France already stands as an example of such. Wine consumption decreased from 100 liters per person in 1960 to only 45 liters per person in 2008. In comparison, consumption of anti-depressants was minimal in 1960 yet almost 60 million boxes were sold in 2004. This makes France the highest consumers of anti-depressants in the world!

  • Dylan

    Agree with 1WineDude–it does not sound like a miracle cure as much as it would be a constant treatment or replacement. Addiction is a disease which affects the pleasure center of the brain directly. More than that, there are emotional dependencies that also drive people to the bottle, much as one finds comfort in overeating food due to some past trauma. While a snap of the fingers would be nice, it's important to recognize it wasn't a snap of the fingers that caused the disease either. It's usually over time, and involves a slow slip out of control. Rather than replace one with another, I still believe in the support of friends and emotional treatment. I believe in creating a lifestyle for oneself that isn't destructive and can be lived without fear. When it comes to the industry, a love of spirits is appreciated, just as passion for any career is required, but if that passion holds a negative effect on their health–there's no shame in letting go. It's the same as a relationship that started with love turning abusive. Anyone would agree, the two are better off separated.