According to the Centers for Disease Control, we’re becoming a nation of drunks. Booze hounds on benders.
New data reveals that one in every six Americans downs eight mixed drinks within a few hours, four times a month. Twenty-eight percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 binge-drink five times a month, putting away seven drinks in one sitting. And 13 percent of those between the ages of 45 and 65 binge drink five times a month, too.
News of the magnitude of this intoxication—resulting in frequently and dramatically altered states of consciousness for tens of millions of Americans—is no different than if we were to learn that a quarter of our young people were snorting half-a-gram of cocaine more than once-a-week or injecting heroin on that schedule. The psychological/cognitive effects of seven or eight drinks are no less intense, and, possibly, even more dramatic.
Think about that: A significant portion of our population wants to not be present for significant portions of every single week.
This is what is happening. It is critical we determine why it is happening.
My theory is that Americans are on a flight from reality. Faced with painful facts—including the precarious state of the economy, the gathering storm represented by militant Muslims, in general, and Iran, in particular, the crumbling state of marriage in this country, the fact that our borders are being overrun, and the fact that our health care insurance system is in shambles (to name just a smattering of the troubles we desperately need to address)—we as a nation are drinking, drugging, gambling, smoking, Facebooking, YouTubing, Marijuaning, Kardashianing, Adderalling, Bono-ing (as in thinking of Chaz’s sad flight from reality as good), Prozacking, Twittering, and Sexting ourselves into oblivion.
The fact that we are doing this as a culture is the single most ominous psychological trend we have ever faced. I am not exaggerating.
Unchecked, it will literally create an absentee nation, unable to summon real vision to confront real threats, unable to summon real courage to defeat real enemies, unable to buckle down and take the tough measures necessary to restore real economic stability, unable to tell our friends that we will defend them—if necessary, to the death.
Because drunks have no capacity to tolerate suffering or to see the future clearly or to summon extraordinary creativity from deep inside themselves or to stand up and double down with courage that resonates as so completely real, so entirely sober, that our adversaries buckle at the knees.
See, when you drug yourself five or ten percent of your life, that experience (or rather non-experience) can contaminate the rest of your life, too. Because suppressing your truth—including your anxiety and your resolve—for one day in 7 days is enough to tip the balance of your thinking away from introspection, away from insight and away from real involvement with others and the world around you.
More laws could never solve this problem, by the way. A new Prohibition wouldn’t stem the tide of the clear desire of a significant percentage of Americans to anesthetize themselves a significant portion of their lives. The only antidote is the decisiveness of individuals to live their lives, to be present and to count—for real.
It’s time America detoxed. Our future is uncertain, yet our prospects as great as the day God first blessed America. That may want plenty of people to go on a bender. I pray it makes more people want to sober up.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.