Next week the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is asking everyone to take a challenge. The “April is Alcohol Awareness Month” campaign includes an Alcohol-Free Weekend, April 5-7. This 72 hour “no alcohol” challenge could take place on any weekend, and in fact it does take place fairly often in many families across the country. When drinking is a problem, families struggle with “could you please just not drink for this… wedding, BBQ, trip, etc etc”. The same challenge… can you please try to not drink just-this-once.
The family goal is usually maintaining peace and avoiding problems associated with problem drinking. The goal of the national campaign is to raise awareness of the relationship you may have with alcohol. In both cases, it’s a plea for awareness (and possibly action, which can lead to positive changes). If you can’t go 72 hours without alcohol, there’s a decent chance you have an alcohol dependency (emotional or physical). In this case, it’s the National Council asking you to try, because they know many people aren’t aware of their dependency. If it’s your loved ones who are asking you to try, then obviously someone suspects there really is a problem.
My version of the 72 hour challenge is slightly different. I’d suggest… Can you live your life over ta 72 hour period without drinking alcohol, and without cheating?
Can you successfully complete the weekend chores without a drink? Can you interact and relate and socialize and get along with your neighbors etc. without a drink? Even if you simply want to drink, or simply enjoy a drink, or feel you deserve to enjoy your weekend the way you’d like to, can you go 72 hours by choice without alcohol.
On the third day, after you have successfully achieved 55 or 65 hours without alcohol, can you complete the 72 without rewarding yourself for your accomplishment with…. a drink?
For many, alcohol dependency is rooted in a desire to succeed in living life without the complications that come from the boredom, the anxiety, the irritating neighbors, and the daily stressful challenges of real life. But alcohol used to cope with reality is still alcohol dependency, and alcohol dependency is often a path to more serious trouble down the road.
Some of the challenges I expect will crop up with a real world 72 hour no-cheating challenge include the following:
- socializing alcohol-free without conflict… where “cheating” is deciding not to go, sneaking a drink or getting high instead;
- sitting through family dinner without a drink… where “cheating” is deciding you’re not hungry, or you will eat later by yourself or otherwise skip the meal;
- spending time with the family having fun without sneaking a drink… where “cheating” is deciding to smoke pot instead or taking a long nap;
- attending a “no alcohol” event without feeling something’s missing… where “cheating” is bringing your own, deciding to take something else beforehand;
- going to the movies without buying alcohol… where “cheating” is drinking beforehand or bringing some of your own or deciding not to go this time;
- watching a ballgame without pregaming… where “cheating” is smuggling in your own or announcing you really don’t want to go.
Can you be bored, anxious, or angry without a drink? For three days? Do you know how to cope with those feelings without using alcohol? And if you can make it through 72 hours, what is your desired activity for day 4? Is it “catching up”?