Alcohol destroys lives, families and careers. It kills, paralyzes and maims. According to the latest government statistics, there are more than twenty million Americans addicted to alcohol. But as usual, the government’s statistics are in conflict with the figures provided by independent research groups. They claim the number is closer to forty million. Regardless of whose study is more accurate, or what the actual number really is—most of these men and women were not born with an addiction to alcohol. So, how did they get there?
First of all, because the subject of alcoholism is extremely vast and complex, let’s just focus on the baby boomers—the men and women born between 1945 and 1955.
For many of these present day senior citizens, the road to alcoholism started when they were infants. After World War II many new mothers were encouraged by older relatives to rub the gums of a teething baby with whiskey. These advisors guaranteed the treatment would ease the child’s pain and end the crying. If the initial application failed, the well meaning mentors would recommend applying more booze to the baby’s gums. The home remedy worked like magic. Most babies stopped crying and the parents were rewarded with a night of uninterrupted sleep.
However, modern day medical experts now know, by the time the baby had all its teeth, the kid was already developing a tolerance and a craving for alcohol.
The next seemingly innocent step towards addiction made its debut when the family physicians of the 1950’s began over prescribing alcohol and codeine laced cough medicines. These soothing sugary syrups came in your choice of cherry, orange or grape flavors. For obvious reasons, most parents had no trouble getting a child to take a spoonful or two several times a day. And sadly, in the days before child proof caps, many youngsters would help themselves to a few extra spoonfuls when mom or dad wasn’t watching. The more alcohol the child consumed, the more the child’s body and mind craved the comforting effects of the substance.
By the 1960’s, as air travel to exotic places became more popular, so did flu outbreaks. The young were especially susceptible. These occurrences encouraged the motherly sages from the 1950’s to resurface. The most common flu remedy in their bag of tricks was the hot-toddy. A common recipe for this potent drink calls for two ounces of rum, brandy or rye whiskey mixed with a cup of hot tea and topped off with a tablespoon or two of honey. Sometimes a squirt of lemon juice would be added to give the concoction a little zing. The results were phenomenal. The sweetness of the honey mixed with the double shot of alcohol put most children to sleep in a matter of minutes.
By the time these alcohol soaked kids made it to their teens, they realized getting high made them feel great. Many of these kids found different ways of getting alcohol into their body without actually drinking the beer, wine or hard liquor. Some satisfied their growing need for alcohol by walking into the local pharmacy and buying night-time cough syrups that contained high amounts of the substance they craved. Others might buy a bottle of alcohol based mouthwash and mix it with some kind of sweet drink so they could swallow it without gagging. And, some youths recognized the high alcohol content of the vanilla and other flavored extracts on the supermarket shelves. They would pour the extract into their favorite soft drink and by the time the beverage was consumed, they’d be intoxicated.
By the late 1960’s the unspoken attitude of American society helped to steer the baby boomer generation towards alcohol dependency. Back then many parents felt comfortable with their child drinking. They’d rather have their kid wacked out with alcohol than to be stoned on marijuana. And, the parents were not the only ones who preferred to see the youths of America choose booze over drugs. The police treated a drunk teen much differently than a stoned teen. In the 1960’s cops would often drive a drunk teen home for the parents to deal with. But, heaven help the high-school senior who got caught with a nickel bag. That poor soul might wind up with a criminal record for possession with the intent to sell.
As we all know, life moves on. By the 1970’s these baby boomers had become part of the establishment. Many went to college, found a job, got married and raised a family. They are the ones who lived the good life.
However, a disproportional number of baby boomers found solace in the bottle. They’re the ones who killed themselves or others by drinking and driving. They’re the ones who lost their jobs because they couldn’t work and drink. They’re the ones who chose the bottle over the marriage. And, these are just a few examples of the devastating consequences of alcoholism.
Today many of the baby boomers who managed to make it to their senior years without developing a drinking problem are rapidly becoming members of the fastest growing abusers of alcohol in America.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency cites loneliness, depression, loss of a spouse, fear, anxiety, isolation, and failing health as some of the common causes for the rise in senior alcoholism.
But regardless of what the experts claim—maybe rubbing booze on the gums of a crying baby was not such a great idea.