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The Trifecta: Too Young, Too Smart, Too Successful to Be an Alcoholic


It is like a Jeopardy game show question: “The three reasons most often given as to why clients with obvious drinking problems do not believe they are alcoholics.”

My personal and professional experience in the rehab, recovery, and treatment world suggests it is either one, a combination, or all three of these reasons: “too young,” “too smart,” and “too successful,” as to why clients believe they cannot and do not drink alcoholically. They believe, with unbridled conviction, they cannot possibly be alcoholics.

In my own case, it was all three reasons—what I like to refer to as “the trifecta”—as to why I could not possibly be an alcoholic.

I was thirty-eight years old; a sociology major and graduate of The American University; a proud homeowner living outside of Boston; and a successful small-business owner who attended church each Sunday. How could I possibly be an alcoholic? Besides, many of my friends and relatives had spilled more alcohol than I ever drank.

For me the cravings started most weekdays between 2:00 and 3:00 PM. It was at this time each day that I would start romancing the idea of having a few cold “tall boys” on the drive home. Winter or summer, hot or cold, it made no difference. Stopping each late afternoon at the local convenience store (or “packy,” as we say in Boston) and purchasing what I considered my just reward for completing yet another day at work became a ritual.

I had become like Norm on Cheers. How else was I supposed to make my way home through the late-afternoon traffic? Besides, I worked hard each day and deserved a few beers on my way home, right? I used to say I only had a problem “when there was nothing around to drink.”

Once I arrived home each day, and before taking my winter or suit jacket off, I would routinely reach into the fridge for another one of my trusted friends, my Buds. Oftentimes I would proceed to have several additional ice-cold beers within arm’s reach while taking a hot bath or sitting in our bubbling outdoor jacuzzi. Just one or two more before supper, and I would have once again captured the beer buzz I so craved at the end of each day.

I thought I could stop drinking any time if it became necessary. The simple truth is that I was living a lie and had a secret I dared not share with anyone. I knew deep down inside I was not able to stop or even control my drinking. I began to worry it was just a matter of time before I too hit what I had heard referred to as an alcoholic’s “bottom” and lost everything. But again, how could I be an alcoholic? I was only thirty-eight years old, a college graduate, successful, and the owner of a sailboat and a BMW. I had always believed alcoholics were dirty, lived outdoors, and were people who drank cheap wine from screw-top bottles.

It was not until a Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1992, when my wife gave me a life-changing ultimatum and the choice between continuing to drink or losing my marriage and children, that I finally surrendered and sought relief. I had become desperate and sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It was in taking an old prep-school classmate’s advice and attending Twelve Step meetings that allowed me to come to grips with the fact that I had become powerless over my daily alcohol consumption, with the loss of my life, health, and family truly being at risk. I proceeded to attend ninety Twelve Step meetings in ninety days. In hindsight, these meeting saved my life physically, mentally, and spiritually. For the very first time in my life, I felt like I truly belonged. The gratitude I have today stems from the fact that I did not have to lose everything—as so many others had and do—before I succumbed, surrendered, and acknowledged my alcoholic disease.

Almost daily I hear my alcoholic clients, those who are oftentimes in denial, say the following:

  • “I’m too young; I’m only _ years old.”
  • “How can I possibly be an alcoholic? I’m too young.”
  • “Yes, my mother and father drink too much and are alcoholics, but they’re in their mid-seventies.”

The undeniable truth I have learned over the years is that alcoholism affects men and women of all ages.

  • “I’m too smart; I have an MBA from a good school and have received excellent grades throughout my entire academic career.”
  • “Only high school and college dropouts can be alcoholics.”
  • “Not me, I have a great work history and promising career.”

Experience has taught me that intelligence is no more a factor as to which people may or may not be alcoholics than the day of the week they were born on is.

  • “I’m too successful; I don’t live outdoors or spend my nights under a bridge.”
  • “No, I have a well-paying job, a home in a nice neighborhood, and a BMW in my garage.”
  • “Not me; I’m definitely too well-off financially and too successful to be an alcoholic.”

Again, my years of experience showed me that money and individuals’ wealth and successes play no role as to whether they may or may not be alcoholics.
Alcoholism has been described not only as a disease, but as an allergy as well. Can you imagine people who are allergic to nuts or certain seafood thinking, “Just this once, it’ll be okay to eat this,” knowing for certain how violently ill they will become upon consumption? This is the insidious, insane behavior of the afflicted mind of an alcoholic.

Today, with twenty-eight years of sobriety, I have a personal and professional life second to none and continue to attend many Twelve Step meetings throughout the week. I cannot help but smile on the inside when I hear clients tell me they believe they are too young, too smart, or too successful to be alcoholics.

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Lawrence Traynor is a drug and alcohol treatment executive with twenty-eight years of sobriety. He volunteers his time, free of charge, helping addicts, alcoholics, and their loved ones and families to locate both public and private drug and alcohol assistance resources.

Lawrence Traynor

Lawrence Traynor is a drug and alcohol treatment executive with twenty-eight years of sobriety. He volunteers his time, free of charge, helping addicts, alcoholics, and their loved ones and families to locate both public and private drug and alcohol assistance resources.

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