#1 Isn’t Always A Good Thing
Community Relations Consultant with United States Drug Testing Laboratories
When a culture submerged in alcohol consumption and sales comes out as a leader in excessive use among women and adolescents, it should surprise no one. Guida Brown talks about the latest studies showing Wisconsin among the nation’s leaders in alcohol consumption and excessive drinking and the mental health issues that correspond to that usage. Guida is a Community Relations Consultant with United States Drug Testing Laboratories. She also is an Adjunct Faculty member with Concordia University-Wisconsin and an accomplished writer. Her blog article “#1 Isn’t Always A Good Thing” can be read here: https://4csofaddiction.com/ and Guida can be reached at [email protected].
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome, everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by the Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: Today, I'm pleased to have back as our guest, Guida Brown. Guida is a community relations consultant with United States Drug Testing Laboratories.
Mike: She is also an adjunct faculty member with Concordia University of Wisconsin, a writer, and a board member of the Substance Abuse Council.
Mike: As the current year comes to a close, we wanted to look back and look ahead at where we are as a culture with substance use disorders and mental illness. Welcome back, Guida.
Guida: Thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike: Well, it's always fun to talk with you. I don't have to say much when I talk to you, so I love that part, right? Okay, we're coming out of a couple of years, right, where the studies regarding substance abuse and mental illness aren't very good, right?
Guida: They're not very good at all.
Guida: Our substance use disorder rates have skyrocketed. We haven't come back from COVID. And I talk all the time. I can't imagine what the reports are going to be in, like, nine years about how damaging COVID was to us societally. The rates have skyrocketed. They've skyrocketed for women. They've skyrocketed, they've, just, young people.
Mike: Well, we live in Wisconsin, for those of you who are listening in other parts of the world. And you recently wrote a blog article titled, "Number One Isn't Always a Good Thing." Talk about that.
Guida: Yeah. We're number one in underage... Well, and again, it's going to depend on what stats you're looking at on any given day, but we're always in the top five.
Guida: So we're number one usually in underage drinking. We're number one in impaired drinking and driving or impaired driving. We're number one in pregnant women drinking. And it's stunning. It's just stunning. We have this whole idea that everyone gets an OWI. No, no, no.
Guida: You know, most people don't, you know, we, we talk about this with kids, right?
Guida: Mike, about how the perception for kids very often is, well, everybody's drinking.
Guida: And the truth is, no, they're not, they're really not. And so, but in Wisconsin, especially, I think it's sort of in our, it's in our psyche, it's in our air that everyone does this and so if I don't do it I'm a freak. And yeah the point of it was we we don't need to be number one.
Guida: We don't need to be number one in all of these.
Mike: Well, yeah, and one of the things you said in your blog article is women's excessive drinking... (chuckle) Am I getting this right? I'm not looking at it. Was it somewhere around 38 percent
Guida: Yeah, it's really, really high. And just excessive drinking. What does that mean?
Guida: How many drinks? So not that long ago, the FDA and the USDA tried to restate our drinking levels. What is not unsafe drinking and I say not unsafe drinking because it's not safe drinking right alcohol is a carcinogen. It doesn't matter how much you drink if you're taking a carcinogen it is leading to cancer not, you know, not necessarily you're gonna get cancer from that, but it's leading to cancer. So there's no such thing as safe drinking but not unsafe drinking.
Guida: So the study was done and the feds tried to roll it back, but they got to the level of it's a half a drink a day for a woman and they couldn't figure out how to restate that. So they just said, all right, we'll leave it at a drink. 1 drink a day for a woman, 2 drinks a day for a man. No more than seven drinks a week for a woman and 14 drinks a week for a man.
Guida: Those can't be banked right. You can't drink on Saturday and Sunday and split that seven or that 14 and say, "Oh, I'm good." You can only have one in a day. So, people don't know that right. People don't have any idea that that's what appropriate drinking level is. You can't have two drinks with dinner. You can't have a aperitif. What's an aperitif? After dinner?
Guida: You can't have a, you know, you can't have a cocktail and then have your wine and then have an aperitif. Those are three drinks. So you can't have a Long Island because that's at least four shots. That's, so it's one drink. And a drink is properly measured. A glass of wine, five ounces, depending upon the alcohol level.
Guida: Twelve ounce standard beer. Not your... Not your high level IPA is now. A shot of liquor that is exactly measured and exactly the right amount of alcohol in it. That's 1 drink. And we don't get that. We absolutely don't get that. I talked to somebody and I just, there's always. illustrates to me how poorly we understand the concept of not overdrinking.
Guida: She is a nutritionist and she said to me, I don't drink often, but when I do, I have more than one drink. Is that okay? And I said, I don't eat dessert often, but when I do, I have more than one. Is that okay? (laugh) It just, I'm like, how do you, how do you reconcile it? Now we all make calculated risks. I'm not, I won't eat more than one dessert in a sitting, right?
Guida: I'm not saying you can't drink, shouldn't. You just have to know what the risks are. That's it. Know what the risks are and know what the proper level is. And that is where we are just so sadly, unaware.
Mike: Well, you started this by talking about COVID and, you know, tagging that on, you know, when you have 38 percent or 4 out of 10 adult women who are excessively drinking and there, and we see the rise through COVID, is that because we just have no other coping mechanisms?
Guida: I think so.
Guida: I, you know, I don't know. I, I guess it is, and I would love to know who that really affected, right? I, I guess, you know, older people, it seems like they had better coping mechanisms. They had more isolation in the first place, maybe. And so this range of 25 to maybe 40, I think is really in trouble because they didn't have the coping mechanisms because... And then, and I know this from, and actually I think they were a little older, but I know this from experiences I had during COVID where people said, a woman said to me, " I had to stop being on these Zoom calls with friends, because I would watch this person get intoxicated during the call."
Mike: Mm hmm.
Guida: And I think that was a huge, if I'm not with you and, and we probably communicated better during COVID than we did, you know, we, some of us are really bad friends. And so we made a really concerted effort because you couldn't leave your house.
Guida: So at least we'll have a call every week or every month. And we probably communicated better in that respect. But not that one on one and so it became very isolating and then I can do I have a friend who's a therapist who talks about we lived in our preferences. We lived in our preferences for 2 years.
Guida: I will say we're still living in our preferences. And I love that phrase because when I say to somebody, hey, you might be drinking too much. It's like, "Well, ugh! You have no right to say that to me." And I'm like, okay, you know, I'm concerned about you. I'm concerned about what's going to happen to you because we live in our preferences and all through COVID, that's what we got to do.
Guida: And we had nobody to tell us otherwise. And I don't think that we've come through that. I think we still, and not that, I mean, who wouldn't want to live in their preferences. Right? But when you didn't have to go to work because you could work from home and when you didn't have to communicate with people and no one could, you know, see you upfront and personal and say, Hey, blah, blah, whatever, whatever they wanted to say, I really think that's an issue to still, and I, I don't know how we're ever going to come back from it.
Mike: Well, yeah, recently we had on Celeste Yvonne, right. And she was talking about this in her book and she said that she kept her sobriety secret for a year because of the stigma of sobriety. And, and not wanting people to jump down her back for not using.
Guida: And Walter, right? When you talk to Walter.
Mike: Yeah, right.
Guida: And how that whole weed culture is, "How dare you stop using!" And "How dare you tell me it's addictive." "How dare you tell me that, you know, I might be misusing it." It's stunning. It's absolutely stunning.
Mike: Well, and a partner to that is that when I looked at the study that you talked about and you know, you have tables and everything in your blog. The rates of depression almost identically match that of the alcohol consumption.
Mike: That's not a coincidence.
Guida: You wouldn't think it is, would you? Now, I'm not a mental health specialist. But again, we just seem a little, a little too far removed from all of it, right? Like, these things are happening to us and we're not willing participants in our lives anymore. It's, you know, "Well, this is just the way it is."
Guida: This is the way it is! And you talk to people who think like, you know, well, everybody drinks, everybody's depressed, everybody's got mental illness, everybody's addicted to something. Oh my gosh! If I hear that one one more time, I'm like, no, everybody's not addicted to something, right? By definition, addictive is chronic, progressive, lethal.
Guida: I'm missing one. But, you know, everyone's not addicted to something. And it's like life is just happening to us. I, I'm... yeah.
Mike: Oh, well, you just did on my pet phrase. "It is what it is." (chuckle) Only if you let it be. Well, this is for those of you who live in other parts of the world, just so you get where Guida and I are coming from.
Mike: So when the statistics you're talking about. When that study was released, our Wisconsin legislature picked the same week the study was released tooo?
Guida: Try to push forth that the old, the brandy old fashion, because it's Wisconsin, the brandy old fashion should be named our cocktail, our state cocktail, like we have a state bird and a state flower and a state tree.
Guida: And now we should have a state cocktail.
Mike: How have we not had one before now is what I want to know. How did this miss legislatures past?
Guida: Because we, because most states don't have cocktails. And now I understand that there's like an official and then a not official. And this was sort of a not official. Because I did, I reached out to my legislators and said, "For real, we don't need to be, we don't need to have one more thing."
Guida: Mike, the reason that they brought this forward, that they floated this, was because the Wisconsin residents drink 50 percent of the Korbel brandy in the nation. I don't think we should be patting ourselves on the back for that, right?
Guida: I know that and I used to be a waitress. I used to be a server and so I worked at a hotel and I don't think I've ever had a brandy old fashioned or a whiskey old fashioned.
Guida: I don't think I've old fashioned, but I do remember having to serve and people said, I'd like an old fashioned. And I would say, do you want brandy or whiskey? And if they weren't from Wisconsin, they'd be like, what? Give me a brandy old fashioned. I'm like, I don't know.
Mike: People who say they go out of state tell me that they have to tell the bartender how to make them.
Guida: How to make it, right. And then, when you have a brandy old fashioned, I don't think this is the same with a whiskey, you have to, is it, you want sweet or sour. And again, that, so then, as a server, I'm like, okay, I guess you want whiskey, right? And then do you want sweet or sour? And again, they're like, you're an idiot.
Guida: You're, you're the biggest idiot in the world. And I'm like Um. So yeah, the fact that in Wisconsin, we drink 50 percent of the nation's brandy, therefore we should make that brandy old fashioned, the state drink, the state cocktail, because our state drink is already milk. And like I said, I reached out to my legislators.
Guida: One got back to me, Bob Wirch, got back to me, state Senator Bob Wirch and said, he doesn't know if it's going to pass. It's a voice vote instead of, again, and I don't understand how this piece of legislation is different than other pieces of legislation, but I'm hoping it just like falls apart. And for anyone listening alcohol lobby, the alcohol lobby in the nation is unbelievable. Wisconsin is probably a little stronger given our brandy and beer and now wine history, but in industries, but it's, it's mind blowing. And so if you don't think money talks, then recognize that every, at the federal government level, every alcohol lobbyist is responsible for two members of Congress.
Guida: So every two members of Congress has one alcohol lobbyist trying to get them to do what they want, so. It's not, you know, the, the little guy, we are not necessarily being looked after and decisions are not being made based on what's best for the citizenry.
Mike: Well, the statistic that I that just boggled my mind was that during COVID, when restaurants were closed, Wisconsin collected more liquor tax than any time since World War Two.
Mike: So liquor consumption went up when there was no place to go drink. (chuckle)
Mike: You know, that's so clearly heavy consumption is what we're talking about, right? And how do you get And our adolescents are right in there, right? So that consumption goes up. So how do you break that cycle? I mean, moving forward to another year, I mean, if this is where we're at, how do we get to the other side?
Guida: I wish I knew the shortcut answer to that, right? I think we have to start talking about it. We have to start labeling it for what it is. It is not appropriate. People all, you know, I would want, I I don't know if I should even say this, but I'm gonna, you can edit out later if you want.
Mike: We don't edit anything. (laugh)
Guida: I always say, well, I want to teach my kids how to drink appropriately. And I say, oh, you know, I want them to be safe when they drink. And so I'm going to teach them how to drink in front of me. And I go, oh, well, using that logic, shouldn't you teach your kids how to have sex in front of you? Right? I mean, seriously, if, if we're, make sure they have a condom, how do you do that unless they're right in front of you?
Guida: Make sure they drink appropriately, okay, how do they do that unless they're right in front of you? So we have to start talking about the nonsensical nature of it. And we have to do it on a regular basis. I was talking to somebody, I can't even remember who it was, who was telling me about how... Oh, I know it was a instructor from Gateway Technical College.
Guida: He was telling how his kids don't drink and his kids are, you know, in their mid to late 20s and they just don't drink. And he said, we talked about it. We talked about the genetic predisposition and we had one child who experimented kind of got in a little trouble. Has kind of come around the other side and doesn't drink anymore.
Guida: We have one child who never drank, never, never drank, never saw the child drink at all. And I'm marveling at that, right? Because most people. Most people don't even talk about it. And then when they do talk about it, it's a joke or it's a one off conversation that says, "Hey, don't, don't, you know, don't follow in my footsteps. Hah hah Hah!"
Guida: And then they never talk about it again. And so I was trying to have a conversation with my granddaughter. She was very upset with me. She's having her first party at home. She's going to be 16 years old and have her first party at home. And the parents are going to go and it's all girls. And, but I was saying, what are you going to do if somebody brings alcohol? What are you going to do if somebody, you know, tries to offer you a vape? What are you going to do if somebody tries to offer you a pill? And she's like "Shut up!" And the mom was there and saying, no, we have to have these conversations. And I said, you know, it's it, you think it's not going to happen, but eventually it is going to happen to you.
Guida: I don't care how nice your friends are. Eventually it's going to happen. And we need to start talking about that. We need to start labeling it for what it is, Mike. I, you know, we talk so much about stigma and how stigma is negative and I, you know, obviously it's, it is damaging a lot of people, but how we've backed off, the field is backed off of saying the right words to make it clear that, you know, addiction is a disease.
Guida: I had this conversation with George Koob, the head of the NIAAA, Dr. Koob, and evidently I wasn't supposed to talk to him, (laugh) but you don't know what you don't know. So I was at a conference and we were, he did a panel discussion, he facilitated, or he was part of a panel discussion. And it was about using the term pre addiction.
Guida: And I went up afterwards and I said "Dr. Koob, hi, when, when do we get to use the word addiction?" And he said, "Well, I'm not really, you know, I don't, I'm not that concerned about language or, you know, the, the phrases." And I was like, Well, okay, here's, here's my thing. When you have pre diabetes and it's left untreated, you get diabetes. When you have pre cancer and it's left untreated, you get cancer. When you have pre addiction and it's left untreated, you don't get a substance use disorder, right?
Guida: You get addiction And the problem, I think, is we are soft shoeing everything. We're whitewashing all of our words so as not to stigmatize, and instead, we're damaging more and more people by not saying, this is what you've got. Mike, I've heard you talk about it. Like, tell somebody they've got a substance use disorder.
Guida: Yeah, but am I addicted?
Mike: Yeah. Right.
Guida: Well, yeah, but I don't have an addiction, right? I mean, so we're, we're doing a terrible job helping people get better and helping people recognize they don't want to get on that path and, you know, I don't know, I talk about it, talk about it, talk about it.
Mike: Well, and what's dominated my entire professional life is how early it starts, and there's so many branches of this tree that when you begin to use at an early age, almost every part of your life is affected physiologically, socially, emotionally, financially. You know, when you're drinking and using between certain ages you put yourself behind the eight ball.
Mike: Not that you can't catch back up at some point, but man, you gotta work really hard. And some people just give up. And we don't even measure that stuff, Guida. We don't measure the number of people who just go, I quit. We measure the people who quit looking for work. But we don't measure the people who just quit continuing to grow.
Guida: So do you remember, we used to say that one in four people is affected by somebody else's substance use disorder. And I always was amazed when I worked in the field specifically at the Hope Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. We'd go to these fairs and we'd be out and people (laugh) were around the table. Oh, I don't, I don't know anybody who's got a substance use disorder.
Guida: I was like, well, that's weird because no one else in this room does either. And I guess I'm bringing that stat way down. I saw something. I resaw it yesterday. Two thirds of the population feel that they've been affected by somebody else's substance use.
Mike: I'm not surprised.
Guida: It's a huge change since even, you know, the 1990s when, when I first started in this field.
Guida: And I'm thinking, we've done something horribly wrong. We're going the exact opposite direction of what we want to go. And like you said, I, And just wrote another blog about how statistics lie. We have no idea. We have no idea about any of this. They're, they're, you know, we ask, do you, do you drink? Did you quit drinking?
Guida: Do you have a substance use disorder? We don't ask the right questions. And then where do you ask those questions? And then how do you ask those questions? And then when you ask those questions, is anyone really paying attention to the answer? How many of us go to the doctor, fill out the paperwork, it gets shoved in a drawer because nobody's comfortable having the conversation.
Guida: We're just doing a really bad job of addressing the problems.
Mike: You know, I think one of the, I think the keys are out there, though, don't you? Because we made incredible headway with cigarette smoking. and now we're having to do the same thing around vaping. I mean, I can't tell you, every school I go into, in addition to whatever else you want me to talk about, they go, and could you please talk about vaping?
Mike: Because the schools I was in last week, fifth, sixth graders, they're catching... with vape and the chemicals in there, they well, first of all, they have no idea what they're taking into their system, right. At an age where you should be growing and developing. They're putting toxins into their body. Who knows?
Mike: You know, I think we're 5 to 10 years away from going. Holy crud look at the damage this has done to a whole population. So I think we have to come at it the same way we did cigarette smoking.
Guida: I absolutely agree. I just don't think that we have the legislative intestinal fortitude to do that. I don't know.
Guida: I mean, I always tell people, I believe that if we knew how damaging alcohol is before it was ever legalized. We, it never would have been legalized so pre 1920 prohibition, it never would have been legalized. I think that we would have been legalized way before alcohol just because of the physical damage that alcohol does to us.
Guida: But I don't think that now when that cat's out of the bag, we have again, we have, you know, one lobbyist to every two legislators. I don't think that they're real inclined to say, yeah, we need to roll back. In Wisconsin our alcohol tax hasn't gone up since. (chuckle) I can't, I can't even say it without laughing!
Guida: 1969! 1969 we haven't raised our alcohol tax. I mean, so what, how did we get rid of cigarettes for young people? We raised taxes on them, right? We taxed them, we taxed them, we taxed them. We know what we need to do, it's just been impossible, and I don't understand why. You know, Wisconsin aside, we still have way too many outside of Wisconsin.
Guida: We still have way too many young people drinking and vaping and, you know, moving on to other drugs. And we know what we need to do. We just aren't willing to do it, I guess.
Mike: Well, we do live in Wisconsin, Guida, and we used to have a quarterback here who's now out in New York, who when asked one time that the season was going to heck in a handbasket said famously R E L A X, which I can only imagine you've heard about a million times in your life (chuckle) when you get passionate about something.
Mike: So, you know, what do you say to folks who tell you, Oh, it's not that big a deal?
Guida: Yeah, that's right about when my head pops off. And you know, some of those folks are like family members who are saying...
Mike: I know.
Guida: Don't talk about that! That's not appropriate to talk about. I, my, one of my sister says, you don't talk about uncle Joe's drinking at the Christmas table.
Guida: And I'm like, amen. You don't, but you don't ignore it either. Right. You don't, you don't use the holidays to bring up all the bad. They have your airing of grievances.
Mike: That's Festivus. (laugh)
Guida: Yeah. But we have, again, we have to treat it like it's the problem it is, the disorder it is, the disease it is. And so I like to say, Mike, yeah, I'm never going to relax.
Guida: I like to say I can sleep at night. I can sleep at night when I address things. And I think I'm very appropriate. And I'm sure that other people don't think I'm appropriate, but I will say that. Loved ones who I've had to address things with when they want to address things, they come back to me. Right.
Guida: They don't find somebody else because I was so horrible to them. So I don't know. I think I'm doing something right. And I think I've helped a fair number of people in their own lives, either through their own problems or through their loved ones problems to figure out how to get through this and over this.
Guida: We again, we have to talk about it. I liken it to I'm sure I've told you the story a million times. It was a news anchor, a local anchor in Florida, and she was on television. She did her news and a viewer wrote in and said, Hey, I noticed you have a lump on your neck. I had a lump on my neck. It was a cancer.
Guida: You might want to get that checked. And the anchor did, and she indeed had cancer. And I think if a stranger can help a news anchor, why can't we help our loved ones? Why can't we address it? And so I say, I can. I do. I will. And then I can sleep at night. And so, I always think about the people who, like, you know, the neighbor shoots up the store, and they go, "He was such a nice man. I'm so surprised." And I'm like, I'm not going to be surprised, right? I'm not going to pretend I'm surprised. I'm going to be the one who says, Yeah, I totally addressed that. I totally, I called the police. I addressed it with this person. I did whatever I could. I did absolutely everything in my power. To fix it.
Guida: And then I had to not be, you know, I had to not take ownership of that. And so that's what I do. I will never relax. I will never relax.
Mike: Well, maybe that's the way we end up making a difference, right? One at a time.
Guida: Yeah. Starfish, right? The little kid walking down the beach, and he's picking up starfish. And the guy comes along and says, why are you doing that?
Guida: You're not, you know, look at all these starfish. They're all going to die. You can't help them all. And he throws one back in. He says, made a difference for that one. And I think about that. I love that story because, yeah, I come from the nonprofit world where a million years ago, we used to say, well, if I make a difference for one person and that, you know, and then the funder said, that's a lot of BS, you know, you got to make a difference for more than one person.
Guida: And you absolutely do. And we know that prevention is uncountable. We have no idea how to prove that we did a good job on prevention, but. When you come back and think, well, I made a difference for that one, or even, you know what, you make these little tiny increments and one by one or group by group or family by family, we have to keep talking about it and giving people resources and figuring it out.
Guida: You know, the resources are available. That's another huge button for me. "There's just nowhere for help." There absolutely is.
Mike: Guida, look at, look at what we've done here, you know, and just this little corner of the podcast world, right. Is, you know, we started this with four, and now we're at like 160 of them, and I've talked to all of these magnificent people who, many of whom went through unbelievable tragedy, and who are making an incredible difference all by themselves in the lives of others who they didn't even know before they went through it.
Mike: And then those people in turn, blah, blah, blah, right? So, it is the way to make a difference, I think.
Mike: Well, listen, hey, thanks for doing this again with me. We always need to catch up every now and then. It's kind of fun.
Mike: For those of you listening you already know this, but the link to Guida's blog that I referenced with the study attached to it is attached to the podcast.
Mike: So look it up she's a fantastic writer and follow her blog. This is just one of the articles that I referenced today. I hope that all of you have a wonderful 2024. And continue to listen in with us. And until you are with us the next time, stay safe and go about making a difference to somebody else.
Mike: Thanks, Mike.
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