For a long time I had been thinking, “I should probably cut back ... a little.”
During my third year in college, I turned the magic 21. The beer scene of fraternity functions and elsewhere on campus held no glamour or enticement at that time. Liquor just didn’t taste good, and the wonderful buzz that became so important in later years was unknown to me. As school progressed, an alcohol reward system of celebrating the end of the semester, completing a big exam, finishing a tough week (you get the idea), began to take hold. Liquor still didn’t taste good, but oh how good it felt to relax with the mood alteration of a few drinks. It intensified the great feelings of fun and fellowship shared with my friends.
After graduating from dental school, the reality of establishing a dental practice and family life became priorities, and the “ways of youthful indulgence” became memories from another time. The use of alcohol was not an issue in my life in those days, but as the practice and family grew, vacations became significant opportunities to once again engage in that old reward system and stress relief. The “feel good” of vacation getaways was always enhanced by the glow of a good buzz, and on returning to the real world of work, I began to re-create that vacation euphoria by having a few drinks “now and then”.
This increasing use of my old reward system was a wonderful way to celebrate a good week, getting through a bad week, and then too often a good or bad day. Are you getting the picture? I didn’t. I would later come to realize that the alcohol buzz had become my focus. It became the most important part of my day - of my life. Though I never experienced the shame of a DUI, or impairment in service my patients the following day, I knew I needed to cut back ... a little.
Well, I was very lucky. There was someone in my life who cared deeply about me, and who was willing to be honest enough to risk our relationship by pushing the issue of my excessive use of this selfish reward system. When I drank, I was not my normal self. I became someone unlikable. I never saw this through the distortion of my alcohol-affected perception. I did, however, begin to accept that I really did need to cut back ... perhaps more than a little ... sometimes.
There was just one problem. I couldn’t. I was confronted on six or seven different occasions when I had “over-rewarded” myself. Each time, with animated, tear-filled honesty and sincerity, I vowed. “This will never happen again!” You can probably guess what happened. In spite of my best intentions and self-disciplined nature, I found myself powerless to control, cut back, or “manage” my alcohol intake. When two drinks felt like a good glow, my distorted reasoning process said that three or four drinks would prolong the benefits. Again, I would become a different - and disappointing - human being in the eyes of those I loved. I began to realize that I was powerless to control alcohol and that the problem was not having too many drinks, but rather it was taking the first drink. Perhaps, like a food allergy, I was fine without alcohol, but when exposed to it, I was in trouble in spite of my strong sense of self-discipline in all other areas of my life. Reluctantly, I began to accept that if I was having this problem with alcohol, perhaps I as what they refer to as ... an alcoholic.
Over the years I had read various articles in Northwest Dentistry about a group called Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD). Its members had contributed their personal stories about how they had been affected by drug and alcohol issues. Some sounded very much like my own. Perhaps their support could help me.
I have now come to realize that I was unable to fix this “allergy” to alcohol by myself. I am happy to say how grateful I am that I now have a wonderful group of friends and fellow dentists who, in sharing their lives, have helped me to change mine. If my story sounds familiar to you, and you’ve been thinking that you should probably cut back a little consider giving us a confidential call. We are dentists concerned for dentists.
Anonymous DCD member
Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD) is a group of recovering alcoholic and/or chemically dependent dentists concerned about other dentists who might have problems in their relationships with alcohol and/or other mood-altering drugs. Although we receive our funding for the most part from the Minnesota Dental Association (MDA), we are a completely separate organization. Our business and clinical processes are supported by The Sand Creek Group, Ltd., a local provider of employee assistance services, and the administrators of the MDA’s Dentist Wellness Program. They answer our phones and provide a consulting psychologist/chemical health specialist who also functions as a service coordinator for the group. We adhere to a strict code of confidentiality. No information regarding the cases we become involved with is shared with the Minnesota Dental Association or the State Board of Dentistry. There are some cases that come to the attention of the Health Professionals Services Program (HPSP) before we are ever involved, and in those cases, and only with the written consent of the dentist concerned, we will provide limited “progress reports” when requested to do so by HPSP as part of their on-going monitoring program. Our primary purpose is to be available to afflicted dentists, helping them effectively address their alcohol and/or other drug problems, while protecting their anonymity and helping them continue in the practice of professional dentistry. To that end we provide supportive services and educational resources to them, their families, and their colleagues.
For confidential help to address alcohol and/or other drug concerns, please contact Dentists Concerned for Dentists (DCD) at (651) 275-0313 or (800) 632-7643.
Additional information can also be found on the MDA website:http://www.mndental.org/dentist_home/member_services/wellness_program/