By Annetta Sutton – [email protected]

It was an honor to accept the invitation to speak at the Schirber Endowment Lecture on the reality and impact of alcohol and other drugs. The Endowment was given to St. John’s University by Martin ’42 and Rose Schirber, medical professionals with a specific request to provide this lecture topic.

As professional witnesses to the impact of the disease of alcoholism, it was as important for others to know they experienced it in their lives. Dr. Schirber was a recovering alcoholic. He and his family knew the suffering the active disease brought. They also knew the joy of recovery and wanted to continue their life of service through this endowment.

The epidemic of alcohol abuse has always been present. Today we have another—opioids and heroin. Addiction occurs regardless of age, socio-economics, sexual orientation and ethnicities.

People are dying with a needle stuck in their arm loaded with heroin. Recently speaking in an elite Catholic girl’s school, I asked the first-year students, “Do you know of anyone who has died or is struggling with heroin addiction?” Three fourths of the hands went up. No one is exempt. We are all impacted. Including Minnesota’s own, Prince.

It often begins innocently. An injury occurs, pills replace ice packs. A few nightly beers with buddies become a nightly ritual. Then shots. Consequences begin, especially if there is genetic predisposition. Another consequence, age. Many people are unaware of why the state requires 21 years of age to consume alcohol. It is applied for several reasons. Most important, it stunts emotional development. Drinking prior to 21 often causes stunted development.

Teaching theology at a Midwestern Catholic university, I witnessed students dreams, scholarships, friends, lives slip away through use, abuse and addiction. I lost two beloved brothers prematurely to the disease. I lost my marriage, leaving our five children and me to navigate life without him. My junior year of high school my 16-year-old sister was killed by a senior, who a teacher said smelled of alcohol.

Working 40 years in the profession of chemical dependency, I know chemical dependency is a brain disease impacting all organs especially the brain and liver. Yes, a brain disease, not a moral failing. It is deserving of the same treatment as a person with brain cancer. And, never let
anyone tell you marijuana is a benign substance.

In this small space it is impossible to provide complete information toward understanding the complicated world of addiction. Suffice it to say, use can lead to abuse which often times becomes an addiction through genetics, environment and/or situational loss; the breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one and more.

As I write this, students on campuses throughout our nation are  dope sick, hung over, dying of alcohol poisoning, being sexually assaulted and driving their lives towards loss of their dreams. Stop the epidemic; consider education, prevention, intervention.

If you know someone who struggles, help them. If you struggle, seek help. Begin the conversation. It will change lives.

This is the opinion of Annetta Sutton, guest speaker at CSB/SJU and  CEO of Founder Five Point Consulting