Opinion: Think before you speak

Matt Yurkanin

Matt Yurkanin

By Zachary Schuster

It’s no secret that college campuses are isolated havens from the real world. We are given free reign to do many things that wouldn’t be acceptable outside college culture. Unfortunately, sometimes the real world enters the college campus in an all-too-serious way.

We often glibly toss around serious words that can trigger intense emotional reactions. Words such as “raped,” “retarded” and “gay” are widely used without any thought given to those who might find them hurtful. For me, another one of these words is “alcoholic.”

I once saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that read, “That’s Mr. Alcoholic to you.” I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but two years prior, I had attended a retreat where, of 10 guys in my group, eight had families that were torn apart by an alcoholic father. Watching 17-year-old guys break down crying when talking about the pain alcoholism had caused them hit me like a ton of bricks.

After I saw this guy’s shirt, I wanted to ask him exactly what he was trying to say. Mr. Alcoholic? Are there really people on campus who think this is a compliment? Has he ever met a real alcoholic who has lost his or her job and destroyed his or her family?

The important thing for college students to understand is that we are part of a larger society. Making light of alcoholism shows a certain level of ignorance and insensitivity to those who have been impacted by the disease. We should take the time to educate ourselves about the disease before proudly displaying it on T-shirts.

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A 2001 to 2002 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that more than 10 million U.S. citizens suffer from alcoholism. The same study found that alcoholism is more prevalent in men than in women.

Alcoholism is a cause for concern because of the impact of excessive drinking on one’s health. There is a lengthy list of the negative effects of excessive drinking, ranging from insomnia to liver damage and heart failure. There also are the social effects – such as losing one’s job – that result from the destructive grip of alcohol.

Alcoholism is described as a “family disease,” because when one person develops the disease, it directly affects every member of the family. A family’s struggle with alcoholism might begin when the father stays out late after work and returns home drunk more and more frequently. Often, his wife will deal with this burden by trying to hide her husband’s drinking problem or by pretending it doesn’t exist.

As the disease gets progressively worse, the father might begin fighting with his wife and start abusing her. His children also are placed in a difficult situation, not knowing what to do. They rarely see their father, and when they do see him, he usually is drunk and fighting with their mother. Once the disease has progressed this far, it likely has hurt all family members and destroyed the family structure.

Since the time I saw that guy and his T-shirt at the Illini Union, I have seen people I care about impacted by alcoholism. It is difficult to see students joke about something that has caused the people I love so much pain. Although it might be easy to forget, there is a bigger world outside this college campus.

I don’t mean to condemn anyone – I’m merely making a simple request. Please remember that what we say is important, and even the smallest words can have a big impact on others. Using words like “alcoholic” in jest shows ignorance and a lack of respect for those who must deal with the effects of alcoholism. Something that might seem to be a joke might be a serious and painful reality for the person next to you.

Zachary Schuster is a senior in engineering. His will return to his forum on Monday. He can be reached at [email protected].