08 November 2010

The dangers of alcohol

You may have seen a news item earlier last week saying that alcohol was more harmful than heroin. Since then I have been scrutinising online debates in which a few medical experts give their sneering opinions on this.... more harmful than heroin - don't talk rubbish, kind of thing. In my humble experience the majority of medics completely underestimate what alcohol can do and, if they can be bothered to deal with it at all, they come up with unhelpful solutions with no real idea of the enormity of the problem. Unless it has touched their own lives, they really haven't a clue.

The trouble, as I see it, is that alcohol is more readily available in society than so-called dangerous drugs. It can be obtained 24 hours round the clock at supermarkets, petrol stations, bars and pubs. It is available at ridiculously low prices and, if they are clever, even children can lay their hands on it. It is socially acceptable to have a few drinks. It is an ice-breaker, a relaxant, a prize at the end of a hard day. You don't hear the average person saying that about heroin. So, unlike heroin, alcohol is welcomed in through the front door in most homes. It weedles its way in under the pretence of being harmless and waits to pick on someone vulnerable. In safe hands, it causes no problem. The odd tipple before bedtime or after church, the birthday celebration, a fine meal - these are socially and medically acceptable. I suspect in safe hands, the same can be said of heroin. But when the use of these substances turns into an addiction and then a dependency, that is when the argument that alcohol is less dangerous comes unstuck. The alcoholic has no problems getting their fix at any hour of the day and the shopkeepers are only too happy to keep on selling it. At least the drug pushers have to go underground and are not available on every street at every time of the day.

I have learned that alcoholism is an illness, possibly even a genetic mutation, just like cancer or cystic fibrosis. Some people have absolutely no control over their alcoholism, try as they might, because the genes have preprogrammed them to be like that. If that is the case, then having alcohol available on the streets 24 hours a day is tantamount to having heroin on sale at Superdrug or Sainsburys.

I don't know what the solution is, other than to push up prices and sell it only between set hours and only in a few locations. When pubs used to shut at 11pm, people went home to their beds. Now pubs and clubs stay open till the wee small hours and stay open all day. You read about young kids clubbing till all hours and throwing up on the pavements of London, Crete and Ibiza. The young are getting so used to alcohol in large quantities on a reguar basis that I fear, as they age, it will inevitably cause untold damage for them in the future. This is going to put even more stress on an already strained medical system.

I found a sheet of paper Greg had been given in the past, outlining what damage alcohol can do:

Brain: shrinkage, causing general motor and sensory impairment; anxiety; depression; neuroses; phobias; hallucinations.

Oesophagus: oesophageal varices occur as a result of increased pressure of the portal veins, causing localised varicose veins in the throat. These may rupture, resulting in an often fatal haemorrhage.

Liver: becomes enlarged with fat deposits and may be inflamed causing alcoholic hepatitis.

Reproductive area: in men, impotence; shrinkage of the testicles, loss of male sexual characteristics and possible feminisation in the development of breast tissue.

Mouth: increase risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus.

Lungs: Reduced resistence to lung infections, colds, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

Heart: Fat is deposited in the heart muscle, impairing its function and precipitating heart attack.

Stomach: chronic gastritis; ulcers; vomiting; diarhoea; malnutrition.

Intestines: inflammation of the intestine wall inhibits absorption of vitamins and iron causing vitamin deficiency and anaemia; varices (varicose veins) which can rupture causing fatal haemorrhage.

Hands: Tremeulous hands; tingling numbness; loss of sensation in the fingers.

Toes: Numbness and tingling in the toes.

Not a very happy list of symptoms, is it? I know for one thing, Greg had nearly every damn one of those symptoms and alcohol took his life. Still unsure whether it's less dangerous than heroin?


Eliza said...

That's a scary list:-( I have a friend who is an alcoholic and I've watched her deteriorate, she just cant seem to help herself. My mother worries me as well.

Nota Bene said...

The cheapness and wide availability of alcohol is an issue which government should deal with...but in the UK we seem to have a problem dealing with it. Last year they were talking of putting the same info on the labels as food...fat, salt content etc...but not the same labels as they put on cigarettes...strange.

Millennium Housewife said...

We have a strange take on the world us humans. Totally acceptable to ask someone to meet you for a drink. What you're actually saying is would you like to comsume a drug with me? I'm not sure about the answer either Addy except for personal resposibility, but that doesn't take care of the genetic problem... x

aims said...

I know it's more dangerous than heroin after working in a bar for so many years.

I wonder why society doesn't recognize this. Do you think that marketing has a hand in this? Perhaps the lobbyists?

What would happen if the world started seeing ads for heroin? Would it become the acceptable 'drug' to use over the drug alcohol?

Sad. This world we live in can be really sad at times.

Kay L. Davies said...

Hear hear. Money. Lobbyists. People who make money selling alcohol because it's legal, don't want the same "danger" labels on it as cigarettes. Governments don't want to cut back on alcohol sales because HUGE taxes are paid on it. And don't for one minute think the doctors want to lose all those patients who have those health problems on Greg's list. People who quit drinking and get healthy are a huge revenue loss to pub owners, bar owners, club owners, hotel owners, doctors and government.

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

Bravely said Addy. It takes someone like yourself to say how these matters really are. I have no experience whatsoever of either drug or alcohol abuse and can only imagine the horrors of it. I do believe that the pubs should go back to fewer opening hours. Reports of young people drinking so heavily are very worrying. A

Kelloggsville said...

Doesn't matter how much you restrict the sale of it, or how much it cost alcoholics will still get their hands on it. It dominates their lives and affects their family because of it. This country is full of functioning alcoholics whose home life is marred by it *sigh*

Nechtan said...

Hi Addy,

I remember in my short time at Uni I had a leacturer who spent almost the whole first class telling us why canabis should be legalised. I don't know about that but his main argument was that people who partake in it don't throw up over people, be generally obnoxious and more often than not extremely violent. You only have to watch one of these fly-on-the-wall documentries of police units on a Saturday night to see its effects.

I do wonder if its a cultural thing. Watch any soap and the main focus is a pub. That's where everyone meets and usually they are having something to drink at lunchtime. Then if they are in the house in the evening there is a bottle of wine being opened regardless of the day of the week. It just seems to be accepted.

I can understand your concerns. Up here north of the border they have been trying to push for hiking up alcohol prices. In the West of Scotland particularly they have a problem with Buckfast wine among kids which is cheap and very nasty. There are certainly no positives when not taken in moderation.

All the best


HyperCRYPTICal said...

Hi Addy,

I must admit that my first reaction was that alcohol could not be more dangerous than heroin.
But as you rightly say, unless you have seen first hand the damage alcohol can do - you don't understand.

Consuming alcohol is more socialably acceptable than drug use - but oddly enough - drug addicts are more socially acceptable than alcoholics.

I think there is a misconception that those who become alcoholics choose this path - where in fact it is a gradual thing and certainly unplanned; while it if felt that those who become drug addicts, do so, as an eventuality of which they have no control over.

Alcohol abuse does seriously affect health, and I can think of two more outcomes that are not on your list - that most of us are unaware of, of which I shall post soon.

As you also rightly say - drug addiction is underground and 'other' people do it - not us. Most of us drink - so drinking is okay - until it takes a hold on you, and then society judges as they don't understand.

Kind regards.


zaplightsmusic said...

hi there

i'm a chronic relapsing alkie, currently 14 days sober, i have had three 'busts' in the last year consisting of about 4-5 days each, so i'm 'mostly' sober i suppose you could say.

i have access to a great private hospital in australia and have just been discharged after detoxing and doing some inpatient groups.

please google "professor john saunders" - he's a world expert and he speaks at the hospital each friday. he agrees with you.


Flowerpot said...

Very good post Addy - I so agree about licencing hours too.

dulwich divorcee said...

Well said, Addy. I would include cigarettes, too - they are supposed to be more addictive than heroin yet available at every corner newsagents. A bizarre case of double standards.

Spencer Park said...

Well said!

Retiredandcrazy said...

Ummmm. As they say in AA - alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful. Once in the grip of any addiction the addict will get his "fix" whatever the price or availability and I think that to say one addiction is worse than another is a mute point.

And what triggers alcohol addiction? It can be the first drink (as it was with my husband) or take years of heavy drinking. Once an onion becomes a pickle it can never be an onion again. As I say, cunning, powerful and baffling.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I was watching the reports on the news recently and have to admit that I thought it was a bit far-fetched. But I don't drink and nor does my husband so we don't really have a right to comment. As you have said though, alcohol is readily available 24/7 and that, in my opinion, makes it more harmful than any drug that isn't.

CJ xx

Gattina said...

I was attracted by the rather strange name of your blog ! I don't think that increasing prices for alcohol or other laws would help ! I remember when the pubs closed at 11, just 5 min before all people ran to buy 5 or 6 or more beers at once to drink them, because they you could stay in the pub until they had them finished. The curtains and doors were closed, but inside people drank as fast as they could !
An alcoholic always finds a way to get his daily dose. I remember in a detoxication hospital an elderly alcoholic lady emptied all parfum bottles she could get in the rooms. It's a terrible disease and nobody can help these people only themselves.

nancygrayce said...

Oh, my son has been an alcoholic since he was 15 years old and he's 40 now. I'm so sorry for your loss and heartache. It is horrible to watch someone you love die slowly as you're trying to stop them to no avail...

God bless you!

Saz said...

This leaves be cold, numb l already am...hiding under my rock following a days revelations....is there a rock big enough l can still see the light?


Saz said...

...as for cigarettes, I gave up 21 years ago...and yesterday l had three..
did l feel better, a tad lightheaded, foul of mouth, a little calmer..

I've often said one must never say never....am l addicted, l hope not, it is my choice and l will always have the taste....can the same be said of alcohol, having walked in both shoes, albeit it as the wife of an addict..it devatstates the drinker and ultimately devastates the family....12 years of sobriety and 35 years together l am left...deserted, no contact and he is now attached to the woman he was 'helping' last year, besotted and l am most surprised by my disgust and grief....l learn that everyone knew, even the kids...

wheres that damn rock!

please excuse the rant...here lies a lesson, somewhere

Furtheron said...

well I can tick a few off that list... luckily for me I got the message before it was too late.

When I heard this story I knew there would be a backlash - I did ignore it but reading this I've gone off and had a look.

Oh dear! As Max Glatt who was a famous psychiatrist and addiction specialist once corrected an interviewer when introduced as "an expert on alcoholism". He said "I'm an authority on it, if you want to talk to the experts go talk to alcoholics themselves."

Whether it is genetic or not - there are some pointers to that, isn't really the issue. Disease it certainly is and chronic most definitively.

I have some form of odd allergy to the stuff, firstly once I take one drink I will probably not stop, my body/mind will demand/crave more. When I do stop I mentally obsess about it until I start again. So it is a physical and mental issue.

About a year ago I saw a doctor - not my regular one but another at the same practice, it was a regular check up for my Hypertension (high blood pressure) which had developed in my early 30s and for which I took daily medication for 10 years. I shouldn't have to say but high blood pressure is the cause of scores of deaths each year through cardiovascular issues. However I've not taken any medication for that condition for over 6 years. Since I stop drinking in fact, interesting that isn't it. If I had carried on might I have already died of a heart attack? Possibly but then that wouldn't be an alcoholic death just a young death from a cardiovascular problem. Anyway the doc said "How much alcohol do you drink a week?" "None at all" I replied. He smiled and asked again "None, I'm a recovering alcoholic" I said. "Very good. When did you last drink?" "14th May 2004" I said. "Oh you must start saying you are a recovered alcoholic then it's been so long now you must be fine".

NOT A CLUE! I don't crave drink all the time now but only because I recognise I am an alcoholic and have to work at it day in day out and avoid the bloody stuff like the poison it is.

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sensibilia said...

Dear Addy,
Your essays on the pernicious effects of alcohol are the most factual, the most informative and the most awe-inspiring I have ever come across.

I've been an adult now for nearly 40 years, reading the comment columns in newspapers nearly as long, and never learnt as much as I have here.

I probably count as a smug sober, in that I have personally experienced that alcohol is a poison in my system, and I have no difficulty keeping off it. I love the idea, the taste, the relaxation, the social warmth, but invariably it makes me feel worse very soon, and like Pavlov's dog, I have learnt to keep away.

I've seen the effects of alcohol on family members. Verbal abuse, in my own home. Break up of a sibling relationship, a little further away. Nothing on the scale of which you write.

I am old enough to remember limited licensing hours, and can only disagree with the lady who says it wouldn't make any difference to limit them. To a hardened few, maybe it wouldn't. But the ordinary majority did indeed used to go home and go to bed at 11.00pm. Now they feel they must stay up until they are senseless and vomiting. I totally agree about the effects on the health of the young, they don't feel it now, thinking they are immortal. They are building up problems for the future.

I am so sorry that you experienced this at such close quarters.

W. Home said...

Alcohol drinking should be a controlled or at least avoided by adults so that their children won't do the same thing as they grow. alcohol training courses