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?