24 March 2012

Alcoholic fog

Yet again, the powers that be seem to be totally blind to the problem of alcoholism. The latest brainwave is to increase the price of alcohol per unit to prevent binge-drinking. When will they ever learn? Do they not know that a true alcoholic would sooner go without food than alcohol, so increasing the price of alcohol will just reduce their available income for food and thus make them even more drunk. In the absence of food, the alcohol will do even more damage to their liver. As for teenagers and students, they will still get their vodka somehow before they go out for the weekend. Raising the price alone is about as useful as a hedgehog helping out in a balloon factory.


Imagine someone suggesting just raising the price of drugs to stop people taking them. Imagine too heroin being on sale 24 hours round the clock in supermarkets, clubs and petrol stations. There'd be an outcry. Yet alcohol can cause just as much damage as heroin to your brain, your health, your life. I watched my husband dying a slow and horrible death, going from normal to dead within 6 years of his alcohol addiction starting. Unlike drugs, alcohol is legally available any time of the day or night and obtainable from a corner shop near you.
New Labour introduced 24-hour drinking to this country during their last term but they failed to appreciate that as a nation we cannot handle our booze and don't always know when enough is enough. I am not prohibitionist or anti-alcohol. I admit I love the occasional glass of wine or even on high days and holidays the occasional Baileys or vermouth, but when I think about it, why? It is not to quench my thirst because water or fruit juice would make a far better job of that. It has become the norm for people to drink wine with meals, but again, why? Does it seriously make a difference to the food? Did Mr Caveman suffer by not drinking wine with his food? Have we conned ourselves into thinking water with food would just not be acceptable? The trouble is, once it becomes the norm, one glass of wine or beer is not enough. I have even heard some people drink a glass of wine while they are cooking the food and of course go on to drink more with the meal. Before you know it, you have finished one or two bottles every day. Once your drinking escalates, it is not easy to stop or get out of the habit and all too soon you are addicted. With the addiction comes damage to liver and the brain, not to mention internal bleeding. So even these silent drinkers (ie not the official binge-drinkers we see on the streets) are aided in their drinking by alcohol being too readily available. In the supermarket? Then gather essentials.... milk, bread, fruit, meat. Oh and how about a bottle of wine? Getting petrol? That'll be twenty litres of unleaded and a bottle of whisky. Not only is the nation facing a problem of obesity (currently one in four are obese and soon will be one in three) but we are creating a whole new young generation of alcoholics with liver disease deaths rising faster than heart disease or cancer. Surely a sobering thought , not to mention the pressure on already stretched NHS resources..

Whilst the debate continues ( it may now seem that imposing a minimum price on a unit of alcoholic drinks is illegal under EU competition law), I would like to see the return of sensible licensing laws with pubs and clubs shutting, like they used to, at 11pm or midnight. Anyone drinking too much would be refused a drink by the landlord. I would like to see supermarkets and petrol stations banned from selling alcohol at all and I would welcome the return of off-licences open only for a few hours in the evening. I appreciate the counter-argument that it would make life difficult for the "sensible drinker", but isn't that a small price to pay to stop the drunken louts on our streets and to deter Aunty Mabel from succumbing to the daily bottle of gin behind her lounge curtains, certain of a slow and painful death if she continues? We managed with stringent laws like that in the past. Why not again?


Kelloggsville said...

But wouldn't the alcoholic just buy 6 bottles of whiskey from the off license whilst it was open? I think we need the medical answer to how to beat the addiction and allow the addicted to return to a level of control. I think the things you mention help the social problems but won't help the already addicted. What flicked Greg into addiction at the start of the 6 years? I wonder when I've been reading for so long that I should know this already, I'll go back read. Thank you for being here.

Gattina said...

The shops in Belgium close at 7 pm the supermarkets at 8. Sundays they are all closed. But people are used to that so they have big reserves at home. It's not the price increase or closing shop hours which would stop an alcoholic from drinking. What they would need is more psychological help and treated as sick people and not as outsiders. I am living in a country where wine and beer is not considered as alcohol. It's part of the culture to drink it every day during meals. But not all Belgians are alcoholics therefore. Everything is bad when it comes to excess. Some people drink reasonably their whole life, others drop into it, sometimes without knowing it themselves. It can be stress, depression, there are so many reasons and it is very very hard to get out of it if the person doesn't want it for himself. I once met an elderly alcoholic woman (she looked like Miss Marple and we called her like that) in a clinic. While we were all eating, she went through the rooms and emptied parfum bottles because there was alcohol in it ! Of course she became very sick and had to be hospitalized. It's so sad !

Furtheron said...

Yep had a great chuckle at that one myself. So alcohol is the cheaper than it was 20 years ago in real terms against avg wages etc. So we'll be back to the good old days I hear from the oldtimers in the rooms of AA... home brew! Remember all that crap various people had bubbling away in cupboards all over the house? It was at one point I believe in the 70s one of Boots major earners - it'll return... and then people are really going to be ill. A friend once hospitalised himself as he couldn't wait for it all to settle properly, drank half a demijohn and promptly had spend a day or two in hospital!

Sadly - the only thing increasing the price will do is a) earn more profit for the producers and retailers and earn the govt significantly more VAT... oh you couldn't cynically think this is just a way to increase taxes again and absolutely no concern about the people?

I started reading the govt paper on it but gave up - not a flipping clue. They think they will up the price and everyone will become a pinky finger sticking out 1 Babyshame a month drinker! Hardly any mention of long term care and total abstinence programmes for those that need it - Sad - another opportunity missed

Nota Bene said...

I agree..raising the price will not make a significant difference. There are cultural, societal issues to be resolved. Controlling the sale of alcohol would be a good start

the veg artist said...

I have known two problem drinkers well. One was a farmer, and for most of the year his drinking was restricted to Christmas (Must offer a glass of spirits to everyone who calls at the farm), but the weeks of haymaking were a complete misery for his family. It was the custom for all the farmers in the area to help each other out. Free labour for each other. Food and home-brew provided. His wife, along with all the other wives, made their batches of beer. He could not leave the stuff alone. From before it was truly ready, until it was finally all gone (and we are talking tens of gallons), he was drunk day and night for weeks on end. He was violent, abusive and was cruel to his animals. The other farmers just laughed at him, at the same time as pitying his wife, but nobody would have helped them out without the beer to wash away the dust.
Each year he had many months of being sober, but, as I have said here before about the other person in my life who had a problem, he would not, and I repeat, NOT, discuss his drinking and its affect on the family. Any attempt would be met with temper.
It's as though the ability to think sensibly totally deserts them when it comes to alcohol, even when they are not drunk.
I now think that, for some people, the addiction it creates is far greater than most of us can ever understand.
I watched a TV programme about gambling the other night, and there seemed to be many similarities. Addiction is not governed by money. Gamblers will gamble what they do not have. They will also create opportunities, so it's not about availability. There are always ways and means.

Flowerpot said...

I agree about addicts getting what they need, however,. But I also agree about limiting availability. It's a tough one to crack though.

dulwich divorcee said...

Sweden has special alcohol shops with very restricted hours, no spirits or wine available in supermarkets .... yet you see people staggering around drunk on the streets. I think if people want to drink, they will ... maybe re-education would be better than restriction? But how you achieve that, I don't know ....

Elizabeth said...

Young and old may have different needs. A young Irish girl told me that in Ireland there is nothing for kids to do so they all just wait for the day when they are old enough to go to the pub. She said she was amazed how much there is for young people in Australia to do. We have binge drinking but perhaps not as bad as the UK.

I agree about limiting availability. Alcoholics will still get their alcohol but it will help people who aren't that far gone. Do we have to repeat the experience of Sweden which has drunk itself into bankruptcy several times in the past?

Beth Burgess said...

I'm an alcoholic - in recovery now. And I don't think raising prices will help but neither do I think availability is the issue. I could ALWAYS afford, beg, steal or borrow a drink and I'd always stock up if I thought I was going to go without. Three litres of gin in the house at all times. Cutting availability would not have helped me.

We need to make the distinction between people who drink irresponsibly and people who are actually alcoholics - and no sanctions will help the latter. I was given a year to live unless I stopped drinking - and guess what? It didn't make a blind bit of difference.

To deal with people who simply drink irrsponsibly but are not actually addicted we need to change the culture in this country - we need to make overindulging become seen as a bad thing, not something to be sniggered at and proud about.

As for people who are addicted, an entirely different sort of methodology is needed, which is too complicated to go into here.

But they are different problems and need different handling altogether.

And can I pre-empt anyone who thinks irresponsible drinking leads to addiction. It doesn't. The addicted alcoholic mindset is very different from someone who just drinks too much. They are not even on the same continuum. Not just my informed opnion, but the diagnositc criteria says so too.

Best wishes,
Beth Burgess
Recovery Coach

ps there is an article about the difference between the two here if you're interested: What is an Alcoholic?

Anonymous said...

After reading through your comments on this post, I honestly don't know what the answer is. The government are hugely irresponsible and have little knowledge of the bigger picture. Increasing prices is to enable extra funds in their pockets, but they aren't looking at this from the point of view of an alcoholic. What they don't know, they don't want to see, and there lies the problem. Ignorance.

CJ x

Working Mum said...

I've just read this post having just ordered my annual wine delivery (yes, annual). Made me think.

My husband and I consume less than one bottle of wine a week between us, but it is a habit that we each have a glass on a Friday or Saturday night. My parents never did this when I was young. We didn't have wine in our house very often when I was growing up. It was not available 24 hours or from the local shops, you had to go the off licence window of a local pub. When did it become the norm to have alcohol in the house and drink every week?

Availability is definitely an issue, strict drinking hours meant a limited time in which to consume alcohol and we didn't see the drunken scenes we now have in our towns and cities evey weekend.

Perhaps the two things together, acceptablity and availablity, with the lack of self control that alcohol induces, has led to an increase in people with drink problems. Not price.

Anonymous said...

Great blog post. There are so many factors that contribute to alcoholism and there is no single fix that can end the problem. I work for a rehabilitation center and we have written a blog on the Governments Alcohol Strategy If you ever feel like sharing your thoughts or ideas on addiction with us please get in touch. you can check out our website at www.lifeworkscommunity.com

Anonymous said...

Hi my wife died a few weeks ago from alcoholism.... It was expected ..