Friday, 30 May 2014

Five Months Down, Seven To Go

This month has been the toughest so far. I am ploughing through books on alcohol, and learning a lot about the psychology of drinking.

I would far rather be reading them with a drink in my hand, because it is having the unexpected effect  of making me think about drinking far more often than I perhaps would have done if I'd given up booze for a year and decided to research gun crime, or cupcakes.

What I have discovered about myself is that the drinking I have been doing over the last few years can be classified as "low dependence" (according to one of the five questionnaires I've completed). And if you answer "sometimes" to any one of these fifteen questions, then congratulations - you're a low dependence drinker too.

Low dependence is obviously worse than no dependence, but there are few, if any, health problems associated with low dependence, and no intervention is required. The medical advice is to "watch it".

Having armed myself with more information than I ever expected to know about alcohol and its complex, insidious effects, I will.

I also fully intend to go back to drinking and spend the rest of my life enjoying it. But I want to do that within the context of a cultural and political understanding of alcohol, and its role in our society.

90% of us drink. That is, 90% of us take psychoactive drugs. In terms of the damage it can do, alcohol is one of the worst psychoactive drugs. Lots of questions about the law and public health policy here...

Monday, 12 May 2014

Why do we drink?

Here's a good list from The Diseases of Alcohol by Dr David Marjot. It does not try to describe every effect, so feel free to add your own:

A 'high' or 'buzz' - euphoria
Relief from anxiety
Permissive - puts you in a mood to do things you would not do sober
Facilitates uncritical social intercourse
Escape from yourself or present situation
Stimulate creativity
Assist healing
Treat symptoms (eg brandy for an unsettled stomach)
Give energy
Assist onset of sleep
Relieve pain
Enhance group solidarity
Pass time without boredom - alcohol destroys the awareness of the passage of time

This latter point is extremely important to Dr Marjot. When combined with the most significant thing about our relationship with alcohol - dose - we can start to unravel the complex mess of social, psychological and clinical signifiers we have constructed around it.

Dr Marjot's book was pressed on me by my local vicar when he discovered I'd sworn off the sauce. I'm rather glad he did, as the contents, to a lay drinker, are revelatory.

Nick Wallis
An actual old-fashioned proper book!
For a start it's full of really useful clinical information about what alcohol does to the brain, but, being a psychiatrist, Dr Marjot is just as interested in what alcohol does to the mind. There are some great moments in it, and the above list works perfectly as a stepping off point for thinking about why we drink, and how we handle its effects, personally and socially.

The conclusion Dr Marjot seems to be working towards is that we as a society don't handle alcohol very well at all, and therefore it shouldn't be much surprise when individuals don't either.

It chimes with a theory I am busy developing that we have got the way we acknowledge, celebrate, and stigmatise alcohol use completely wrong. This feeds into a wider discussion about all psychoactive drugs, but I'm going to focus on the legal one for the moment.

I am in touch with Dr Marjot and he is sending me his second book, Addiction: A Kind of Loving, in which he explores more fully his theory about our need to change the language of addiction. Should keep me busy.