Monday, 17 November 2014

Alcohol Awareness Week

I am making a start to alcohol awareness week wired up on coffee.

I am also reading on the front page of today's Times that more and more professional women are presenting with liver problems due to excessive drinking.

Better stop committing crimes whilst drinking
I am reading on twitter this morning (via Jeremy Hopkins) about a report which points out alcohol's role in protecting against heart disease only works for 15% of the population and a Guardian piece about older drinkers becoming more of a problem as younger people foreswear booze.

I am not even going looking for this stuff. It's everywhere. I consume the daily drip of news articles on alcohol (whilst bearing in mind most journalism on science is misleading and most medical studies have gaping flaws) and I look at our behaviour and I wonder. I really wonder.

Search the hashtag #alcoholawarenessweek and you get a barrage of frightening stats, advice and very well-meaning people desperately trying to stop you opening that extra beer or bottle of wine this weekend.

It is perhaps denialist and irresponsible to suggest an apparent level of hysteria. Health professionals and the emergency services see what alcohol is doing to too many people, daily.

Unless the reason WHY is Because You Enjoy It
If I've learned one thing this year it is that everyone who drinks is playing with fire. Alcohol is a seductive drug - once in our system it will make our brains demand more until we are well beyond safe limits. It then embeds itself in our neural pathways to ensure going back to unsafe limits becomes habitual. Even tiny amounts can permanently alter our behaviour, so that even when it is not coursing round our bodies, it directs us back towards a reunion. The more you drink and the more you have drunk, the more likely and often this happens until:

a) you stop drinking
b) you die

Is it a risk worth taking? Well that's the million dollar question. When I think about the happiest times of my life, alcohol has been involved. Would they still be the happiest times of my life without alcohol? No. They wouldn't have happened.

Important, richer and more fulfilling experiences like watching your child being born and getting married don't make you happy in the way alcohol can - these are far more profound episodes that make you a better person and give you a deeper understanding of life. Booze is irrelevant to that.

Still seems like a good deal
Alcohol is a useful short cut, a quick release and, handled properly, a way of shrugging off the stresses and responsibilities life throws at you. I contend (once it has left your system and only once it has left your system) it can put you in a better frame of mind to deal with those stresses and responsibilities when they return. Others vehemently disagree.

This year has taught me many things about my relationship with alcohol and the nature of the drug itself. I haven't been afforded any particular insight into my own spiritual well being. There is no clarity. But it has allowed me to stop and see what a teetotal life entails: hard work, fewer smiles, with death lurking at the end of it. I would certainly be a wiser and better person, but I'm not sure I would be happy.

It's premature to come to any firm conclusions right now.  It's what I take forward into next year, when I start drinking again, which will really measure how useful this exercise has been. Until then, happy Alcohol Awareness Week. Mine's a latte.

The Joys of Drinking

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