Day 97! A gloriously sunny, sober Saturday. Children still slumbering and the husband out hunter gathering (buying coffee and newspapers) on the streets of Chelsea.
Spoiler alert: this post is somewhat controversial. Please do not feel obliged to agree with me, in fact all debate warmly encouraged!
It was announced in the press yesterday that Charles Kennedy (see my post: When the wine witch wins. Part 2) was, indeed, killed by his alcoholism. He had a 'massive haemorrhage'.
This news caused yet more discussion about alcoholism in the press, which you might think is a very good thing. Here's a typical quote from the Guardian:
“I also hope that politicians of all parties develop a better understanding of alcoholism, take it more seriously and devise policies to treat it as a disease on a par with the other major diseases."
And, yes, it would be good for "all parties develop a better understanding of alcoholism", and to "take it more seriously," BUT all the language used is designed to distance the commentator, and the vast proportion of the population, from the problem.
What they are, in effect, saying is "pity those poor souls that have this terrible disease they can do nothing about. Thank goodness the vase majority of us don't have it! Let's raise a glass to that!"
They think they know what the 'disease of alcoholism' looks like. It's the homeless wino in the gutter. It's the girl collapsed, in a pool of her own vomit, outside the nightclub with her knickers on show.
It's not them with their 'civilised' half bottle of wine with a colleague or client over lunch, gin and tonic when they get home, and another bottle shared with the wife at dinner. Oh no.
I don't believe that alcoholism is a disease or an illness. I'm with Jason Vale and Alan Carr, who believe that 'alcoholism' is a drug addiction like any other.
Some people are more prone to becoming addicted more quickly. The Horizon documentary on the BBC recently showed how some racial groups (e.g. Irish, American Indians) are, because of the slow speed with which they metabolise alcohol, more likely to develop alcoholism than others (e.g. Japanese, Chinese).
And 'nurture' plays a part as well as 'nature'. If you're raised to believe that drinking daily, copious, amounts of alcohol is the norm, you are more likely to do so yourself.
Certain professions encourage 'alcoholism' for the same reason: advertising and media, journalism and investment banking for example.
Plus, anyone dealing with any form of 'emotional damage' is far more likely to become hooked on the blurry oblivion provided by alcohol (and other drugs) in order to fill the 'hole in the soul'.
But, the truth is, that just like heroin, nicotine, cocaine and any other addictive drug, anyone who drinks enough alcohol over a long enough period of time will eventually become hooked.
Sooner or later your brain chemistry is permanently altered such that it becomes reliant on your drug of choice (in this case alcohol) for dopamine. Eventually your cucumber becomes a pickle (see Moderation. Is it possible? Part 2 for more on this one)
Going back to the quote from yesterday's papers, if it had read like this: “I also hope that politicians of all parties develop a better understanding of alcohol, take it more seriously and devise policies to treat it as an addictive drug on a par with the other addictive drugs" then that would be helpful. That would be a game changer.
Why? Because talking about it that way makes it clear that no-one is immune. It would encourage people to question their own drinking habits before they become too entrenched. More and more people would jump off the elevator before it gets to rock bottom.
As a society we insist on treating alcohol differently from other drugs because a huge proportion of the population are using it. The same used to be true of nicotine. At one point even doctors promoted smoking as, not just harmless, but healthy! How extraordinary that seems now.
I understand that talking about alcoholism as 'a disease' or 'an illness' ensures that people struggling with it are pitied rather than scorned, which is something. But even when we manage to 'recover' they feel sorry for us, trapped in a world without alcohol for ever.
Do we want pity? If alcoholism was seen for what it is - as a chronic addiction that anyone can be sucked into - then those of us who manage to break the chains would be envied and lauded. We wouldn't be hiding behind anonymity in church halls, or pseudonyms on the internet.
We have to stop blaming 'the disease' and start blaming the drug.
Only then can we give people proper help before they get to rock bottom, like Charles Kennedy. Only then can we properly counsel our children. Only then can we stop, not just the effects of alcoholism that people know about - like fights in city centres late at night and cirrhosis of the liver, but the effects they don't see: the gradual leeching of talent, ambition and energy of vast hidden swathes of the population.
Wake up, and smell the coffee (on a glorious hangover free, sunny day like today) people.
Feel free to disagree vehemently in the comments section below!
Related post: Is Alcoholism a Disease? Part 2