Hazel Jane McCall

Comparative Media Graduate

03.A03. Debate

The English Disease

The English Disease - Featured image © Stuart Hermolle

In a culture where we are actively encouraged to consume alcohol in every shop window, in every newspaper, and from every peer we socialize with, is it any wonder the North East of England has been statistically proven to have the highest levels of alcohol misuse?

People as young as 14 are developing liver failure due to alcohol abuse, and to be honest, with the lack of education I received on alcohol growing up I’m surprised I’m not one of them.

We all know alcohol is dangerous, we all know the stereotype; unshaved man, park bench, bottle of his chosen poison. What we don’t know is how close we all are to the top of the slippery slope he’s fallen down. Any one of us who consumes in excess of 2 pints of lager/cider/glass of wine in one evening is classed as a binge drinker. In a 25ml shot of vodka or whiskey there is 1 unit of alcohol. In one pint of 4% lager there are 2.3 units. In one 250ml glass of wine there are 3 units. It takes 1 hour per unit for your body to process and expel this alcohol. This is important to know.

It’s one of those things that we all take with a pinch of salt because the person next to us is as ignorant as we are ourselves, and you know how the saying goes; ignorance is bliss. If we don’t stand out from the norm then there’s no motive for us to change our habits. Surely if the next guy isn’t stricken down with liver disease and he’s out drinking every weekend then there’s no need for us to panic? WRONG.

I work for a charity in the North East of England, set up firmly in the cause of alcohol misuse. I see clients day in, day out whose lives have been completely and utterly torn apart by alcohol. The one thing they all have in common is their opening sentence ‘It only started with a few cans on an evening, to ease the stress, relax.’ Not only is alcohol an integral part of our culture and instilled in us as something we should do to fit in from adolescence, but it has become an incredibly effective coping tool. However, with our lack of knowledge on units and what damage we’re really doing to our bodies and our mental health each time we consume alcohol, it’s hardly surprising that this magic drink that solved all our stresses once over is now taking its toll on its beautifully groomed victims.

Hands up if you’ve ever experienced stress? Anxiety? Low mood? Hands up if you’ve ever used alcohol to ‘take the edge off’? I certainly have. And in a social climate which has rendered millions of us unemployed and in serious debt we’re in more need than ever for this helping hand to aid us in relaxing and forgetting our woes. Unfortunately each time we drink alcohol our tolerance to it get’s higher. Before we know it the effect we used to get from 1 glass of wine, we now need 2 to reach. Then 3. Then 4. It can take as little as 2 weeks to build up a dependence on alcohol.

                          Beautifully Groomed Victims

What often happens is that when we use alcohol to block out the things we want to forget, we actually fall prey to alcohol induced verbal diarrhoea. Our frontal lobe is the part of our brain that filters out the good and the bad, what is an appropriate and an inappropriate way to behave. It reminds us of the consequences of our actions; think of the frontal lobe as the parental filter. Our limbic system is where our emotions and feelings are stored. When we drink alcohol our frontal lobe is massively impaired which means – you’ve guessed it – all of these emotions and feelings come flying to the forefront with no safety net to stop and supervise them. This is how we end up with the morning after guilt or regret, and in more serious cases a criminal record.

It’s very well people getting on their high horse about the youth of today and associated criminality, but in a country where 3 litres of 7.5% cider is £2.99 at your local shop did they ever stand a chance? It’s an accident waiting to happen. People are vulnerable, scared, depressed, anxious and unable to cope because of financial difficulty, peer pressure, mental health issues, housing issues, domestic abuse, childhood traumas, and if the cost to make that go away for even just hours is £2.99 and comes in liquid form well it’s a no brainer. The problem is that these bottles of alcohol don’t come with the price tag ‘2.99 plus your liver’ ‘2.99 plus your marriage’ ‘2.99 plus your freedom’ but that is the horrifying reality.

I’m not saying don’t enjoy a drink, but instead of looking at that man on the park bench, or the young offenders on community service, we need to start looking at ourselves. Society’s nonchalant attitude towards alcohol is what plants the seed that leads to alcohol misuse. None of us want to admit that those few glasses of wine we had with dinner last night, and the few pints we had with a takeaway at the weekend could be adding up to beyond our recommended safe units for the week; because anything beyond that brings up health issues that we’d rather not think about. This is where minimalism begins, and we’re all happy to play that game. But the damage that excessive alcohol use does to our body, and the impact it has on our mental health is something we can’t run away from. It will find us, and when it does only then will we listen, that’s if it’s not too late.

Since working with people with alcohol misuse issues I have taken a long, hard look at myself and I have made an active change to my relationship with alcohol. It is something to be enjoyed in small doses, I count my units and always know when I will be alcohol free – this comes in handy for all drivers. The morning after trap has seen many an innocent person lumbered with a driving ban. Awareness is what we need, and unless you are T-total please don’t think I’m talking about the person in the house next door or the kids outside the corner shop. I am talking to YOU.

Resources

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/

http://www.nta.nhs.uk/statistics.aspx

Drinkline: 0800 917 8282

Featured image © Stuart Hermolle

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