We must see alcohol for the legal ‘low’ that it is
9 FEBRUARY 2019
For someone who doesn’t drink, I think about booze an awful lot. Sometimes, I think about it so much that it actually visits me in dreams – or should that be nightmares? – where I slip and find myself on a prodigious bender, before sobering up and pretending it never happened, the shame eating away at me like that flesh-eating zombie drug I keep reading about in the tabloids.
Such dreams are pretty common in recovering addicts, the brain’s clever way of reminding you of the horrors of alcohol every time you start to forget where it used to take you – oblivion, via the local Co-Op.
I’m no longer a drinker, but I’m still very much an alcoholic. And you may think: ‘well if you spend so much time thinking about booze, then you may as well drink it’. But here’s the thing: even though I think about booze a lot, I still think about it a lot less than I did when I was drinking it. Oh my goodness, it was a wonder I ever got anything done!
How did I not get sacked, or divorced, or hospitalised, or sectioned, or put in jail? This is what I think about most days when I think about booze now. I think: PHEWEEEEEEEEE! That was a lucky escape! I managed to leave the pub moments before they barred me from it. When I think about booze, it is not with longing. It is with relief, that I no longer drink it.
Every morning, for the last 18 months, I have woken up with a sense of delighted shock that I didn’t drink alcohol the night before. (Nobody in the history of the world has ever woken up and wished they had woken up with a hangover).
I mention this because this week official statistics showed that the number of Britons drinking dangerously has decreased, as if the nation has been on a really long bender together, and collectively come to in a bed we don’t know next to a heap of faces we don’t recognise, suddenly realising that drinking too much alcohol is really, really bad for us.
You’d think that all this national turmoil might have driven us to drink, but apparently not: instead it seems to have made us less able to tolerate hangovers. I get it. It’s bad enough having to listen to this bunch of clowns in parliament without having to do it with a pounding headache, dry mouth and all the added anxiety the morning after can bring.
There are, of course, many people who can have just one or two glasses of wine without thinking about it. But there are just as many who can’t. I read something recently by the broadcaster Adrian Chiles, he of 2,000 pints a night fame. He was writing about how he was trying to drink moderately – and what nightmarishly hard work it was.
I was reminded of this again when I read yesterday about how so-called tactical drinking doesn’t make a difference – however you drink, you will still probably wake up feeling like a small animal has died on your tongue the next day. And I thought “Adrian, dude. When drinking moderately feels as difficult as negotiating a clean exit from the EU, you’re probably best just giving up the grog entirely.”
I mean, yes, getting sober when you’ve had a drink problem is hard , in much the same way that it is probably hard for someone with a nut allergy to have to avoid half the menu when eating out at a restaurant. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to manage than the alternative.
Whatever you think about alcohol, you cannot deny that is a depressant. That’s just scientific fact. But it’s a depressant that masquerades initially as a relaxant, and that’s where it becomes dangerous for many people. Alcohol is a trick. It steals from your future wellbeing to give you a quick, poisoned fix now. It is responsible for: arguments; tears; headaches; vomit; lousy decision making. If someone tried to invent it now, it wouldn’t be allowed.
As much as I wish the downturn in dangerous drinking, especially among the young, was due to a desire by millennials to have great mental health, I suspect it has more to do with the cheap, ready availability of so-called ‘legal’ highs on the internet. But before we come down in judgement on young drug users, perhaps we should stop and look at our own, perfectly legal, drug-using. Perhaps we should see booze for what it really is: a legal low, which ruins the lives not just of those unable to consume it responsibly, but everyone around them, too.