Growing up in western countries, it’s pretty hard not to be touched in some way by the drinking culture. Alcohol has been part of cultures as varied as those of pre-colonial America, China, Greece and Rome. It’s a major part of European identities. In the US alone, the alcoholic drinks industry is worth over $400 billion dollars. Nearly four million jobs depend directly on the consumption of alcohol. It’s big, big business.
Boozy youth culture in northern Europe and North America centers around most social activity. Friends may meet up in pubs or bars, look for romance in clubs, celebrate their sporting achievements in the club house and throw fraternity parties all heavily involving the consumption of alcohol. Society stereotypes heavy drinkers as straight-talking, honest and fun, whereas teetotalers are seen as untrustworthy, cold and boring.
People know little about the risks of alcohol, and tend to believe that, because binge drinking is so accepted in society, that they are not doing anything especially dangerous, and they’re not in danger of becoming physically addicted to the drug and doing permanent, serious damage to their bodies.
Some people can pick up and leave alcohol as they wish. They might be able to have a glass of wine every day and a beer watching the football and never suffer for it. Others are not so lucky. High levels of alcohol consumption change the body’s central nervous system. It begins to expect the intake of alcohol as the norm, and goes into panic mode when the supply runs out.
Drinkers don’t like the feeling of alcohol leaving their system. It can make them feel agitated and anxious, as well as extremely sensitive to the aches and pains caused by the damage the alcohol has done to the cells in their body. At this stage, mild withdrawal symptoms are mistaken for nasty hangovers. The alcoholic’s solution to all this is to drink more booze, which perpetuates the addiction, but makes them feel better in the short term. Experiencing the relief that alcohol provides from hangover and withdrawal anxiety gives a new buzz, which replaces the old buzz which initially caused them to drink.
At this point, the alcoholic can go two ways – continue drinking at the same rate or higher or to quit. In the first case, they put their jobs, families and finances at risk, but even if they can hold those together and drink, they cannot protect their body from the damage they do to it, and they will almost certainly die well before their time.
In the second case, the alcoholic puts themselves in immediate danger. Sudden cessation of alcohol consumption can result in seizures, coma and death. It’s better to be weaned off the drug slowly, sometimes with the help of opiates, which carry their own risks.
Once an alcoholic becomes booze free, it can take a while for life to get better. They usually feel bored. They don’t have friends who can relate to them. Their bodies begin to repair themselves, but they feel worse for it. It’s a risky time for relapsing, and the alcoholic needs to find mental, physical and social stimulators fast. A simple regime of regular exercise, a healthy diet and studying a topic of interest can work wonders. The benefits of good food and exercise add to the mental clarity that the alcoholic hasn’t experienced in years. Studying and learning become fun and fascinating. The alcoholic can reach out to people with similar interests – for example, if they are studying French, they can join a language exchange, if they are studying gardening, they can join a gardeners’ club.
Damage done to the stomach by years of alcohol can leave the alcoholic with acid reflux and GERD. Dealing with this isn’t, unfortunately, merely a case of buying a new toothbrush – although that is recommended, from Toothbrush Best–it is something that the alcoholic should get checked out and treated. At worst it can lead to very serious diseases such as esophageal and gastric cancers. They should also be checked out thoroughly to test for damage done to other organs, especially the liver. A sick liver often goes unnoticed until it’s too late, as there can be no painful symptoms. Dealing with these problems early on will make it easier for the alcoholic to adapt to their new life more easily in the long term.