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Alcohol’s get out of jail free cards

I have written this article many times in … my head. The reason today it ‘s on “paper” is because I just read a post from a lady friend on Facebook. In her post, she describes a period when she was pregnant but didn’t know. She did a couple of things, including going on a “get drunk” mission with her friends. A few weeks later, she discovered that she had been pregnant but not any more. It is this incident that caused her to lose all taste for all things alcoholic thence.

Would you believe me if I told you that lions eat gazelles, hence it is not a wise idea for gazelles to hang around lions? Really? What if i told you that 99% of gazelles die of other factors not lions? What if I showed you thousands of gazelles that routinely hanged around lions and lived to ripe old ages? What if it is demonstrated to you the precautions gazelles have taken: lookout, warning and such that make it unlikely for lions to succeed in their quest to eat gazelles?

Make no mistake, alcohol is a criminal that was long sentenced to life in prison. However, it is seriously connected and therefore benefits from numerous get out of jail free cards. It’s also a political guru and hence has no limit to the number of defenders. It has a cult like following among the human population, people who believe that alcohol is their saviour: and it is, only that they don’t realize that the hole that alcohol is filling was created by alcohol itself.

It’s like digging a hole in the road leading up to your house. Since you need get home daily, you fill it with some fancy-looking material. It’s exotic nature introduces some feel good effect to it and hence you like it. Besides, every “successful” neighbour sings it’s praise. They define it as fun. You don’t want to miss out or stand out and be the odd one out. Hence you join the bandwagon.

The thing is that the material wears out and you have to keep filling that hole. When that hole is small, the effect of this repetetetive job may seem negligible. However, in some people, this hole is big and empties faster, requiring regular filling. The effort required increases, but since it has a feel good effect, the trade-off seems worth it. The hole has a mind of its own: the more you fill it, the bigger it becomes. That’s partly how it turns out that there are those for whom the hole becomes so big that no matter the effort, it never quite gets filled, and suddenly, the road home is bumpy, uncomfortable, worrisome and even stressful.

Approximately 6% of all deaths in the world are attributable to harmful use of alcohol. For instance, in 2012, alcohol caused 3.3 Million deaths! Make no mistake, the Wuhan Coronavirus is a big deal with more than 60,000 infections and a thousand deaths. We don’t know how much worse it will get and the world response needs to be stepped up. Ok, back to the 3.3 million… I told you, it is well connected and has numerous get out of jail free cards.

Exactly how bad is it? I may flesh this out in future but I am also sharing a link to a reputed study for you to read ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037055/ ) allow me to state in brief.

Physically: shrinking brain, decreased mental capacity, alzheimers disease damaged liver, heart failure, cancers, premature aging, loss of pregnancies, infertility, birth defects in babies, road traffic accidents, multiple types of assault and many more.

Psychosocially: decreased performance at work and many other areas, social conflicts, job losses, depression, suicidal ideation, and many more.

Remember the gazelle story somewhere at the beginning of this article, this is where I quote it and hope you get the point.

I used to be an ICU doctor and the number of times drunk drivers who had just killed someone on the road would try and tell you how the pedestrian “came out of nowhere”, or how they had learnt their lesson and will never do it again, and how it was only this time they found that they had drunk too much, would shock you. The drunk driver will be upset that you would include intoxication in the medical report as in this regard the insurance company won’t pay. Why would the doctor do that, right?

Many will tell me that traditionally, alcohol was meant to have been a social drink: an element to bring about community. It is not the origin or the intention that I am highlighting, but the effects. Pushing back against a mammoth establishment, hoping to save at least one, person: one family, maybe more.

Therefore, allow me to conclude that alcohol is harmful and best avoided. The drinker is in a constant fight with his body. The body is designed to protect itself from harmful items and it works overtime to this end in the case of alcohol. However, the more it does, the more the mind and heart drive one to drink.

How does alcohol get away with it?

Ignorance

Ignorance is not an insult, it is just not knowing. There are many people who get into or continue excessive alcohol consumption simply because they don’t know how bad it can get. There are also largely two reasons that people don’t know. The first is that they have never come across the information. The second is because they believe they already know and there is nothing new you can tell them. The Kenyan word for this is “ujuaji,” a form of ignorance that is hard to cure as it is highly resistant to knowledge.

Falling into this category are also the misconceptions about alcoholism and how controllable destructive habits are. At its greatest triumph over humanity, alcohol produces dependence. That person who seems unable to help himself and is drunk from morning to evening, and has lost job and family. This person is actually quite sick and needs your help. He is trapped in a state that requires more than sheer willpower to get out of. Talking to him or her to see the mess they are in and just stop is not useful, because it is a point of view unaware of the true issues around alcoholism. In a nutshell, that level of alcoholism needs persistent help that will include sustained rehabilitation for periods of 3-6 months, and social restructuring that makes relapse difficult. The only other method I have seen work is a miracle from God. Other methods different from these, to the best of my knowledge bear much less chances of success.

Often I hear the statement, “If you can’t afford or handle your drink, or your body can’t handle it, simply don’t drink!” It often comes from moderate drinkers in response to those who are experiencing social, economic, behavioural or health problems related to alcohol. In my view, this is largely a dumb statement made out of extreme ignorance, and I am not being arrogant here, I am just stating what I have come across. It assumes that the effect of alcohol on our bodies is a choice that each person can control at will. This is just not the case and the best help to this category of drinkers is to not get them into it in the first place. As it turns out, many of those who speak like this, up to 14%, are very much on their way to dependence, the very point they mistake to be a choice.

Believe it or not, most alcoholics want to stop drinking more than anything else. The very definition of alcohol dependence requires multiple attempts without success. Once you are addicted, “just stop” is advice that does not benefit from wisdom or knowledge as a foundation.

It’s big business

Globally, alcohol as an industry is worth 1.4 Trillion US dollars annually. That is 1,400, billion dollars US. For comparison, only twelve countries in the world have a GDP higher than $1.4T. The nominal GDP of Africa as a continent is 2.2Trillion dollars. Whenever the sums of money involved is this big, there will be big players and opinion drivers with huge stakes in the business. The narrative will therefore lean away from anything that could adversely affect business. Interest groups and lobbyists have for long periods determined regulation, and social influence by funding politicians, social influencers and controlling the narrative. The next time you hear that it is impossible to have fun without alcohol, ask yourself whether this is really the case or marketing dressed as a “fact” that will never pass the weakest of fact-checks.

When emotions suppress logic

Alcohol benefits immensely from opinions that hold it in high regard. Objectively, it’s quite dumb to consider it mandatory in any setting, but then as with most things in life, what moves the masses is not the logic of it but the emotions attached to it.

I started going out when I got to campus. On one of those nights, I remember running into a former classmate from high school. When he saw I was taking soft drinks, he remarked that he thought I would be taking something “stronger.” Through time, there has been some form of attempt to shame not drinking and label it weaker and not man or woman enough, or not brave or courageous enough, or simply not cool enough. Many people actually start drinking for nothing more than peer pressure, to present an image and to fit in. Alcohol has built itself a reputation as the thing to do to demonstrate maturity and strength, or to define fun.

When you actually think of it, in the face of such tremendous pressure, real strength is to say “no,” while the easy thing to do is to give in and fit in. True strength is standing against the current and setting a new direction. (Those are the kind of genes you should seek to pair with to when you are planning offspring by the way). My opinion. The influential alcohol industry calls that weakness. But then that is playing to our emotions to relegate logic to second rate, and make decisions that we never would when sane and clear minded.

The first club I went to when I joined campus was K1. It was walking distance from the University of Nairobi. We were a group of 8 or nine freshmen exploring freedoms for the first time. In the group, only two of us were not drinking. I bet many more had not been before that first outing but ordered beer anyway for the image of it and to fit in. Still, my friend S and I kept off alcohol for a whole two weeks. The third week, we felt odd and as if we stood out in a negative way. What was wrong with us? To fit in, we decided to just drink and so that Friday, we each had a bottle and a half of beer. Frankly it tasted horrible, but hey, we had joined the group of “men!” The following Thursday, despite the horrible taste, I felt a deep longing, from afar, for alcohol. For some reason, that very thirst set alarm bells off in my mind and I gave that whole trajectory a wide berth for the rest of my campus life. My friend S didn’t and went on to become the most notorious friend of the brown bottle of our school. It cost him socially, and in terms of his education.

Peer and societal pressure has a way of making us set aside logic and go with emotions, often to our detriment.

Acquired taste

If alcohol, especially beer kept tasting the same way it did when we all first tasted it, fewer people would keep at it. Fortunately for alcohol, there is something called acquisition of taste. A clever phrase for something less clever or stellar.

If you have ever passed by a neighbourhood near a slaughterhouse, the smell itself could send you reeling. You are mighty glad when you pass. But then again, when you see the people who live there and about, you notice that they are least bothered. Indeed, they genuinely don’t notice the smell. You see, your mind is brilliant and has a way to protect you from noxious stimuli, such as bad smells. It adjusts your perception so that you are better able to tolerate the difficult. This is the science behind acquisition.

In fact, beer tastes exactly as it did the first time you tasted it. You have only become poorer at telling the difference. This is also the ostrich approach to defence. You bury your head in the sand so that you can genuinely say you are not aware of any issues with the taste of beer.

Brown Courage and scapegoats

Alcohol is helped by the fact that it causes some degree of disinhibition. It lowers one’s physical and psychological defences. When fully aware, some folk are generally unable to get into deep issues. Give them a little alcohol and they open up and unwind thereby releasing some bottled up feelings.

There are also those who are just never able to muster the courage to take a step that seems daunting, or bears potential for, say, rejection. Give them a little alcohol, the fear goes and suddenly they are able to reveal that they admire this and that person. Not only that but should the story not have a happily ever after ending, they can blame the folly of the attempt on Mr. Brown Bottle. “I was just drunk!”

In a way, this is the one card given to alcohol that is highly logical. It’s taking a big risk that bears potential for reward. Life does require a little courage. It is of course immeasurably better to be courageous without the bottle. This is also achievable. But we are not made the same and the level of courage and confidence differs from person to person. May I say that the fake courage that comes with the bottle is actually always within you and you can as well achieve that degree of confidence if you believe in yourself. I put it you that the confidence you exude after the bottle is innate and not from the bottle itself.

Conclusion

I don’t doubt that I have stirred the hornet’s nest. Wisdom is not congruent with formal education neither is general knowledge. It is also true that opinions differ. Certainly, alcohol does have it’s fair share of ardent defenders. It may very well be true that it is a good idea for gazelles to hand around lions but the basis for such wisdom would lie way beyond my current knowledge and understanding. If your are reading this and feel offended, I apologize for the offence, but not for the content. At least help someone by not dragging them into your corner by feeling there is some grand thing they are missing by not drinking.

Don’t drink and drive. It kills. It may kill you, but often it kills others. You may have been drinking and driving for years without killing someone but guess what, most drunk drivers who kill people on the road are killing people for the first time.

Spare some kindness for the alcoholic. At this level, the aspect of choice is far gone. If you detest them, it cannot be more than they detest themselves. They have already hated themselves more than you could. What they need is help to overcome a true monster. What you can do is avoid ending up in the same place or leading others to the same. Our metabolism, genes and tolerance is different and it is not easy to predict who will end up an alcoholic and who will not.

A person close to me was a brilliant mind and the most kindest of hearts. A surgeon in the making, but then he came across the dragon that is alcoholism. Try as he might, including multiple sessions isn rehab, he couldn’t come out of it. He eventually lost his job, his family…and his life. It is now that I can see the pain and regret behind the laughter when he shared the innocuous and seemingly harmless way he was introduced to drinking. Turns out, the so called “friends” who would call him out to drink in between rehabs, were his worst enemies.

Do you know any enemies who think they are your friends but are putting you or your loved ones in harms way? They probably believe that they are your friends and will come to your funeral and solemnly euologize you and extoll the virtues of your spouse and children, whom they will leave to struggle on their own after you are gone.

PS: Of course I would also recommend that you don’t smoke. It’s harmful and while you may think it looks cool, to a majority of people in this country, it doesn’t. Out of politeness, most will say nothing.

Cheers, stay safe, leave a comment.

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