Saturday, January 07, 2006

Alcohol

Charles Kennedy's battle with the bottle is out in the open. For him it is probably the first step on his road to recovery. I doubt that he will survive as Liberal Party leader, but his liver might recover. Drunks are very plausible characters. Amiable, amusing, daring, smart; they impress the people around them until they shamble into incoherence.

No-one should be surprised that Charles lied about his dependence on alcohol; lying is what alcoholics do. I remember the Ray Milland film "Lost Weekend". He was willing to do anything to get a drink - lie, cheat, steal, betray. It is an accurate picture.

My daughter is a junior doctor in a busy medical unit. She has been astounded at the number of young women admitted to hospital in terminal liver failure. We used to think that it took 20 years of heavy drinking to develop cirrhosis. She believes that for women, three years is sufficient.

I once had a patient in his forties who came to see me because he had large red blood cells. It was immediately apparent that he was both a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. he had recently remarried. His second wife was a woman aged 23. I explained to them both that they had to change his lifestyle. We decided to try one thing at a time. His 60 cigarettes a day habit was the first target. I referred him to the Stop-Smoking Program. Two weeks later he was admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis and died. His wife pummelled me on the chest, "I could put up with the smoking; why didn't you stop him drinking?" As if I could.

In the past ten years mortality from cirrhosis of the liver has doubled in Scotland and increased by more than two thirds in England and Wales. Although, England and Wales still have among the lowest cirrhosis death rates in Europe - similar to Holland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden, Scotland has among the highest, similar to Austria, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and France. However, alcohol consumption and cirrhosis have been reducing in many of the European wine-producing areas, but both are increasing in the UK. The problem is greatest in Scotland. Kennedy is, of course, Scottish. (See Leon and McCambridge. Liver cirrhosis mortality rates in Britain from 1950 to 2002: an analysis of routine data . The Lancet, 2006, 367:52-6.)

The British government is suspiciously friendly to both the tobacco and alcohol lobbies. The notrious gift from Bernie Ecclestone which coincided with the decision to allow tobacco advertising to continue on Formula One racing cars, the 'open-all-hours' policy for pubs and clubs despite widespread opposition, the failure to do anything about the widespread smuggling of wine and tobacco from France (supply of French Hypermarkets is a major outlet for British tobacco and alcohol producers), and even the downgrading of cannabis (if it ever becomes licensed the tobacco manufacturers stand to make a killing) all suggest to me that the British governement is in hock to the unacceptible face of capitalism.

It also helps to explain why despite unprecedented increases in funding the national health service is failing.

6 comments:

Sam Adrezin said...

Alcoholism is a disease that so far eludes medical treatment. My last drink was 6/6/2000. I thank God each day for America's greatest contribution to the world, Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been speaking monthly at the rehab I attended, since 9/00.

Alcohol and tobacco do drive up the cost of health care enormously. I was only addicted to alcohol. You could ban advertising, and make the substance illegal, but those born with genetic abnormality, or those who have fried their circuitry with excessive use will still have the physical cravings and mental obsessions, and will do anything to get it.

I have many yets left, if I were to pick up a drink. I know I would need more than when I left off, because it is a progressive disease. Just as I can't change my mutated status from VH3-21 to a favorable mutation, I can't get my body to produce acetic acid and water when I drink; my body produces THQ's.

Religious people spend their lives avoiding Hell. Spiritual people have been there. I actually am grateful for being an alcoholic in recovery. I am also extremely grateful for your blog and your participation on the acor list. You have soothed many of my fears that at one time would have been an excuse for me to drink.
Sam

Sam Adrezin said...

Alcoholism is a disease that so far eludes medical treatment. My last drink was 6/6/2000. I thank God each day for America's greatest contribution to the world, Alcoholics Anonymous. I have been speaking monthly at the rehab I attended, since 9/00.

Alcohol and tobacco do drive up the cost of health care enormously. I was only addicted to alcohol. You could ban advertising, and make the substance illegal, but those born with genetic abnormality, or those who have fried their circuitry with excessive use will still have the physical cravings and mental obsessions, and will do anything to get it.

I have many yets left, if I were to pick up a drink. I know I would need more than when I left off, because it is a progressive disease. Just as I can't change my mutated status from VH3-21 to a favorable mutation, I can't get my body to produce acetic acid and water when I drink; my body produces THQ's.

Religious people spend their lives avoiding Hell. Spiritual people have been there. I actually am grateful for being an alcoholic in recovery. I am also extremely grateful for your blog and your participation on the acor list. You have soothed many of my fears that at one time would have been an excuse for me to drink.
Sam

Steve Madden said...

Charles Kennedy must not be the sharpest blade in the political cutlery set...but some very sharp knives have been used to ruin forever the career of a Leader who took the Liberal Democrats to their highest number of Parliamentary seats for generations less than a year ago.
And if his colleagues were aware he had a drinking problem before the UK general elections last year ? as they were ? then they need to explain why they did nothing about this "terrible" position BEFORE Charles Kennedy was offered to the people of the UK as choice to hold the "balance of power" if not power itself.
The truth is that when they count not bring down Kennedy on policy or other salient grounds, they resorted to the worst kind of smear of all.

Is it any wonder there is an absolute dearth of good men and women seeking public office in western democracies today?

Paul Maguire said...

Terry suggested that the recent changes in the UK licensing laws owed something to the Government's favouring of the drinks industry.

An alternative explanation was a desire to remove an unnecessary state control of private behaviour. Of course if restricted opening hours would cut the level of alcohol consumption then it would be a legitimate area for Government action. But where is there evidence?

There was strident a media campaign predicting disaster with change of opening hours. Since the change the media has been silent. That is not evidence but is suggestive.

The evidence I have seen argues that the increase in alcohol consumption, and all its attendent problems, is the result of higher incomes and lower real prices of drink. It is most obvious amongst the younger people. It may be the result of people delaying setting up their own households and families. When I was younger we did not have alcohol in the house; by the time my income was comfortable I had children to absorb my income! Many young people today have years with good incomes with few financial responsibilties.

The second factor is the decline in the real cost of drink. As we are part of the EU with its open borders and free trade and where our near neighbours have lower drink prices, any government will have very limited scope for increasing prices unilateraly.

As a matter of personal opinion, that is I have no evidence, I would favour banning alcohol advertising.

Terry Hamblin said...

I agree with both Steve and Paul. Knives were out to get Charles Kennedy for other reasons. And alcohol problems are getting commoner because it is relatively cheap. It is so cheap because of the booze cruises to Calais. It seems to beyond the wit of the government to stop this abuse, but the drinks industry and teh tobacco industry are produsing produce for the British market to be sold from these outlets with the deliberate plan of flouting the law.

Kurt Grayson said...

Ill drink to that !