I've had a few comments over the past week or so suggesting that I'm riding this too hard, that I'm perhaps in denial about the real health and social perils of alcohol abuse. These comments come from people like Alan and Matt, people I like and really respect, so they deserve a full and frank response.
I can assure you that I'm not in denial about alcohol abuse. It has touched my life, and I'm keenly aware of the effect it has on others. I don't for one second seek to deny that there is a problem that affects a significant number of people. I feel deeply ambivalent about putting the following out into the blogosphere, but I feel I need to help explain where I'm coming from.
Firstly, a close friend of mine trained as a doctor, and about fifteen years ago was working regular Friday night shifts in A&E. They soon realised they were stitching the same people back together every week. This led to feelings of futility and despair, which in turn led to clinical depression, which in turn led to a serious suicide attempt. Fortunately, that person survived, but after a spell in an institution they gave up the career they had trained seven years for. The person is OK now.
Secondly, I grew up very close to someone who is a chronic alcoholic. That person is still in my life today. I've had therapy to deal with how their behaviour has affected me, with the guilt I feel every time that person gets so drunk they can't speak and piss themselves, to come to terms with the fact that it's their decision, and there is nothing I can do to affect it. I have witnessed at close hand how alcohol can destroy lives, and I fucking hate it - it's destroyed their life; it's scarred mine. This is why I'm vigilant about my own drinking.
So why am I here, criticising people who seemingly only want to prevent tragedies like these happening?
Firstly, because having witnessed it close up, I know that when people step up to fight alcohol abuse, they go for the wrong targets. People don't drink harmfully because alcohol is there, or because it's cheap, or because it's advertised. Restricting the availability of alcohol won't help alcoholics. These people live for alcohol - it's the only thing they care about. Make it expensive and they'll go without food, sell their house, Christ, they'd sell their fucking kids for a drink. Prohibit it altogether and they'll drink meths, or nail varnish remover, or after shave.
Alcoholics drink not because it's there, or cheap, or tastes nice, but because they have deeper trauma and/or unhappiness in their lives. Even if you were studying this at GCSE level, if you look at it scientifically, if availability/pricing/advertising of booze caused problem drinking, then everyone exposed to it would be more likely to problem drink. But most people in theUK are drinking less. A minority are drinking to harmful levels. And as far as I can tell, no one is studying that minority in detail and asking what it is about them that makes them different from the majority.
It's easy to blame the availability of booze. And it is shameful that problem drinkers are not being researched in a way that can highlight what it is that's different about them that makes them more likely to problem drink.
People drink to excess because they are unhappy, because they feel empty inside, because they are lonely, because they are stressed, because they have shit jobs being bullied in call centres and alcoholic oblivion is the only escape they can see. Why is no one helping them? Because it's a bit more complicated than just blaming drink, that's why.
Secondly, I'm doing this because for the vast majority of people, drink is an innocent pleasure with minimal health risks beyond a few extra pounds or the odd hangover. My father died of smoking-related lung cancer when he was 58 and I was 27. I've read the science, and I know that there is a direct linear relationship between smoking and ill health - every single cigarette you smoke causes you damage. Drink is not the same. There are healthy levels of alcohol consumption.
My close quarters witnessing of the destruction alcoholism can cause makes me more keenly aware of the benefits of moderate consumption, and the stark difference between the two. So it makes me very angry indeed when someone who doesn't know what they're talking about tars all habitual drinkers with the same brush. And even angrier when newspapers distort the facts even further for nothing more than a sensationalist story.
Thirdly - quite simply, because it needs doing. A quick review of press stories about alcohol over the last week alone will show you how drinking is being demonised and made socially unacceptable. It's based on lies and distortions. The figures say the problem is not getting any worse - if anything, the situation is improving. No one in the media seems to want to report this truth. No one questions press releases from avowedly anti-drink organisations. My blog posts might seem excessive if you've been staying tuned over the last week or so, but they amount to a fart in the face of a hurricane compared to the anti-drink propaganda that's out there every single day.
In summary then - I know the ill effects of alcohol abuse as well as anyone, and care about them as much as anyone. I'll never deny that there's a problem, and am not seeking to do so on this blog.
But if that problem is going to be dealt with effectively, it has to be understood properly. I think the neopros are acting against the interests of the majority of drinkers. But worse, because they are approaching the problem over-simplistically, wilfully distorting the evidence, and confusing personal beliefs with real health issues, I don't think their antics will do anything to help the people who really need helping. And that is just shameful.
That's why I'm doing this.
And I promise my next post will be about Brew Dog or IPA or hops or something.