Addiction and The Demon Drink (Part 1)
Over the next few articles for Euro Weekly News, I want to talk about our relationship with alcohol and the problem it can come to represent for many of us at individual, familial and societal levels. I will look at how the impact of its use can vary from merely a pleasant experience, to one which is disastrous and destructive; how it works at a physiological and psychological level; why this can happen; and some ideas on how addictive use can be approached.
Alcohol has been around for thousands of years and plays an important part in many, but not all cultures. Its use is prevalent in many ceremonies marking life transitions, from birth - saying hello to a new family member as we “wet the baby’s head” - through weddings and retirements to, of course, funerals when “we give someone a good send-off”. It is for most people, an issue free part of life, used without problem. As a result we tend not to see it as a drug in the way we might view say cocaine or heroin. But alcohol is just as much a mind-altering substance, and in a recent UK parliament select committee report, regarded as the 5th most destructive drug known.
To give an idea of the scale of the problem today, at a familial level 350,000 children in the U.K. are thought to live in families where a care-giver is a problem drug user. However, more than one-million children live in families where a care-giver has a serious problem with their use of alcohol. Whatever side of the nature / nurture argument you sit on, there can be no doubt that such an environment negatively impacts a child’s development, regardless of whether we are looking at a genetic or a learned inheritance. Interestingly too at a societal level, 40% of alcohol-related illness can be found in the poorest 10% of the U.K. population.
There is some evidence now that shows that alcohol can damage the foetus at a physical level from conception. In terms of learning, the brain develops by laying down thinking or connecting pathways, through to about 15 years of age. These pathways help code experience, a bit like we organise files in a computer, and produce ways of thinking and seeing the world and ourselves in relationship to it. In a good-enough environment we see ourselves as O.K and we develop a secure enough base to handle what life throws at us - we develop the strength to manage stress in a realistic and healthy way. In a family situation where alcohol disrupts “normal” care-giving responses, the child is more likely to develop negative self-images and a fragmented sense of themselves as an individual. Put differently, the child develops a less solid base where they are more likely to want to see life and the people in it in black and white, absolute terms, being frightened of people and situations that could take them and their feelings into the frightening and destabilising grey. They are less likely to be able to moderate their mood by positive thinking and behaviours, and, as a consequence, more likely to turn to addictive and unhealthy methods of managing their feelings, whether this be by the use of drugs, gambling, maladaptive eating patterns, unsafe sex, or of course, alcohol.
We will look more at this and how alcohol functions at a physiological and psychological level next time. If you want to skip ahead, you can find the next article in this series at www.onthecouchwithsteve.com Thanks for reading and please, let me know what you think.