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Monday, 12 May 2014

Why do we drink?

Here's a good list from The Diseases of Alcohol by Dr David Marjot. It does not try to describe every effect, so feel free to add your own:

A 'high' or 'buzz' - euphoria
Relief from anxiety
Permissive - puts you in a mood to do things you would not do sober
Facilitates uncritical social intercourse
Escape from yourself or present situation
Stimulate creativity
Assist healing
Treat symptoms (eg brandy for an unsettled stomach)
Rebel
Give energy
Sedate
Assist onset of sleep
Relieve pain
Enhance group solidarity
Pass time without boredom - alcohol destroys the awareness of the passage of time

This latter point is extremely important to Dr Marjot. When combined with the most significant thing about our relationship with alcohol - dose - we can start to unravel the complex mess of social, psychological and clinical signifiers we have constructed around it.

Dr Marjot's book was pressed on me by my local vicar when he discovered I'd sworn off the sauce. I'm rather glad he did, as the contents, to a lay drinker, are revelatory.

Nick Wallis
An actual old-fashioned proper book!
For a start it's full of really useful clinical information about what alcohol does to the brain, but, being a psychiatrist, Dr Marjot is just as interested in what alcohol does to the mind. There are some great moments in it, and the above list works perfectly as a stepping off point for thinking about why we drink, and how we handle its effects, personally and socially.

The conclusion Dr Marjot seems to be working towards is that we as a society don't handle alcohol very well at all, and therefore it shouldn't be much surprise when individuals don't either.

It chimes with a theory I am busy developing that we have got the way we acknowledge, celebrate, and stigmatise alcohol use completely wrong. This feeds into a wider discussion about all psychoactive drugs, but I'm going to focus on the legal one for the moment.

I am in touch with Dr Marjot and he is sending me his second book, Addiction: A Kind of Loving, in which he explores more fully his theory about our need to change the language of addiction. Should keep me busy.

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