At a dinner recently, someone asked me what I did. It’s a difficult question for me, because I’m never quite sure how people will react. When I tell people I research alcohol problems at the Institute of Psychiatry people firstly assume I’m a psychiatrist (I’m not), and secondly think I will observe their drinking and how it affects them (I don’t). Some people withdraw from me completely, others ask questions, and others tell me their views. This gentleman fell into the latter category.
“Well alcoholism’s a disease, isn’t it”. Well, er, no, actually. That may be part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. Many people deal with their alcohol problems on their own, without ever going anywhere near a doctor, hospital or treatment centre.
“Well these people have weak personalities, don’t they”. Well, er, no, actually. Some of the strongest, most resilient people I know have problems with alcohol.
“Well it’s just a matter of drinking sensibly”. Well, er, no, actually. Not for some people, who are born with a mixture of genes which makes them more vulnerable to all sorts of addiction problems, not just alcohol.
Alcohol brings out happiness and sadness. It energises people them, and makes them sleepy. It can bring out one person’s anger, and another one’s tears. And just as alcohol’s effects on people are so varied, so are the reasons why some people drink too much and others don’t. Particularly interesting for me is why women drink, and what society says about women who drink. It’s not that I think that men aren’t interesting, indeed I do, and I even married one. But women’s drinking is less understood, more stigmatized, and often hidden. That’s why I want to try and bring some of the facts out in the open.
So this blog is in response to that gentleman, but it’s also for those who want to understand a little about why they, or their friends and family, like to drink, and why for some people it goes wrong. I don’t know how much justice I can do to such a enormous topic in this blog, but I’ll give it my best shot. Please check in from time to time, and if there’s anything you want to ask, or a topic you would like me to write about, tell me. Even if I don’t immediately know the answers, I’ll find out. After all, that’s my job.