What’s so weird about total abstinence?

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.

When I was a student, there was a drinking den in the alleyway at the back of our flat, between our street and the next. The nightly activities were a cause of disturbance to us and others.

One day I mentioned it to a policeman. I went home for the weekend. When I came back, my bedroom window was distributed in shards over my bed and there was a brick on my pillow.

Actually, I suppose I was lucky that was all that happened to me.

The tentacles of alcohol have not become any less disgusting – or frightening. A great night out, for some, will bring a hangover and a dry tongue. For others it will be the advent of bereavement at the bumper of some drunken idiot who thinks he’s invincible. For them it will be an advent with no Easter to follow.


Table taken from “Scoring drugs”, The Economist, data from “Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis”, by David Nutt, Leslie King and Lawrence Phillips, on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. The Lancet. Nov 2011.

The range of non-alcoholic drinks is wider than ever before yet it is a startling fact that 9% of men and 4% of women are dependant on alcohol. (Source)

That is hugely more than are hooked on all other drugs put together, including prescription drugs. Think about that. Note the top entry on the table on the left.

“Around 23,000 alcohol-related incidents such as street fights, bar brawls, breaches of the peace and drunk and disorderly conduct take place in the UK every week. More than half of all violent crime is committed by offenders who are drunk and more than a third happens in and around pubs and clubs”. (Source)

‘Alcohol-related crime’ is a colourless phrase. Let’s paint in a few brush strokes. Alcohol Concern reckons that alcohol misuse costs the NHS £3.17bn a year. It is the direct cause of 76,000 facial injuries (paint the scars). Every week, 100 children call Childline because of fear of abuse from alcohol-fuelled parents (paint the bruises). 920,000 children in the UK are living with one or two parents with a drink problem (paint the tears). Google the statistics on the connection between alcohol and rape (paint the screams). In Northern Ireland, 60% of suicides have strong links to alcohol misuse (paint the grief).

Think about what drunken adults are capable of doing to children. Older children can run; older children can use a telephone. Babies just have to take what’s coming. Read the headlines.

Take the case of Robby (not his real name). He’s three years old yet has already become acquainted with the A&E department. Last time he had a broken arm. His listless mother told the doctor he had fallen down the stairs. A half-truth. He had been flung down the stairs by his father in a drunken rage, while his mother hid under the stairs, terrified.

Other marks on Robby’s small body told the medical staff quite a terrible story. Robby is now a statistic. Somebody else made him one. His dad just has to sleep it off and wake up to wonder why his son has a plaster on his arm.

If the plight of our children will not make us rethink our attitudes to alcohol, we are beyond redemption.

Socially, the arrogant acceptance of the universality of alcohol consumption is breath-taking. Last Christmas, one hotel offered a free bottle of wine at every table. An unobtrusive request for the free alternative provoked a crisis in the management. After muttered consultations the guests were told that it was wine or nothing, even for those driving. To be fair, this situation may be improving.

Occasional and total abstainers actually have taste buds and don’t appreciate the jugs of water or – what a treat! – orange squash provided by those who make the intellectual leap of realising they are confronted by someone who really doesn’t want the wine. Would a vegetarian be treated like this? Would a vegetarian have meat placed in front of him and, if he objected, have a lettuce leaf impatiently tossed in his direction?

Alcohol is a drug to be classed with all the other drugs that are dehumanising us. To the husband of the woman severely brain damaged after being hit by a motorbike driven by a drunk, there isn’t much macho snigger value in the sight of a legless yuppie.

You won’t go to hell if you have the odd binge. Other people might.

And if someone wants to be an alcohol-free zone, have the guts to respect them – maybe even have the guts to join them.


About Sheila

Writer of fiction and non-fiction, Christian, Methodist, and cat lover. Co founder of publishing house, Colourpoint Books, now Colourpoint Creative Ltd. Northern Ireland
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