A disturbing question about alcohol made me rethink and emend my concepts about drinking.
Till the age of 17, I did not know anything about alcohol except that it was a bitter, tongue-numbing and throat warming drink which I could get a sip of from my dad’s glass on a chilly New Year’s eve. Champagne looked awesome when F1 players bathed each other in white gushing liquid on the podium. White wine was had in beautifully shaped glasses and looked like u were drinking liquid gold. Beer was much frothier than coke and was the bitterest of all the alcohols I had ever tried. I equated it to having liquid bitter gourd (karela). Yes, alcohol for me then was a visual fascination with a repulsive taste.
Then I left my home to do my undergrad in Mumbai and came across alcohol as a ‘drink’ for the first time. I heard there were parties in the hostel where people had ‘daru‘. We were introduced to a new world! Now, alcohol was a fascination for experimentation. At 18, I liked the screwdriver. At 19, I liked Rum and Coke. At 20, I developed the taste for beer (mainly Kingfisher and Fosters). At 21, I was treated to Black Label. Even when we had the liberty to get alcohol for ourselves, I somehow knew my limits and most days I fell asleep after drinking beyond I could. To everyone else’s envy, I never had hangovers. Some people still doubt it, I still doubt it but it’s awesome to have no hangover. Although we drank to get intoxicated, I don’t think we ever did anything extreme to be called the western concept of binge-drinking.
Now at Oxford, alcohol is a similar concept but it has permeated the whole society. In India, we were the minority who consumed alcohol. Here, we are the minority who don’t consume alcohol or don’t consume enough. Of course, our first stop when we came to Oxford was a pub where we had English Ale. Then followed the freshers’ week, and every event had alcohol in some form or the other. And then we had house parties and drinking games. In the first few weeks, I spent on alcohol as much as I spent on food. Fortunately, I was in a mature post-grad environment and things were moderate, unlike the undergrads. Yes, Oxford undergrads drink way too much! What would you expect when every college has atleast 1 bar and it’s own wine-cellar.
The late night scenes were pathetic. Girls swinging, shouting their lungs out, falling over, puking. And there were crazy bike accidents, moonings and naked-man running shows! The thought of alcohol started causing some sort of revulsion in me. And then one fine day, my housemate Alex, mentioned that alcohol killed brain cells! It was something that I had never thought of. Of course, all alcohol related effects were due to some disturbance in brain activity but brain damage was something much more disturbing. Obviously, I googled it and read about it.
The most authentic source of scientific information is this article by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, funded by National Institute of Health. They summarise that brain cells are not killed on drinking of alcohol but on excessive consumption their growth is retarded. These are based on tests done on rats. For alcoholics though, they have good news. There is sign of improvement in brain structure within the first year of abstinence. Some research showed benefits of drinking red wine but these results were doubted later. And then there are unauthenticated articles which say the same thing but also suggest some benefits like helps neurons communicate and eases your way into old age!! One of the articles goes to the extent of clearing doubts over a myth that drunkards “catch fire” more easily than normal people, now that’s like explaining kindergarten kids what can fire do!
Alcohol is a very serious problem and needs to be tackled, specially in the UK. Britain’s women drink way too much, as much as 11 times their German or Italian counterparts. It is so bad here that BBC has a documentary on ‘Drinking with the Girls‘. The summary of the documentary is not even close to how depressed one feels on watching the documentary. The article by NIAAA mentions women are more prone to effects of alcohol than men. They also suggest irreparable damage to the fetus physical, learning and behavioral effects.
Alcohol, I believe is a plague in this society and reforms need to be made to curtail it’s use. Yes people should have the freedom to do what they want but with alcohol, the damage is seen later in life often when it’s too late and thus people don’t care much. These reforms can be at 2 levels, governmental and cultural. It would be easy to impose governmental policies to bring this reform but cultural reform is a big question in itself.