“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. …Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.” These few words start the opening scene of one of the most recognized classics of the holiday season, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. This timeless short story has become a part of our December traditions and memories, along with Menorahs, Christmas lights, shopping, family gatherings, and year end celebrations. It is that time of year again, a time of joy and festivities for many, yet unfortunately a time of bad decisions, wrong turns and heart-ache for others. For that latter group alcohol is all too often the focus of predicable negative outcomes.
Alcohol use and production has been an integral part of our human history, festivities and culture since recorded time. It remains part of our culture today. Every individual from adolescence on has a point of view regarding alcohol use. In other words we all have a relationship in some way with alcohol. That relationship can range full spectrum, from abstinence and intolerance, to acceptance and regular use, with all colors in between. That is part of our philosophy of life, our world view, how the mind perceives the use and abuse of alcohol. That world view is shaped daily by our culture, our social circle, our media indoctrination and our personal interactions. These factors create the collective consciousness of our human experience. All of our perceptions, thoughts, emotions, memories, beliefs and imaginations create our philosophy of life, The Mind, which includes our point of view regarding the use of alcohol.
The Mind can be controlled by our past, can affect our present, and can dictate our future. It is what leads the abuser and the alcoholic to be in denial, to justify use, to blame others, to live a life of deception, and to become more and more isolated over time. The Mind allows loved ones to be enablers. It permits them to willfully be distracted and minimize the truth of what is happening right before their eyes. It is the Mind that helps a child seek out a way to cope and survive in a surrounding family storm. Everyone has a relationship with alcohol.
Our Mind and the minds of those we are teaching need to be nurtured and protected, not abused and polluted. Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the Mind as well as the Body”. Alcohol affects the Mind of everyone who uses it or is affected by it.
Alcohol is a simple compound, a by-product of the breakdown of simple sugars. And yet this simple two carbon molecule is physiologically perceived by the body, to be a poison. Additionally, highly toxic byproducts of the enzymatic breakdown of alcohol such as acetaldehyde are recognized as poisons also and must quickly be broken down further into harmless molecules to be excreted from the body. In some individuals with one of the genetic predispositions for alcoholism other by products such as THIQ are inadvertently produced. These unintended by-products increase the affinity for and the reactions of alcohol abuse. In the normally functioning individual toxic by-products, with the exception of THIQ, are broken down and eliminated by the liver, kidneys, lungs, digestive tract and skin As use, age and time go by the body functions less optimally and the effects of these toxins begin to take a toll. College students seem to bounce back in time for Monday morning classes. They have youth, health and less years of abuse in their favor, at least for a while. The greater the frequency or volume of alcohol use the greater this toxicity begins to overtake the target organs of the body. This social and often anti-social activity begins to take a toll on the brain, liver, heart, kidneys, esophagus, stomach, and other vital organs and systems.
Alcohol affects the brain. If we are a user socially or habitually of alcohol that is one of the reasons we left our abstinent relationship and continued with use. We liked the effect alcohol has on the brain. We liked the relaxation, the reduction of inhibition and the emotional change to a feeling of well-being, all of which are short lived. Other less desirable effects include slowed reactions, false confidence, bravado, slurred speech, short and long term memory loss, poor judgment, physical sickness and numerous other cognitive and physical impairments. We tend to remember the initial happy effects and forget the latter negative consequences. Each use has a lasting effect in the brain. Over time these effects become more obvious. Long term memory loss, brain chemistry deficiencies, lack of wellbeing, altered sleep patterns, separation from reality, psychotic events and much more physical destruction with predictable outcomes. The brain perceives alcohol as a poison.
Alcohol affects the liver. The liver has multiple functions in maintaining healthy homeostasis and physiology. It is the body’s filtration system, energy reservoir, participant in normal digestion and numerous other vital activities.The introduction of alcohol and habitual use gives the liver an additional job, the detoxification of the toxic effects of alcohol on the body. Over time this begins to overwhelm the normal function of the liver and begins to destroy normal liver cells resulting in liver enlargement, fatty tissue and ultimate scarring of once normal liver cells, Cirrhosis. Liver enzymes become physiologically unbalanced leading to less efficiency in normal liver function and potential shutdown. The liver perceives alcohol as a poison.
Other common health conditions treated daily in our family physicians office that could naturally be eliminated or controlled by abstaining from alcohol are high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, upper and lower digestive problems, accidental injuries, (in and out of the home), Type 2 Diabetes, obesity and other numerous lifestyle conditions. How much better off would we be if we did not take the pharmaceuticals prescribed to treat these conditions in the first place? Alcohol affects the Body in a negative way.
And now a gentle warning to any of the Secular Humanists who may have read this far, I am going to talk about the Spiritual aspect of alcohol use. Yes, I may even mention God. Please discontinue reading now. I don’t want this article to be the cause of any insomnia, anxieties or indigestion you may experience over your version of the Holidays.
Let me be clear that I do not believe that for the non-abuser or non-alcoholic that the occasional social use of alcohol, the glass of wine with dinner, a beer with friends, or a toast at our daughter’s wedding is going to separate us from our spirituality, our health, or the personal connection we have with God. However, I do believe that the greater our willingness to tolerate alcohol use, the greater our devices to protect our drinking habits, the greater the risk becomes for negative consequences. That brings us back to The Mind and Body connection. Therefore, I believe the safer and wiser decision is theabstinence from alcohol to better protect a healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.
When the negative consequences of alcohol use begin, such as family dysfunction, academic and career disruptions, repetitive DUI’s, aggressive disruptive behaviors, isolation, constant lies and broken promises, the perception of who we are begins to change. That perception of ourselves that we develop over time is not a positive one. Self-confidence and self esteem are lost or badly damaged. No personal connection has value or meaning. That includes any personal connection we may have had with God. That separation from ourselves, others, and God is spawned and maintained by us. We are sentient human beings with a spirit. We yearn for connection. However, as we progress in addiction we feel less and less worthy of acceptance. By our own self condemnation through the guilt and shame of our past actions we reject not only our physical connections; we reject our spiritual connections as well. We become our own source of isolation, and that isolation is harmful. Self-condemnation is overcome through the spiritual reconnection with God. Alcohol affects us spiritually.
The hallmark of all addictive and compulsive behavior including alcohol abuse and addiction is denial. Denial is that bolted door that every therapist, counselor, family member and physician must get past if we are going to have a chance of intervening and helping to change lives for the better. The recognition of past and present events and the visions of the future outcomes must be seen and understood. That does not dramatically come when the “last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate” accompanied by ghostly apparitions. But it must be just as eye opening and profound for us to overcome denial and seek a new direction. As Ebenezer learned in the end of that Christmas classic we all have the capacity and strength to change. Recovery is real and always available. Our past may be written but we still have pen in hand to write the new script for our present and future. Have a Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas and a Healthy New Year.
Dr. Michael J. De Vito is a diplomate and is board certified in Addictionology. He has over 30 years of experience in successfully guiding patients and clients on the path of Recovery Consciousness. He is the founder and program director of NewStart Treatment Center
located in Henderson, Nevada. NewStart Treatment Center utilizes a drug free and natural approach to addiction treatment. www.4anewstart.com Dr. De Vito is the author of Addiction: The Master Keys to Recovery www.AddictionRecoveryKeys.com