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From Chocolate to Morphine 66

Although I kept trying to use alcohol moderately, whenever I'd set out to get high on it, I would always keep on drinking till I got drunk, no matter how many resolutions I made not to ... I've tried various drugs since those days and don't think anything comes close to alcohol in terms of raw strength and potential for trouble. I couldn't learn to control it well, and I see many people around me who have the same problem.

— thirty-seven-year-old man, college professor chemistry or metabolism. Children of alcoholics are more likely to grow up to be alcoholics, but so are children of families where both parents are teetotalers. That suggests that the lack in childhood of good role models for healthy drinking may also be an important factor.

One of the clearest signs of alcoholism is repeated drinking to get drunk. Alcoholics cannot limit their intake to a social drink or two,- they invariably go much further. But drunkenness isn't much fun, either at the time or the following day. Why, then, do so many people consume overdoses of alcohol?

This question points up the main problem with alcohol. As noted earlier, most people like the early effects of the drug, which resemble those of stimulants, but taking more of it dramatically changes the quality of the effects. It isn't easy for people to learn how to stay within the dose range that makes them feel good; it is very easy to cross into the zone of unpleasant effects and regret it. Young people beginning to drink should recognize that this is a problem they will have to deal with by acquiring experience. Many people — if they are metabolically normal, come from supportive families, and don't have serious psychological problems — learn how to control their intake of alcohol and keep from sliding into the trouble zone, but others do not.

Alcohol is one of the most difficult drugs to control because it is so strong and because the dose-related difference in its effects is so great. Used intelligently, alcohol can relieve stress. Some people even claim that alcohol promotes health. For example, some medical studies suggest that moderate drinking decreases the risk of heart attacks by reducing the clotting tendency of the blood and by improving cholesterol metabolism. Wine lovers say that drinking wine with meals aids digestion. Some physicians think old people benefit from alcohol in small amounts. These claims may be true. Unfortunately, some people cannot learn to drink moderately. Recovered alcoholics, for example, usually become drunks again very quickly if they try to drink socially.

There is no question that alcohol is the most toxic of all the drugs discussed in this book. Yet our own society has made alcohol its social drug of choice. It is widely available in many attractive forms, extensively advertised, and used to the point that it is hard to avoid. In certain groups liquor is so much the required social lubricant that nondrinkers feel uncomfortable and out of place. Alcohol comes into people's lives at every turn. Friends give each other bottles of liquor as holiday gifts. Airlines sell drinks in flight and placate passengers writh free drinks if planes are subject to undue delays. On billboards and in magazines the

67 Depressants pleasures of drinking are everywhere extolled. Everyone in our society must learn to come to terms with this powerful drug.

Unless you are a Muslim or a Mormon or belong to some other group that prohibits its use altogether, you will have to learn how to refuse alcohol if you don't want to drink or how to drink it intelligently and not let your use get out of control.

Some Suggestions for Using Alcohol Wisely

1. Define what benefits you want from alcohol. Remember that alcohol is attractive because it can make people feel temporarily better, both physically and mentally. You can enjoy these good effects if you learn to use the drug carefully and purposefully. If you feel feverish and achy from flu, going to bed and taking a small drink may be a good remedy. If you walk into a party and feel awkward, anxious, and inhibited, a little alcohol may help you get into the swing of things.

2. It is good to make rules about when and where not to drink. For example, a person who uses alcohol to relax after a hard day shouldn't drink at the end of an easy one, or before a day is done. No one should drink and drive.

3. Rules about times, places, and situations that are appropriate for drinking help control the tendency of alcohol to get out of hand. People might decide they will drink with friends but not by themselves, on weekends and holidays but not during the week, after sunset but not during the day.

4. Learn to regulate the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. Once it's there, only time can get it out. You can control the rate of absorption of alcohol into your blood by drinking dilute forms of it rather than concentrated ones (for example, by adding water to wine and mixers to hard liquor). You can also make sure you have food in your stomach before and during drinking. You can practice consuming alcoholic drinks slowly. Finally, you can practice saying no to further drinks when you've had enough.

5. Whenever you consume alcohol heavily, remember to drink plenty of plain water to offset fluid losses from increased urination. By doing so you may moderate the next day's hangover.

6. Don't spend time with people who drink to excess or encourage you to drink more than you want.

7. Be careful about falling into patterns of regular drinking to deal with ongoing emotional problems, such as anxiety or de-

From Chocolate to Morphine 68

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