August 05, 2012

No doubt some out there are thinking I could not have guzzled enough alcohol to count as a real alcoholic, otherwise I would not have been able to stop on my own without major and costly treatment by the “€œrecovery industry.”€

The other day I made a rough calculation of how much alcohol I had tippled since my days as a history student at Cambridge University, where it all began in earnest and I discovered what “€œbender”€ and “€œchampagne breakfast”€ meant.

Here in Italy during the last decade or so, I was on two bottles of Sangiovese a day on quiet days, plus a glass or two of something white before lunch. I did not drink on Sundays when I was at home all day with my family.

OK, so let’s be kind to me and stick with only two and a half bottles a day (excluding Sundays), which makes 15 bottles a week and 780 a year.

In Britain, which I left in 1997, I drank beer and wine but my daily consumption was probably much the same.

So let’s round it all off at 780 bottles of (mostly red) wine a year for 30 years, yielding a total of 23,400 bottles.

On the grounds that an alcoholic always downplays his consumption, let’s raise that to 25,000 bottles of wine and call it quits. Where I live, a bottle of red costs roughly 15 euros in a bar. So at those prices my total alcohol consumption in those 30 years cost me 375,000 euros.

Funny how the money side of it never worried me. I drank for all the usual reasons, each one linked to the main reason: the unbearable nature of life. I drank to alleviate the tedium and terror. I drank to feel better. But in the end, I only felt worse. And in the last few years I drank to feel normal.

But the main reason I gave up was not for the sake of the five children or for my marriage.

I gave up for reasons of vanity: It was a selfish act. I had come to despise the way I looked and felt. But at least my selfishness did something positive, and I soon lost a lot of fat.

Nevertheless I was convinced”€”still am”€”that alcoholism is a destructive habit, not an incurable disease. Like adultery, drinking to excess is a moral rather than a medical issue. A drinker who wants (or needs) help to stop would be better off seeing a priest instead of a health professional, especially if he is lucky enough to believe in God.

I had come to believe that drink was necessary both to my work and pleasure, and I had to sever that mental link. Nor is it easy even now to resist the temptation of a drink. But a temptation is what it is.

If alcoholism really was a disease rather than a habit, you would expect the law to take that into account, but it does not. A man with heart disease would not normally go to jail if he had a heart attack at the wheel of his car and killed a pedestrian. A man with what the health professionals say is a disease”€”alcoholism”€”almost certainly would.

My aim is to drink again one day, maybe one day very soon, but in moderation this time: a single aperitif after work”€”maybe two”€”followed by a couple of glasses of Sangiovese with dinner, or maybe three. Am I sick?



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!