2 June 2010

A nation in denial

What is the biggest public health problem in Britain? Smoking? AIDS? Obesity? Heart disease? 

Nope - it's alcoholism. It costs society more than all the rest put together.Which makes it astonishing that British officialdom never mentions the 'A' word. No TV ads to raise public awareness, no government programmes to provide support for alcoholics, no funding for research into the condition. Nada.

If the word is used at all, it is to describe youthful drunkenness - which is less usual among alcoholics, because one of the characteristics of the condition is a very high tolerance until, after indulging the condition for a number of years, a tipping point is reached.

Actually - what a surprise in Britain - such official attention as is paid to the condition is deeply classist, concentrating on the cheaper end of the market for alcoholic drinks.  

It is abundantly established that the proportion of people genetically predisposed to substance dependency varies among ethnic groups. Almost nonexistent among Orthodox Jews, approaching universality among the Amerindians. Much more prevalent in Nordic than in Mediterranean societies.

I have no idea what proportion of the British population is predisposed - yet there is a simple diagnostic test, which could be administered as a prophylactic to all young people to alert those who simply cannot permit themselves to go 'on the piss' with their friends. Because, for them, it is very likely to lead to dependency.

Why is it not done? Well, one of the characteristics of the alcoholic is a deep sense of shame, which leads to denial. I suspect that there are far more alcoholics in denial than there are latent or closet homosexuals among British officials and politicians, and that it explains a great deal about how Britain is governed.

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