"The One True Friend, Guaranteed to Screw You Up, Good and Proper, Every Time!"

Alcohol is the intoxicant of Western culture. In spite of being the most dangerous and obnoxious, it is a drug we use daily. Although scarcely encouraged, its abuse is tolerated in all walks of life. We talk to God through it, toast special occaisions with it, and drown our sorrows in it. Sometimes we just make it fuck us up completely.

Ephidrina thinks this is a great shame, because the only thing she can think of to recommend it is its rather spurious gourmet appeal.

If you're lucky... you are sitting in front of a fifteen-year old Rioja which has been breathing for about thirty minutes. Maybe you are having a nice dinner with some friends. About halfway down the second glass, you begin to feel pleasantly light-headed, and a bit more talkative than usual.

If you're unlucky... you drink very much, tell your best mate she's too fat, throw up all over that bloke you were trying to impress and wake up the next day with a sore head. Perhaps you get nasty and go round beating up on people. Or you might just fall into a canal and drown.

If the hangovers aren't enough to put you off, you could always risk drinking excessively over a long period, developing one of many life-threatening illneses. If you become seriously addicted, you may like to try delerium tremens. It could kill you.

Alcohol's history has not been an easy one. Its popularity is universal, but its damaging potential is familiar to everyone who ever had a hangover. Our relationship with booze colors our view of other drugs. Because it gives us, as individuals and as groups, so much trouble, we automatically think that other drugs will do the same. Which is very true in some cases, and not so true in others.

In moderation, alcohol is convivial enough. Because it reduces inhibitions and lowers defences, it's useful for bringing together groups of disparate people. A party without any drugs is acceptable, but a party without beer would be no party at all. But it is surprisingly easy to get very screwed up, very quickly.

Alcohol's prestige in Western culture has meant that, unlike other drugs, it has proved impossible to ban. Not that they haven't tried - the notorious Great Prohibition lasted a whole thirteen years before politicians had to admit it was a disaster. Unfortunately, the lessons learned from this debacle were never applied to other drugs, so the narcotics trade is now dogged by the same problems of public health, violent crime and corruption.

Health-wise, the main problem with alcohol is the dose in which we ingest it. Because we consume it in grams (instead of milligrams, as with most other drugs) it exists in our bodies in higher concentrations. When we drink, we consume empty calories, which have no nutritional value. A high concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream over a prolonged period, or frequent heavy drinking, is known to cause organ damage. This makes it potentially much more toxic than some so-called "hard drugs".



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