Jim Duffy: Scotland '“ a nation that relies on functioning alcoholics

The middle classes self-medicate with wine on a regular basis but most know when to stop, writes Jim Duffy.

The middle classes are self-medicating with red and white wine, but most know when it's time to stop
The middle classes are self-medicating with red and white wine, but most know when it's time to stop

When it comes to alcohol, I’m pretty confident I know a thing or two about it. I’ve seen first hand the misery that alcohol abuse or alcoholism can cause.

But, like all “isms”, there are shades of grey that we need to explore and be honest about. So, I’m not going to go all morose and sad about this particular ism, but highlight that many of us in Scotland may not be rushing out to Alcoholics Anonymous, but we are functioning alcoholics all the same. And that’s not a bad thing…. So cheer up and stop feeling guilty. Life is for living, right?

I’ve been told for years by doctors, politicians, scientists, nutty professors and lobbyists that many things are bad for me. From red meat to cheese to coffee to carbohydrate to anti-depressants.

Only last week, following much negativity surrounding anti-depressants, we were told that a massive scientific study concluded that these little cheer-me-uppers were indeed ideal for treating low mood, the blues and depression. Great, at last we have some clarity, albeit that could change in the next decade with another scientific report. Coffee is now okay to drink.

I felt really guilty and dirty drinking my three cups a day. But now I’m “normal” and I can indeed enjoy my fairtrade caffeine three times a day – usually before midday. Woohoo!! Life is defo on the up! But, what about alcohol?

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If we are all being truly honest, many of us like a drink or enjoy a drink. But, like all medicines, narcotics or isms, there are degrees of enjoyment or reliance.

There are the crazy ones who live for the weekend. They will seldom touch a drop Monday to Thursday, but go ballistic Friday night and love to head out at lunchtime on a Sunday booze-up and finish about 7pm before heading to bed to get through the week again. This binge mindset could be typed or classified as a form of functioning alcoholic.

In essence, these func-aholics (see what I did there) do not let alcohol interfere with their day jobs.

They ensure that they party only in their own time, so as not to turn up late or intoxicated to their place of work.

Many commentators see this form of func-aholic as dangerous with bingeing on anything portrayed as not good for the human body or brain. Nonetheless, we have a small army of this type of “normal” drinkers. Then there is the self-medicator.

I most certainly fall into this bracket and this will be the focus of our discussion from hereon in. I’m going to guesstimate that more than 25 per cent of the working population in Scotland falls into this bracket of “normality”.

I’m also going to suggest that this is okay and you should be okay and relaxed with it. How do I come to this statistic? Well, I know a few self-medicators personally and professionally.

But, I guess that’s only limited anecdotal or basic empirical evidence. So, I’ve chosen another way to support my argument.

I’ve visited the supermarket alcohol aisles and watched and watched and watched. It’s an eye-opener …

After working hours, say 9-5, these aisles are full of professionals buying their medication for that night. You know who you are and it’s a okay because unlike the classic alcoholic who gets blind drunk, falls asleep on the couch and misses whole days, this is not you. No, this form of func-aholic regulates as they self medicate.

They have a time for drinking in the home that does not interfere with what is needed. This func-aholic also has a limit on what they will consume. Look at it this way.

A diabetic who needs to inject insulin to regulate blood sugar knows how they feel, how much to administer and when to do this.

They will not over-administer nor under-administer so that they get what is needed only to attain some equilibrium and normality. This is exactly what the self-medicating func-aholic does.

Further, this type of self-medicating alcoholic knows their drink of choice, when to start, how much to administer and when to stop.

A “true” alcoholic does not know when to stop. In short, they drink to get drunk, which is a recipe for all sorts of issues that we all know about – family breakdown, job loss and eventually sad episodes like Paul Gascogne. This is a reality.

But not so for the functioning self-meditator.

The drink of choice as far as I can see or ascertain is wine. There is no preference for red or white. Whether it’s a decent Shiraz or Merlot or indeed a Chardonnay or Pino Grigiot, we have a hefty chunk of the population which is prescribing its own medication and being diligent and careful in how it does this.

It is not leading to all-out oblivion, but rather creating a norm that we should not classify as bad or unhealthy or poor judgement.

After all, who are we to judge in a post-modern society where many myths and “truths” are now being exposed and revealed as simple untrue. Each and everyone to their own. So, as we can see, if we are being honest, our fascination with drink in Scotland is not all about attention-grabbing headlines on the price of a bottle of high-strength cider, it’s more focused and endemic way up the social class food chain.

But with this focus, the func-aholic knows he or she has a tolerance and knows how to ensure they never cross over into the “blind drunk” stage. I respect friends of Bill W, but our nation operates with solid func-aholics who know how to control this. I for one, will not be judgemental … it’s time to be more positive.