In today’s Guardian, Tanya Gold recounts her experience of alcoholism as a middle-class teenager.
I know why I tried to drink myself to death. I was lonely and angry, and I felt worthless. Nobody knows exactly what causes alcoholism. I believe it is genetic, but triggered by trauma.
The details of Ms Gold’s “trauma” aren’t made clear, but what happens next is interesting, insofar as it follows much the same pattern favoured by, among others, Madeleine Bunting and Oliver James, whereby a particular unhappiness is assumed to be shared by all sentient beings and is then blamed on… capitalism.
Alcohol has never been so cheap. The supermarkets and the happy hours and the clubs can’t stuff it down our throats cheaply enough or fast enough or long enough; some supermarkets sell it at less than cost, to draw the shoppers in. They don’t treat it as a dangerous drug, but as a commodity that is great for business.
The fact that most people use alcohol in moderation passes oddly unremarked. As does the fact that, generally speaking, one ultimately chooses whether or not to get hammered into unconsciousness on an all but daily basis. Even the most decadent of nightclubs don’t yet strap their customers into chairs then funnel booze and pharmaceuticals down their throats. And inexpensive drinks still require time and inclination to be consumed in sufficient quantities. As Gold says,
To develop alcoholism you have to drink heavily. You have to put the hours in at the pub.
After fingering supermarkets and nightclubs as the cause of human misery, we leap, erratically, to this:
There are wonderful new ways to make young women feel worthless. Sparkling advertisements and whispering editorials encourage them to aspire to an ever-receding fantasy. You can never be beautiful or thin enough for the fashion magazines of 2008. You can never be sexy enough for MTV, or pornography. You can never be famous enough for Heat.
Well, again, there is an element of choice here, and responsibility. My own exposure to Heat magazine is, it’s true, somewhat limited. I occasionally register the cover with bewilderment while waiting at the checkout of my local supermarket. Like many other men and women, I manage to find its influence remarkably easy to resist. It’s simply not of interest, and surely that’s the point. Even if a copy were taped to my face with a subsequent quiz on its contents, I doubt I’d feel inclined to emulate the people photographed within. But maybe that’s just me.
Ms Gold goes on to say,
Denial is the best friend of alcoholism,
Which, given the above, may well be true. And,
Now we all collude.
Which, I think, is not.