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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK


Alcohol's sad illusion

BBC doctor Colin Thomas: 'alcohol is a poison'

One could be tempted to ask "what is Gazza doing to himself and why"? What makes the person, admired by many, try to destroy himself?

Look through the last 30 years and you could come up with many household names, sportsmen, entertainers, and the like who have gradually become the victim of the demon drink, or drugs: or both.

It appears that footballers are very prone to this, as is illustrated by the volume of news coverage this week devoted to current and recovered footballing alcoholics. Is it just the money?

Well, that certainly makes alcohol more affordable, but more likely in this case alcohol has accompanied the rise to stardom, and as the star begins to fade the alcoholic shell is all that remains.

Realisation dawns

Alcohol can create the illusion that things are just the same, but when the hangover clears the realisation dawns... reach for another drink and the cycle repeats itself.

From my experience many seasoned alcoholics start drinking socially for the relaxation, or release. "I only come out of myself when I have a drink". This is not a problem if the drinking is controlled, but soon alcohol can become their life.

In fact medical science has shown that a little alcohol (especially red wine) is actually good for you.

However, when weekly consumption has exceeded the recommended safety level of 14 units for a woman or 21 units for a man then damage can occur. One unit of alcohol is equivalent to a half-pint of beer, glass of wine, or pub measure of spirits.

Alcohol, unfortunately, is a poison. The liver, which breaks down the alcohol into harmless chemicals, is itself vulnerable to harm and normally this is the first organ to be affected. Over years the heart, brain, and nervous system go the same way.

Abstinence the only answer

[ image: Paul Gascoigne: receiving treatment for alcoholism]
Paul Gascoigne: receiving treatment for alcoholism
My prescription for people such as Gazza would be a frank explanation of the dangers and a plan to replace the alcohol behaviour with something more positive.

Support is what is necessary, and abstinence is really the only effective answer.

Those who say they can control their drinking are probably lying. If temptation from their lifestyle remains, then sticking to a diet coke or a tomato juice is going to be very difficult when 'the lads' are downing pints.

Anyway, my view is that Hoddle should have played him in the World Cup! But what do I know - I'm only a doctor.

Dr Thomas will write a weekly column for the health section of BBC News Online. He would be delighted to receive suggestions or comments. He can be contacted via e-mail on

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