My Stepfather and His Battle With Alcoholism

by Emma-Jane Bradbury-Jackson

 

I can remember feeling and being so proud of you when you had decided to stop drinking. I even admired your strength of character as the whole time that I had known you, since 1993 when I was 18, you had drunk every day. It was never just one drink or even two. I’m talking can after can of the strongest beer, bottles of the strongest cider or whisky. But what harm can they cause? Well if you fast forward 21 years, I can tell you in graphic detail EXACTLY what harm alcohol can do to you and it’s NOT pretty. In fact, it’s horrifying that by consuming extreme amounts of alcohol, you are, in effect killing yourself everyday and that’s exactly what my best friend did.

You had the most dazzling of smiles that could light up a room. I even wrote that in your
tribute booklet. Yes, your tribute booklet for your funeral service. I looked through all the
photographs that I had of you. Every single one of them pictured you drinking.

I didn’t realise it at the time but it was probably the alcohol that contributed to your megawatt smile. I won’t be able to find out though. You’re not here to ask.
I can remember thinking that surely alcohol can’t cause too much harm? You’re my best
friend – you’re invincible, right?
I’m certainly not saying that I was teetotal by any stretch of the imagination. I was 18 and
going out clubbing and binge drinking, probably 3 nights a week. So, yes, I was exceeding
my number of units but not on a long term basis.
For the 10 years that I lived with you and my mother, your alcohol consumption only seemed to increase. As did your temper. MASSIVELY. But then if you’re drinking, and this is an estimate, a good 90 plus units A WEEK then the whole of your body, both mentally and physically, are going to be experiencing a serious amount of deterioration and there’s now a high risk of damage to your liver, heart and your nervous system.

But you’re still the life and soul. You’re still running your own business. Is this all a facade? Underneath it all are you just a crumbling, rotting mess? Is your body swimming in alcohol but I just can’t see it? Am I blind to it all?

The physical effects of alcohol abuse may be varied and widespread. Organ damage is likely to occur with chronic alcohol abuse and physical health will deteriorate steadily but dangerously.

In the initial stages of alcoholism there will be loss of appetite as alcohol is a rich source of calories and vitamin deficiency and anaemia may herald the onset of malnutrition.

Following on from this, gastritis, nausea and heartburn are the responses of a stomach
which has become raw and inflamed from heavy drinking and the eventual result may be peptic ulceration. Gastric symptoms are the most common in alcoholism.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a chronic inflammatory disease in which functioning liver cells are gradually replaced by scar tissue and it will be developed by approximately 10% of
alcoholics. 60% of alcoholics who continue to drink after a diagnosis of cirrhosis has been made WILL DIE. This is the final stage of liver injury and occurs as the liver unsuccessfully attempts to detoxify huge amounts of ethyl alcohol over a period of years. Cirrhosis is normally preceded by fatty liver or alcohol hepatitis as the liver enlarges and becomes inflamed. As cirrhosis progresses, the liver shrinks and nodules of scar tissue develop until the liver eventually becomes incapable of sustaining life.

Incapable of sustaining life. And approximately 3 years before that happened, your body
started to show the telltale signs of a body ravaged by years of alcohol and its excesses.
Suddenly you were no longer able to walk as well and slowly but surely you seemed to
become an invalid. You had short but frequent admissions into hospital but you never
seemed to get the proper treatment somehow. Looking back now, perhaps your body was
now beyond all help. I can vividly remember having a conversation with you in the summer of 2014, your last hospital admission, and you saying that you did not know why you were on the medication they had put you on because you weren’t an alcoholic. I remember smiling back at you. You also said that your dreams of retirement had also gone. You obviously realised then, just a few months before your life could no longer be sustained, that it was all over for you. I never asked though. I was too scared.

There is little direct evidence that alcohol alone causes brain damage but a tiny minority of chronic alcohol abusers suffer brain damage due to the deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B). This chronic deficiency is associated with the malnutrition common in many alcoholics who fail to eat an adequate diet and severe and sustained deficiency leads to degeneration of certain well-demarcated areas of the brain causing devastating impairment of cerebral functioning.

Wernickes encephalopathy is characterised by confusion, unsteadiness and memory
impairment. These symptoms are often accompanied by alcohol neuritis in which a
peripheral form of neuritis associated with degeneration of long peripheral nerves manifests itself in wrist and foot drop, weakness and wasting of the leg and hand muscles and loss of sensation. Peripheral neuritis may arise in the absence of cerebral involvement but it should be regarded as an ominous sign of generalised insult to nervous tissue.

There is some dispute about alcoholism as a cause of chronic brain failure (alcoholic dementia) per se, though it has been suggested that cerebral atrophy can occur in alcoholics in their 50’s and 60’s – the so called ‘wet brain’. You were just 64. Korsakoff’s syndrome, though severely incapacitating, should not be considered as a form of dementia although it may mimic it.

I can remember some of the most bizarre text messages you sent and conversations we
had, where you would repeatedly ask me the same questions. I would always answer them with a smile. It was just easier that way. I hated seeing you, this once proud man, reduced to a shell of the character, the person you once were. Your spirit had already gone by this time. The last words you ever said to me were, “I can sleep any time, but I can’t see my best friend anytime”. Now you are sleeping. For all time.

On the 23rd of December 2014, your body finally became incapable of sustaining life.

Forty, maybe fifty years of alcohol had, by now, completely annihilated you. Nobody can be expected to sustain any form of life, given that amount of abuse. It is impossible.
Incomprehensible.

Now I only have questions, but you’re not here to answer them.

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