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49. Alcohol

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

American writer Mary Wilson Little put it simply; "almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness, and money." Alcohol is the volatile flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars and is the intoxicating constituent of wine, beer, spirits, and other drinks. The alcohol that Little referred to was of course the alcohol found in the drink.

Maybe you're like Rupert Holmes and you like a Piña Colada and getting caught in the rain. Or you could be a university student in New Zealand where getting smashed from Wednesday through Saturday seems totally normal. Anyway, whatever the occasion, alcohol is quite the prevalent wee substance. And this blog is all about it! All things from growing up around it, the rabid teen years, binge drinking and some spicy fun facts are coming your way, dear reader. Let's get drinking, or not if you don't want to. I totally respect your sober self-discipline. But is there really a better time than now when you're stuck in the constraining lockdown walls of your abode to not get absolutely shit faced? I think not.

There's this phenomenon called the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis that theorises humans' attraction to alcohol dates back to our ancestors. In 2004, Dr Robert Dudley of the University of California hypothesised that because of our primate ancestors' dependence on ripe and fermenting fruits as a dominant food source humans can more or less metabolise alcohol. Slowly, a genetic mutation in an enzyme occurred where alcohol dehydrogenase made this enzyme 40 times more effective at metabolising alcohol. So maybe instead of just monkeying around, our drunk monkey relatives did do some productive work for us precious alcoholics.

Alcohol initially became of interest to this young buck in the early teen years. Back in the day, I remember my elders drinking the infamous "you're-not-allowed-to-touch-it-drink" and I couldn't quite comprehend why I was not allowed to indulge in its suspicious glory. Definitely some of my earliest memories of FOMO were experienced here. Can you blame her, though? Inevitable curiosity had to arise from continuously being told that I wasn't allowed to do something while watching the hypocrites themselves doing the opposite of what they were telling me to do. Despicable. Watching my parents get increasingly giggly as they would sip away at the liquid also made me inquisitive. What on earth was that booze doing to them anyway? I've done my research below, enjoy.

Alcohol enters the body through the classic digestion path. So that is through the mouth, then the oesophagus and finally down into the stomach. When the alcohol arrives in the stomach, about 20% of it is absorbed in the stomach, getting into the bloodstream very quickly. This process happens faster if you haven't eaten anything, hence the "eating is cheating" rhetoric existing. The rest of the alcohol goes to the small intestine and travels to the liver. In the liv (sorry for constant abbreviations, it's entertaining for me), an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) oxidases the alcohol and creates acetaldehyde. This lil molecule happens to be both toxic and carcinogenic; double whammy! But luckily enough, your poor liver is looking out for you and turns this baddie into the less harmful acetic acid. This can then be broken down into carbon dioxide and water. Alc is then circulated around the body. It is estimated that the liver can eliminate about 15 mls of alcohol per hour. That's where the standard amount of drinks narrative comes in. If you go over that amount, you're gonna suffer sweetie.

When alcohol reaches the heart, one's blood pressure decreases. The heart will pump some of the alcohol to the lungs. This is why your breath ends up smelling like alcohol. Of course, it is inevitable that it gets pumped to the brain. An alcohol-induced brain slows down nerve cells which control your ability to move and think. Judgement becomes impaired and movement becomes disrupted. Delightful. We all know that too well!

Now for the aftermath; the dreaded hangover. Or as I like to call it, the reason why I hate drinking and what I try to think about before wallowing in alcohol's presence. You know the beloved, we've got headaches, vomiting, dizziness and just genuinely feeling like complete shite. Why does this occur? It isn't completely known, rather only individual factors are known. The chemical ADH is assumed to be the reason that hangover headaches occur. Also because of the increased urination when drinking, dehydration is at an all time high. All in all, you're dizzy and dry to sum it up for ya.

In high school, drinking was always exciting and in a way an elitist activity to me. In the early high school years, only a handful of the cool kids quenching in the substance. You would hear through rumours of Chinese Whispers about how they scored the alcohol, how drunk they got and what shenanigans they got up to. Alcohol was idolised this way. My first experience getting drunk was at the start of Year 11. I would have been 15, turning 16 later in the year. I remember asking my parents for some money of which I said was going to be spent on baking ingredients. Lies, I'm sorry mum and dad. I wasn't a terrible teenager but that definitely wasn't one of my shining moments. It was spent on the very alcohol that least resembles the taste of alcohol; raspberry cruisers. That night, I recall falling in a bush, trying and failing to walk in a straight line and crying a lot. Divine. Nothing but pure sophistication from Ella Gibson.

Soon, someone in the year group would host a party every weekend. By golly, we couldn't talk about anything else but the upcoming party during lunch breaks. All my friend group and I would talk about during the week was who was going to make out with who, what they were going to drink and what they were going to wear. It was an elated thrill. It was so exciting and so were the parties. Alcohol eased the teenage anxiety and awkwardness. You could finally talk to the guy that you kind of had a crush on in your science class. Everything became messy but felt like pure ecstasy. You had no responsibilities and hangovers were hardly a thing. Drinking in high school was undoubtedly top tier.

Uni drinking, however, was definitely when the heat turned up. I never had the halls of residence experience but all of my friends did. There wouldn't be a sober day. Wake up, drink. Breath, drink. Do anything, drink!!! That was the vibe. Because you are now presented with not being surrounded by parental authority and are around a whole bunch of people that just want to get fucked, you're gonna do that. But in a way because you are legally allowed to do such a thing, it isn't as appealing. The high school allure no longer pertains.

New Zealand has quite the esteemed drinking culture. Just step one foot into a Dunedin flat or Castle Street to get a perspective of the fine NZ binge drinking culture. The operational definition of binge drinking is different between the binary male and female genders. For males, binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more standard drinks on one occasion during the past 2 weeks. For females, binge drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more standard drinks in one occasion during the past 2 weeks. I would like to believe that I have a reasonable relationship with alcohol, but in regards to last Saturday night, while locking down at my parents abode, I am a binge drinker. Yippee!

There is a gnarly binge drinking culture here. Tactically vomiting so you can drink more and make your night last longer is a regular occurrence. It shouldn't be. I'm not trying to come at this with the angle that I am any saint, hell, if that's not further away from the truth! Søren Kierkegaard (the father of existentialism) would be proud, I am purely just having an existential rant about the NZ binge drinking culture. And I, a reckless youth that realms university, am entirely entrenched in it.

The thought of socialising without alcohol, at say a party, is one that I regretfully hate to say pains me to think about. I've done the sober dash a multitude of times, it's not terrible but it's not what I want to be doing at that moment. That's the thing as well, there's a nasty connotation associated with being sober. Being sober is almost frowned upon by drinkers when you notify them of the news. Even if you tell them that you're sober driving, it's sad reacts all around! It means you're boring, no fun and downright pretentious. "Oh, you have work tomorrow? Come on, just one drink!" Don't even mention wanting to get sleep to an intoxicated soul, because "sleep is for the dead! You only live once!"

Anyway, I think there needs to be a cultural reform. It should be okay to not drink, for one. Sociality and having a social life as a young adult should not depend on whether you're getting smashed or not. There's also an aloof view of alcohol that it is separated from other drugs and other addictive substances. This is only the result of how society has decided to frame and normalise it, not because of the substance's content. It's a drug, too! I would argue that it is worse than others too when used without moderation. But I don't want to get down that rabbit hole, as seen in last year's referendum. It seems that half of the NZ population would throw hands.

NZ doesn't know how to drink in moderation. It's either you're drinking or you're sober and if you're drinking, you are binge drinking more than the operational definition of it states. You're getting obliterated so that you are unable to function as a proper human being the following day. To lower the horrific drinking stats that NZ has acquired, such as that 1 in every 5 New Zealand adults has a hazardous drinking pattern that places them and/or others at risk of harm, there needs to be a cultural reform. Whatever that is, however, I am uncertain. For starters, think about your relationship with alcohol and go from there. Converse with the people around you. Just because something is societally ingrained does not make it okay. Ka kite and stay safe out there, dear reader.

Artwork by Chloe Bolingford

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any further questions based on this blog post or anything else in regards to this blog, be sure to get in contact with me through this website or through the blog's Instagram linked below.


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This blog will encompass the life of a 20-year-old kiwi chica. Composed of stories, advice, life lessons, worldly observations and whatever else Ella's life brings to surface. For all of this and more, read my new found blog 'Born In 2000': established on the 28th of October, 2019. Where Ella Gibson explores her life that exceeds all limitations. Publications should be expected once a week. Be sure to take this present moment now and rock it!

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