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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton


Abuse & Antabuse


Sober Life

All right, I know it's August and Ibiza is a party and here's someone whinging about alcohol abuse.

Well, I thought, why not give you something to read while you've a hangover?

These sober days I'm thrilled to see someone like that, especially if they've fallen over and banged their head on the way to the finca from Es Paradis.

So - if you can keep your hands steady while you go for the all-day breakfast (with pictures of it outside the bar) - here goes. (I recommend the addition of a fat, red Ibicencan sobrasada sausage by the way, even though writing about it usually means Gary has to correct my spelling).

By the way, the other day I found a website from where you can actually email someone a free postcard of one of these breakfast concoctions. But I'll spare you that, unless you really, really want to see one, in which case send an email and I'll whistle up a greasy pan for you.

I thought, though I'm not really sure why, that as you siesta you might like to know a bit more about the drug called Antabuse that George Best made famous more Champagne years ago than I can remember.

Here's the idea: you take a tablet every day and if you give in and have a drink it makes you violently ill.

Of course you can cheat by planning ahead and just not keep on taking the tablets.

But there are ways round that, too. Any doctor can actually stop her or his patient drinking.

My GP has an American patient who has to go and see her every day at 10am and she has ready a glass of water and she actually watches as she swallows her gut-wrenching pill. It's worked so far, though she says that after a month she'll just have to trust her and say bye-bye, Miss American Highball.

There's no joined-together effort to stop heavy drinkers in the UK. Doing something about Drugs, or condemnation of them, are the vote-winners, as Tony Blair showed at the election by never, ever mentioning drinking. E stood for re-Election.

To get back. Antabuse was discovered by accident in Denmark during the Second World War when Dr. Jens Hald was researching a treatment for intestinal worms.

A chemical called disulfiram had been successfully used to treat scabies (don't even ask how they figured that one out).

Like a good doctor, he took the tablet every day himself along with his colleague Dr. Erik Jacobsen, to ensure it did no harm to humans (there's a nice phrase) and I wonder how many researchers would be prepared to still employ that tactic. Not that they had worms, of course, intestinal or otherwise. They were just testing that they didn't sprout hair on their foreheads or somewhere.

Usually they felt fine, but some days they were both violently ill and they suddenly realised it was when they had been for a drink together.
They were doctors, not alcoholics, or people on holiday in San Antonio, so they didn't drink EVERY day.

They tried it out on volunteers and I would have been a volunteer if I'd been there and known about it and they all reacted the same way, so they dropped their research.

Actually, it never struck them that they had found something worthwhile. That was down to a journalist who heard Dr. Jacobsen telling the story as a joke at a meeting of drug doctors in 1947. A lot of good alcoholics were born that year.

The reporter from the Copenhagen newspaper Berlingske Tidende was there and did the story and the good doctor was flooded with requests from people with drink problems who had been trying to stop on their own.

You see, there are alcoholics like that who will try anything to save their lives.

The idea is that even alcoholics like George Best would have to think twice before taking a drink after popping the pill, which is OK, so long as he did and you are and you do.

A quick technical note: Antabuse works by blocking the enzyme that converts acetaldehyde which you get from the alcohol and gets it out of your system, which means it builds up and makes you feel violently unpleasant. It's a condition called acetaldehydemia; a hangover that won't quit. A heavy duty one. (My spell-checker says that's a short sentence and I think it's right).

Just one drink will do and you are up for the full vomiting, laboured breathing, flushing, sweating, chest pains, throbbing headache and all that, it says here in a new paperback about food and drink intolerance called "Was It Something You Ate?" by John Emsley and Peter Fell, £7.99 (Oxford University Press: www.oup.com).

And you blamed it on the fish stew at Cala Tarida yesterday lunchtime!

They also give some tips for ordinary drinkers who've had too much (or are planning to).

What you are trying to do is to delay the absorption of alcohol when you start drinking and alleviate the symptoms of that there acetaldehydemia when you are recovering by the pool.

Because unlike me you are not a founder member of Can't Drink Won't Drink, here are their guidelines:

HAVE a glass of milk before you start drinking

STICK to one type of alcohol and occasionally have a soft drink

DRINK a pint of water before going to bed

EAT something sweet for breakfast, such as honey or jam with your sobrasada

AVOID drinks such as sherry

Personally I think that idea about a pint of water before going to bed would be a bit like… Well, I'll let you laze on the beach and think about that.


Sinclair Newton