A young man in his thirties came to see me, desperately wanting to save his marriage. It turned out that his wife had given him an ultimatum that if he didn’t stop drinking, she was going to leave him. Her ultimatum came like a blow to his solar plexus. He cried uncontrollably, desperately wanting help to quit his drinking because he didn’t want to lose his family.
An intense counselling session taught him what steps he had to take to combat his cravings and to quit his addiction to alcohol. The counselling session and a program for him to follow at home, helped him to quit without much effort or strain. It was so rewarding to see him together with his wife a few months later, sober, happy and full of dreams about their future.
About four months later he presented with severe depression. He responded well to treatment but a month later he presented with an unremitting cough and a marked loss of weight. He was diagnosed with TB and put on treatment. He regained his appetite and his strength and all seemed to be well again for this young couple.
Just as he was making a good recovery from his TB, I received a call from his wife, that her husband was in hospital with a stroke and that he had lost his speech. It emerged that the stroke was caused by a heart valve that was damaged by years of heavy drinking. It would appear that a clot from his damaged valve dislodged, shot to a vessel in the brain and led to the stroke.
The three months of sobriety was too little, too late for this young man, who made such a remarkable recovery from his addiction to alcohol. What makes this case so unusual is that it is very rare for alcohol to damage one’s organs so soon. I have treated many patients, who were addicted to alcohol but this is the first time that I came across some one so young ending up with such severe complications from alcohol abuse. It is something one sees in people addicted to alcohol in their fifties.
I could not help but to think about the devastation and damage that alcohol abuse had done not only to him but to his children and young wife, especially whilst they were heading for a bright future after he took the brave step to stop his drinking about eight months ago.
As l was busy writing this story, I received a message from the young man’s wife that he suffered another stroke and in the early hours of the morning, I received the tragic news that he passed away suddenly.
I was shocked beyond words, for his poor wife. She was so supportive and full of hope that he would eventually recover. I fondly remembered the delight in her face when she told me how happy she and her children felt after he gave up his drinking. When I called her to convey my condolences, she seemed quite composed but I knew that the loss hadn’t quite sunk in.
I only wished he sought help much earlier but it seems, his fate was already determined before I intervened. I would like to urge anyone that has a problem with drinking to seek help to stop his or her drinking immediately and prevent the risk of getting a major illness, like a stroke, like this young man, who passed away in the prime of his life, leaving his family totally destitute.
Not even one drink is safe because every drink, irreparably damages a few brain cells each time that one consumes alcohol. The rising pandemic of alcohol abuse amongst teenagers throughout the world is largely due to wide scale advertising that makes alcohol so acceptable and attractive to highly impressionable teenagers. Unfortunately, our schools and government departments are not doing enough to educate our children about the dangers of alcohol.
We should debunk the myth that you need a glass of wine or beer to unwind, chill or have fun. Quite often, just one drink leads to consuming many more, and when that happens, a happy party descends into one huge brawl by highly inebriated people, causing so much heartache to so many and a major strain on our diminishing health resources.
The producers and marketeers of alcohol do not care about the damage their poison is reeking on their consumers as long as it brings in the lolly. Educating society and young school learners about the dangers of alcohol, no matter what type, may not end the pandemic but it is a start, a start that the whole of civil society must make, if we wish to avoid major catastrophes caused by the consumption of excessive amounts alcohol by people of all ages.
Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician working in Mitchells Plain for over 36 years. He is also the author of a book called, ‘4 Steps to healing’, a self help book on addiction for users and their families as well a motivational speaker.