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Devastating effects of alcohol

Mr Owusu Bempah, a resident of Kasoa, lost his wife and 12-year-old daughter in the floods that submerged their vehicle on the Kasoa-Mallam road when they were returning home on June 3, 2015.

After the news was broken to him, he had to go to the morgue to identify the bodies of his wife and daughter and his life has never been the same since.

Mr Bempah has buried his pain in the bitter taste of alcohol and behind the chauvinistic saying, “men don’t cry”.

During the day time, he goes about his daily activities as though he has got over his loss, but when the sun goes down and all that can be heard is the silence of the night, he breaks down into tears with his now favourite bottle of alcohol.

Losing someone you love is one of the most painful trials life can throw your way. It is common to experience a range of emotions, from denial and anger to sadness and despair.

Every one, who goes through the grieving process, does it in his or her unique way.

Some, however, turn to alcohol in a desperate attempt to numb the intense pain, sadness and grief that so often follows a major loss.
As a journalist, I have had my fair share of sorrow, spending time with victims and people who were affected by the recent flood and fire disaster.

By virtue of my job, I ask questions and one question I kept asking was, “How are you coping?”

From the answers received, I realised a large number of people had turned to alcohol to deal with their stressful traumatic experience, especially the women (who were not alcoholics before the traumatic event).

Clinical psychologist

A clinical psychologist, Dr Annie Gaisie, said in an interview that drinking alcohol was one means by which people forgot their worries, pain and despair, although it affected the body in many ways.

“These effects can lead to physical and mental changes that can put alcohol users and others at risk of injury or death. Possible dangers include falls, household accidents and car crashes,” she said.

Explaining further, she said alcohol, which has not been broken down by the liver, spreads to the rest of the body, including the brain, affecting parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment and memory.

Unfortunately, Dr Gaisie said self-medication with alcohol would not take away the pain of loss, adding that alcohol acted as depressants in the body.
She added that it complicated every aspect of life, from the ability to hold a job to the quality of relationships.

“Abusing alcohol creates negative emotions and conflicts that make it harder to work through grief in a healthy way,” she emphasised.
Dr Gaisie described the grief most people were feeling as a result of the June 3 floods as unresolved grief, which lasted much longer than normal.

That, she said, was because people who lost relatives or friends in the disasters felt guilty on account of the loss, because they consider the death of their loved ones as unfair, unexpected and as a result of their negligence.

Women

Dr Gaisie disclosed that alcohol affected women more than men.

Explaining further, she said women of all ages were often more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol, adding that women had less water in their bodies than men, so alcohol became more concentrated in their system.

The result of that was women becoming more impaired than men after drinking the same quantities of alcohol.

Maame Araba, a resident of Fish Pond, whose shop was flooded on the fateful day, said she lost items worth more than GH¢4,000.
Her shop was bought on credit basis, with a balance of GH¢ 2,000 left to be paid to debtors.

She confirmed that she had resorted to alcohol because the pressures from debtors were killing her.

“When I drink, I forget about my problems and feel happy, but once I am sober I cry all the time and as a result my children don’t like coming home,” she added.

Mrs Araba Lawson, who lived many metres away from the Goil Filling Station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, where the twin disasters happened, said she had not been able to get over the images of the corpses.

After the fire disaster, she went to the scene and saw the countless burnt bodies scattered all over.

“My husband warned me to stay at home and I turned a deaf ear to his warnings and now I live in regret and torment,” Mrs Lawson added.

“So now I drink any kind of hard liquor at night which makes me sleep better,” Mrs Lawson added.

Way forward

Medical and healthcare teams must address the dangers of alcohol use as a coping mechanism in their healthcare education during this difficult time.

Grief can take a serious toll, even on the most resilient individuals. During the grieving process, it’s important to experience and express emotions in order to eventually heal and get on with life.

A skilled therapist can help one express grief-related emotions, such as sadness, frustration or anger.

They must also help all Ghanaians find ways to cope with painful feelings as they arise, without the use of alcohol.
One must not be ashamed to admit that he or she has a problem.

Reach out for grief support groups that can provide the much-needed support and resources to resolve feelings of being alone.
In the days and weeks following a death, loved ones left behind must be inundated with support.