A letter to my Stepfather who died of alcoholism I can remember feeling and being so proud of you when you had decided to stop drinking. Ieven admired your strength of character as the whole time that I had known you, since 1993when I was 18, you had drunk every day. It was never just one drink or even two. I'm talkingcan after can of the strongest beer, bottles of the strongest cider or whisky. But what harmcan they cause? Well if you fast forward 21 years, I can tell you in graphic detail EXACTLYwhat harm alcohol can do to you and it's NOT pretty. In fact, it's horrifying that by consumingextreme amounts of alcohol, you are, in effect killing yourself everyday and that's exactlywhat 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 thephotographs 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 megawattsmile. 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 bestfriend - you're invincible, right? I'm certainly not saying that I was teetotal by any stretch of the imagination. I was 18 andgoing out clubbing and binge drinking, probably 3 nights a week. So, yes, I was exceedingmy 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 seemedto increase. As did your temper. MASSIVELY. But then if you're drinking, and this is anestimate, a good 90 plus units A WEEK then the whole of your body, both mentally andphysically, are going to be experiencing a serious amount of deterioration and there's now ahigh 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 alcoholbut 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 ofcalories and vitamin deficiency and anaemia may herald the onset of malnutrition.Following on from this, gastritis, nausea and heartburn are the responses of a stomachwhich has become raw and inflamed from heavy drinking and the eventual result may bepeptic ulceration. Gastric symptoms are the most common in alcoholism. Cirrhosis of the liver is a chronic inflammatory disease in which functioning liver cells aregradually replaced by scar tissue and it will be developed by approximately 10% ofalcoholics. 60% of alcoholics who continue to drink after a diagnosis of cirrhosis has beenmade WILL DIE. This is the final stage of liver injury and occurs as the liver unsuccessfullyattempts to detoxify huge amounts of ethyl alcohol over a period of years. Cirrhosis isnormally preceded by fatty liver or alcohol hepatitis as the liver enlarges and becomesinflamed. As cirrhosis progresses, the liver shrinks and nodules of scar tissue develop untilthe liver eventually becomes incapable of sustaining life. Incapable of sustaining life. And approximately 3 years before that happened, your bodystarted 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 tobecome an invalid. You had short but frequent admissions into hospital but you neverseemed to get the proper treatment somehow. Looking back now, perhaps your body wasnow beyond all help. I can vividly remember having a conversation with you in the summerof 2014, your last hospital admission, and you saying that you did not know why you were onthe medication they had put you on because you weren't an alcoholic. I remember smilingback at you. You also said that your dreams of retirement had also gone. You obviouslyrealised then, just a few months before your life could no longer be sustained, that it was allover 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 ofchronic 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 whofail to eat an adequate diet and severe and sustained deficiency leads to degeneration ofcertain well-demarcated areas of the brain causing devastating impairment of cerebralfunctioning. Wernickes encephalopathy is characterised by confusion, unsteadiness and memoryimpairment. These symptoms are often accompanied by alcohol neuritis in which aperipheral form of neuritis associated with degeneration of long peripheral nerves manifestsitself in wrist and foot drop, weakness and wasting of the leg and hand muscles and loss ofsensation. Peripheral neuritis may arise in the absence of cerebral involvement but it shouldbe regarded as an ominous sign of generalised insult to nervous tissue. There is some dispute about alcoholism as a cause of chronic brain failure (alcoholicdementia) per se, though it has been suggested that cerebral atrophy can occur in alcoholicsin 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 itmay mimic it. I can remember some of the most bizarre text messages you sent and conversations wehad, where you would repeatedly ask me the same questions. I would always answer themwith a smile. It was just easier that way. I hated seeing you, this once proud man, reduced toa 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 beexpected 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.Emma-Jane Bradbury-Jackson If you'd like to write a letter to a loved one you've lost to addiction, please send them to [email protected].