Thursday, October 27, 2011

An error of judgement. 

Okay, the inquest is over and it has been found that Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning. Amy had drunk more than five times the legal drink-drive limit. The inquest at St Pancras coroner's court, attended by Mitch and Janis, Winehouse's parents, heard that the singer had returned to drinking after three weeks of abstinence. Police recovered two large bottles of vodka and one small one. Suzanne Greenway, the St Pancras coroner, said: "She had consumed alcohol at 416mg per decilitre [of blood] and the unintended consequence of such potentially fatal levels was her sudden and unexpected death." The alcohol in her system was sufficient to have stopped her breathing and send her into a coma, the court heard.

Dr Suhail Baithun, the pathologist who conducted the post-mortem, said at 200mg per decilitre [of blood], someone would lose control of their reflexes and 350mg was considered a fatal level. The legal limit for drivers is 80mg. Her vital organs, including her liver and heart, were in good shape.

I find this very sad indeed. We all make errors of judgement when drinking alcohol. When someone with a lifetime of abuse with alcohol dies, they tend to have quite remarkable liver damage and you do not have much sympathy for them. You think, look at their liver, they were fools and it is no wonder they died. They must have known what damage they were doing to their bodies, so it was simply their own fault for dying.

With Amy Winehouse it was so very different, she had not been drinking for three weeks and her liver showed no regular alcohol abuse. All Amy did was to have a good session on the bottle. Just one big drink, what the media call a binge and Amy died.

I find this really sad for two reasons.

One: her death was avoidable, Amy chose to drink the vodka, it was not forced upon her. Amy did not have her drink spiked, it was her own tragic error of judgement.

Two: We are all human and can so easy party like the best of them. Therefore this tragedy so easily could have happened to one of us. We all like to claim that we would never binge drink but our claims are made when we are sober. It is all so very different when you have a stack of booze at home.

Our society can encourage binge drinking in some very subtle ways. The nationwide company had a wonderful idea of fitting their coaches with an Alcolock system. The driver has to blow into the device to enable the coach to start. Any reading on this breath test device above Zero invokes disciplinary action, including dismissal. So you know that all your drivers are alcohol free and sober when they come to work. The subtle problem is that when the driver wants to enjoy a drink without any risk of scoring greater than zero, he needs to have this drink on his weekly rest period. Oh, you think, that is good as he only drinks alcohol when he is on his days off and has a long time to recover before starting work. The driver will not drink alcohol when he is working the next day. The subtle problem is that privately the driver renames the weekly rest period into the weekly drinking period. We might joke about this down at the farm but this can encourage binge drinking.

Amy's death was tragic but her error of judgement could so easily have been made by any one of us. That makes me very sad indeed, the result of one big session and not a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Amy's tragic death shows you do not have to be an alcoholic to die from alcohol poisoning.

When I was 10 years old my father got a new job in London as the manager of a hostel for recovering alcoholics. He showed me around the hostel when we moved in and said "Look son, these men have lost everything. They have lost their homes, their families. All they have is a bed sit here in Stockwell. Let's look into this room and see what this middle aged recovering alcoholic has to his name. Yes, rather sad isn't it son. One small suitcase and 4 sausages in the fridge."

When I turned 18 years of age, my father gave me some very sensible advice regarding alcohol, "Use it, don't abuse it". I think Dad had forgotten his quiet word to me when I was 10, I did not want to become middle aged with only a bed sit, one small suitcase and 4 sausages in the fridge. Amy Winehouse lived in a £2.3m Camden flat and clearly showed how easy it is to make that error of judgement when you have a drink.
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