Category Archives: Alcohol research findings and media coverage

Are YOU drinking too much?

Two articles that appeared in the news last summer that feel like they would be good to share now when we have our hair shirts on rather than our Hawaiian one’s!  One is from the UK Daily Mail and asks the question of ‘are we drinking too much?’ and the other is from the US and says the answer is yes!  Both are incidentally talking about the same JAMA paper that was published in August 2017.

Study Warns Of Binge-Drinking “Crisis” As Alcoholism Rates Spike 49%

The prevalence of 12-month DSM-IV AUD increased significantly from 8.5% to 12.7% (change, 49.4%) in the total population. Significant increases in AUD were seen in all subgroups except Native Americans and those residing in rural areas. Notable increases were found among women (83.7%), racial/ethnic minorities (51.9% for Hispanic and 92.8% for black individuals), adults 65 years and older (106.7%), those with a high school education (57.8%) and less than a high school education (48.6%), those earning incomes of $20?000 or less (65.9%), those living within 200% of the poverty threshold (range, 47.1%-55.8%), and those residing in urban areas (59.5%)”

From The Daily Mail article:

A DANGEROUS LINE

But when do your long lunches, after-work drinks or that ‘decompression’ glass of wine at home become a cause for concern?

‘Not everyone who drinks heavily will become dependent, or an alcoholic,’ explains Dr Mohiuddin. ‘But some of us are definitely predisposed to it.

‘It’s a mixture of genes and environment. Many people with a drinking problem have a family history of it – a parent, aunt/uncle, a grandparent. It doesn’t mean everyone in a family will suffer.

‘However, if the environment is there – perhaps a job with a heavy drinking culture – a problem can develop.’

Around 20 percent of people in Britain and the USA drink to a hazardous level, figures show.

‘It’s easy for many people to get through a bottle of wine a night, and over time, this can creep steadily upwards, to two or even three,’ says Dr Mohiuddin.

‘In my experience, a lot of heavy drinkers – both men and women – steadily move onto harder things. 

‘They may start with beer or perhaps wine and then progress on to heavy spirits such as vodka or whiskey.

‘However it’s not necessarily what you are drinking or where, it’s the amount and the effect it’s having on your life (see below). Some people will be able to cut down, while others will try and then realise they can’t – a sign of dependence.

‘There is a significant proportion of heavy drinkers who don’t realise or are in denial that they could be functioning – albeit progressively less functioning – alcoholics.’

THE WARNING SIGNS

‘The main problem is that it’s quite easy for some people to slip into drinking regularly – and the soothing effect it gives you becomes like using a tranquilizing medication such as diazepam,’ explains Dr Mohiuddin.

‘But over time, the benefits wear off quicker and you need more alcohol to get the same effect.’

‘Many people associate being an alcoholic with drinking in the morning, the old adage of ‘vodka on the cornflakes’ or sitting on a park bench with a can of cider – but there are many more subtle signs of dependence and/or alcoholism.’

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced a list of classic symptoms that show your drinking has stepped up to a worrying level. These include:

  1. You regularly use alcohol to cope with anger, frustration, anxiety or depression – instead of choosing to have a drink, you feel you have to have it.
  2. You regularly use alcohol to feel confident
  3. Your drinking affects your relationships with other people – they may tell you that, when you drink, you become gloomy or aggressive. Or, people around/with you look embarrassed or uncomfortable when you are drinking.
  4. You stop doing other things to spend more time drinking – these other things become less important to you than alcohol.
  5. You carry on drinking even though you can see it is interfering with your work, family and relationships.
  6. You hide the amount you drink from friends and family
  7. Your drinking makes you feel disgusted, angry, or suicidal – but you carry on in spite of the problems it causes
  8. You start to drink earlier and earlier in the day and/or need to drink more and more to feel good/get the same effect
  9. You start to feel shaky and anxious the morning after drinking the night before
  10. You get ‘memory blanks’ where you can’t remember what happened for a period of hours or even days

Before I stopped I had all 10 warning signs.  The articles recommendation:

HOW TO CURB YOUR DRINKING BEFORE IT’S TOO MUCH

  • Set yourself a target to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Avoid high-risk drinking situations and work out other things you can do instead of drinking.
  • Opt for lower-strength options, such as 4 percent beers or 10 percent wines.
  • Involve your partner or a friend who can help agree a goal and keep track of your progress.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOUR’E DRINKING HEAVILY

If you are drinking heavily, do not stop suddenly – see your GP or another medical professional, says Dr Mohiuddin. 

‘Some people manage to stop suddenly without any problems, but others may have withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, shakiness, sweating, increasing anxiety, headache and even hallucinations. In fact, going ‘cold turkey’ if you’re a very heavy drinker is highly risky and could be fatal. Hence, it is not recommended.’

And if you fear you can’t stop or cut down on your own, there are many specialist alcohol workers who can help. Your GP should be able to tell you about services available in your area.

Some people, especially those with a possible or real dependence, will need more comprehensive help and treatment. For example, says Dr Mohiuddin, if you’ve been using alcohol as a de-stressor, or to try and block out your worries, therapy can help you address these issues and find other, non-destructive ways of dealing with them.’

In the case of alcohol and certain drugs a medical detox is essential – there can be serious health implications linked to sudden withdrawal. 

There are also a wide range of tests to help staff ascertain the damage done to the body by drugs and alcohol, allowing patients to get tailored treatment plans that suit their needs with the help if therapists, doctors and a full nursing team.

‘Another option is to attend a support group for drinking problems, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where there are other people in your situation who understand and can give you support,’ says Dr Mohiuddin. 

‘There are meetings all over the world and they’re free to attend.’

And for friends or relatives worried about someone they know or suspect has a drinking problem, there is Al-Anon – a spin-off of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

All good advice which I would advocate.  You can always reach out to me here and I will do my best to signpost you to the relevant services and support you need.

Guest Blog Post from Alcohol Concern and Dry January

It’s almost that time of year again!  Today I’m honoured to feature a guest blog post written for the blog by Alcohol Concern to promote their soon to be active Dry January campaign which kicks off in a few days!

Over to Alcohol Concern:

Dry January feels like it’s been around forever, doesn’t it? It’s as ubiquitous to January as New Year’s resolutions and the post-Christmas belly. But how much do you know about it?

Dry January is an annual behaviour change campaign, which encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of January. A YouGov poll commissioned by charity Alcohol Concern has revealed that an estimated 3.1 million people[1] in the UK are already planning to do Dry January in 2018. They will ditch the booze for one month to feel healthier, save money and re-set their relationship with alcohol.  

The campaign is run by national charity Alcohol Concern, which merged with Alcohol Research UK in April to become an even stronger advocate for a world in which alcohol causes no harm.  

In 2012 a woman named Emily Robinson joined Alcohol Concern. She had decided to give up alcohol for January, and absolutely everyone wanted to talk to her about it. She was having lots of conversations about alcohol and the benefits of taking a break from drinking – just the kinds of conversations Alcohol Concern wants to have on a wider scale. The national Dry January campaign was born.

Dry January has gone from zero to over five million participants in five years. This is its sixth year running, and we’re expecting the biggest year yet. Dry January now looks suspiciously like a movement – a movement of people who want to be in charge of when, what and how much they drink. Someone you know will be doing it. Probably more than one. Maybe your whole family. Maybe your whole office. Probably not the whole country but hey – we can dream.

Dry January is  quite different to Sober for October (run by Macmillan Cancer Support) or the Dryathlon (run by Cancer Research UK), because it’s about YOU. It’s not about raising money for charity (though if you want to, you can do that through Dry January). It’s not about giving something up.

Cutting alcohol out for a month can result in some amazing benefits to health – alcohol puts strain on the body, can disrupt sleep, have a negative impact on skin, and cause weight gain. Going dry for a month can work wonders for people financially, as the average person in the UK spends £50,000 on booze over their lifetime. Additionally, Dry January allows people to develop a new relationship with alcohol and learn the skills needed to say no when they don’t fancy a drink. Two-thirds of people who attempt Dry January make it through the month without drinking, while 72% maintain lower levels of harmful drinking than before Dry January six months later. [2]

Public Health England has endorsed Dry January, saying “Dry January is based on sound behavioural principles and our previous evaluation of the campaign shows that for some people it can help them re-set their drinking patterns for weeks or even months after completing the challenge.”

People can sign up for Dry January at dryjanuary.org.uk, or by downloading the Dry January & Beyond app via the App Store or Google Play. People who sign up to Dry January are more likely to make it through to the end of the month without drinking. They get access to support, tips and tricks, prize draws, and the app, with features including a unit calculator, calorie counter and money-saved tracker. Dry January is for anyone and everyone. Even if you already don’t drink, signing up and sharing the campaign can encourage others to do the same.

To sum up, here’s a quote from blogger Jenna Haldene, who reckons you should give Dry January a go.

“I didn’t think I felt bad at the time. I assumed that it was normal to feel tired and slightly sluggish, and that it was just a side effect of getting older. It wasn’t until I gave my body a much-needed break from alcohol that I realised how much potential I had to feel amazing.”

Sign up for Dry January now.

Read Jenna’s whole blog about cutting out booze here.

If you drink very heavily or experience physical withdrawal symptoms when not drinking alcohol, then Dry January is probably not for you. Instead, you should seek support from your GP or alcohol services; find out what’s available in your area here. Unsure if this applies to you? Try our alcohol audit.  

[1] The poll found that 6% of UK adults are planning to do Dry January. Figure of 3.1 million UK adults planning to do Dry January: total population aged 18+ in the UK 51,767,543 (ONS, Population Estimates for UK: mid-2016, table MYE2); 51,767,543 x .06 = 3,106,053.  

[2] Evaluation by University of Sussex, School of Psychology 2014

Drugsland

So although this blog is primarily about alcohol addiction, substance abuse and misuse isn’t that neat and tidy and many of us have/had multiple addictions to many substances and behaviours.  I recently watched the BBC series Drugsland which I was really impressed with and learnt a great deal hence wanted to share here for those of you who may also be interested.

The image on this blog post comes from an organisation called The Loop:

The Loop is a not for profit Community Interest Company established in 2013 which provides drug safety testing, welfare and harm reduction services at nightclubs, festivals and other leisure events.

We also provide staff training on drugs awareness, in-house welfare service delivery, the prevention of drug related harm at events, and the delivery of ethical ‘front of house’ drug safety testing services.

This part of their service really struck me as vital:

To provide an opportunity to engage with hidden and hard to reach user populations who are predominantly not in touch with drugs services and who are unlikely to get the opportunity to have any other advice or brief interventions

Such a brilliant organisation and much needed service.

Here is the link to the episode of Drugsland which features Prof David Nutt and Dr Ben Sessa talking about the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which at over 45 years old still governs the legal, and therefore criminal processes, here in the UK.  There is also an interesting discussion about how alcohol and tobacco should be made illegal if there are no changes to current drugs laws!

Drugsland: The Fix

And this one is also well worth a watch:

Drugsland: Dying to Get Clean

To be honest all four episodes are excellent although at times I found them hard to watch.  I agree with all that David Nutt and Dr Sessa say and believe it is time to review and revise the policy around drugs including decriminalisation so that drug testing and harm reduction services could be more widely expanded to support public health and safety.  I would have happily used the services of The Loop if they had been available in my past and would encourage anyone to use them if they are present at an event you are attending.  New Years Eve used to be a big night out back in the day so sharing this felt timely as we approach just that night.

If you’re concerned about your drug taking and need advice and support the Drugsland website also provide an excellent list of resources:

Information and Support

 

The Effects of Alcohol Hangover on the Mind: Challenges and Implications of Research

As we officially enter this years Alcohol Silly Season I thought it might be good to reflect on the after-effects of all that Christmas & New Year celebration.  This was an excellent guest post on Alcohol Policy UK in July earlier this year courtesy of Dr Sally Adams.

In this guest post Dr Sally Adams, Assistant Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Bath, takes a look current knowledge and gaps in our understanding of the impact of hangovers.

Alcohol hangover – “the…combination of cognitive and physical symptoms, experienced the day after a single episode of heavy drinking, starting when blood alcohol concentration approaches zero.”

Given this recent definition of alcohol hangover from the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, you could be forgiven for thinking that the causes and consequences of alcohol hangover were fully understood by researchers. However, whilst tens of thousands of academic papers have examined the short and long-term effects of alcohol consumption on thought processes and behaviour, only a handful have studied how hangover may impact the way we think and behave.

Hangover is an under-researched, but important area of study, especially given the health, economic and social effects. Hangover is one of the most frequently reported negative consequences of heavy drinking and is often associated with health effects including headache, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, low-mood and irritability. Additionally, hangover and other alcohol-related cause cost the UK an estimated £6.4 billion each year due to absenteeism, whilst the costs due to loss of productivity at work remain unknown. Socially, hangover may lead to isolation, social withdrawal and regret, where research has shown that individuals report increased levels of anxiety and low mood during alcohol hangover.

To determine the impact of alcohol hangover, researchers have begun to explore the effects of hangover on cognitive processes – the mental actions or processes   used in everyday activities – such as workplace performance and driving. In these studies, individuals who regularly experience hangovers are asked to either consume a controlled amount of alcohol in a laboratory or to drink “naturalistically” by consuming alcohol in their normal environment e.g. at home, pub etc.  Individuals attend a test session the following day to complete computerised tasks designed to assess cognitive processes used in everyday activities, such as attention, memory and psychomotor performance (the combination of cognitive function and physical action).

To date, studies have produced mixed findings on the cognitive effects of alcohol hangover. A review 13 studies indicated that only 5 individual studies showed a detrimental effects of alcohol hangover on cognitive functioning. However, this finding is more likely to reflect the poor methodological quality of the reviewed studies, rather than an absence of hangover effects. This notion is supported by promising findings from more recent, well-designed research studies demonstrating the impairing effects of hangover on cognition and everyday performance. For example, several recent studies have shown that driving behaviour, attention and memory are impaired during alcohol hangover.

These findings have important implications for improving our understanding of hangover, which may be among the causes of increased mistakes, accidents and injury in the workplace and elsewhere. Research exploring the effects of hangover on cognition and behaviour has the potential to inform policy and workplace guidelines on alcohol and hangover. For example, the UK government does not currently have any polices surrounding alcohol hangover in the workplace and most workplaces do not have health and safety legislation on hangover. A greater understanding of alcohol hangover’s effects on cognitive processes used in the workplace is essential to inform government and employers’ alcohol policies, specifically in sectors where hangover may have serious implications (NHS, transport industries, security and finance).

The current picture of alcohol hangover’s impact on cognitive performance and everyday performance is limited by a lack of robust, well-designed research examining the effects of hangover. Further research in this field is essential in determining the true health and economic costs of alcohol hangover.

For those of us who are heading into the foray minus booze – the Sober Advent Calendar starts tomorrow! As always I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the lovely Arthur Cauty of A Royal Hangover for producing the wonderful images and words you will see over the next 25 days 🙂

Minimum unit pricing to go ahead in Scotland after 5 year legal battle

MUP is a more effective means of reducing socioeconomic inequalities in health than taxation ( Colin Angus‏ @VictimOfMaths)

From Alcohol Policy UK today:

Today the UK Supreme Court delivered the final verdict on Scotland’s long running legal challenge to introducing Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP). The Scottish Government first passed legislaton in 2012 but a number of industry bodies spearheaded by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) forced a series of challenges under EU which some public health figures have described as ‘delaying tactics’.

The legal challenge rested on the argument that MUP contravened EU competition law, arguing instead that taxation would be a more appropriate means of achieving its aims. However the Supreme Court disagreed stating health objectives and the free market were “two incomparable values” and declaring MUP a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The court also rejected the appeal’s claim that the Scottish Government should have committed to going further in assessing market impact as unreasonable, acknowledging its commitments to evaluating the impacts and the five year sunset clause. 

Public health groups and academics involved in MUP took to Twitter to express relief and comment on the judgement and next steps. The SWA have issued a brief statement on the decision whilst a Spectator article by veteran ‘anti-nanny state’ commentator Christopher Snowden says MUP ‘won’t end alcoholism’. However James Nicholls suggested this was a ‘straw man’ argument and has written a response to the ruling outlining MUPs aims and key considerations. The news has also been covered by the BBC, Telegraph, The Scotsman and Guardian, with further coverage and comment likely throughout the week.

Absolutely delighted that minimum pricing has been upheld by the Supreme Court. This has been a long road – and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics – but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health.

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 15, 2017

Where next?

The Scottish Government will no doubt hope to see MUP come into effect as soon as possible; indeed the likely impact (see latest Sheffield modelling here) of the 50 pence per unit floor price will be significantly lower than had it been introduced in 2012, though its level can be addressed as part of the legislation. Wales and Ireland will also be welcoming the ruling having taken their own legislative steps to introduce MUP.

As for England, further pressure will no doubt be placed on the Westminster Government who, after David Cameron’s infamous 2012 u-turn, have committed only to monitoring Scotland’s proceedings. Watch this space.

Absolutely bloody brilliant news!!!

Edited to add:

Scottish Government minimum pricing consultation & evaluation details
Wales MUP evidence heard as consultation closes

Alcohol Awareness Week 2017, 13-19 November: ‘Alcohol and Families’

Courtesy of Alcohol Policy UK – Alcohol Awareness Week 2017, 13-19 November: ‘Alcohol and Families.’

Alcohol Concern have announced this year’s Alcohol Awareness Week (AAW) will take place from 13-19 of November on the theme of ‘Alcohol and Families’. The charity, which has recently merged with Alcohol Research UK, has partnered with Adfam, a charity that supports families affected by drugs and alcohol.

As with previous years, Alcohol Concern hope AAW will prompt conversations about the impact of alcohol, this year ‘to help break the cycle of silence and stigma that is all too often experienced by families’. This may also help people access services or support either directly or via signposting from professionals.

Alcohol Concern will release a number of online resources that will be free to download, including:

  • Expert factsheets on various issues associated with alcohol and families
  • An easy to understand, visual depiction of the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for low-risk drinking for print and social media use
  • A bank of statistics for you to use

To receive this pack directly to your email, please click here. Alcohol Concern will be sharing information, resources and stories throughout the week on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #AAW2017. Family members who have been affected by a relative’s drinking and wish to share their story can get in touch with Alcohol Concern at contact@alcoholconcern.org.uk.

Protecting families and children: more to be done?

Earlier this year a manifesto for action to support ‘Children of Alcoholics’ (COAs) called upon the Government to take ten key actions including a targeted national strategy, local funding to support alcohol services, a plan to change attitudes and action on price and availability.

In 2014 a report from the Children’s Commissioner looked at the number of children affected by parental alcohol misuse and at the help available to them, calling for further action by services and local authorities. An Alcohol Hidden Harm Toolkit was also released to support managers, commissioners and practitioners involved in designing, assessing or improving Alcohol Hidden Harm services for children and families. Many will bee hoping AAW 2017 helps not only raise awareness of the issue, but also prompts further attention and resources for prevention and support

Links to all #AAW2017 content

Resources

Case studies

And this valuable research was released recently too:

Drugs for the treatment of alcohol dependence: insufficient evidence?

Plus this was published yesterday – more support for MUP when the Scottish decision is finally announced:

The killer on Britain’s streets – super-strength alcohol 

And an update from Alcohol Policy UK today (14th Nov):

Alcohol Awareness Week 2017 kicks off in week of MUP decision

It’s a big week!

New drug strategy prompts calls for clear national alcohol policy

Another great post from Alcohol Policy UK regarding the Govt’s 2017 Drug Strategy released in July.

The release of a new national drugs strategy for England and Wales has prompted revised calls for a new national alcohol strategy that includes minimum unit pricing (MUP).

The last national alcohol strategy was released in 2012 promising MUP, followed by an infamous U-turn. MUP has of course still yet to be implemented in Scotland, though a final legal ruling is expected this month following a drawn out legal challenge, with Ireland and Wales also committed.

MUP aside, alcohol objectives feature across several other policy domains, including as part of a Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, various PHE guidance and a national CQUIN incentivising brief intervention delivery across hospitals.

The new drugs strategy though refers to drugs and alcohol throughout, thus in the context of treatment for alcohol problems it may be seen as reflecting national alcohol ambitions for treating and preventing all substance dependence. Indeed a section on alcohol states:

While the focus of this Strategy is on drugs, we recognise the importance of joined-up action on alcohol and drugs, and many areas of the Strategy apply to both, particularly our resilience-based approach to preventing misuse and facilitating recovery. Alcohol treatment services should be commissioned to meet the ambitions set out in the Building Recovery chapter that are relevant to them, and in line with the relevant NICE Alcohol Clinical Guidelines. Commissioning of alcohol and drug treatment services should take place in an integrated way, while ensuring an appropriate focus on alcohol or drug specific interventions, locations, referral pathways and need.

In addition, local authority public health teams should take an integrated approach to reducing a range of alcohol related harm, through a combination of universal population level interventions and interventions targeting at risk groups. The Modern Crime Prevention Strategy 2016 highlights alcohol – as with drugs – as a key driver of crime and sets out a range of actions to tackle alcohol-driven crime.

The strategy though is not titled a ‘drug and alcohol strategy’, and some argue that there are many issues with providing alcohol treatment – or indeed strategies – under the same roof. Until April 2019 the ring-fenced but still shrinking Public Health Grant to local authorities will require local authorities to ‘have regard to the need to improve the take up of, and outcomes from, drug and alcohol services’, but not thereafter. The strategy also highlights the UK devolved administrations have ‘their own approaches to tackling drug and alcohol misuse and dependence in areas where responsibility is devolved’. 

Where next for national alcohol policy?

Calls for a single national alcohol strategy seem logical, if not at least to make clear the Government’s ambitions across the wide range of areas where alcohol harm and policy can reach. As well as a national drug strategy, a new tobacco control strategy has also been released, further highlighting an apparent gap. From a political perspective however, a lesson from the 2012 alcohol strategy appears to be not to commit to ambitious policies with powerful opponents; at least not until the path is clearer. Indeed since the MUP U-turn, Ministers have said on MUP they would be waiting to see what happens in Scotland.

Other alcohol policy areas are seemingly in an ongoing state of political bargaining. Marketing and availability are hotly contested areas, with health groups calling for the adoption of key approaches including taxation and effective levers identified in the recent PHE evidence review. Translating such calls into action is of course complex and faced with opposing voices, as debates over licensing policy have recently demonstrated.

The drug strategy though has received some praise for highlighting the need for evidence based approaches to prevention and treatment, and the need for addressing multiple-needs and overlapping issues including mental health. Others have argued it as the ‘same old rhetoric’, particularly when treatment budgets are ever shrinking.

Last year a small drop in the number of people accessing alcohol treatment was seen, though unlikely to be linked to the downturn in overall consumption since 2004. Other alcohol trends present a complex picture yet overall alcohol-related hospital admissions are still rising. Regardless of the various trends, many consider the scale and reach of alcohol problems deserve a single national policy for England and Wales. Given that no alcohol strategy will be universally praised or indeed gain much in voter popularity, some may consider its absence suggests political expediency has come first.

I know I sound like a stuck record about MUP but it’s because I agree with those who keep proposing it!

1500 days!

Well how about this for kismet?  Tomorrow is my belly button birthday and today I hit 1500 days sober!  Thank you Universe for tying that up so neatly 😉

Wow – just wow.  Such a big number and yet day 1 doesn’t feel that long ago.  So much has happened, so many friendships made, so much gratitude.  Who knew that such a small change could make such a big difference to my life and the lives of those around me?

So you may have noticed that my post frequency has reduced again as I enter my fifth year sober to once a week.  The fire in my belly doesn’t burn so fiercely for me now on this issue.  I’ve realised that I can’t change the world of public health and alcohol single handedly – no matter how loud I shout or how many words I expend in effort.  So I’ve contented myself on changing the lives of those who matter to me most – my family and to end the intergenerational transmission of alcohol dependence here.  I have above my desk a note that reads:

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.

That was reason enough for me to stop drinking and remains reason enough to never start again.  And to support that reasoning is new research from the Institute of Alcohol Studies

Download “Like sugar for adults: The effect of non-dependent parental drinking on children & families” [pdf]

and as reported in The Guardian last week reads:

At least 30% of parents admit being “tipsy” or drunk around their children, a study has found, prompting calls for a national conversation about alcohol consumption and the harm that exposure can do to youngsters’ emotional development.

Such behaviour can trigger family rows or leave children anxious, embarrassed, worried or disrupt their bedtime, according to research by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS). The findings include that 15% of children have asked their parents to drink less, and 11 to 12-year-olds think adults drink to “solve their problems”. There are now calls for the government to strengthen official warnings about how much it is OK to drink, and when.

“All parents strive to do what’s best for their children, but this report has highlighted a troubling gap in their knowledge,” said Katherine Brown, the IAS’s chief executive. “Parents who have a glass or two of wine in the evening deserve to understand how this might affect their children and the steps they can take to minimise this impact.”

Alison Douglas, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “As well as the negative impacts on children’s wellbeing, seeing how adults drink can have a big influence on our children’s future drinking habits.” Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, who has spoken about his father’s death as a result of drinking, said: “Children are incredibly perceptive of their parents’ drinking habits and this analysis must serve as a wake-up call to the government.”

So news continues to present itself as the battle rages for our hearts and minds on the subject of alcohol and addiction.  We still await the outcome of minimum unit pricing (edited to add: although Wales announced Minimum Unit Pricing today!)

PHE continue to produce resources to support alcohol awareness:

PHE ‘All Our Health’ alcohol resource

The alcohol industry continue to try to subvert the public health message:

Drinkers’ Voice Vs ‘anti-alcohol’? Guidelines, pregnancy & cancer risk messages

Drinkers’ Voice labels itself as a consumer organisation and says ‘the anti-alcohol lobby has dominated the conversation on alcohol and your health, resulting in misleading statistics and scaremongering news headlines’

And so it was ever thus …….

Unbelievably this blog has now had over 500,000 views.  Who’d have guessed that when I started it back in October 2013?  Thank you to all of you for being here, for reading, for commenting, for supporting me in my journey from terrified, reluctant ex-drinker to relaxed, contented ‘not interested even if you paid me’ non-drinker and proud member of the soberocracy! 🙂

Edited to add: Plus an extra 1500 day gift of a mention in Single and Sober My Top 20 Recovery Blogs and Sites

 

MDMA used in world’s first trials to treat alcohol addiction

This was a news piece in The Independent in July looking at MDMA being used in trials to treat alcohol addiction.

In a world first, scientists in Bristol are using the psychoactive drug MDMA as part of a treatment programme for addicts and alcoholics.

The study was created by a research team at Imperial College London, and involves giving doses of MDMA – known by the street names Molly or ecstasy – to help patients battling addiction. They claim this could be more effective than conventional methods. Those on the trial will also be put on a course of psychotherapy.

“We know that MDMA works really well in helping people who have suffered trauma and it helps to build empathy,” said Ben Sessa, a clinical psychiatrist on the trial and senior research fellow at Imperial College London.

On his website, Sessa stated: “3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine is a remarkable substance. Forget what you know about the popular use of this compound in the context of the recreational drug ecstasy.

“MDMA is a medical drug that started its life in the clinical setting. It has a unique receptor profile that makes this drug, when combined in a supervised clinical setting with experienced psychotherapists, the perfect tool to enhance trauma-focused psychotherapy.”

Participants on the trial are all heavy consumers of alcohol, typically drinking about five bottles of wine per day. They were chosen through the alcohol services in Bristol and have undergone repeated treatments for alcoholism.

After going through a detox period, those on the trial receive two therapy sessions, followed by a day where they receive a capsule of high-dose MDMA.

The drug has shown promise in treating those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, researchers showed that after more than one year after two or three sessions of MDMA-assisted therapy, about 67 per cent of participants no longer had the condition.

However, experts warn that recreational use of the drug can cause harm. “I’ve seen people in my practice who took MDMA at a party and weren’t prepared for the memories that came up, and it was really harmful for them,” Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist and a principle investigator in the MDMA trials said in a Nature report.

Alcohol-related deaths have increased by 13 per cent over ten years, according to the report Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2016.

I will be greatly interested in reading the research papers following this trial to see what the outcomes were from this experimental process.

Alcoholism continues long after you stop drinking: my 15 years sober

This exceptional piece of writing comes courtesy of Tanya Gold featured in The Guardian earlier this year.  Beautiful writing about alcoholism and how for many of us it is but the symptom of much deeper issues.

It is easy to get morphine in University College hospital, London, if you are a good liar. It hurts, you tell the midwife, although you can’t feel anything, being so high on morphine already that someone could hit you with a sledgehammer and you would only laugh: what else you got? It was close to midnight on 13 August 2013, and I was on medical-grade opiates; nothing else can make you forget you are about to give birth. Eleven years without alcohol or drugs, and I fell, complete, into the waiting groove. I loved it. I was having a party in the high-risk maternity ward and they didn’t even know it. I lay back on my pillow and gurned with joy: oh, Morpheus, god of dreams.

When the morphine ran out, I had a baby. He was very small and handsome, and he was an imposition. I could say I was frightened, but that would be self-serving. It is possible, even likely, that I was afraid. I was definitely high.

I stared at him and thought: I am more vulnerable than you, even if you are a baby. Then I told the midwife: my husband is trying to kill me. My evidence was that he had brought me a tin of biscuits. This, then, was the comedown, and I was at the bottom of the curve. I must have said that the baby was not important to me, because my husband became angry and I became angry, and I told him I hated him and had never loved him. I considered walking out into the traffic, or throwing myself under a train, and that was our baby’s first night on Earth. We went home and I locked myself in my bedroom, without the baby, and looked at photographs of him on Facebook, and ate a ham.

Strange things can bring you to a crisis, like realising that you cannot read Dickens out of jealousy. Or more obvious ones, like thinking: the baby should live with my sister, she will do this better than me. Or, when he was two months old: when is he going to university? In my history of alcoholism, I have been at my most healthy when I knew that I was ill. If you remind yourself that you are ill, you can do better. Now, in my son’s room, wishing his childhood away because I did not know how to care for him, I knew I was ill. I was not drinking or using drugs, but I was as lonely and frightened as I had ever been. I was back where I had started.

***

Alcoholism is a strange condition. If you survive the drinking stage, and many don’t, it has relatively little to do with alcohol, which is merely the drug with which the alcoholic treats herself. It is, rather, a way of thinking, and continues long after you have stopped drinking. It is a voice in the head: a malevolent voice that wants you to die. I certainly see it that way: it makes it easier to pick my way through the days if I know what, exactly, I am dealing with. Is this the voice speaking, or not? Which one made a decision, and which one doubted it? To discover the true root of any plan can require forensic vigour, and much time. It is perpetual inner warfare.

The party in the maternity ward aside, I have not taken drugs or alcohol for 15 years. You might think I would be better by now, but for the alcoholic there is nothing as prosaic as “better”. There is only a daily remission, based on how you deal with the voice in your head. (“Hello, monster. Where have you been?”)

One morning in early 2002, at perhaps 5am, which is, as all addicts know, when the night breaks, leaving you with mashed lips and mad eyes, I stood in front of the mirror in my mother’s house. I had been drinking alcoholically – that is, without stopping – for almost nine years, and I was very near the end. I pointed at myself – I remember myself as a very attractive drunk, red-lipped and irresistible, but this is the voice again, for I was nothing of the sort – and I said, very clearly, “I hate you and I wish you would die.” I knew then what the voice in my head wanted, and how powerful it was. It made a mistake by being honest and, because it made a mistake, I lived.

I could no longer blame circumstances or others; I would have to do something about it myself. It is frightening, seeing yourself wish death on yourself in a mirror, and – because you are full of cocaine, as well as alcohol – being able to remember it. Alcohol shrouds itself in blackout, and you wake to a queasy blank; but cocaine is very bright, and pointed – it is almost telescopic. I was frightened enough to attempt one year without alcohol.

I was prepared to be conscious (I loved the WH Auden line “But who can live for long/In an euphoric dream?”) but I was under the delusion I was a literary genius, even though the only job I could get at the time was as a freelance reporter for a now defunct Daily Mail showbusiness column called Wicked Whispers. Wicked Whispers was so awful that, occasionally, the subs forgot to put it in the paper and no one would notice. If the celebrities I stalked stared at me, and asked, kindly, about my pitiful excuse for a career, I was stunned. Looking askance at Gillian Anderson when she, clearly and without malice, pities you, is, for me, a definitive act of insanity.

I was too scared to drink alcohol, but I couldn’t do anything else about a condition I barely understood. I went to self-help groups in gloomy church annexes, which seemed as despairing – though less vivid – as what I had left behind, and heard people talk about “spiritual growth”. I missed my near-death, for it had not been boring. I did not know what they were talking about. I could not hear them. I said I was an alcoholic, because I supposed I must be, but I didn’t really know what it meant.

I did know I needed a new soul, the old one having broken, and I chose to build it with ink. I thought that I should be a famous journalist, so I stood outside the Daily Mail building and offered up a prayer, like Salieri: Lord, make me a great short-form showbusiness columnist, and then, if you think it right, Lord, may I progress to features. I got a job on the features desk, a job I called “Idiot Girl”. I was required to report in fancy dress – Saxon peasant, old woman – and I loved it. It was evidence of my survival: she mugs, she pratfalls, she lives! The voice was impressed, and temporarily silenced. (I believe everyone is a secret Daily Mail reader, even the voice.)

I built a career in journalism but I felt, always, that the person in print had nothing to do with me. She looked like me, but she was my ghost, and she was not reliable. I could never stop working, but I could never stay in any job; as soon as I arrived, I yearned to leave. I became marvellous at being fired and learned to soothe, and even thank, the person who was firing me, the better to start again at the beginning. It was a game I played with myself. I would procrastinate over my work to stoke the fear, but I was not lazy. I met a sensitive, clever man and married him, but I worked on my wedding day. I worked on my honeymoon. I worked in the labour ward, until I was offered the morphine. I was terrified of losing things and I would try to lose them so I could be, momentarily, at peace. My husband, at least, knew that, which is probably why I chose him. I am not a complete idiot.

I was, for a while, a columnist, but that was no good, either. To write a good column, I had to work myself into such a state of rage that the week was empty of anything else. I had a schedule of rage, which I followed dutifully; if I wrote on Wednesday, I would be numb on Thursday and would then stoke the rage over the weekend. On Monday, the rage would ebb, to be replaced by terror, which would reach a pitch on Tuesday night, after which I would write what seemed to me not sentences, but tiny, insistent stabs. That is not a job; it is a condition.

I was still at the mercy of the voice, but she had regressed to sludge. She manifested as a cloud of anxiety that travelled with me and occasionally mutated, helpfully, into dread, and then back to anxiety. I was a cartoon character with a personal cloud, Charlie Brown with a mood disorder.

Late summer in 2013, I was sitting in a self-help group. This one was surrounded by a very fine, old graveyard, like a metaphor, with many famous intellectuals in fabulous tombs; we sat calmly with the dead, as if we belonged there. The baby was at home in the cradle. I always said the same thing at this self-help group, and they were very patient with me. If I had published a good article in the previous 24 hours, I was happy because I existed in a form with which I was comfortable, and which other people could recognise and approve of. If not, I moped, and complained that I was not happy. I avoided self-help groups where they talked about their gratitude. I did not believe them.

I listened and thought about how much, then, I hated being an alcoholic. I mourned the lives I could have lived if I had not been cursed with this condition. I could have been an MEP! I could have been a chef! I wondered, in a broad way, what had happened, and what I could do. I became aware, quite suddenly in the quiet by the graveyard, of the constancy of the voice. I had waited, every day for 15 years, to wake up and find she had gone, and that was my error.

I knew then that she has always been there. When I was five, she told me my parents didn’t love me. I remember repeating, very insistently, to my parents that I knew they did not love me, because she had told me so. Evidence doesn’t matter to the voice; she kicks it away. She cherishes a passing piece of thoughtlessness, nurtures a harm. She lives in the small places beneath my conscious mind.

When I was 10, she said I was friendless at a noisy suburban school. When I was 12, and mooching about the dull streets of Kingston upon Thames, she said I was alone, and probably always would be. For the nine years of my active alcoholism, she told me to drink, first because it wouldn’t harm me – and what else was there? – and then because I couldn’t be saved.

She says only what she can get away with. She could never, for instance, convince me that my sister doesn’t love me; instead, she tormented me, when I was drinking, with the possibility that my sister might die. She wants so much to be believed, this voice, and is almost as pitiful as the other me, which is the one that is writing this story: the one that wants to live. I am quite aware how mad this sounds, but it is the truest narrative of my alcoholism that I can offer. Perhaps in 15 years I will have another one.

We coexist uneasily, today, the voice and I; she tells me to procrastinate over my work, to start fights, to give up. If I am unwary, she can plunge me into the deepest despair, and I have learned to construct an obstacle course to thwart her. It is made only of ordinary human love. Nothing else works.

My son helps me. His is three now, and knows what is important. “I must teach you to play, Mummy,” he says, and invites me, without irony, to pretend to be a monster. Then, of course, the voice whispers, “You have made him a parental child”: a creature who will care for me and not himself. I try to ignore her, because I cannot send her away. But I wonder now if it is she who is afraid, and not I.

As so many of the comments said too – thank you Tanya.