Category Archives: Alcohol research findings and media coverage

A letter to … My wonderful mother, who drank herself to death

This photo is from our time in Australia last summer and shows the HOF family at play on the beach at sunset.  It was my sons birthday this week and I read this in The Guardian recently and two thoughts came to mind.  I didn’t want to be recalled by my children like the mother detailed in this letter and it also resonated with me about my father and the loving bond we had despite his drinking.

I hate it when people who didn’t know you ask me how you died. As soon as I tell them you were an alcoholic, I know exactly the kinds of thoughts running through their heads. That one word conjures a vivid, stereotypical picture. You were violent. You were neglectful. You weren’t a good mother. I had a horrible childhood. You damaged me.

But that’s not how it was. You were a wonderful mother and I had a golden childhood. You gave me everything a child needs and more. You loved me, supported me, invested your time and money in me and cultivated a deep mother-daughter bond between us. I miss waking up in the middle of the night to find you kneeling by my bed and stroking my hair. I miss the way you took care of me when I was ill. I miss your cuddles and kisses and the strong, heady scent of your expensive perfume.

You really did lead a charmed life. You were married to a good man who provided for you and took care of you. You were never short of money, attention or love. You were the life and soul of the party and people flocked around you. You were strikingly beautiful and unfailingly kind. From the outside, you had it all.

Yet appearances can be deceptive. You weren’t happy and it’s taken a long time for me to understand why. You always said you loved me more than I could ever understand and you would die for me. But then you did die and it wasn’t for me.

When you started drinking, it was a bit funny. “Oh, Mum’s drunk again,” we would giggle at parties, as you stumbled around talking nonsense. As the years rolled on, it became increasingly less funny. You changed beyond recognition and when you were drunk you became nasty and spat out horrible, unforgivable words. It wasn’t like you at all. I became accustomed to compartmentalising my feelings – the love and respect I had for my mum and the fear and loathing I had of this drunken stranger.

Things progressed badly and the drunken stranger took the steering wheel. My beloved mum gave up the fight. Your marriage fell apart and you lost your home. You were irreparably broken. I was young and selfish and, more importantly, I understood nothing of life or loss.

I’ve spent many years feeling guilty because I didn’t do more to help you. If this happened today, things would be very different. I’m a mother now and used to putting others before myself. I know what I should have done to understand you and help you. If only I could turn back time and be the daughter I should have been, perhaps you would still be alive today. At the time, I did nothing except feel sorry for myself. I blamed you. I was at a loss to understand what you had to be so deeply unhappy about. You had a perfect life and you chucked it all away.

Today, I see you with the compassion of a fellow mother and wife. Life experience has provided me with valuable perspective as to how you really felt. I am able to piece together all the little clues you subconsciously gave me until I can see the whole picture. I have suffered some heart-breaking losses, the first of which was you.

I used to be angry with you for hurting me and then leaving me. I then spent many years feeling guilty and blaming myself for your demise. Finally, I am now able to disentangle myself from all these feelings and treat everyone involved in your story with compassion. If I could have just two minutes with you today, I would take both your hands in mine and say: “I love you and I understand.”

Over 3 1/2 years sober and I continue to be so grateful for every day since I stopped.

Friday Sober Jukebox:  Don’t Look Back In Anger + Tony Walsh’s Manchester poem ‘This is The Place’

 

Peers back minimum price per alcohol unit if Scotland scheme works

This was in The Guardian in April: Introduction of 50p base rate should go ahead if it is shown to reduce excessive drinking, says Lords select committee peers.

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol should be introduced across the UK if it proves a success in Scotland, a Lords committee has said.

If the decision to introduce a 50p base rate per unit of alcohol is shown to reduce excessive drinking, it should to be rolled out nationwide, the Lords select committee on the Licensing Act 2003 said.

The plan means a 70cl bottle of whisky would cost a minimum of £14.

In December, the Scotch Whisky Association said it would appeal to the UK supreme court against a Scottish court ruling that plans for a 50p minimum price were compatible with EU law.

The coalition government pledged in March 2012 to bring in minimum unit pricing but made a U-turn in July 2013, earning condemnation from medical organisations and arousing suspicions that it had caved in to alcohol industry lobbying.

A government report released late last year found that alcohol is now the biggest killer of people aged between 15 and 49 in England, accounting for 167,000 years of lost productivity annually and a factor in more than 200 illnesses.

Peers have also called for a major overhaul of how licensing decisions are made after hearing evidence that some councillors were guilty of a “scandalous misuse” of their powers.

In addition, the Lords committee called for the Licensing Act to be redrawn to abolish local authority licensing committees and hand their role to planning watchdogs at councils instead.

The committee’s chairwoman, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said the act was fundamentally flawed and needed a major overhaul.

“It was a mistake and a missed opportunity to set up new licensing committees when the planning system was already available to regulate the use of land for many different purposes,” she said.

“The planning system is well suited to dealing with licensing applications and appeals, and the interests of residents are always taken into account.”

The committee was shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees.

“Their decisions have been described as ‘something of a lottery’, ‘lacking formality’, and ‘indifferent’, with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’,” McIntosh said.

Referring to evidence that councillors had refused to listen to arguments at hearings, or to stand down when family members were involved in the situation, the report said: “These are scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors, and they are not the only ones we were told of.

“The Derbyshire police wrote: ‘It has become too political with councils being frightened of making a tough decision for fear of an appeal against them by big brewing companies, etc. On two occasions I have had councillors state that they have agreed with the police, however, sided with the pub company for fear of an appeal.’”

The Lords committee said: “The evidence received against local authority licensing committees was damning and the committee was extremely concerned by what it heard. Planning committees are much more effective, reliable and well-equipped to make licensing decisions.”

McIntosh also called for relevant legislation to apply at airports: “We cannot understand why the government has decided not to apply the Act to sales at airports. This can lead to dangerous situations, and must be changed.”

The committee also warned regulations covering late night opening do not work.

“The night-time economy needs regulating; even in these areas of cities, residents have their rights. The current systems are not being used because they do not work.”

The report also called for establishments to provide a disabled access statement when applying for a licence.

The piece went up at midnight on Tuesday 4th April and by the time I read it at 8:45am it  already had 298 comments – which I found both interesting and telling as did several commenters, included below:

Vagabondo: “The industry PR machine can be observed flooding these comments with misinformation about a measure that has been shown to cut youth alcohol abuse requiring medical intervention in other jurisdictions. This is part of the same sadistic campaign that has been waged to preserve profits at the public expense in the Scottish media and courts, and so far successfully in the UK Parliament.”

Hirpling: “Absolutely amazing how the same false assumptions are just churned out over and over and over on this thread. Or maybe not so much amazing as deliberate…?

1. Its a tax. FALSE. Minimum pricing. Read that bit again.
2. It affects ordinary people drinking ordinary booze. FALSE.
3. It doesn’t cure alcoholics. NOT AIMED AT THEM

The low-grade, low price crap is a recent introduction to the UK market to get kids drinking young and hooked at pocket-money prices.  There was no need for this “differential” as there were already three: it was a new price point to get a new market — a new set of addicts in training.  The kids can go back to buying enough to get drunk on as before, instead of enough to give themselves alcohol-poisoning and (or other people) a trip to A&E.”

Tenthred: “I’d like the SWA to be liable for government legal costs when they finally lose. Disgusted that they’re taking it back to the Supreme Court yet again. And then, if the measure does improve public health, I’d like the SWA to be sue for damages for the public health cost of the years of delay.

They call themselves the Scotch Whisky Association, but they aren’t doing this because of anything to do with Scotch or with consumers in the UK. This is all about their parent companies’ huge global interest in cheap booze.”

Agree completely with each comment.  As I oft say here, watch what they do not what they say …….

Sober Friday Jukebox: STAIR-way to heaven

So it feels like all the reading I’ve done of late has been heading to this point.  I recently received an email from Mind the Brain about Complex PTSD, STAIR and social ecology that you can read here.

STAIR is the acronym for Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation.  It’s a training programme that has been developed in the US by psychologist Dr. Marylene Cloitre.  Here’s  how the programme is described on the US Department of Veteran Affairs website:

STAIR is an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for individuals suffering from PTSD, including chronic and complicated forms as well as for individuals with PTSD and co-occurring disorders.

Complex PTSD results from repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic .

“Anger directed against the self or others is always a central problem in the lives of people who have been violated and this is itself a repetitive re-enactment of real events from the past. Compulsive repetition of the trauma usually is an unconscious process that, although it may provide a temporary sense of mastery or even pleasure, ultimately perpetuates chronic feelings of helplessness and a subjective sense of being bad and out of control. Gaining control over one’s current life, rather than repeating trauma in action, mood, or somatic states, is the goal of healing” (Bessel A. van der Kolk)

Using STAIR will allow you to teach your patients skills in:

  • emotion regulation
  • interpersonal functioning

This online STAIR training consists of 8 modules covering several core treatment components. STAIR can be provided as a standalone therapy or as a complement to trauma-focused therapies.

Goals and Objectives

  • To become informed about the impact of trauma on emotion regulation and social (interpersonal) functioning
  • To be able to identify at least one strategy that increases emotional awareness
  • To be able to identify at least three strategies that improve emotion regulation in PTSD patients
  • To be able to formulate interpersonal schemas related to problematic social and interpersonal functioning
  • To be able to develop and test alternative interpersonal schemas with client
  • To learn at least two strategies for effective assertiveness behaviors
  • To learn at least one strategy for improving flexibility in interpersonal expectations and behaviors

What I found so striking about this is it mirrors the process I’ve been going through as part of my emotional recovery and particularly in my recent discover of the brilliant book The Tao of Fully Feeling by Pete Walker.

Here’s more detail on Session Two: Emotional Awareness:

  • Emotions, emotion regulation, and the impact of trauma on emotion regulation.
  • Why feelings are important, the influence of trauma history on feelings, how to use a feelings wheel to help label feelings.
  • How to use a self- monitoring form to identify the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

And Session Three: Emotional Regulation:

  • Recognize that all of their behaviors are efforts to cope with their feelings and environment.
  • Evaluate current coping strategies, their efficacy, and alternative strategies.
  • Learning physiological, cognitive, and behavioral channels of mood regulation

Link to full course content pdf here.

Maybe it’s just my experience and I am generalising wildly but I think many of us boozers struggle with emotions which is part of the reason why we drank how we drank.

There are well researched links between substance misuse and trauma (74% sexual abuse, 52% physical abuse & 72% emotional abuse in this research)  and sources estimate that 25 – 75 percent of people who survive abuse and/or violent trauma develop issues related to alcohol abuse.

All of these skills seem so applicable to a life lived well in sobriety as we learn to deal with all those pesky emotions and renegotiate relationships and learn about boundaries and agency without our crutch.  I’m sharing these resources here in case you would like to research further because to me they feel like a stairway to (emotional) heaven 😉

Edited to add: 03/08/17

Just watched this brilliant video with Tara Brach talking about healing trauma which feels incredibly pertinent to this post so am sharing here:

Alcohol Pricing

An excellent blog post from Alcohol Policy UK discussing the Institute of Alcohol Studies updated fact sheet on alcohol pricing published in March.

Over to James:

The Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) have updated its factsheet on alcohol pricing as health groups seek to continue highlighting the importance of price in addressing alcohol harms.

Download ‘The price of alcohol’ [pdf] here or see a collection of pricing documents and research here.

Chapters covered in the report include:

Pricing, policy and the future of MUP?

Of central important to pricing debates is the relationship between price and consumption. Price, or more precisely affordability, influences the level of population consumption as has been shown by a wide literature. In the UK, attention has been on rising affordability and consumption during the second half of the 20th century, followed by the more recent decline since 2004. Rises in consumption over the last two years have indicated a possible return to an upward trend, whilst the price and sales gap between off-trade and on-trade prices has continued to widen. As such, attempts to see Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) have been central to public health policy calls in England, while Scotland’s passing of MUP legislation in 2012 has yet to overcome industry-led challenges. A final verdict is expected this year.

Undoubtedly there are many complexities, with debates particularly focused on how pricing changes affect drinkers of different incomes and consumption levels. Whilst the well cited Sheffield Alcohol Research Group’s (SARG) various modelling has undoubtedly applied advanced and detailed methodologies, predicting the exact impacts is never possible. Indeed the factsheet acknowledges that ‘lower alcohol consumption generally reduces health risks’ and so there is ‘strong reason to expect that higher alcohol prices should improve health outcomes.’ Indeed the recent PHE evidence review found strong favour for pricing as a key desired policy, albeit complicated by issues such as the alcohol harm paradox and complexities in identifying longer term health impacts of harmful drinking.

Secondary to MUP, public health opportunities for taxation policy arise with each budget, though of course also facing strong opposing calls from some industry groups. Over the last decade duty changes have arguably gone both ways, with positive public health impacts reportedly seen as a result of the 2008-2014 duty escalator, but opponents subsequently seeing its end and cuts on certain drinks. This year’s budget ‘froze’ duty which would rise with inflation, although a tax consultation aimed mainly at ‘white ciders’ – typically one of the cheapest drinks per unit – is currently underway.

Affordability

Pricing debates as such are going nowhere, but the policy decisions are hard to call. The former coalition Government infamously u-turned on its 2012 MUP pledge, largely thwarted by the current Prime Minister as then Home Secretary. It was insisted MUP though was not being ‘ruled out’, rather than waiting for more conclusive evidence. Waiting to see what happens in Scotland arguably makes for sensible politics, albeit health groups argue that dealying MUP comes at the expense of lives. Wales and Ireland are also pursuing MUP, and with Brexit in the mix, the future of alcohol pricing policy is likely to remain uncertain.

Valuable research indeed.

Cost of DUI & Ignition interlock devices

So serendipitously a news story, a guest content offer and a free infographic sent my way coalesced into a post I’ve been meaning to write about DUI’s and ignition interlock devices, called alcolocks here in Europe.

Here’s the news story from February courtesy of Alcohol Policy UK:

The EU is being urged to legislate for the wide-scale use of alcolocks, or alcohol interlock systems, which are automatic systems that require the driver to blow into a breathalyser fitted inside their car. They can be adjusted to kick in at different limits but generally mean the vehicle can only be started if no alcohol is detected. Independent

Here’s the guest content courtesy of Jerry Nicholson, a private practice lawyer in Orange County, Southern California:

The True Cost Of A DUI

Approximately 28 people die every day because of intoxicated drivers who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. That is more than 10,000 people every year. These are mothers, fathers, students, and children. These victims died because someone decided to drive an automobile while they were impaired. These statistics are shocking, but they do little to deter intoxicated drivers from repeating their reckless behavior. In response to these staggering numbers, our legal system has implemented strict punishments for offenders who are convicted of DUI.

Fines vary from state to state, but the entire process can cost DUI offenders thousands of dollars in fines, fees, court costs, and restitution. For our example, we will focus on the costs of a DUI conviction in the state of California.

In California, the minimum fine for the defendant’s first offense for DUI is $390, and the maximum fine is $1,000. Typically, the judges in California opt for the minimum fine for a person’s first offense. However, in addition to this fine, the defendant is also charged for “penalties and assessments.” While there does not seem to be a cut and dry answer as to the total cost of the penalties and assessments, you can expect them to be triple your fine or more. So, the defendant convicted of their first offense can expect to pay roughly $1,600, but that is not all.

Whether this is your first offense for DUI, you need help from a criminal defense attorney. Consult an attorney who is experienced in DUI cases. They can keep you from receiving much harsher penalties, and they will represent you in court. Your attorney knows the law and understands the court process. They can also recommend programs or alternative punishments that can keep you from serving jail time. The cost of legal representation is based on the attorney’s expertise and experience, as well as the outcome of the case.

A first-time offender in the state of California has often required the convicted to take a 3-month DUI program which costs $575. They may be required to install an ignition interlock device in their automobile, which usually cost $100 to install, then there is a daily fee for use and calibration. The end cost for five months is just over $300. If your car was towed, you could expect a fee of $400 to get it back. This cost might exceed $400 if the car was impounded and stored on the impound lot.

In California, you could lose your driver’s license if you are convicted of DUI, and you must pay additional costs related to alternate transportation until you can get your license back. To get your license back after a DUI conviction, you must pay $125.

You can expect your automobile insurance to increase significantly. Your insurance premiums can increase for many different reasons, such as age and your driving record. According to the AAA Auto Club, a man who is 25 years old will have his insurance increase by $16,000 over a ten-year period.

These numbers do not include property damage, injury, or the impact that a DUI will have on your personal life. These figures also do not take into account that a DUI often costs people their jobs, especially if they operate company vehicles for a living. A DUI conviction damages your reputation and ruins your career. However, the expense of a DUI, even if it is your first offense, does not compare to the price of someone’s life. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is deadly. There is no excuse for drinking and driving. Today, there are more alternative forms of transportation in California than ever before.

If you are accused of DUI, you need a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. In California, you can face harsh penalties if you are convicted of DUI which could ruin your career, relationships, and future. This is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your life. Do not make it without council. Consult an attorney before moving forward with your DUI case.

Written by Jerry Nicholson of the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson

And then an infographic looking at the cost of an ignition interlock device in the US:

Credit to Interlock Install: http://www.interlockinstall.com/

Thank you to both Jerry for the legal insight into DUI and Stephanie Santos for the infographic!

 

City workers at Lloyd’s of London banned from daytime drinking

So this was in The Telegraph in Feburary about Lloyds of London banning daytime drinking (credit for image: Heathcliff O’Malley).  And it was some of the quoted responses from staff in the article that really struck me.  Over to the article:

Workers at the historic city institution Lloyd’s of London have been banned from drinking during the day after around half of disciplinary cases were found to relate to alcohol.

The ban prohibits the insurance market’s 800 employees from consuming alcohol between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Friday.

Anyone who does not comply with the measure risks facing gross misconduct procedures and could lose their job.

The policy was introduced after “roughly half” of grievance and disciplinary procedures in the past year were reportedly found to relate to the misuse of alcohol.

The ban is included in the Employee Guide, which has been reviewed by HR.

However, staff are unimpressed with the new rule, which will stop them from enjoying a drink at lunchtime. 

Comments from employees on an internal intranet seen by the Evening Standard include complaints that the measure is “heavy handed” and was imposed without consultation.

One worker said: “Did I just wake up from my drunken drug-induced slumber to find we are now living in Orwell’s 1984?”

“Lloyd’s used to be a fun place to work. Now it is the PC capital of the world where you can’t even go out for a lunchtime pint anymore?” Another asked: “Will we be asked to go to bed earlier soon?”

An internal memo circulated to staff said: “The London market historically had a reputation for daytime drinking but that has been changing and Lloyd’s has a duty to be a responsible employer, and provide a healthy working environment. The policy we’ve introduced aligns us with many firms in the market.

“Drinking alcohol affects individuals differently. A zero limit is therefore simpler, more consistent and in line with the modern, global and high performance culture that we want to embrace.”

Lloyd’s was founded in the 17th century, when it was a coffee house that served as a meeting point for sailors, merchants and ship owners to find out shipping news.

A Lloyd’s spokesman said: “Our employee guidance was recently updated and provided clarification on the Corporation’s position on drinking alcohol during the working day, which is prohibited.”

The ban does not affect the brokers and underwriters from other firms who are based in the same building.

Picked up by The Guardian too:

‘Don’t go back to work if you’re half-cut’ – should liquid lunches be banned?
Lloyd’s alcohol ban challenges City of London’s drinking culture

If I turned up to my job having had a drink it would lead to an instant response of disciplinary and suspension which would likely lead to dismissal and being struck off.   Same for MrHOF.  How can anyone complain that not being able to drink at lunchtime and then return to work is somehow reminiscent of Orwells 1984?

The truth about life as a lapsed alcoholic/Catastrophe

This was in The Telegraph in April about a new book by Professor John Sutherland and his truth as a lapsed alcoholic.

Rob Norris is a ‘problem’ drinker. So was Rob Delaney, his co-creator in Catastrophe, the whip-smart Channel 4 sitcom that recently reached the devastating climax of its third series.

The bar room has a blunter term than ‘problem’: let’s call it urine-artist. It’s easy to be lugubrious about alcoholism – it’s a long-winded affliction, and you can never be sure it’s gone.

Relapse. That lovely word for something very nasty and all too common. In the series just concluded, Rob is drinking again. Furtively. Just coping but on a slippery slope. His life is one of low level moral degradation. Putting the dirty washing in the machine he fishes out a miniature bottle of vodka from the soiled pile and gulps it, hating himself.

What did Hemingway say? “A man does not exist until he’s been drunk”. Papa wasn’t thinking of secret drinkers.

There are three telling moments in the last instalment. One is Carrie Fisher, Rob’s mother, telling him that if he drinks a little he’ll drink a lot, and if he drinks a lot he’ll beat up his wife. Just like his father did (news to Rob). 

The second is Rob, glumly waiting for an AA meeting to start. We see it through his eyes. They are not him, these down and outs. I remember the same feeling. Me? A Doctor of Philosophy and eminent scholar at University College London? In this company of such losers? Never.

Rob is saved by a text message from his friends, inviting him to join them for a Chinese. He leaves the meeting, eats – and drinks. Frightened, he can’t finish his meal. Then the climax. His wife, Sharon gets absolutely blotto. Rob drives to pick her up. There’s a crash. Someone, even more out of their head than Rob, has piled into him, broadside. The police, he whimpers, will breathalyse him and he will fail. Sharon takes him to her breast. It’s hopeless. Or is it?

This last scene wrenches. More so since Delaney has gone on record, admitting it is a direct transcript of what happened to him 15 years ago. Why did he recreate (and, one presumes relive) a scene that bears witness to the lowest event in his life? Confession, in a word. Every recovered alcoholic will know the need for that cathartic act.

I too have had my struggles. In my drinking days I did things that I didn’t know were in me, or any sane human. I was lucky not to be killed on the road. But the main risk was suicide when consciousness and conscience returned. Delaney has also confessed as much.

On January 24, 1983 I woke up surrounded by empty bottles in an empty apartment. My family – a wife of 15 years and child – had wisely “saved themselves”, as the pamphlets advise.

Then mid-forties, my drinking had been excessive, but more or less under control, for a decade – a long time for the human liver. But it was now spinning out of control, initially in the form of after hours or weekend binges (what, for normal married men, would be “family time”).

At my loved ones’ insistence I had previously been “seen” at Maudsley hospital, armed with a letter of introduction from a senior physician friend (I was no common-or-garden drunk, for God’s sake). The letter cut no ice. And the prescription was drastic: I must give up drinking altogether. As well as stop breathing?

A fortnightly one-to-one meeting (hours in the ghoulish waiting room for 40 minutes’ counselling) would keep me to this. The theory was that, if I could stay off the booze for 18 months, the “prognosis” was good for permanent recovery. Perhaps they were right. I never made it to the finishing line.

This was 1980. I manfully went on a year’s white-knuckle ride as a “dry drunk”, as AA jargon puts it. It didn’t last, corroding gradually, like an old dam giving way under the pressure of that vast lake of drink on the other side. I would manage six weeks (a painfully long period for an abstaining alcoholic) before jumping out of the groove – usually for an explosively brief bout, but long enough to smash things up. Remorse would get me back on the wagon, but for a shorter period than the last.

By January 1983, I was on the terrible merry-go-round of what AA calls “periodics”. Sober for weeks, sodden-drunk for days, bitterly remorseful, then sober again.

This is a peculiarly destructive phase. Having lapsed, one drinks to madly toxic levels – making up for lost time, suffused with guilt and apprehensive of the dry weeks to come before the next glorious release. The gross drunkenness shatters the trust others put in you. Usually after the third or fourth such episode they give up on you. I was well past that threshold.

Professionally, I would still be classified as a “high functioning” alcoholic. There were occasional disasters: slurred lectures, student complaints, missed meetings, insulted colleagues, dinner-party faux pas (some of which still make me groan out loud today).

Yet I could just about cope. I was experienced enough, after 20 years, to fly on automatic pilot. It helped that in academic life you largely devise your own schedule. Cannily (alcoholics love to think of themselves as smart operators), I ensured that the bulk of my tutorials were in the hungover but clear-headed morning, before the dangerous fog of the lunchtime session descended. 

But domestically, it was something else. One of the problems about problem drinking is that you tend to be at your drunkest and least civilised at night – when you go home. If your family is still around, “scenes” are inevitable.

Few women nowadays wield the cartoonist’s rolling-pin, or throw crockery at their spouse’s head. But their long-brewed disapproval scalds the alcoholic (who will already be feeling remorse) like molten lead.

What defence do you have? None. Guilt makes the drunk quarrelsome and few alcoholics – when drunk and quarrelsome – are not violent, verbally and (​at their worst) physically. Anger is, late in the game, exacerbated by sexual paranoia (the alcoholic’s impotence translates into jealousy of Othello-like intensity). And, of course, there is the sheer nastiness of the Edward Hyde everyone has inside them. He thrives on booze.

Yet most career alcoholics have what is called a “moment of clarity”. A fork in the road. Take one path and it’s the morgue, locked ward or skid row. The other, harder path is recovery, with relapse an ever-present risk. 

I finally cleaned up with the help of AA in America. They invented the ‘fellowship’ and, in my experience, do it best. My wife and child took the risk of rejoining me there for a new life. I got a second chance. A month’s more drinking, perhaps even a day’s more, would have done for me.

Honesty, of the kind Delaney has given us in Catastrophe, is an integral element of the AA programme and I suspect any form of recovery.

But it’s not easy. In 2001, long after I had returned to UCL as Lord Northcliffe Professor of English Literature, I wrote a “drunkalog”, called Last Drink to LA. One scene in the book involves criminals and utter sexual depravity. There’s no mystery about why I wrote it down; it happened. But it scorches me, even now, to recall the truth. 

So why publish this squalid thing? Firstly, unresolved anger – the unexploded bomb thesis. Unlike Delaney, I am not on medication, nor am I consulting a shrink. Perhaps I should be.

But the stronger reason, I think, is public confession. I want to be forgiven. It’s pathetic – but for me, and I suspect Delaney, irresistible. Most alcoholics, in my experience (and I’ve heard thousands of them talk), want to tell all and covertly hope to receive what clemency – or at least understanding – they can be given. The downside? No one will ever think as well of you as they once did.

But then, no one ever said alcoholism was easy. Even the long dry years. Cheers.

Watch Catastrophe here

Friday Sober Inspiration: Heads Together + Mad World podcast

So this caught my eye over the Easter week-end and struck a cord in so many ways.  The London Marathon is this week-end – Sunday 23rd April and this is the Virgin Money London Marathon chosen charity which is also supported by Prince William & Catherine and Prince Harry.

Here’s what their website says:

ABOUT HEADS TOGETHER

Through our work with young people, emergency response, homeless charities, and with veterans, we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental well-being and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

The Heads Together campaign will build on the great work being done by our partner charities so that prejudice and fear no longer stand in the way of people getting the help they need.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year is the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. We cannot wait to see hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London this April to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.

Bryony Gordon and The Telegraph have supported them by launching a podcast series discussing mental health with high profile UK figures – the first interview being with Prince Harry himself.  Their website features other well known personalities such as Rio Ferdinand and Lady Gaga.

This is The Telegraph’s brief:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World is a new ten episode podcast brought to you by The Telegraph. Each week, Bryony will talk to a different guest about how their mental health has been affected by events in their own lives and find out why feeling weird is the most normal thing in the world.

You can listen to Bryony’s podcast interviews and the first one with Prince Harry is well worth your time:

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World

And the impact of this was immediate:

Schoolchildren will get access to NHS mental health workers in wake of Prince Harry’s ‘brave’ intervention

Alcohol dependency is a mental health issue and Prince Harry mentions it specifically in his interview so this is an important new charity both for those suffering because of the devastation of alcohol on them directly and the impact on those around them including children.  The destigmatization and normalisation of the conversation around mental health, and particularly the bolstering of mental health support for children and adolescents, is long overdue and I’m so pleased the Royal Family have got behind the cause and changed the direction of effect!

Bereaved through Drugs and Alcohol (BEAD) website launched

Featured by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in March is the launch of a website called BEAD (Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs).

Lottery-funded project to offer support to grievers (23 March)

A website has been set up by Cruse Bereavement Care, the UK’s leading bereavement charity, and Adfam, the national voice for families affected by drugs and alcohol to offer support to those who have lost their loved ones as a result of drug and alcohol use.

The new Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs (BEAD) website provides a wealth of information and resources to those unsure where to turn or what to do in such a difficult situation.

The website’s features include:

  • Outlining where and how to access appropriate support
  • Helping people through the grieving process by looking at the emotions one might be experiencing and how to overcome them
  • Providing practical help with the things one will have to deal with a result of their loss
  • Displaying stories and personal experiences

Linking to useful resources and relevant organisations.

The site was designed and developed in close partnership with a peer support volunteer who understood the needs of people accessing this service.

It is hoped that the website will augment the work they do in improving the emotional wellbeing of individuals bereaved through alcohol, ultimately becoming a vital tool for those in need of information and guidance on how to overcome their difficult situation.

Welcome to the Bereaved through Alcohol and Drugs website

Support Organisations:

Also!

Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern merge

The trustees of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern are pleased to announce the merger of the two charities following detailed negotiations over the last few months.

The move will place the unified organisation in a much stronger position to achieve its joint mission to reduce the harms caused by alcohol; combining Alcohol Research UK’s long history of research excellence with Alcohol Concern’s strong advocacy work.

Read our news release to find out more.

Government consultation on high strength white ciders

So budget day came and went last month and the only thing of note as regards alcohol was the decision by the Chancellor to commission a consultation on a new rate for cider under 7.5% ABV in view of high strength white ciders.  Good news I agree which both Alcohol Policy UK and Alcohol Research UK shared.

Alcohol Research UK published that they welcomed the consultation saying:

The Chancellor has announced no changes to alcohol duties in the Budget, meaning they will only increase in line with inflation.  However, he has announced that the Government will hold a consultation on revising the low duties that apply to strong ciders at around 7.5% ABV.  This is explicitly designed to target white ciders.

As a previous Alcohol Research UK funded report has shown, white ciders are consumed widely by very heavy drinkers and so we welcome the Government’s decision to look again at the way they are taxed.

Alcohol Policy UK reported:

On the face of it, both industry groups calling for duty cuts and public health group calling for rises may appear disappointed, but health interests will hope the consultation results in action that will significantly curb ‘pocket money’ high strength white ciders. Alcohol bodies and other groups have called for an end to such drinks, often cited to be consumed mainly by those with alcohol dependency and reportedly sold for as little as 16p per unit of alcohol.

The impact of white ciders though has clearly been of concern to services working with dependent drinkers and those calling for pricing levers including minimum pricing.

Unsurprisingly industry bodies wailed and gnashed their teeth and The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) described the decision as a “major blow.”

To their profitability yes but to the public health of the UK, including 16 year old Megan Craig-Wilkinson? ……

A sixteen-year-old schoolgirl died in her sleep after drinking a cider dubbed ‘the cheapest booze on sale in the UK’.  Megan Craig-Wilkinson was attending a New Year get together, her first big party with friends, where she tried 7.5 per alcohol ‘Frosty Jack’s’ cider – and died within hours.

Campaigners today warned a three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack’s contains the equivalent of 22 SHOTS of vodka… yet costs just 16p per unit of alcohol.

Grieving mum Joanne Good, 38, found Megan – a talented GCSE student who dreamed of being a teacher – dead in bed the morning after drinking it.  She was a victim of pulmonary aspiration – effectively ‘dry drowning’ as her stomach emptied its contents into her lungs.

Joanne had stayed with her daughter as she fell asleep, and put her in the recovery position as she lay in bed. But she was unaware that she had been drinking such a high level of alcohol.

Further coverage:

Cider duty consultation announced: will ‘white cider’ survive?