Category Archives: Social

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

Guest Blog Post: 5 ways to help a loved one face addiction

So I was approached by Carl on email in January and this is what he said:   “My name is Carl Towns and I am 28 years old.  Just to tell you a little bit about me, I have been sober for 4 and a half years now, I was an alcoholic and I was addicted to some party drugs like cocaine, it has been a hard battle but it has also been worth it, little by little I have gotten bits and pieces of my life back and that’s something I am grateful for every day.  About two months ago my sponsor suggested I should start a new healthy habit, back in the day I was pretty good at writing so I thought I would write to you to let you know that I would love to contribute to your blog.  I would be honored if I could guest post for your blog and here I have attached a piece called ‘5 ways to help a loved one face addiction’.

Over to Carl:

When we think someone we love is struggling with addiction, be it alcohol or drugs, our first caring instincts kick in and we want to help them in any possible way. However, addiction is a disease that if not handled correctly, can end up with devastating effects for the addicted person and his/her loved ones. Especially for the closest people like spouses or children.

If you go about it the wrong way you might end up allowing them to revel in their addiction. If what you truly desire is doing what would be best for them and the people they love, then the tips below will provide guidance regarding how to help your loved one face addiction and seek the help he/she needs.

1.   Knowledge is Power

You need to know your enemy in order to face it. Addiction is a very complex disease, so one of the best things for you to do is learn all that you can about it in order to help and support the person you love.

Dig into family therapies that focus on the partners of addicts and alcoholics. Reach out to 12 Steps support groups or fellowships; basically read all you can about it, including literature; another great thing is to go into support blogs or forums where you can find good advice for people that were in the same place that you are right now.

2.   Judgment is Damaging

As mentioned previously, and contrary to popular belief, addiction is a powerful disease and should not be deemed as mere weakness or moral shortcoming. When you internalize this, you will be able to help your loved one by avoiding thoughts and comments such as:

  • “If they really loved me, they would have quit already.”
  • “All he/she needs to do is have some willpower.”
  • “They have to stop using or drinking for their job… our children… for me, etc.”
  • “How is it possible that they just keep on doing this?”

If a cancer patient does not have to option to just quit cancer, neither can an addict just quit an addiction, impotence is the very foundation that defines addiction. No matter how much you beg or plead; shout, discuss or argue with them. It’s simply not the cure for it.

To put it short, they need professional help. So, in order for you to be able to cope with the toxic symptoms of their sickness; the best thing to do is motivate them to seek that professional help.

3.   The Dangers of Enabling

When you are in love or in a relationship with a person struggling with addiction, you often get thrown into a caretaking role. You are the one who ends up fixing or cleaning up their messes. However, in doing so you are shielding them from the consequences that arise naturally as a result of their actions.  Be honest with yourself and see if any of this seems familiar to you:

  • You offer them financial support such as taking care of their rent or car payment; maybe even health insurance.
  • You feel compelled to look after them so you make sure they don’t miss any appointments or important events such as court dates and similar affairs.
  • You put a good face or make excuses for them in front of the family, their job or school.
  • You take care of their problems like paying the lawyer’s fee or covering a fine and even hospital bills.

If any or all of the above apply to you right now, STOP. Immediately.

When repercussions and consequences are constantly avoided. An addicted individual will never find any motivation for transformation. They will feel free to use and drink, they know they will make it without any negative consequences because you are there to cover for them.

On the other side, when they are exposed to the organic development their actions have had and see themselves forced to deal with the consequences. That will be an important moment for them when facing family and when really starting understanding how grave and painful the situation really is.

4.   Set Up an Intervention

At the moment you are ready to stop supporting the person’s addiction, gather all close family and friends and set up a structured intervention. All the people present must be granted the opportunity to speak to the person. Some goals to have in mind:

  • Let the person suffering from addiction know just how much you and everyone around them has been negatively affected by their constant substance abuse.
  • Let the addict now what would be the real consequences that will transpire should they not accept help such as withdrawal of financial support, end of relationships, loss of custody in case of children, etc.
  • You need to be absolutely ready to go through with these stipulations if they refuse the help.
  •  Always bring in a professional in the field of interventions. They have the experience, training, and skills for this type of situations. They will be able to be understanding but very direct to them and not get judgemental or emotional.
  • Hopefully, the person will accept to get help; if so they need to depart immediately otherwise may regret it soon after and they’ll start seeking excuses why they can’t go anymore. For this very reason, it is highly recommended that you have been in contact previously with a rehabilitation center that has already agreed to take them in and are standing by waiting for them.
  • Should they refuse the help, you need to be true to your word and follow through with the consequences you warned them about until the moment they are ready for help. It might seem like overdoing, however, the so-called “tough love” is sometimes the only way to effectively reach a person suffering from addiction.

5.   Be Their Pillar in the Recovery Process

The road to recovery is a very tough one, it requires all the strength of the addicted person and his/her loved ones. It takes a lot of work.

The first major obstacle is the period of withdrawal which often comes with a supply of very nasty symptoms; your loved one will most likely express how they are unfitted for the task and how they are posed for imminent failure. This is where your support comes in. Encourage them, let them know they are strong and capable enough to get through this. Let them know how proud you are of them for embarking on the road to recovery.

Stick to the advice the professionals at the rehab center will give you:

  • Most facilities have an initial “Zero Contact” rule for a set period of time. Respect this clause and let your partner stay focused on his/her recovery.
  • When you resume contact, focus on positivity. Do not smother them with problems.
  • Do not encourage them if they are talking about exiting the program early. Examples of this include offering them a ride from the rehab center or even money to help with settlement.
  • Don’t miss family meetings

When they reach the end of their residential program and start in-depth outpatient treatment, this is where you can begin to offer them assistance if needed. The process of recovery is their responsibility alone. However, just as you use to enable their addiction, you can and should enable their recovery:

  • If they can’t drive, offer them a ride or perhaps gift them a bus pass.
  • Offer to babysit their children when they have to attend therapy sessions or AA/NA meetings.
  • If their schedule is filled with various activities related to recovery is possible they don’t have time to cook at all. A Homemade meal and great company can be very much appreciated.
  • Do not stop attending 12 Step support groups.

Addiction is a very lonely disease, and recovery can be a very tough path to follow through without a loving and strong support system behind it.

If you know of someone close to you who is battling addiction, it is very important that you encourage them to seek professional help as soon as possible, for their sake, yours and sake of all his/her loved ones.

Have you ever had someone struggle with addiction? What are the stories you know? let us know in the comments below.

Thanks Carl for sharing your writing! I have personally not been involved in an intervention and the treatment centre where I volunteered and worked believed in self-determination so a client would come in of their own volition because they wanted to get clean and sober for themselves.

 

Drinkers struggle to reduce intake due to their partners’ encouragement

So this was some research featured in The Independent back in January.  It was about how our partners’ can handicap our attempts to cut down or stop by encouraging us to drink.  This was something that MrHOF and I struggled with which is why as partners in crime we stopped together.

Over to the research:

Partners sabotage each other’s attempts to cut down on drinking, with men worse than women, new research suggests.

Drinkers struggle to reduce their alcohol intake due to their partner suggesting one more drink or encouraging them on nights out, a poll found.

Among 2,000 couples where at least one drinks more than the recommended 14 units a week, 26 per cent of women said they were concerned about the effects of alcohol on their partner’s health, while the figure was 21 per cent for men.

Women were more likely than men to say they would drink less if it was not for their partner loving booze (29 per cent compared with 16 per cent).

A third (33 per cent) of men also liked to suggest one more drink if their partner was thinking of stopping for the night, compared with 15 per cent of women.

Just 57 per cent of all people said they would drink less to help their partner if they were trying to cut down.

At present, around 40 per cent of men and a fifth of women drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, according to industry-funded charity Drinkaware, which carried out the research.

A third of those surveyed (33 per cent) said alcohol being readily available in the home was an issue when it came to cutting down, while 40 per cent of those whose partner wanted to drink less thought the attempt would fail because stress would drive them to drink.

Reverand Kate Bottley, from the TV programme Gogglebox, is supporting a new Drinkaware campaign.

She said: “It’s quite sad to see that stress can really undo those good intentions, but we are a nation who bottle up our feelings, it would be far healthier to talk through your bad day rather than turn to a glass of wine or a beer.”

Drinkaware’s chief executive, Elaine Hindal, added: “We know that couples who are planning a health regime together fare better when they really support each other.

“It is sometimes difficult to stay on track with healthy plans but we have developed free tools such as the self-assessment and our Drinkaware app which can really help make a difference, especially if you’re trying to make up for the extra pounds gained over the festive period.”

How does your experience compare to this research?  Do you happily abstain while your partner drinks moderately or not so moderately?

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?

#alcoholfreekids

This was released by Alcohol Focus Scotland earlier this month.   In the report leading academics and health experts outline how the Scottish Government can reduce the unacceptably high levels of alcohol marketing that children and young people are exposed to. (#alcoholfreekids)

Removing alcohol adverts from streets and public transport, and phasing out alcohol sponsorship in sport are among the steps that should be taken to prevent alcohol companies reaching our children.

Children are very familiar with and influenced by alcohol brands and advertising campaigns, despite codes of practice which are supposed to protect them. There is clear evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing leads children to start drinking at a younger age and to drink more if they are already drinking.

Alcohol Focus Scotland was asked by Ministers to facilitate an international expert group on alcohol marketing to advise on the most effective policy options available and how they might be implemented in Scotland.

The group’s recommendations include:

  • removing alcohol marketing from public spaces such as streets, parks, sports grounds and on public transport
  • ending alcohol sponsorship of sports, music and cultural events
  • pressing the UK Government to introduce restrictions on TV alcohol advertising between 6am and 11pm, and to restrict cinema alcohol advertising to 18-certificate films
  • limiting alcohol advertising in newspapers and magazines to publications aimed at adults
  • restricting alcohol marketing on social networking sites

The report also recommends setting up an independent task force on alcohol marketing to remove the regulatory role of the alcohol industry.

More than 30 organisations, including Children 1st, the Scottish Cancer Prevention Network and the medical Royal Colleges, as well as the majority of MSPs (72), have pledged their support to end alcohol marketing in childhood. This report now outlines specific actions which could be taken to achieve that.

Professor Gerard Hastings, one of the group members and internationally renowned expert on social marketing, said:

“Self-regulation does not work; it will not control dishonest banks, over-claiming MPs – or profit-driven multinational drinks companies. And yet we continue to rely on it to protect our children from alcohol marketing. It is no surprise that study after study has shown that, as a result, children are being put in harm’s way – and that parents want policy makers to be more courageous. Scotland now has a chance to grasp this nettle and show how independent statutory regulation of marketing can provide our young people the protection they deserve. The international community is trusting us to take the same public health lead we took on smoke-free public places and minimum unit pricing; let us show them that we will.”

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said:

“An alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option, yet we allow alcohol companies to reach our children from a young age. They are seeing and hearing positive messages about alcohol when waiting for the school bus, watching the football, at the cinema or using social media. We need to create environments that foster positive choices and support children’s healthy development. We hope Ministers will respond to this report and the groundswell of support for effective alcohol marketing restrictions in Scotland.”

Tam Baillie, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said:

“I strongly support this report which provides clear evidence on the nature and reach of alcohol marketing and makes welcome and sensible proposals to safeguard our children. All children and young people have the right to good health and that must include the right to grow up free from commercial pressures to drink alcohol. The extent of the actions we take now are a good measure of the value we place on our children for the future.”

Summary (pdf) and full Report (pdf)

A retrospective on 2016 (Friday sober jukebox: some riot)

So as I have pared down my blog activity and news sources the one I repeatedly return to is Alcohol Policy UK.  They wrote an excellent retrospective piece about 2016 which you can read here:

 

Alcohol policy in 2016 & what’s in store for 2017?

But what really struck me about this blog were the images featured at the end entitled: Selected alcohol slides from the ‘most interesting things about drugs and alcohol in 2016’ from Andrew Brown:

The top image was the first which highlighted how over half (54%) of strong ciders sold in the off-trade in England and Wales in 2015 were sold at below 20p a unit  <pauses to let that sink in for a minute>  so for less than the cost of a pint of milk! 🙁

Below I share the other three because visual images can be so much more impactful than words.  They all tell a compelling story which as yet is not being addressed by our govt sufficiently to change the trajectory of the graphs.

Association between the experience of physical and sexual abuse in the lives of women and dependence to drugs and alcohol …..

 

 

The number of offences committed pre and post treatment for alcohol use disorders ……

 

 

 

Graphic confirmation that those with the most problems with alcohol are more likely to use the NHS …..

 

 

 

I’ll finish with a haunting performance from Elbow and the BBC Concert Orchestra of Guy Garvey’s ode to a friend lost to alcohol addiction  – some riot.

The impact of alcohol is all too plain to see and hear to those who have eyes and ears.  Shame our govt is looking the other way with its collective fingers in its ears (except perhaps Liam Byrne) …..

PS Yesterday was day 1250!

Improve services to address addiction related unemployment (this is not a love song)

So maybe not the sexiest post-Valentine subject matter but important none the less – and an excuse to feature a Banksy which is always a bonus! 😉  This was a report on service provision to address addiction related unemployment featured by Alcohol Policy UK in December.

Over to Alcohol Policy UK:

Dame Carol Black’s review into the effects on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity has been released by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The review sets out a series of recommendations to improve options and support for those with drug and alcohol dependence, and does not endorse restricting benefits as was speculated in 2015.

Whilst the scope of the report covers also the role of obesity on employment outcomes, it states the issue is ‘different’ to substance addiction and ‘is treated seperately’. Specifically on alcohol, the report states:

‘Alcohol misuse may also be a cause or a consequence of unemployment. It is certainly a predictor both of unemployment and of future job loss, but evidence also suggests that increased alcohol consumption may follow job loss. Unlike dependence on heroin and crack cocaine, alcohol dependence is not strongly associated with lower socioeconomic status although the resultant health harms are. Nevertheless, the employment rate for those who develop problematic dependence is less than half that of the rest of the population’.

Overall the review describes the importance of employment in supporting addiction ‘recovery’, but neither drug and alcohol or job support services are sufficiently meeting the needs of service users. As such it recommends ‘practical interventions, including changes in services, practices, behaviour and attitudes.’

Three main areas where action is needed in relation to drugs, alcohol and employment are identified:

  • Addiction treatment does not, in itself, ensure employment, though it brings other social gains. Work has not hitherto been an integral part of treatment, and it needs to be if progress is to be made.
  • The benefits system, which has a central role in helping people enter or return to work, requires significant change. The system is hampered by a severe lack of information on health conditions, poor incentives for staff to tackle difficult or long-term cases, and a patchy offer of support for those who are reached.
  • Employers are the gatekeepers to employment and, without their co-operation employment for our cohorts is impossible. Employers are understandably reluctant to hire people with addiction and/or criminal records. They have told us that they need Government, quite simply, to de-risk these recruitment decisions for them.

Specific challenges are also identified, including ‘fractured commissioning responsibilities and lines of accountability’ that undermine efforts to develop co-ordinated responses. Whilst recognising low waiting times for alcohol treatment, stakeholders reported that alcohol services were ‘still inadequate to meet need in a number of areas’. The Government’s 2010 Drug Strategy, which listed a series of recovery-focused aims, ‘has yet to be realised’, in part owing to the ‘failure of the benefits systems to identify addiction (and indeed other relevant health conditions)’.

A series of recommendations include ‘the introduction of an expanded recovery measure that includes work and meaningful activity (including volunteering)’ as part of the outcomes monitoring for drug and alcohol treatment. It also proposes to trial discussions with a healthcare professional for welfare claimants to discuss ‘the impact of their health condition on their ability to work’. Initiatives to support employers in actively recruiting those in recovery will need to ‘de-risk’ companies from doing so, as explored in an FT blog.

David Best, Professor of Criminology, commented:

“How to read policy reviews? It correctly identifies a gap in supporting the employment needs of alcohol and drug users in employment, and also identifies two key issues – DBS checks and the ‘benefit trap’. The Black Review correctly identifies gaps in provision and joined up working and makes some interesting suggestions around including employment and volunteering in outcome measurement; suggests the use of peer mentors; and has some interesting ideas about collocating workers. But it all feels a bit tame and safe. There is no real drivers for the inter-agency working and pathway modelling that would be required of each workforce and the idea of partnership seems optimistic. There is also little adequate differentiation of the needs of problem drinkers who will typically have a different work history from problem drug users. Individual examples of good practice and innovation are all very well but what is lacking in the review is suggested mechanisms for making these more than beacons of hope in the darkness. So the review is encouraging in as far as it goes… but that is not very far”

A Collective Voice post said the report was a ‘real opportunity for the alcohol and drug treatment sector which we must seize’. According to LocalGov, the Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the report but warned it was not ‘radical’ enough. See also reports in the Telegraph and Guardian.

Earlier this year the BMA released an updated briefing for medical and other professionals on addressing alcohol and drug use in the workplace, including guidance on supporting or recruiting employees with histories of substance misuse.

Agree with all of the above and know that Focus12 is supportive of these recommendations both in theory and in practice – says she who was a volunteer for them to help my own recovery 🙂

It feels only right to follow this blog up with this sober jukebox tune 😉

Manifesto for Children of Alcoholics – Launched Today

Another email from Liam Byrne today launching the children of alcoholics – manifesto for change yesterday, so on Valentine’s Day no less ….

Dear Friend

Today the All-Party Group launches the first ever manifesto for children of alcoholics.

Thank you for all your help in putting this together!

The hard-hitting manifesto, published to coincide with International Children of Alcoholics Week, sets out a 10-point plan to help Britain’s 2.6 million innocent victims of drink – the children of hard-drinking parents.

It is co-written by children of alcoholics, policy makers and experts from charities, interest groups and medicine.

You can read it here:

Children of Alcoholics – A Manifesto for Change
 
I’ve also launched a petition calling on the Government to back the manifesto. Please consider adding your signature and sharing with your friends and family.

(Click on the image below to access the petition)

I welcome any feedback

Very best


Liam Byrne MP

I’ve signed the petition and hope you will too 🙂

Edited to add: picked up by The Guardian too!

MPs and peers launch manifesto in support of children of alcoholic parents

Group behind initiative reveal feelings of shame and fear of own childhoods and call on ministers to tackle UK’s ‘secret scandal’

A third Labour MP has spoken of the “secrecy, shame and fear” of living with an alcoholic parent, as she urged more government action to help the children of people with alcohol problems.

Byrne, whose late father, Dermot, had alcohol problem, said the issue was “the biggest, dirtiest secret in Britain”, adding: “The challenge for the children of alcoholics is they fall through the cracks.

“They are on the cusp of these three different systems. Their parents are covered by the adult social care system, they themselves are covered by the children’s social care system, then there is the public health system.”

The manifesto was produced by the all-party parliamentary group on children of alcoholics, supported by the archbishop of Canterbury. It found an absence of strategies to deal with the issue and a lack of funding in many areas.

It also issued 10 demands for government action, including better education for children and professionals, better support or families and action on availability and promotion of alcohol.

Alcohol marketing rules failing to protect our youth

Too much news not enough blog posts!  I’m already writing posts for May so time to squeak in some extra one’s with important news stories.  Thank you marketing week for the image 😉

The top story from the Institute of Alcohol Studies for January was the headline grabbing blog post title that alcohol marketing rules are failing to to protect our youth.  To which I cynically want to respond: no shit sherlock!

Greater exposure raises likelihood of earlier and heavier drinking (10 January)

Young people across the world are over-exposed to extensive alcohol marketing practices, claim leading public health experts, who want governments to renew their efforts to address the problem by strengthening the rules governing alcohol marketing with more effective independent statutory regulations.

Their call coincides with the publication of a series of reports in a special edition of the scientific journal Addiction that presents the latest evidence on alcohol marketing and its impact on children. Key findings from the collection of peer-reviewed manuscripts include:

  • Exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with youth alcohol consumption
  • Analysis of alcohol promotion during the 2014 FIFA World Cup indicates alcohol marketing practices frequently appeared to breach industry voluntary codes of practice’
  • Alcohol industry self-regulatory codes do not sufficiently protect children and adolescents from exposure to alcohol promotions, especially through social media.

The Addiction supplement comprises 14 papers, with research presented from around the world.

Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for young males aged 15–24 in nearly every region of the world, and young females of the same age in the wealthy countries and the Americas.

The new systematic review – which identified 12 additional studies – found an association between level of marketing exposure and youth drinking behaviour, and found that exposure to ads was even more strongly associated with progression to binge drinking than with initiation of alcohol use.

“This latest review of the scientific literature adds stronger evidence to the claim that exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is linked to more underage youth drinking and, in particular, binge drinking,” said study leader David Jernigan, PhD, the director of CAMY and an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School.

The supplement’s lead editor, Professor Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut said: “Governments are responsible for the health of their citizens. No other legal product with such potential for harm is as widely promoted and advertised in the world as alcohol. These papers provide a wealth of information to support governments in their efforts to protect children and other vulnerable populations from exposure to alcohol marketing.”

Methods

The researchers relied upon four different medical and scientific databases to identify articles for possible inclusion in the review. Studies were included in the final review if they met a number of criteria, including whether they used original data and included measures of marketing exposure and alcohol consumption for at least 500 underage youth. Studies were included only if they used self-reported and observed actual alcohol use such as binge drinking, as opposed to just measures of intentions to consume alcohol in the future. The studies were conducted in seven countries and involved more than 35,000 participants.

Several of the included studies found that levels of marketing exposure appear to be as high or nearly as high among younger adolescents as they are among older adolescents and young adults, suggesting that current voluntary alcohol industry marketing codes are not protecting kids as young as 10 years old.

Reaction

Alcohol NGOs and health experts welcomed the findings as further evidence of self-regulation’s failure to curb alcohol marketing to young people. Chris Brookes of the UK Health Forum noted that: “Governments have previously approved self-regulatory measures on alcohol advertising; however, we can no longer say that they might work to protect our young people – they don’t. In a literature review of more than 100 studies, none was identified that supported the effectiveness of industry self-regulation programmes.”

However, the advertising industry regulator has criticised the research, claiming that the UK’s regulatory framework has had a positive impact on recent official figures showing under-age drinking at a record low and a decline in binge drinking.

“Alcohol policy is clearly on the right track and alcohol advertising – which protects children and respects adults – is an important part of that,” says Ian Barber, the AA’s director of communications.

In the UK, advertising for alcoholic drinks follows a code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, while the packaging and branding of the products is subject to self-regulation. And according to the Guardian, AB Inbev and Diageo, two of the world’s biggest alcoholic drinks makers, have reported ploughing as much of 15% of their annual global sales back into marketing, amounting to £5.75bn and £1.6bn respectively.

Ian Hamilton, lecturer in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, whose interests include substance use addiction, told the newspaper the AA’s claim that the UK’s alcohol advertising rules are among the strictest in the world, major operators had nevertheless found ways to evade marketing legislation the UK.

“Some of the messages are quite subtle, but they are persistent,” he said. “So this idea that alcohol is necessary for social success, or is both a stimulant as well as a sedative, that it removes sexual inhibition, that it improves – bizarrely – your sporting and mental abilities.

“Of course, the way they do it is they don’t say go and buy Carlsberg, but they’ll do endorsed interviews with celebrities or they’ll offer free music downloads or notices of events, so they do it in quite subtle and clever ways.”

Solutions

The papers offer guidelines to developing more effective alcohol marketing regulations:

  • The most effective response to alcohol marketing is likely to be a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in accordance with each country’s constitution or constitutional principles
  • Regulations should be statutory, and enforced by an appropriate public health agency of the local or national government, not by the alcohol industry
  • Regulations should be independent of the alcohol industry, whose primary interest lies in growing its markets and maximising profits
  • A global agreement on the marketing of alcoholic beverages would support country efforts to move towards a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship
  • Collaboration with other population-level efforts to restrict marketing of potentially harmful products, such as ultra-processed food, sugary beverages, tobacco, and breast-milk substitutes, should be encouraged and supported.

“It is clear that self-regulation is not working and we welcome calls for greater action from governments to protect children from exposure to alcohol marketing,” said Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), an umbrella group of more than 40 UK health NGOs, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.

Hamilton also warned that a blanket ban on alcohol advertising could be seen as “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, with the danger that such a policy could give drinking a kind of outlaw prestige that might increase its appeal to some. But he admitted that a similar policy on tobacco advertising had apparently proved successful in diminishing the appeal of smoking. “I think the state does have some kind of responsibility,” Hamilton said. “We can’t have do-it-yourself regulation by industry whose prime motive is to find the next generation of consumers.”

The Addiction supplement, ‘Alcohol marketing regulation: From research to public policy’, is freely accessible from the Wiley Online Library. You can also listen to David Jernigan talk about the supplement’s findings in greater depth in our Alcohol Alert podcast.

The latest Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) Alcohol Alert: January 2017 in its entirety is now available (here for PDF version).

Alcohol Policy UK picked up on the special issue of Addiction also which you can read here.

And Liam Byrne interviews Alaistair Campbell about this very thing!

PS New follower on Twitter:

Looking for volunteers for research studies in alcohol addiction, sobriety, weight loss and weight gain. QMUL Led by

If you’d like to volunteer tweet him 🙂