House of Albion

Discussing life on a small island

Alcoholism: The last taboo?

Monday, March 8

During the first chapter of Thomas Hardy’s 1886 classic, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard gets drunk and sells his wife and child. The following morning, Henchard bitterly regrets his actions and swears an oath to abstain from alcohol.

Unbelievably, more than a century later, very little has changed. The Jekyll & Hyde effect of excessive alcohol consumption still ensures that every morning, all around the country, people regain conciousness only to discover, with horror, what they said and did last night.

Turn on the news, visit your local town centre or accident and emergency and you will find the devastating consequences of alcohol misuse, not only alive and kicking, escalating.

Shockingly, Office of National Statistic (ONS) figures estimate that more than 70% of adults consume at least one alcoholic drink a day and at the time of interview, 20% of school children had consumed an average of 13 units of alcohol in the preceding week.

With more than 6500 alcohol related deaths a year and an annual cost to the NHS of more than 2.6 billion pounds, we need to be asking what we can do to address this situation.

Compounding the problem is that diagnosis of alcohol addiction is primarily reliant on self assessment. Unsurprisingly, confronting this reality can be overwhelming and terrifying. Even if a sufferer accepts their condition, where do they go from there?

Alcoholics Anonymous is, undeniably, a superb organisation. It is run by addicts who understand the problem, accept the individual and believe that helping other addicts aids their own recovery.

Is it realistic, however, to think that we can continue to ignore sufferers of alcoholism by expecting untrained individuals, however well-meaning, in a community centre setting, to take the strain and provide the solutions that we so desperately need.

To paraphrase psychologist Phil McGraw, is it working for us?

Rehabilitation facilities operate on the premise that recovery from addiction requires intensive and holistic therapy. Removal from the subjects home environment for a minimum of 28 days is key in order to allow for detox, if necessary, and thorough reprogramming of unhelpful behaviours.

Admittance to a rehab facility costs around a thousand pounds a week, prohibitively expensive to the majority of sufferers, however real they are being or however seriously they are taking responsibility for their condition.

In the USA alcohol related crimes can be subject to an enforced period of rehab and arguably a similar approach could be successfully adopted here in the UK.

There is no doubt, however, that state funded rehab facilities would benefit sufferers of alcoholism and just as importantly, the wider community. Even the most hardened alcoholic will, at some point, gain moments of clarity during which they recognise and accept their condition. Services need to be there at that very moment to respond. An hour or a day is too long to leave them alone with their addiction which will be, in most cases, stronger than them.

Alcoholism is an isolating, humiliating and degrading condition and the most frightening thing about it is that it is democratic. It attacks all social, economic and educational groups without discrimination.

It is likely that you will, at some point in your life, come into contact with the horrifying consequences of alcohol abuse. It is not restricted to the weak and feckless in our society and given the right circumstances, it can strike anyone, anywhere.

As demonstrated there are positive steps that we, as a country, can take to address the problem of alcoholism but removing the stigma and secrecy of alcohol addiction would at least slice through the isolation, shame and humiliation that perpetuates the misery for sufferers.

© House of Albion, 2010.


March 8, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. […] Alcoholism; The last taboo? « House of Albion […]

    Pingback by A Disease Called Alcoholism | March 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] Alcoholism; The last taboo? « House of Albion […]

    Pingback by Alcoholism Is A Disease | March 13, 2010 | Reply

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