Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spokesman, examines the British middle class’s troubled relationship with alcohol and his own long and complicated history with drink.
To read the headlines about Britain’s drink problem, you might think it is largely an issue of teenage binge-drinking in town centres up and down the country.
You would be very wrong. Young people drinking too much is a problem. But it is not the biggest drink problem Britain faces. The real problem comes in the form of our hidden alcoholics.
Back in my hard-drinking days I was one of them – professional, successful on the surface, with a good job, a steady relationship, a mortgage, nice holidays, lots of friends. But I was heading for a very big fall.
The Office for National Statistics tells us that the professional classes are now the most frequent drinkers in the country and that 41% of professional men drink more than the recommended daily limit of three to four units at least once a week. Women are also drinking much more than they used to, with alcoholic liver disease now split evenly between the sexes.
My own drinking reached its peak while I worked in Fleet Street in the 1980s – a time when the pub was an extension of the office.
Anne Robinson, one of my colleagues on the Daily Mirror back then, was one of the many casualties of the hard-drinking culture.
Reflecting back on the days before she too gave it up, Anne said: “It was just a sea of alcohol. If you were editing the paper, people just came in to your office to empty your drinks cabinet.”
Annie has been dry for years. I paid a heavy price for the same sort of lifestyle when my drinking, coupled with depression, triggered a mental breakdown that landed me in hospital.
It forced me to confront my drinking, and by 1986 I’d stopped and started a slow road to recovery.
Since then, even in newspapers, Britain’s boozy workplace culture has largely disappeared.
Yet, paradoxically, more people are being treated for alcohol problems.
Recent figures show that nearly 9,000 people die each year in the UK from alcohol-related diseases. Perhaps more alarmingly, liver disease in general is the only major cause of death in Britain that is on the rise, year after year – claiming 100 lives every week – whereas mortality for all the smoking diseases is falling dramatically.
Find out more
Panorama: Britain’s Hidden Alcoholics
BBC One, Monday 20 February at 20:30 GMT
Then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer
That Britain has a problem with drink is highlighted not just by the figures, but by the fact that the government is busy devising a new strategy to address alcohol-related ill-health.
David Cameron has signalled his appetite for reform, including the possibility of minimum pricing as already being taken forward in Scotland, and tougher rules on promotion and marketing. So how did we get here?
Well, as with so much of our recent history, the answer lies in Europe. With closer ties came cheaper travel and a newly developed taste for all things European, wine included.
Then came the booze cruises to France and the birth of a seemingly unquenchable British thirst. Since 1970, our consumption of wine has gone up five-fold, according to the Beer and Pub Association. We now consume 1.6 billion bottles a year (not counting the ones we drink when we go abroad). It has gone from a middle-class luxury to an everyday part of middle-class life.
Anne Robinson remembers a “sea of alcohol” in the newsroom
Though ultimately individuals have to take responsibility for their own relationships with alcohol, governments have to set the framework, which is why the planned new strategy is so important.
I defend virtually everything done by the government I worked for under Tony Blair. I confess however, as he and Tessa Jowell will confirm, that I was never a big fan of the laws to introduce 24-hour licensing, surely one of the factors in the troubled relationship between Brits and booze.
I had left Downing Street by the time the law came in, but it had been mooted for some time before and I never really bought the argument that Britain would suddenly become a continental-style drinking nation.
I think we have always had this tendency, where there is drink, to drink it to excess. Did it make things worse? Was it a mistake?
On the one hand it is quite nice to have a sense of London and other cities being more European in their approach to drink.
But I think it is entirely possible to see a link between increased availability of alcohol and our increased consumption.
Britain is, after all, the nation of the gin epidemic – back in the 18th Century. While in 1914, the government had to bring in the Defence of the Realm Act because our own drinking was deemed a threat to our ability to defend ourselves in war. Health campaigners cite those as the first major British drinking crises. They believe we are now facing the third.
The big shift in recent times has been the rise of drinking at home, which is why the binge-drinking stereotype is neither accurate nor helpful. The issue is largely about price. Pubs charge a lot for a pint. Supermarkets don’t. It is a sad paradox that the decline in pubs has come alongside what seems to be a rise in drinking and alcohol-related problems.
In 1970, 90% of all pints were poured in a pub. Today, it is only 50% – the other half are bought much more cheaply in supermarkets and off-licences.
The government has to do its bit. But in making a film about Britain’s relationship with drink, and in meeting some of the hidden alcoholics, I met people who had each come to their own arrangement with alcohol.
For most, the answer is complete abstinence, or complete loss of control. I too said no for 13 years, but then I started having the odd drink again.
This time, I feel as though I am more in control. To be frank, it would be hard not to be.
10m people in England drink more than recommended
Daily units men: 3-4
Daily units women: 2-3
New advice is to abstain from alcohol for two days a week
But, having met others as they underwent rehabilitation treatment, I do wonder if I am doing the right thing. Partly I am testing myself, having one or two so I can then enjoy the satisfaction of being able to say “No”.
I also like being able to be “normal” like other social drinkers, just have the odd one and then call it a night.
I cannot say I have not drunk since first falling gently off the wagon in 1999. But I can say I have never been drunk, never had a hangover, never touched spirits and never felt the loss of control that had me hospitalised prior to my 13-year unbroken dry spell.
The psychiatrist who I see for my depression thinks that even occasional drinking on my part is a bad idea, and interestingly, in making a documentary on the subject, I did once again stop drinking altogether, not least perhaps as a result of the tour of Queen Mary’s Hospital anatomy department, where I was shown a few damaged livers.
I do feel that my own relationship with alcohol is more secure.
And while government has a role to play in setting rules and regulations on responsible drinking, on a certain level I think that our connection to alcohol is a deal that each of us has to make with ourselves. I hope this film helps some of Britain’s drinkers to do that.
Panorama: Britain’s Hidden Alcoholics, authored by Alastair Campbell, is on BBC One, Monday, 20 February at 20:30 GMT and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.
Very interesting piece, Alastair. I shall be watching later. Best regards from Alan Stoob @nazihunteralan
It’s good to hear that someone else out there feels the same and I am so proud to hear that you are not too proud to admit this. I am seeking help. My life is in shreds. One thing that does annoy me, there seems plenty of help for those who want to give up smoking, but hardly any for those who want to stop drinking. They have these patches etc., for cravings, what about drink patches! I would do anything to find something other than counselling that really works.
Due to my mother´s line of work, I spent my entire childhood inside hospital areas.
This made me to appreciate good health. I have never smoked. I am a teetotaller.
I do exercise daily. As a matter of fact, I just came back from doing Nordic walking which is my new favourite sport.
I also enjoy tennis, swimming, football, cycling and basketball.
And cold wheather does not prevent me from exercising.
Anyway, I have an excercise bike, a rowing machine and weightlifting equipment inside.
I do enjoy my lifestyle and I am happy. I never feel need to drink alcohol.
I do not want to press my choices on anyone. Just to say that it is possible to have fun without alcohol.
For some people complete abstinence is the only answer. Having seen people attempt to become “normal” after long periods of abstinence and failing miserably I think it’s very dangerous to have an occasional drink. But if you really do have a much better relationship with alcohol and can occasionally have a drink, that’s wonderful.
Alcohol is a disease, and each individual is different to another, an individual can get high on 1 drink, another can gulp a whole bottle but still can be sober, binge drinking is the worst…An alcoholic has his/her own reflection in their ancentry cycle, that repeats in generations…It always good to follow the AA program, for your own good and the sake of the family, and to be functionable in the society, though it is a very selfish progam, but a good one….Putting ban on drinks, or hiding drinks, will never solve the problem, it is all about “How You Help Yourself”….
I’ve too have suffered from depression and drink problems and haven’t had a drink for over 10 years. Why bother going back to having the odd drink just to fit in with everyone else? I know that stopping drinking was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my body, both mentally and physically. I love the feeling of knowing that I don’t have that poison inside me anymore; and I’m not just using that as a pejorative term, chemically, that’s exactly what it is. Plus it’s a depressant – bit of a no brainer that depressives should avoid putting in their systems – it really won’t do us any good at all. I don’t understand why anyone needs to have a ‘relationship’ with alcohol at all – once you’ve broken its spell and discovered that it really has nothing to offer at all. The nation as a whole, however, is 100% addicted to the stuff. It is completely in its thrall and dances to its tune, and the government to the drinks industry’s. It will take generations of legislation, education and awareness campgains to make even the slightest dent, and at the moment there’s not even the willingness. The vast majority of people sincerely believe they are ‘responsible’ drinkers and the problem lies with everyone else. They say that they can ‘take it or leave it’, whilst curiously never actually leaving it. It never crosses anyone’s mind that it might be a sign that there’s something slightly amiss that they can’t go out and have a good time without a drink, that they can’t celebrate happy ocassions with their closest friends and family without having to intoxicate themselves. Just hope you’re not allowing yourself to be pulled back down that road again, Alastair…
Britain and Ireland share this problem – as AC has shown from the inside, a policy choice to deregulate sales and allow cheap booze has a lot to answer for in starting the flood of cheap booze that is now seemingly unstoppable. Alcoholism amongst the population, deeply embedded vested interests, plus the overwhelming power of the supermarkets are now pulling at the politicans strings to prevent a wholescale intiative to really get to grips with this problem. Hope the Panorama prgoramme tackles all these angles. fyi Gargle Nation at http://www.garglenation.com covers the story so far, including the cynical role of advertisers and the apparently unstoppable influence of international supermarkets on domestic policy.
I will certainly tune in tonight to see this programme and would agree with much of what Alastair says here. As a Police Officer since 1982, I have probably seen more than my fair share of drunken people over the years and the seriousness of this situation shouldn’t be underestimated.
I think lifestyle changes are indeed a factor and wine consumption has undoubtedly gone through the roof since I was in my teens. My parents never had a bottle of wine in the house, unless it was for very special occasions indeed, when one of the (comparatively few) bottles of wine on offer from the off-licence might be purchased to go with a meal. I first met Hirondelle that way, which not even the Good Lord (if you believe in that sort of thing) could
turn into wine if I remember rightly…
The demise of pubs as places to drink – which at least offered a degree of control over people’s habits – and the rise of drinking at home – mostly driven by price because it is so much cheaper – is the other big fundamental change. I do believe price is crucial – it has never been so cheap or easy to get alcohol. What was once the unique provenance of pubs and off-licences is now universally available from outlets everywhere.
I would also say that “drink driving” is now much less common than it was when I started policing, and considerably less socially
acceptable which, whilst undoubtedly a very good thing, hasn’t helped the pub trade and has stimulated home drinking.
Young people buck that trend though and want to still go out
just as we must have done at a younger age. The marketing of “alcopop” style materials to entice younger drinkers into “high volume vertical drinking” establishments rather than traditional pubs has taken its toll.
Younger people also seem much better at the “designated driver” arrangements than older folks like me. It is interesting that most of
the drink drivers I see these days are not youngsters, but people who really are old enough to know better.
In recent times, my family has regularly had a bottle of wine at home with any meal above beans on toast in the pecking order and it would probably give me cause for concern if I started counting how many bottles have gone in the recycling bin. We very rarely go to pubs at all, and even more rarely go out for a meal these days. We have gone off paying ridiculous amounts
of money for food that just isn’t worth it, along with bottles of wine at well over twice the price you could buy it for and no doubt way
in excess of what the restaurants pay for it.
My wife and I both work full time and we’ve cut back our drinking in this “age of austerity”, more due to that than any self-recognition that our drinking habits may need moderating though, which is something that I should perhaps revisit. We both have jobs that mean we do go several days without drinking due to work shifts / commitments etc, but we undoubtedly do drink more these days in total than our parents did.
I’ll be watching with interest tonight to see what can be learned. It might be good timing that Lent is coming up – if you believe in
that sort of thing!
Thank you for your honesty and delighted to hear you are back on the wagon 🙂 Careful with coming off it – the devious nature of the condition/disease/whatever you want to call it – allergy to alcohol – is complex…one’s too many, forty’s not enough – a wee personal risk assessment is likely to lead you to conclude that the inability to manufacture/process/whatever you call it in the same way as ‘normal drinkers’ is a risk too great for you and your family. I do believe that we need to destigmatise the use of alchohol as an emotional blotting paper – take an early intervention approach since self medicating for insomnia is common – third of the UK have the latter (citation) and health professionals probably require education and so on.
Alastair – good to see you’re highlighting a problem that’s been creeping up on a lot of us over a number of years.
But please, please….do yourself a favour OK? Don’t turn into one of those born-again-Christian-holier-than-thou-types who preach at us at every opportunity for doing what they did themselves, not so long ago.
There’s nothing quite so nauseating to me, as watching Alistair Stewart, as an ex. banned driver, preaching about the consequences of drink-driving, when I’ve never driven a car whilst under the influence in my life.
Remember that many people don’t over-indulge, and won’t take kindly to having the message repeated over an over…
From Bills Story:Winchester Cathedral, A Old Doggerel on an old tombstone read “Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier who caught his death drinking cold small beer. A good soldier is ne’er forgotten Whether he dieth by Musket or by Pot.”
Your comment about seeing damaged livers reminded me of a very effective campaign launched against smoking in the early 70s. I remember seeing the walls of our school entrance hall plastered with huge posters showing the tar contents of lungs of long term smokers. It was quite disgusting and made a major impact on many of my generation.
A similar campaign targeted at young people is a good place to start in changing attitudes to alcohol. I would also suggest the removal of alcohol from supermarket shelves would go a long way to remove the casual attitude we currently have. There would be a deterrant effect if we had to make a special trip to separate licensed premises rather than picking up booze as part of a regular weekly shop.
I generally support minimum pricing but it would be ridiculous if this just gave extra profits to the industry. Any funding raised should be used primarily to pay for initiatives to reduce alcohol consumption and deal with its consequences.
Sorry AC, but all your plugs are wasted on me because your Panorama clashes with Coronation Street………..where, incidentally, the characters are either in the Rover’s Return boozing like there was no tomorrow or buying bottles of wine or spirits at Dev’s corner shop for consumption at home. Indeed, these people are such prodigious drinkers that in addition to the Rover’s, there is now a Bistro Bar in this same small Salford back street. Even the saintly Emily Bishop has been knocking back the sherry for nigh on 40 years. It’s amazing that the residents always seem to die in accidents or by murder rather than from liver disease.
I haven’t had a drink since 1990. Why is it that Olli’s post makes me want to grab the nearest bottle?
I haven’t had a drink since 2000 and that was my reaction too. Let’s both go out and get wasted. The first round is on me. I might start smoking again too, if you’re happy to stand outside the pub. 🙂
Tsssssssk at you two 🙂
As a fellow recovering alcoholic and drug addict,(over 6 years clean and sober) I was a bit taken aback when you said on morning TV that you could now have the ocassional drink after 13 years of abstinence and had the ability to stop at will. This could give people in early recovery the wrong idea about what being an alcoholic really is. I know so many people who have experimented with this theory that they are “better” at long last from the disease of alcoholism and have died, trying to prove this. If you are on the television trying to help people understand alcoholism, then keep it to yourself that you challenge yourself to see if you can drink like normal people. Anyone with alcoholism could be easily influenced by you into thinking they too can test themselves like you have, but the outcome could well be fatal. There is no cure for alcoholism and it isn’t a matter of getting better after abstinence. You are stepping on quick sand AC and if you aren’t careful, you will sink so why not stop playing Russian Roulette with your life. By the way, Mark Lloyd-Fox was my AA sponsor and he saved my life and my sanity so I will stick to his rule of abstinence being the best policy.
i think you will find, even in the mystic world of coronation street that they address alcoholic problems in the main story lines!!
Fans of Coronation Street, watch itv+1
I still think the “solutions” we need are the democratic ones. I am quite certain any poll would prove that most people do not want to be taxed to pay for those who abuse alcohol.
For the problems of yobs smashing up town centres we need to punish and deter the yobs.
For the “problem” of imbalance of price between pub and supermarket we need to drop the price in pubs. And there are ways to do so.
For the problem of alcoholism we need to support the NHS.
If we are going to go round taxing everything thats bad for people, then lets do that, as well as alcohol how about fat? And debt/credit? We should also reduce tax on the things that are good ie earning and saving money, healthy foods.
From Bill’s Story: A Doggerel on an old tombstone (Winchester Cathedral) “Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier who caught his death Drinking cold small beer. A good soldeir is ne’er forgotten Whether he dieth by Musket or by Pot.”
Alastair… I don’t care much for your political ideology but this programme is spot on. I see myself in it and others
Thank you for making this programme. The only long term answer is a to change the culture. My son is an alcoholic and joined AA one year ago and has been sober for that time. He has his life back (and so do we!) Due to our experience I can see so many people with an alcohol problem who are in denial I hope programmes like your’s may help wake them up.
Enjoyed the documentary. I would have like to see a few more stats and graphs – you know like Peter Snow does on the money programme. But thats probably just me, as politicians know people don’t like facts, numbers and statistics, they prefer stories, emotions and anecdotes.
While we are talking about AC on tv just want to say that his part in Jamie’s Dream School last year was brilliant, anyone watch it?
runs like a crocodile
Great Panorama, Congrats Tall Man!Keep up the good work…..
can u help me
Thank you for the Panorama programme, it is so timely that we try to face and understand this so socially acceptable addiction, such a common feeling working with secondary school students who often have horror stories about regular A&E experiences due to booze but unwinding regularly with glasses of chilled white wine ourselves in the evening. If you are in Kent at any time you are welcome to come to our school, Homewood in Tenterden.
It was a really great programme
Laura Back (lauraback2@btinternet..com)
brilliant documentary drink is the ruination of all mankind . the british people think it is socially acceptable to go out and drink themselves into oblivion and i am not just talking about your jeremy kyle wannabes , have seen the nicest people in the world turn into demonic morons after drinking to excess . What does the government do to combat this OPEN THE PUBS 24HRS
Hi, very good programme, I’m writing this as one of those professionals you describe, recognising I drink too much, but managing to get away with it, so far. Got through a bottle of white watching the show.
1. Stress. Everyone is expected to do ‘more for less’ these days, and has every last drop of energy squeezed out of them by failing companies that are trying to ‘grow’. Very good ex-colleagues made redundant in recent years are finding it equally stressful.
2. What can be done. I don’t think this is about what the government should do. I recognise your political past, but think you could more to drive the solution. You’ve done a very good and personal tv show, maybe follow up with organising things we can all take part in to conquer the bottle. I’m also getting into running, maybe arrange something that brings people together that we can all take part in together as part of re-calibrating our lives. We’re happy to piss away expensive wine every night – I’m sure there’s a lot of us who’d be prepared to put those funds to something thats a much better investment, our futures.
Interesting programme, but a bit repetitive and no significant exploration of drink and crime. It’s probably the single biggest factor. OK, you were focusing on middle-class, professional drinkers. But ever heard of drink-driving and the carnage that can cause? Best wishes @dweasle:twitter
Just a thought,as a recovering alcoholic myself and and now a qualified drug and alcohol therapist I accept the fact that the profits in the worldwide alcohol sector will always dwarf the cost to the health services and as a result I believe this gives any government the luxury of being able to impose almost any constraints on the sector without any significant affect on the profit margins.If we accept this we might as well treble the prices of off licence sales and half the prices of pub sales,this will regenerate the pub industry,increase community spirit and values.as you mentioned in the programme their are certain boundaries that can be observed in pubs i.e closing time,cutting people off when they have had too much.And for the problem drinker who has been steered into isolation and spiralled out of control this may help to arrest this problem before it starts.
Although I appreciate your attitude, I’m sorry but I feel your documentary was not really as helpful or inspirational as I hoped it was going to be.
I’m afraid I did not really get your obvious concern for people who had drunk too much, and how you came across as being able to quickly remove alcohol from yourself without any sort of reslestness
I really enjoyed watching it and I and admire your obvious drive and determination to make folk aware of the perils of too much alcohol consumption, which was pretty helpful, However, I feel you need to provide substance to your piece if you really want to make a difference.
I moved by your report, however being the husband of an alcoholic I think you should have said more about how alcohol hits the family really hard. We are saved by Al Anon !
Missed it – and no iplayer availability 🙁
Spot on! I felt ill at ease with the message that could be read into AC’s ‘occasional’ drinking after abstinence. It’s just not possible for someone like me to have a drop of drink without an inevitable spiral down to the depths of despair.
I surrendered a year ago. I said “OK, you win. I’m not going to play a game I cannot win”. I am reborn and I’m loving it.
Lucifer in the manifestation of booze once said to me …. “I will give you instant gratification and all I ask for is long-term suffering”
Like the idea of highlighting the hidden alcoholics rather than the constant media/celebrity Ladette and general youth binge drinking. A&E frontline angels are the first to agree prevention is better than cure, which is why I have been trying to get middle aged, middle class women and Mothers to come out of the secret wine cellar. If your parents find it acceptable to be sloshed around the dinner table on most days, or before they get there, not much hope is there? I was a hazardous alcoholic, and like you AC, after finding sobriety for a few years tried the controlled thing. Completely idiotic, very quick slide into full blown chaos. I am teetotal and proud of it.
The best point in the programme was made by Mark imo, try taking your two glasses of wine a day out of your current lifestyle, go to the same places, meet the same people, stick to routines, then see if you have a drink problem without even a moderate amount of alcohol. No amount of government guidelines will frighten a drinking drunk, support and de-stigmatization of this taboo subject, particularly for women just might.
Felt very nervous about watching the programme this evening as I sat down with my glass of Sauvignon. There is also an ‘alcohol relationship’ issue for a large number of professional/successful women who gave up a career to look after family and now find themselves lacking in some areas of their lives where alcohol now fills a gap. Great documentary and hopefully will make lots of us sit up and take notice before the ‘treat’ becomes a problem. Also very brave of you to be so open.
I partially agree. I think if they are going to insist on making alcohol more expensive, then it should be done by putting tax on it, not by minimum pricing.
This is the link Angie
If you meant you’ve not downloaded iPlayer yet it’s very safe
I would hope this is your first programme on this, the documentary I found so helpful and yes, I am a fellow sufferer. Thank you so much. I felt that in the time you had, you looked at some of the deeper issues that affect so many and did briefly touch how well we can hide it. Thank you for your honesty and belief in doing this programme, it will help many who just need a hard look at things but with a gentle approach. You have given me courage, just wish you were here to talk to. I thank you.
oh dear here we go again give lots of figures but miss the facts, look, we used to go to the pubs every friday, saturday and sunday, now we dont, the price has nothing to do with it, we enjoy staying at home and drinking because we can smoke, simple, we used to meet up to 15 people a night, now all of us go round to each others homes for regular drinks, chat and smokes.
if you give facts and figures but miss the main cause our drinking habits will never change, get real, bring back smoking in pubs and pubs profits will shoot through the roof and drinking will come back under control, turn a blind eye and we will continue drinking to excess but enjoying a nice smoke with each drink.
oh crap, here we go again, blame everything but turn a blind eye to the facts, look its simple. we used to go out every friday, saturday and sunday, meet up with others,and enjoy an evenings chat and drink was limited then some pratt banned smoking,??.
now we meet at each others homes, enjoy low cost wines and enjoy a smoke with our drinks, the only thing that caused us all to move away from the pubs was the smoking ban. allow smoking and we and millions of others will be the first in the pubs tonight, otherwise shut up and accept it, keep a smoking ban and people have learned to drink at home, in another 3 years even if the ban was removed it will be too late, we will not change our new ways, if you want to bring drinking back under control stop pretending it had no effect and remove the ban, then see how many millions go back to the pub.
at the end of the day its not a problem. the ban has shown us the error of our ways, buy in supermarkets not the pub, we can drink more and have a laugh and a smoke, the pubs cost much more and reduced the amount we drank, a child could work it out.
however we expect you to follow the laed and blame evrything but the smoking ban like all do gooders. as far as us smokers are concerned, keep the ban, our pubs are shutting and we are saving a god sent fortune and drinking it away
I thoroughly agree with the comments. My personal point is that I am a smoker and I think it is incredibly hypocritical of the Govt. to take the stance they do on smoking when alcohol is just as bad. As a smoker I am not going to steal and con people if I am out of ciggies. I also do not go and hit people or throw up in trains if I have too many ciggies in an evening. Also as a smoker I would not be offered the incredibly expensive rehab that is offered to alcoholics. I think it is much more acceptable to see a group of people smoking than it is to see a large group of drunks vomiting and fighting. Penny Freeman
As a regular drinker I didn’t feel threatened. As someone who’s trying to cut down on my drinking, it was inspirational. Thanks. I look forward to your next report
I watched the documentary last night and as a Recovering Alcoholic and Addiction Counsellor I totally agree with your comments. It left me feeling uneasy after Alastair disclosed he manages two glasses of wine a night! What is he trying to prove? I hope that people who have not drunk for sometime don’t go out there for some more research. Thanks for your comments.
I agree with you, families are the hardest hit….
I’m always pleased to see issues around alcoholism getting a higher profile and I did welcome last night’s ‘Panorama’ report. The horror stories succeeded in highlighting the fact that people with alcoholism aren’t always sitting on a piece of cardboard in the street.
While it’s great to hear about your own experience with alcohol, I don’t think it was particularly useful that you talked about your Russian roulette approach to drinking although your honesty is commendable.
As the mother of a recovering alcoholic (now into his 4th year of sobriety… well done to him) I completely buy into the argument that alcoholism is a progressive illness which can only be contained by abstinence….. you can’t be ‘cured’ of alcoholism. I only had to watch my son testing out drinking on a couple of occasions during his very protracted recovery process to know that one drink sent him right back into the abyss.
If people get the message that you can still have a drink or two every so often and be ‘cured’ we’re treading on dangerous ground.
May be time to look at how we use labels and think about the differences between problem drinkers and those who have alcoholism?
Whatever… we do need two things though. More money for decent, affordable rehab programmes and more education about exactly what alcoholism is and the awful damage it can do.
I stoppped drinking for 22 years after a break down, depression treatment and out and out alcoholism. The drinking sneaked in much as you describe. At 18 years sober I stopped doing positive things to help me stay off the sauce. In my case AA meetings. I was then caught up in a very gradual nibbling away at what was acceptable and what was not. I had a few non-al beers. Months later I had a few shandies. Later a half bottle of wine while travelling. Months later I was organising business trips so I could have a bottle of wine. Within two years I was back to daily drinking and hiding it from my wife. I sneaked drinks in the loo, in the car, in the kitchen . I had periods of self imposed abstainence followed by bargaining sessions of “organic wine only”, or dont start unless your away from home on business and only after 9.00 p.m. Further periods of depression, on and off drinking and on and off sobriety ended with a day time few drinks that I simply couldnt stop. I meant to have two or maybe three and then slipped into 12 or 15 and a blackout. I dont know what I did or said. It wasnt hidden from my family any more. It was unable to be hidden. It was out of control. The blue touch paper had been lit with the first drink. I was then out of control. I behaved very badly. I cheated my family by being an admitted alcoholic and drinking when the case for abstinance is clear cut. I cheated them just as much as I would have had I taken a mistress.
I am now back at AA and have built up some decent sober time again. I understand the need to feel normal and to be able to have “a few”. I think this led me in those first few experimental post dry time drinks. I was succesful in my professional life. I was clever and well loved. Why couldnt I drink? Surely all this religous mumbo jumbo muttered in AA was OK for the lesser intellects. Surely my case was special and different. Well- it wasnt. I ended up out of control again. There was a definite downward trajectory of my alcoholism once I picked up the first drink again. It ended for me in a jail cell courtesy of The British Transport Police for being drunk and incapable. The need to be seen as being normal has been forced from me by me. The need to accept what is really wrong with me is far more important. A reality therapy from the heart of me to me – if you will. Far be it from me to act as a poster boy for anything. It didnt work for me this controlled drinking lark. I was drinking at the same time as long term sober guys like Mel Gibson (yes he was a boor) Robin Williams etc were back out on it and then back in off it. I came back to AA with 5 other long term (more than 20 years) slippers. Two of us are still alive. One suicide, one liver disease and one caar accident whilst drunk. I’m lucky not clever!. Good wishes to you and yours.
My impression is that AC is not reliant on what others think of him. I quite liked the piece and was glad he was honest about himself and his current position on drinking. I think it is a case of each to his own. If he can drink normally again good luck to him. All people who admit a problem with drink cannot go back to social drinking after a period of abstainence. Are there exceptions to this rule? I’m glad I am not the one on Panorama offering myself up as a very public experiment to this question. My return to drinking,the carnage it caused my family, the damage to my recovery from depression, the unforced fall from grace on so many levels was all mercifully semi private. I am a man of good will these days and wish AC well. He is honest enough to do his relapse in public. I am not a religous nutter saying he must do as I do – by any stretch of the imiagination. AC must do what is right for him, his family, his health and his sanity. Good on you.
On your point 1, I understand this stress. When I began professional work, it seemed the companies and the world were heading in a direction that tried to screw more and more work out of people for less and less money. I thought this was capitalism.
Luckily I studied economics after that and found out that this was the exact opposite of capitalism. Usually it is to do with big companies abusing levels of monopoly and cartel power.
The whole point of economics is to receive more and more from less work, and this works when it is allowed to. Our lives should be getting more prosperous and less stressful and they were until about the 1960s. I’ve heard an economist say we should be working 3 day weeks and living like the Jetsons by now.
Thank you for highlighting the issue of alcoholism in Britain – the intention of the message was good. However, as a long-term recovering addict I saw the programme as simply touching the surface and rather glossing over the very real issues (it is thought that 1 in 4 globally suffer from the disease of addiction – so this is pandemic, not relegated to Britain alone, nor in Britain as a result of more lenient import/export or European travel increase and influence since the 70s, and not necessarily down to stress, although biological cellular stress can increase the chances of becoming an alcoholic, this happening way before the person even touches their first drink) and not really addressing the real problem of alcoholism nor addressing the solution. The real problem being that addiction is a physiological/neurological disease (this is proven – cf. Kevin Macauley – Institute of Addiction Studies – I suggest you listen to his CDs to understand the relationship between alcohol and drugs in the brain of an addict – and those who have the disease do not have a choice when it comes to ingesting alcohol or drugs. There is no medical cure (as yet) for this disease however it is my own experience that TOTAL abstinence together with a practicing and pragmatic relationship with mind/body/soul and total honesty with self and learning how to master and identify and inwardly accept which is the ‘voice of the illness’ inside ones own head is the way forward. Until I became truly aware of the different voices relating to the intellect, the body, the emotional self and the spiritual self, and how the voice of the disease of addiction can influence and potentially destroy the goodness in all of them – I was not able to live with sobriety or peace of mind. Total abstinence alone is not enough – because as long as there is physical or mental suffering and an interjectory/destructive voice of addiction from within I will eventually want another drink or drug in order to ‘stop’ the phenomenon of craving, which is a physiological state which affects mind/body/spirit and which is ‘heard’ or ‘identified’ in this destructive voice… What I am trying to illustrate is that the illness of addiction manifests itself in thought (i.e. mentally) and then in action (behaviour/habit/compulsion) within each human being and how that is transferred outwardly i.e. whether in work addiction, process addiction, love/sex addiction, food addiction or drug/alcohol addiction is down to the individual – but the solution for all addictions remains the same: abstinence, honesty and self-awareness and self-acceptance and a mastery of how the ‘voice of the disease’ affects mind/body/spirit. It is a very slow journey, the journey of recovery. And a treatment centre like Clouds is just the very very beginning. And by no means a ‘cure’.
Absolutely agree! Everyone AC talks to says ‘abstinence” so what do he do? Tries a glass or two. Yes, he’s on quicksand. It’s a very insidious message that AC peddles. I’m in recovery for over twelve years and truly believe it’s the first glass that does the damage. I pray none of us in recovery succum to his siren call. Robert
good program but no mention of the poor souls who live with the alcoholic, like me, a life of total misery. the forgoten victims
Alcoholism kills people -lots of them, but before it does that it will wreck your life and probably the lives of your family too. My mum has been in AA for 30 years- sober one day at a time-thank God. Had she not done this she would have been dead years ago A few of her AA friends, against all advice, have tried to go back drinking but they are all now dead because an alcoholic, by definition is a person who cannot control their drinking.
It is a bit like an allergy- if you were alergic to nuts would you stop eating them for 10 years and then say -OK I have had a break I will go back to them. Of course you would not because you would end up in A and E. In the same way, I believe that Alcoholics are allegic to alcohol.
How do you know when when you are an alcoholic? The answer is when it is too late!
I find it hard to believe that Alistaire will be able to control his own drinking now,(this is just my own opinion) but I wish him luck.
good program but no mention of the other victims in this sad tale the people who live the alcoholic, no help for them, except alonon.not enough really.
Pull the other one, Alistair. You are an alcoholic, and kidding yourself that you can drink just two glasses of wine is the cunning thinking of addiction. Whether your ‘ism’ can be contained by your cross-addiction to running remains to be seen. Personally, I wouldn’t take the risk. You made no mention of AA, and perhaps your private therapy can keep you safe, but for millions of people the wisdom of the AA programme is the best way out of the hell of addiction that crosses all socio/economic boundaries into a life of serenity and happiness.
An excellent programme, which rightly concerntrated on people’s experiences at the sharp end of their alcohol experiences, and how their mind worked at that time, and what was happening to their body and mental state.
Pity it couldn’t have been, say, fifty minutes long. Didn’t Panorama last that long once, and has been dumbed down about ten years ago or so, and now tries to pack too many things into half-an-hour? I’m sure it was a fifty minute programme once.
Even QI has an extended programme on the beeb, as Stephen Fry knows, but not in that way Stephen, seeing extended things, who seems to be becoming the new Sid James, but maybe not. Only joking! minus many many points for myself, no doubt. Accepted Stephen,
And for those that say Alastair runs like a salt crocodile in OZ looking for the next water pool to go into from a dried out one, and critisises his choice of wooly headwear – mmmm, lamb’s wool it is isn’t it? mmmm, anyway my welsh supposedly welsh perversions aside – we need to see you critics attempt at running at fifty plus, geniuses. There, had to be said Alastair. I describe myself, last I run, as a, umm! pacing cockroach on Mother Earth – KEEP UP WITH ME, so I have got six legs….
Kept seeing and hearing interviews and pieces on tv and radio – unfortunately didn’t see programme so came here to try and find the answer to the question I kept on asking myself. Where can I find help. I know the statistics, know that I have a problem, but nobody mentions how to find an intervention. I tried AA for a week but couldn’t ‘get’ it and too embarrassed to go to GP. Personally I don’t have a support network I feel at a loss. Thanks anyway for highlighting it – its a start.
Good programme but unless im mistake there was no mention of AA or any other 12 step programme. I know one of the traditions of AA is attraction rather than promotion but in a programme about Alcohol addiction to omit the most important life saving and successful treatment there is, AA, seems ludicrous. I assume though that Alistair doesnt attend AA meetings as he wouldnt be drinking again.
He was very honest though and I feel he knows himself starting drinking again isnt the answer.
I really admire Alastair for his bravery and honesty about his recovery and hopefully many people who need to, would have been able to identify with some peoples experiences in the documentary.. I admire also his courage to say out loud about living with the dreadful mental illness of depression, which itself is highly stigmatised. Any addiction and mental health problem is an individual journey which can underlie our whole lives. I say well done, and thankyou Alastair for sharing your lived experiences with us in the hope that others may learn.
I was glad to hear that Alistair Campbell admitted that Labour got it horribly wrong introducing 24 hour drinking in the UK. They certainly did and I have been saying this for some time now. What I want to know is how can we reverse this decision and make alcohol harder to obtain rather than easier. Alcohol abuse is just as deadly as heroin abuse, yet at the moment you can buy it 24 hours round the clock in supermarkets and petrol stations. Why can’t we go back to pubs/clubs closing at 11pm and only being able to purchase alcohol up to 10pm in off-licences. Higher prices are not the answer.. they may deter a few, but a hardened alcoholic would rather pay the high price and go without food than go without alcohol. I watched my husband die from alcoholism so I speak from some experience.
I recognised myself as a two glass of wine a night and decided to stop drinking the whole of Jan to see if I had an addiction or just a psychological dependency. I bought “How to Stop without feeling S..t (Holford et al) and knowing what effect alcohol had on my brain chemistry really empowered my decision to never have wine in the house. I now only drink wine when I’m out and never have more than 2 glasses. I’ve never felt better or more in control of my life.
You need to look at Baclofen which is tearing through the addictions community now. Pioneering doctors are starting to prescribe this on the NHS and there are double blind trials in Holland and France as we speak.
As a middle class professional from a working class background I watched your documentary fascinated. My own probelms with depression and alcohol have plagued me for as long as I can rememember. Hearing your frank comments made me feel that my experiences are not unique and that I am part of a wider community who have a shared history, albeit individually. I have been treated for depression, am a member of AA and have almost lost everything including my liver. I’m so very glad I saw your programme. As a PE teacher of 22 years it was inspiring for me to hear of a fellow alcoholic who had come to terms with his relationship with booze and done something about it: Running. I used to run daily before booze demanded I stay in and drink instead. Watching you jog through woods and parkland has given me the inspiration to, as you said, make it my next addiction. As a sports specialist designing my on training programme is one thing I do not need to consult with anybody to achieve. A Recover’s Running Club should be set up. It would do wonders. I would willingly use my expertise to advise those starting out.
My best wishes and thanks
Alastair, here in my home town in Co Kerry in Ireland watching the repeat of your wonderful programme – Thank you for such an insightful story behind was is a real hidden epedimic – you touche on all the key debate issues . As you know I am 34 years sober and have had a grea life – including the running piece – what a wonderful trade off – I can still recall with such clarity my first drink like one of your guests – the magic that nearly killed me.Paddy C
I found this programme very interesting. Alcohol does seem to be a very tempting and dangerous substance. For years I have kept a written record of my own consumption, just to keep a watchful eye on this. Most of the time I have kept below the government’s 21 unit recommended limit. However, I have to wonder whether that limit is tough enough. 16 Units might be more like it, for a start.
My current “regime” is to avoid drinking on Mondays, Wednesdays and either Fridays or Saturdays and to keep below 5 units per day. (The “week” is not well designed for alternate dry days, but never mind). The only exception I would make is on special social occasions, like meeting up with old friends etc.
Yet reading the comments below I note that such a regime might not work for everyone. I’ve had occasional problems with alcohol, I do admit, but sadly for some just touching a drop is fraught with great danger.
Elsewhere we get very mixed messages about Alcohol. Some experts say a glass a day of red wine is GOOD for your heart. Others say that you must give your liver a rest every other day! Some say smoking is the big killer. Smokers reply that we are too soft on Alcohol.
Interesting debate all round.
There is a very good book called ‘How to give up without feeling S***T’ by Dr Patrick Holford. It tells you how the body reacts to over drinking and gives you a natural prescription of vitamins minerals and amino acids to help detox and take away the cravings and side effects of drinking. It has really helped me with the anxiety I was experiencing and given me exceptional knowledge. Try it out.
Alastair, You seem to have become an ex-drinker. Before that you were a non-drinker. Non-drinkers and non-smokers never want another drink or cigarette. It’s as if they have never been smokers or drinkers. By contrast the ex- d/s are in a world of pain There seems to be a switch that make people into non-drinkers/smokers. I’m keen to get some research going on this and wonder if you could help.
Alcohol is an occasional glass on a special event. You liars actually expect special treatment while you wipe babies off the streets in wasted driving industries. The medical treatment you seem to think you get is further proof of your insanity…why don’t you keep calling the beast elite a government and see if that helps…