I am about to do some interviews about my new novel, My Name Is …, out next week, which tells the story of a young girl’s descent into alcoholism. It is a novel, a story, but I hope one that makes people think a little about their and the country’s relationship with alcohol.
Now making and selling alcohol is not illegal, and I am not suggesting it should be. Nor is drinking it, and I am not suggesting making that is made illegal either. So the big difference with illegal drugs is just that … they are illegal.
But here are some questions for you?
How many opiate/crack users do you think there are in England (2011/12 figures)? The answer is 298,752. Over a quarter of a million.
How many adults receive treatment for their drug problem? 197,110. i.e a sizeable proportion.
How much does that cost the State? Two billion pounds.
I am not criticising that use of money. But here is another set of questions.
How many people are dependent on alcohol? 1.6 million.
How many receive treatment? 108,906.
How much is spent on this? £91million.
Drugs are a real problem no doubt. But drink does more damage to marriages and families, causes more violence, more hospital admissions (1.2million), more deaths, and has a greater hold on the national life and national psyche, not least through the multi-million normalisation process of marketing and advertising.
One of the reasons I decided to make the lead character a young woman was that whereas once liver specialists said their patients were overwhelmingly male, now they are evenly split between men and women.
Here is another fact: liver disease is the only major cause of death still increasing year on year. UK deaths from cirrhosis increased more than five-fold between 1970 and 2006. Ah well, you may think, it is probably the same story around the world. But no, in France, Italy and Spain, the number of deaths has fallen by 50 per cent and we have overtaken them all.
Like I say, My Name Is … is a novel, a piece of fiction. But the facts underpinning the concern at the heart of it, about one girl’s story, are pretty scary.