Minimum Price for Alcohol

I completely support a minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit, and welcome the introduction of 45p. I hope it doesn’t stop there. Research shows that money plays a big part in young drinkers and heavy drinkers where quality is not the point, getting drunk is the sole goal, but we need to not only make it difficult for these drinkers to achieve this but also support them to work through whatever their time bomb is that drives them to binge drink in the first place.


Parenting for Prevention

Thank you all who attended last week’s Parenting for Prevention presentation.  It is without doubt my greatest privilege to inspire parents and those in positions of care to learn simple boundaries that go a long way towards providing a healthy environment for a child.  Plus spotting the danger zones – not getting drawn into arguments you didn’t see coming is a big advantage!  I encourage you all to stay in charge and on your toes around your teen population. They need you to know, to be strong enough in yourself to say a considered yes or no and cope with the consequences!

Don’t forget we have a family group every Tuesday evening and costs £300pa unlimited access, so if you want more, that’s where you’ll find it! Call the office for more details…


Alcohol and pregnancy …the effect of ‘ordinary drinkers’ on the unborn child

This article tells us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear: i.e. drinking AT ALL when pregnant affects the unborn child’s IQ.

We are not talking about alcoholic drinking or binge drinking either. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a well-documented, permanent severe mental and physical consequence for the child of heavy drinking by mother during pregnancy. But this is not where this research is aimed.  No, this research relates to a couple of glasses of wine a week!

When pregnant, women often report feeling different and separate from the group, as well as stressed, uncertain, out of sorts and under pressure.  It may feel hard enough without also not being able to drink a glass of wine ‘to relax’.  But this research suggests that the price you may pay ‘to relax or feel part of’ may actually be too high. IQ is not just intelligence, it represents the ability to interact and understand; a powerful influence in self-esteem. Your child may pay with his or her quality of life for your need to use alcohol for 9 months. Not a balanced equation no matter what your mathematic ability!

So we need to support women – and maybe even more ambitiously our society – to find other ways to relax so that alcohol steps down from top slot of how to clock off.  It is a depressant, it causes accidents, is fundamental in many severe health problems, causes long term and debilitating mental health issues, and now we can see that it impacts on our future generation’s IQ before it is even born.

With such compelling evidence around negative impact of alcohol on the unborn child we must invest in other strategies. We need to learn how to stop, pause, take a breath so that all that we strive for and invite into our lives doesn’t drown us in its administration and relentless rhythm. In pregnancy we lay the foundations for the child’s profile as well as for our relationship with him or her, and those 9 months should not be overlooked nor taken for granted. In fact they are an opportunity for investment!  Mindfulness Meditation is a powerful method that focuses on the breath and helps to alleviate anxiety, pressure and even craving by letting go of thoughts and feelings without banishing them or trying to control them. It can help make mental and emotional space to forge a connection between the unborn baby and its mother as well as to gain essential perspective. Similarly pregnancy yoga provides a proactive engagement with the changing body and mind, and has proven positive health benefits, pregnant or not. Laughing, singing, dancing, exercise have also all been widely researched and promoted in their positive effect on well-being.

Be in the solution…

Read more here:

Children held in police cells under Mental Health Act

Reading this report just highlights the lack of services, or access to services, we have in this country for children in crisis. It is shameful and needs rectifying.  Children are our future and we need to wake up to this FACT and invest in them! Its not enough to think that wonderful charities such as Children in Need, or Childline sufficiently tick the box, this needs to be a cultural shift in attitude. We need to provide education and funding to encourage growth, support and safety for those in need, intervention and treatment for those in crisis and an attitude of compassion rather than judgement for the situation this population finds itself in – ask yourselves: who set their society up like this?

So similar to the situation I often find myself in, talking to a parent who is struggling with a difficult child who is under 12.  I almost always work with the parent/s first, look at the environment they have deliberately or unwittingly set up, and consider the ‘difficult behaviour’ as a clue that points to the culture of the family, or unresolved parental issues. Of course when that child begins to act out in ways that are not acceptable the problem becomes theirs AS WELL, and there needs to be containment, consequences and constructive criticism. But we must not forget the source.

I see unresolved issues like litter lying around, and a child will pick it up. They cannot help it.  They are primed from birth to soak up the environment and they have barely any filter.  Then they carry this litter as if it is their own and are judged accordingly. This is called scapegoating, and it thrives in a culture of denial.  I believe this is happening on a micro and macro scale. The problems are simple and we complicate the answers with self centredness, greed, and red tape.

I mean, tell me WHY there is no teen rehab in this country?

National Treatment Agency warns club drug users

I read this article with great interest. I have worked with many club drug users and it does demand a different approach insomauch as it is crucial to attend to the person in relation to their peer group as a fundamental part of treatment. Like with any other drug dependence, we have to help the person get abstinent, but for this to be sustainable, they must learn how to allow themselves to have fun, socialise, dance and meet people clean.  So many people relapse (or live miserably) because they just cannot function socially without the drug – it becomes a choice between sober isolation of drug affected interaction. It’s not easy to overcome social anxiety at the best of times, but when your ability has been propped up by years of drug use, it can feel impossible.  Working to develop a strong sense of who you are, your own sense of humour, a comfort in your skin so you can stand without feeling self conscious, dance without reservation, chat with less fear is fundamental to a successful and wholehearted recovery.

Read the full article:

Outside Edge

I have just had the great pleasure of spending the afternoon on a houseboat in Chelsea at an intimate showing by Outside Edge of excerpts from Jerusalem, performed by Mark Rylance, and three others from this pioneering theatre company.

Outside Edge is the brainchild of Phil Fox who, with the vital support of David Charkham and trustees Simon Woodruffe of Yo! and Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page, takes productions that are written to mirror the audience’s story, into treatment and prison settings. The way it works is in a way like an extended role-play, so that the audience is encouraged to interact with the actors and affect the process and ending by responding to the script and action as the performance goes along.

Role-play is a fundamental part of the programme at Charter and for my work in schools, so that a person inhabits the other persons skin, walks for a moment in another persons shoes…you could call it momentary other centredness and it works like magic (most of the time!) Outside Edge does this in a structured way on a bigger scale, though it remains simple and personal, and very accessible.

Simon Woodruffe and Mark Rylance spoke with commitment and passion for a society where this kind of resource is available to everyone, and I echo this; access to the resources and benefits of recovery should not be marginalized to the world of severe addiction.

Prevention is better than cure, early intervention is key, and inspiration and education can play a huge part in changing the direction of a young persons life. Outside Edge, like many of us in the recovery community, has a powerful resource at its fingertips with a much wider application than addiction. I am in no doubt that the 12 steps helped me to recover from completely losing hope when I fell foul of severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. There is so much more we can do with what we have if we all join hands and work together…I’m in…

Women Of The Year Awards

I was excited and extremely privileged to attend the annual Women Of The Year Awards on Monday last week, held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane ( ).  500 women filled the room, all of whom have a story to tell and achievements to celebrate. It was an inspiring lunch, compered with wit and feeling by Sandi Toksvig, and one I will never forget. I shared a table with Claire Lomas who achieved the impossible, completing the London Marathon despite being paralysed; Sally Wilton who set up a not-for-profit organisation in London providing pop up cinemas and founded The Sustainability Institute, an eco village in the heart of Cape Towns Winelands; Camilla Batmanghelidgh of Kids Co, Ebony, a riding stables in Brixton, the Alzheimer’s Society, a recovering addict of 12 years who was a torch bearer…I looked around the room and felt overwhelmed by the number of people I would give my right arm to meet and talk to and I had an hour…not enough!!!

I felt humbled and moved by the extraordinary achievements these women have made, from our Olympians and Para Olympians, to the woman who founded Women for Women with money that was set aside for her honeymoon (a charity dedicated to women in war zones), to Doreen, Stephen Lawrence’s mother, who spoke with emotion of her fight to bring his murderers to justice, to the women who work with the elderly and the disabled to improve their quality of life.

When I left I felt deeply motivated in my commitment to maintain an ethical stance as a priority when working in my small corner of this world where I am dedicated to inspiring addiction recovery, and to challenging the stigma that enables this destructive illness to flourish behind closed doors, and in all postcodes.

‘Functional Alcoholics’…an oxymoron fuelling denial

If you are alcoholic you cannot function as a whole person. That is one definition of the condition. There is a behaviour in place (alcohol) that compensates for an emotional need (eg stress, self esteem, intimacy) that has become a need in its own right (continued drinking) so that this emotional need does not leak into the real world. Thus the person is not really known by those ‘close’ to them, as they perpetuate an image, a version of themselves, that is not quite the truth, all the while bolstered by alcohol. So do they function? Or do they only function?

Last weeks press commented on a middle class population drinking themselves into ill health and I believe these are the very same ‘functional alcoholics’. The commuters, workers, mums in the school yard – these are today’s problem drinkers it seems ‘responsible for 10 times the costs of young drinkers’ according to Alcohol Concern, ‘unwitting[ly] …taking serious risks with their health’ and drinking their stresses and exhaustion away. Only it doesn’t go away, it sits there ignited into its own need for more alcohol. To drink alcohol to compensate for emotional need is to make a monster.

And this functional behaviour, is this to appear civilized, all the while arguing and stressing behind the scenes?

I meet children of functional alcoholics who are often scapegoated into addictive behaviour themselves. Mutinous they sit in my rooms, often with a parent wringing their hands, bemoaning their loss of potential. And when these children start talking they are angry. They have often been given money to fix emotional need, as it is the currency that enables the parent to feel functional. They have been placed second to the drinking. The lies and secrets that they have been silently asked to keep so that the alcoholic status quo can rule has left them no alternative but to act out, or act in. Welcome to ACOA – the adult child of an alcoholic: self sufficient yet insecure, these children also often feel guilty about their feelings of anger and sense of neglect as they can see their parent is working ‘so hard’ or is ‘so damaged’ or that the child is ‘given everything’ so wherefore this sense of loss, of anger?

But sadly it does not surprise me. The denial in our society is supreme. Drinking is endorsed, celebrated as a badge of strength – caner’s pride – or brushed under the carpet (again) with bullish denial that shames the concerned into silence: ‘it wasn’t that bad’, ‘everybody does it’, ‘lighten up’, or  ‘do you want me to stop drinking and stay at home every night?’ Or some such variation on a theme that employs tactics that minimize, exaggerate, universalise, generalise – whatever they do they ameliorate the fact and park the issue one more time.

It is so very very hard for a family member to bring a concern about a loved one’s drinking – so hard that most people miss the opportunity for early intervention, coming to someone like me when they are on their knees – can you save my marriage / my job / have I ruined my children? But I need to say that the shame, fear and regret does not have to be such a burden if you get help sooner!

Ecstasy Trial

I am an advocate for medicine that works, and am personally enormously grateful that my Rheumatoid Arthritis is now in remission due to the well-researched medication I have been prescribed. But I doubt that RA meds trials would attract the kind of sensation seeking headlines that The Ecstasy Trials achieved last week. In a society where we bemoan the attraction of illegal drugs to our eg teen population, Channel 4 uses this very sensationalist profile to up its ratings and contribute to both Channel 4’s identity and brand as being ground breaking, and Ecstasy’s as being worthy of the limelight.

Of course scientists want to achieve notoriety and fame, and TV is the perfect vehicle; Channel 4 wants to be seen as ground breaking and edgy, and scientists are the perfect companion to lend gravitas; and I’m sure all those involved will argue for these trials’ validity – possibly even ridiculing those who argue against. A bit like the ‘do you don’t you [take drugs]’ exchanges that happen everyday in school playgrounds around the country: its humiliating to say ‘no, I don’t’. The power of the drug culture and the desire to be in the ‘in crowd’ was replicated I think by the slight ridiculing that happened on the programme when scientists debated the issue and David Nutt seemed to adopt a supercilious sneer.

The fact remains, television is a construction: to be accurate these trials need to take place in controlled environments to limit the influence of other elements.  Performing (and I choose that word deliberately) these trials on national television is not an appropriately controlled environment that would show with any certainty the effect of the drug only. Those taking part (including the scientists) are aware they are in front of millions of viewers, and researchers cannot be certain this has no effect. For example the argument for using a celebrity who would be comfortable in front of the camera was cancelled out as he sought to control his vulnerability on camera when the drug affected him. It was farcical and sadly, I believe, dangerous, as it brought Ecstasy into the limelight as something to experiment with, a play thing, despite the words of warning (to fulfill the requirement of a corporate disclaimer) by Channel 4 presenters advising ‘Do not try this at home’. Do you as I say, not as I do…

What is clear is that no one seems to know much about MDMA and its impact on the human brain. I’m no better informed after watching this programme either. Perhaps more serious trials could be undertaken, privately, responsibly and without sensation: submit the research through the normal channels and allow the process to take the time it needs for culture to adjust and Government to respond. This ‘quick fix’ approach that is so often represented by TV is not always positive, as ideas need time to germinate, and the ground to be primed so that growth and change is sustainable and well supported.

Recovery Awareness Reception

Our forthcoming Recovery Awareness Reception on October 2nd will be held in alliance with eating disorder experts, Montrose Manor who are based in Cape Town. With a long-standing relationship in collaboration of care we share similar views about addiction – what it is and how it should be treated – and similar frustrations around how the illness is perceived and therefore treated in the UK.

Charter is predominantly designed as a day programme where people can get well in the context of their lives. This is a deliberate design as those addicts I want to work with are not at the critical end of the continuum (though they may feel it) but somewhere in between, where denial still reigns and trouble usually follows. These people, these addicts, are living amongst us, on the tube, at work; they are serving you, picking up the kids, functioning at some level. These are my clients. I work where intervention happens in time for a full and happy life to be possible.

I believe that abstinence is not the goal, but the means, and thus at Charter we work with each client on the core characteristics of addiction rather than necessarily the drug of choice, reducing the risk of devastating relapse and cross addiction.

Addiction is a human condition, it’s relational and it operates on a continuum. Where you are on that continuum plays a huge part in what sort of treatment you will respond best to. The work we do here is extraordinary, consistently turning out sustainable recovery, as evidenced by our thriving aftercare community. It is possible not only to get clean, but also to live a happy and fulfilling life. Aim for the stars…(and don’t stop flapping your wings ‘til you get there!)

One of the reasons I was interested in hosting this event with Montrose was because we need challenging dialogue amongst the thinkers and decision makers who are interested in this incredibly difficult human condition so that addiction is not marginalised to the confines of the extreme cases, but seen in a broader light, often where an opportunity of early intervention lies. (Is this where I mention being able to spot an addict at age 7…?)