Medicating the middle classes?

It was when I first tried to stop drinking (several years ago) that I became aware of how little help is available for problem drinkers in the UK. If you’re a smoker struggling to quit, your family doctor will jump at the chance to help you stub out those evil fags. If you’re a chronic alcoholic, in need of rehab, then your GP should be able to offer some practical advice. But if you’re just quietly drinking too much at home then the NHS isn’t much use. Until now.

I read with interest this morning that Nalmefene – a pill designed to reduce alcohol consumption among ‘problem drinkers’ – is likely to be made available to NHS patients. Problem drinkers in this instance are described as people who ‘have half a bottle of wine or three pints a night’. Nalmefene works by blocking the part of the brain which gives drinkers pleasure from alcohol, stopping them from wanting more than one drink.

According to the Telegraph, the £3 tablet could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,074 alcohol-related diseases and injuries:

So on the face of it, this sounds good, right? Anything that kills your craving for alcohol has to be a good thing. It seems amazing that you could take a pill and bam! you’re fast tracked to that stage of sobriety where you can push away an ice-cold glass of wine without flinching. For people who can’t imagine a life without alcohol in it, this pill could give them a glimpse of life on our sparkly, sober side of the fence. I also think that if GPs have this drug at their fingertips, they’re more likely to bring alcohol up in conversations with patients. Talking about booze more openly and honestly has to be a positive step.

So parts of this seem good but yet … it doesn’t feel right to me. Handing out pills feels like a sticking plaster solution. Nalmefene has been dubbed ‘methadone for alcoholics’ for a reason.

I wonder how much counselling people taking these pills will be offered – if at all? As we all know, if you don’t do the head work it’s very hard to stay sober. You have to take alcohol off its pedestal and see it for the poison it really is. And what happens when someone stops taking Nalmefene? Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems highly likely that they’ll go straight back to old thought patterns and cravings. That voice that says “I want more, more, MORE!” will never truly go away unless you tackle it head on.

Perhaps a better solution would be to tackle our booze orientated culture instead. Drinking is still considered to be so very, very cool. As a nation, our relationship with alcohol won’t change until we stop seeing it as the only way to have fun / socialise / let our hair down. If drinking was given the image makeover that smoking got a few decades ago, the average person would naturally be drinking far less. It feels strange to see people being called ‘heroes’ as they pledge to go sober for October. Taking a month off the booze isn’t heroic or newsworthy, it should be just … well, unremarkable. But we live in such an alcohol soaked world that a month of sobriety is a big deal to most people.

There. That’s my rant over. But if there is such a thing as ‘sober heroes’ then I think you, me and the rest of the sober blogosphere would probably qualify… Right?

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14 thoughts on “Medicating the middle classes?

  1. lilyga October 3, 2014 at 6:44 pm Reply

    Hey I read tour blog all the time and it helped me stay sober in my early days. When I read thjs , the first thing I thought was I would take the bill and drink so much alachil I could. Like when your addicted to food. You eat until your sick sometimes. That was my addict talking. But anybody who is an alcaholic would do the same I think. Like anything else you cannot through a pill at a problem and this is how I see it.

  2. Nina October 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm Reply

    I agree with you. I don’t think a GP should be able to prescribe this pill without the consent of a therapist a person is working with. We drink because we’re trying to “fix” something we feel is really wrong inside of ourselves. Like patching gaping cracks in a dam with Skippy peanut butter. Taking a pill like this or antibuse ,may prevent you from abusing alcohol, but it’s not doing jack shit for your reasons to want to abuse in the first place.

    Thank you for writing, Kate. I’m five days in and I feel good, but I’m so scared of failing right now. I found your blog in July and I’ve read it front to back. I relate to your struggle on many levels and having your words here has helped me make this decision to live again. Once again, I can’t thank you enough.

    If you feel like adding a new blog to your reading roster, I can be found here.

  3. thesobergarden October 3, 2014 at 7:22 pm Reply

    Really don’t think I could have put it better myself, Kate – thank you for posting about this! And your comment too Nina, makes perfect sense to me.

  4. englishwithjoseph October 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm Reply

    this is typical of our culture…. The government feels it needs to intervene with a “fix”. The truth is alcoholism is a disease of the spirit, all this drug will do is to hide the symptoms so it comes out in a different way……like drug abuse, or some other addictive substance, there are some things in life which just cant be magically fixed by a pill…..

  5. Chris Highcock October 3, 2014 at 9:22 pm Reply

    Right. I know your not fishing for complements, but whar you’ve done is heroic and deserves recognition. You’ve inspired a few of us.

  6. littlemsjones October 3, 2014 at 11:29 pm Reply

    Yours was the first sober blog I read and I think you’re a hero! But I still agree with you. When I first told people I was doing the 100 day challenge (in Feb, and I only lasted 20 days) they all reacted like I said I was going without underwear for 100 days. When I gave in and drank I got high fives for coming back to the fold. Why is not drinking for 100 days even a big deal? Why is sobriety viewed in such a suspicious and negative light? It is only through the Internet that I have found people who have nice things to say about being sober. Everyone in my life believes the marketing. Alcohol makes you cool, popular and fun. You don’t have a problem unless you’re drinking metho on a park bench.

  7. Annie October 4, 2014 at 10:08 am Reply

    You’re definitely a hero in my eyes! I’m now on Day 35 and struggle daily with the will I won’t I drink debate. I agree with you that the brain work is part of staying sober, and for me a pill would have just delayed this process. But everyone is different. If you have time would you have a look at my blog? It’s on:
    Love Annie x

  8. lucy2610 October 4, 2014 at 11:47 am Reply

    Great post Kate and I completely agree and wrote a post on the subject myself today! It is supposed to be prescribed in conjunction with psychological therapies but I’m not sure that this will be the case because of the cost implications. We’ll have to wait and see I guess …..

    • soberjournalist October 5, 2014 at 6:54 pm Reply

      I’ve just read your post on this! I wondered what you’d think about it, being a nurse. It might work for some … but it does feel like a bit of quick fix.

  9. rivieradinah October 5, 2014 at 2:06 pm Reply

    I agree, and yes, we are heroes!

  10. Beth Kores October 8, 2014 at 1:36 am Reply

    So glad I found your blog, and this particular topic… In my many many attempts at sobriety, I remember feeling so many times “If there was just a pill for this……In fact I even made that very statement to My GI Doc . However, Now , 5 months and 19 days sober I am thankful there wasn’t one!! I have had to learn to deal with real life,the real way. After 25ish,or maybe more like 30ish years of self medicating every emotion a person can feel…. for whatever reason be it Fear, anxiety, pain , joy, I have finally come to a place within myself that I am comfortable . It is a daily struggle….some days easier then others, In a society where drinking is more socially acceptable then NOT drinking. Thanks for this post 😉

    • catherine May 11, 2015 at 6:59 pm Reply

      Hello, I read your blog & here goes ! my joining a world of people like myself feels liberating. I have downloaded some books onto my kindle & feel so relieved i’m not alone I have detoxed 3 x’s on medication from the doctors over the last 10 years but reneged when I was in company of friends and thought OH WHAT THE HELL, i can just have 1 glass of wine but NO it doesn’t work like that. I just don’t know how I have held down a job all these years, people at work wouldn’t have a clue that when I leave work I head for the nearest supermarket & buy a stack of wine that’s on offer throw as much down my throat as possible while i’m fluttering around the home tidying up & preparing the evening meal, by that time i’m totally wasted and blame everything on being tired while in fact i’m totally inebriated & just want to collapse in bed, only to start the whole process again the next day. I have made a decision that I totally want to stop drinking alcohol, but I think, what the hell am I going to do with myself?????

  11. kerry October 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm Reply

    Same thing here in Australia a booze orientated society. Have been sober 40 days feeling good not usually a big drinker 1 or 2 bottles a month. My confession I drank during Chemo stopped chemo just to get pissed big time. Giving up alcohol during Chemo was inconceivable I couldn’t do it. I resumed the Chemo and still cancer free for almost 2 years. I don’t want alcohol to rule my life. I prefer a nice cold glass of Coke Zero.

  12. tomwest January 12, 2015 at 12:22 am Reply

    Stumbled across your blog….
    Mm..I would be interested to hear the sucess stories from this tablet. Does that same Person who take ith, stare vacantly out of the window watching. Disconnected from the world . Maybe the the anti-depressant they decide to take while watching day time tv will be a better looking than lobotomy scars anyhow.

    oh..someone should move than blog, i almost tripped over it again on my way in

    Ps. great blog..interesting articles..

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