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?