Welcome to my Blog


My name is Sally Marlow and I research alcohol problems in women at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.  I started this blog to communicate the science, psychology and culture underlying drinking problems, and to put right some of the misinformation out there about women and how they use alcohol.  All views expressed here are my own.

Times article on “tied” pubs: Freudian slip?

A Times article today reports that the Commons vote on an amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (removing the right for big companies to charge their pub tenants inflated prices for beer)  ”could help to revive the pub trade. Cheers to that……   Cutting the beer tie would slowly bring back market forces to a sector that is sclerotic and skewed, and bring hope to others snared in the coils of oligopoly.” Times article (warning includes Murdoch’s paywall!)

The word sclerotic is more commonly used to describe livers ravaged by alcohol.  Does the journalist who wrote the leader have a dark sense of humour?

Not just a young person’s problem

Yesterday the media gave some coverage to a new report by Public Health England detailing the numbers of people in alcohol treatment.  In particular they picked up on the fact that increasing numbers of women over 60 are in treatment than were five years ago, compared with women under 29 where less are in treatment.  The same also holds true for men, but with slightly smaller fluctuations.

If you read my blog regularly you’ll know I get fed up with media stories about young people binge drinking.  That’s not to say there aren’t alcohol problems in young people, because there are.  However, there are problems in older people too, and these are rarely reported, which is why it was good to see so much interest in the figures.  I did seven media interviews yesterday alone on this topic, which gives some indication of the prominence it received, although most of these were in the morning/early afternoon, and by the evening, the story had dropped off the headlines and the websites.  However, something does remain:  for a taster, only a couple of minutes long, listen here to my interview with Sarah Montague on Radio 4′s Today

Drinking and pregnancy back in the news

Today the Court of Appeal will hear whether a child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome whose mother drank while she was pregnant with her is entitled to criminal injuries compensation. the full story is here in the Independent

The label Foetal Alcohol Syndrome covers a range of deficits which have been linked to the toxic effects of alcohol when it crosses from the mother’s bloodstream into the foetus via the placenta during pregnancy.  These deficits can include learning and behavioural difficulties, congnitive deficits, and a particular set of facial features.  More here  National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK

Sky News have been covering this story this morning, and it was good to see that both of their interviewees, one an adoptive mother of a child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, and one a doctor with a special interest in Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, both saw absolutely no merit in prosecuting women who drink while pregnant. Dr Mary Mather, Medical Director for Parents for Children said (and I paraphrase) Criminalising women is not going to help…..  no woman intentionally harms their baby.  Rather than dragging women through the courts we should spend the money on preventing this disability.

I blogged about alcohol and pregnancy earlier this year, and pointed out the inconsistent advice we give pregnant women in the UK:  Being pregnant is hard enough now this. NICE guidelines basically say don’t drink during pregnancy, but if you do, just drink a little bit, and only a few times a week.  The words fence and sitting come to mind.

Drinking, holidays, and travel insurance

The Financial Ombudsman has just found in favour of someone whose insurance company refused to pay out for a claim on travel insurance on the grounds that the policy holder had been drinking.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29325740

As a society we have made a decision that alcohol is legal.  As a society, we also know that some people are more vulnerable to getting into problems with alcohol than others, and that the reasons for this include a person’s biology, their psychology, their life experiences, and their situtation at any given time. If we continue to sanction alcohol, then we also have a duty to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong for some people, and for the insurance companies not to play their part is simply hypocritical.  I wonder how many board members on alcohol companies also have interests in insurance companies, and vice versa.


Learning more about alcohol in Scotland

I’m in Edinburgh on a course organised by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies UKCTAS where the subject under discussion is Alcohol Policy in Practice. There are two areas where I’m learning loads – the course itself is filling in gaps about alcohol policy for me; but also post referendum, the other delegates have already opened my eyes to aspects of Scottish independence debate I hadn’t even considered.

So, here are some images which capture both:  First a list of companies the 45% campaign is urging fellow Scots to boycott.

Boycotted companies Scotland


And second, a reminder of the importance of the alcohol industry in Scotland: an instantly recognisable association.

Glass of scotch whiskey and ice

Never read the reviews

I recently did another Radio 4 documentary, Painful Medicine, about being addicted to painkillers.  You can find it here Radio 4: Painful Medicine

There were some reviews, and they certainly covered the spectrum.  Whilst Catherine Nixey at The Times was good enough to pick the programme as a Radio Choice, her review opened as follows:

It’s not the most exciting programme opening I’ve ever heard. “I’m outside a pharmacitst in London” says presenter and scientist Dr Sally Marlow, “and I’m just going to pop in and buy a codeine-based painkiller.” I won’t ruin the suspense of whether she gets any.

I will admit to laughing.  She did then go on to be quite kind about the programme.

Meanwhile Priya Elan at the Guardian wrote a fabulous review saying the only thing wrong with the programme is that it wasn’t a series.  And as this is my blog, I’m posting that one up here Guardian review of Painful Medicine


I want to share with you some definitions of the adjective mortal.

From the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com)

To be very, very drunk. Contrary to the guy before me, the word ‘mortal’ is also used in the North-East of England (ie: Newcastle and Sunderland)
Last night, I was proper mortal!!!!

And now read this from the Oxford Dictionary website http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/  bearing alcohol in mind when you read each of the different usages.

Of a living human being, often in contrast to a divine being subject to death:all men are mortal
Causing or liable to cause death; fatal:a mortal disease FIGURATIVE the scandal appeared to have struck a mortal blow to the government
(Of a battle) fought to the death:the screams of men in mortal combat
(Of an enemy or a state of hostility) admitting or allowing no reconciliation until death:a mortal foe
(Of a feeling, especially fear) very intense:parents live in mortal fear of children’s diseases

INFORMAL Conceivable or imaginable:he knew every mortal thing you did
Very great:he was in a mortal hurry
DATED Long and tedious:for three mortal days it rained
Christian Theology Denoting a grave sin that is regarded as depriving the soul of divine grace:Often contrasted with venial.she had committed a mortal sin

If it wasn’t so tragically spot on I’d describe it as brilliant. With the exception of the last one of course – let’s keep morality out of it, especially the religious variety.

What do we mean by “addictive”?

There’s a news story today that sunbathing may be addictive. You can read it here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27866407

I am all for exploring possible addictions which may not currently be recognised as addictions by doctors or the scientific community.  I even made a programme on whether food addiction exists last year, which you can find here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s4g7v

However, there’s a problem.  By using the word “addictive” to describe behaviours or use of substances which don’t actually have any of the characteristics of addiction, (and by characteristics of addiction I mean things like tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, being unable to stop and being out of control), we effectively weaken the word addiction.  Many of us use the word to describe how we feel about things we like very much – we may talk of being addicted to chocolate, or to House of Cards.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

However, these are not really addictions – they don’t impact our lives overly much, destroy relationships, or cause us real harm.  We may do more of them than we want to, but that’s not the same as being addicted.  By using the two, we create confusion, and don’t help with the public understanding of the devastation true addiction can bring.

Alcohol in the mornings

I have a hunch that alcohol stories tend to run on the news in the mornings, and are dropped by the evening.  A case in point was yesterday, when it was reported that the government are going to increase fines four-fold for drink driving and disorderly behaviour, amongst other things.

Cue the interviewee in a mid morning television news slot to talk about how anyone who is drunk and disorderly is probably unemployed, on benefits and an alcoholic (whatever that word actually means).  Er, no actually, check out Friday and Saturday nights in town centres for disorderly behaviour, and look at both police and A&E admission statistics if you really want to know who is arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

And why didn’t this story survive until the evening broadcasts?  I totally understand that more news happens, that it happens during the day, and that new news bounces old news.   I know this is one case, but I think there might be a trend, and that alcohol stories are considered as good day-time fillers, but not as weighty night-time news.  Fortunately my next study involves watching the news for a month and examining how alcohol stories are treated, so I can test my theory.  I’ll let you know what I find.

PS I’ve just emerged from an extended period of jury service – three months.  Expect a bit more action on the blog now that I’m back at my desk.