I spent Thursday at the Institute of Psychiatry at an academic conference celebrating and commemorating the life of a man called Griffith Edwards, who died recently aged 83. To anyone outside the field of addiction research, this won’t be a name which rings any bells, but he was as important to academics in drug and alcohol research as Crick and Watson were to the world of genetics. People had flown in from all over the world to give presentations on different addictive drugs, legal and illegal, to discuss clinical findings and to make policy recommendations. My research speciality is Women and Alcohol, and conferences like this are incredibly helpful in that I can catch up with what is going on across the whole field.
I was fortunate enough to be taught by Griff, and it’s fair to say he had a brain the size of a large planet. However, despite all of his academic achievements, the things that stood out most for me were his respect for the patients themselves, and his belief that friendship was as important as scholarship. I heard today that he once said that “respect, fellowship and a roof over one’s head could lead to miraculous results” in treating addiction.
I wondered how these basic qualities apply to women who drink too much. Respect for these women is notable by its absence, in fact society has quite the opposite of respect for women with alcohol problems. Fellowship also is missing for these women – because of the stigma and shame attached to drinking problems in women, many hide their drinking, and become more and more isolated from the friendship they desperately need if they are to get their lives back.
I remember Griff talking about the resilience of his patients, and how much he admired their bravery. He gave us a case study of a woman who kept quitting and relapsing. Her family and friends gave up on her, but she didn’t give up on herself. Every time she went back to drinking, she tried to quit again. Griff didn’t see her as a hopeless case, he saw her as a strong woman who battled time after time against her addiction.
I wish there were more like him.