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

Radio 4: Addiction, part of the Summer Nights Series

I love radio, because it tries things out which television never would.  Radio 4 have been running a late night series at 11pm called Summer Nights, where each episode is a live discussion for an hour with a handful of guests in the studio.  I went along on Friday night to discuss addiction.


The production team had put a really good mix of people together.

James Nicholls is from  (I’ll admit a conflict of interest here as they fund my work).

Professor Andrew Samuels is a psychoanalyst.

Sam Willetts is a poet with more prizes than I can list here, and recovering heroin addict

Tim Sampney runs Build on Belief, a service user’s charity in London

Dr Richard Graham, a child and adolescent psychiatrist runs a clinic for internet addiction at the Tavistock and Portman .

We were also joined from the BBC studios in Birmingham by Tanya from Overeaters Anonymous, ,  who has struggled with alcohol and food addiction.

Mariela Frostrup hosted us, and although I’m not sure whether we set the world on fire, we did at least have a good go at lots of different areas.  As I left Broadcasting House I thought how ambitious it was to try and cover subject like addiction in an hour.  We possibly raised more questions than we answered, but that’s the point of addiction – nobody really, truly understands what it is or why it happens.

The link if you’d like to listen is here

Radio 4: Constant Cravings – Does Food Addiction Exist?

Thanks to everyone who contacted me with comments about Constant Cravings, a documentary I presented on whether food or eating can be addictive, which was broadcast on Radio 4 this week.   I’ve answered all of these comments privately. 

The link to the programme is here  Thanks also to the excellent producer Rami Tzabar, and to the people who took part in the programme, for making the whole process such an incredible experience.  The similarities between some of those struggling with food, and those struggling with alcohol are really striking.  After researching it for the programme, and talking to experts as well as those who are overeaters, I instinctively come down on the side of food addiction being a reality for some, but not all, of those with eating disorders.  But the science isn’t there to support it.  Yet.

Constant Cravings

I’m presenting a documentary on Radio 4 next Tuesday 30th April at 8pm.  It’s called Constant Cravings:  Does food addiction exist.   Interestingly, the majority of the contributors are women……

There’s a link here which describes what’s in the programme

It’s the first time I’ve presented a documentary, and it’s on a wider topic than my specialist subject.  It’s been totally absorbing in so many ways, from learning about the process of programme making, to thinking of the right questions to ask the experts, to working out how to present complex science so that it will be accessible.  If you get a chance to listen, let me know what you think.

Can food be addictive?

There is a bit of an unholy triangle, especially in women, between eating disorders, addiction, and self-harm.  I’ve been given an opportunity to explore some of this for Radio 4, and have been interviewing neuroscientists, psychologists and psychiatrists.  As usual, though, the thing that really illuminates the evidence is the testimony of those experiencing the problems.  I’ve interviewed two people for the documentary from Overeaters Anonymous, a self-help group for people with compulsive eating habits.  Both have stolen to feed their habit, and both have lied to those around them, as well as to themselves.  Both have experienced shame, guilt and disgust.  Their stories were striking, in how like the stories of those with alcohol problems they were.  Particularly telling though was that although food or overeating was their main problem, both also had problems with alcohol, and described themselves as alcoholics.

The programme is called Constant Cravings: Can food be addictive?, and will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 8pm on Tuesday 30th April, as part of File on Four series.  I’ll post up a link to it when I have it.

Radio 4 Inside Health 19/03/2013

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about alcohol on Radio 4’s Inside Health, along with a GP from Glasgow, Dr Margaret McCartney.  The link is here.

We were exploring ways of reducing the harms caused by alcohol.  Margaret presented the very compelling evidence about minimum pricing.  My view on minimum pricing is that I must ditch my instictive libertarian position in favour of the pragmatic – the evidence is so overwhelming that minimum pricing improves the health of both the drinkers and those around them affected by violence that we must introduce it.

I then talked about something which may be piloted here in London.  The idea is to make abstinence from alcohol compulsory for those who have committed violent crimes where alcohol has played a part, and to monitor that with twice daily breathalysers and an ankle bracelet.  Any drinking results in an immediate, short jail sentence.  It’s an idea I first heard presented by Professor Keith Humphreys and Baroness Finlay last week at the Alcohol Research UK conference, and I found it intriguing.  Sometimes the best policies come from people who are willing to take a risk and try something new.

We finished by talking about treatment, or rather the lack of it, thus covering what I think are the three most important initiatives around at the moment:  minimum unit pricing, which we know works; treatment, which we know works and we know is not adequately funded( or adequately thought through in some instances); and brave new initiatives which require early adopters and thorough evaluation to see if they can make a difference.

Thanks to Inside Health for giving us time to make the points and lay out the arguments.


Radio 4: Feedback 8/3/2013

This afternoon there was a follow-up broadcast on Radio 4’s Feedback programme on the piece about alcohol I did recently for the Today Programme.  I had kept an audio diary for Feedback, while recording for Today, and did an interview with them afterwards about the process.  I was surprised, and very, very pleased, with the angle they approached the piece from.  Today is International Women’s Day, and they focused on the women I interviewed in my orginal broadcast for Today.  They also used some quotes from me about the hidden nature of alcohol problems in women because of stigma, some of which is magnified by the media.  Finally, they asked whether a woman presenter could better present issues relevant to women.

So, thanks Feedback,  not only for bringing my original report to a wider audience, but also for looking at it from women’s points of view.

You can listen to the Feedback piece here Feedback piece March 2013


Radio 4: The Today Programme 1/3/2013

About six weeks ago I met the Editor of Radio 4’s Today Programme, Ceri Thomas, and we discussed how alcohol and alcohol problems are portrayed in the media.  I told him I thought coverage was too simplistic, but how do you balance the time needed to explain the complexities with the nature of broadcast media, particularly radio news, which needs to be quick and compelling.  Alcohol problems are caused by an unholy cocktail of genes, neurological processes, traumatic life events, social factors, cultural context, psychological mechanisms, and mental illnesses.  To complicate things further, the ingredients of that cocktail are different in every single individual.

Ceri took a risk, and asked me to make a 5-6 minute piece to try and explain the complexities, and I made a package with a producer called Tom Colls.  He knew I’d never done anything like this before, and taught me loads about radio, and loads about how I work.  Our piece was broadcast this morning, and you can listen to it here