I’m in York to present some of my PhD findings to the Society for the Study of Addiction at their annual symposium. It’s a great event – a yearly chance for people from all areas of addiction research to get together, share their work, and talk about how to move the field forward.
York of course is beautiful. I grew up in the North East, and coming to York was always a big event. I feel at home here, in this ancient city with its city walls and cobbled streets, with the rivers running through the city and the presence of the Minster everywhere.
It’s been a full day of presentations, and I can’t do justice to them all here, but three things struck me particularly. Firstly there have been two presentations from colleagues from the USA, Kathleen Carroll on time-limiting treatments, and Katie Witkiewitz on improving treatment outcomes. Both stressed the importance of the individual, and spoke about how individual needs, and improvements for those in treatments, were not well served by looking at what works on average. Human beings are hugely variable, so it should not be a great surprise that addicts are also hugely variable. I loved Katie Witkiewitz’s explanation of her approach to statistical analysis – whereas most researchers treat variability in their data as error, she treats it as the part that could provide the answer. Secondly, there was a section on patient and service-user involvement, and a service-user talked to us about his experience. Conferences such as this benefit hugely from that input from those with the problems we research – they remind us why we do what we do, and that it’s not just pure science for the sake of science, it has real results, and impacts lives. Thirdly, there was a presentation of an exceptional piece of work from Linda Ng Fat, a PhD student at UCL funded by Alcohol Research UK, who has looked at existing data sets to examine the controversy surrounding beneficial effects of moderate drinking. Excellent stuff, and great to hear it from someone who is at the beginning of her career.
The annual lecture was given by Professor Robert West, a world expert on tobacco. I’ll confess, it made me rather wistful for the days when I was a smoker, despite the fact his lecture could not have articulated the harms, and the self-deception of smokers around those harms, any clearer.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Fortunately I’m on first, so after that I can relax and listen to everyone else. I’ll post my slides up on this blog after the presentation.