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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         The politics of drinking
February 24, 2010



The Politics of Recovery

When I gave up my proper job eighteen months ago, the main reason was to give me time to research and write about what had happened to the pub industry in the two decades since the Beer Orders. I was soon up to my neck in the morass that is alcohol policy.

After nearly a quarter of a century reporting on pubs and drinks I was surprised to find how little I knew. The industry was walled off from the people making the policy. I donít mean the professional politicians whose job it is to negotiate a course between the industry, law and order and new temperance. I mean the researchers and theorists of whatís been called the alcoholism industry.

I became fascinated by the politics underlying all this and wanted to learn fast Ė and Iím not sure how Iíd have done that without the internet. Particularly helpful early on was the Daily Dose newswire, which is linked to Wired In an online community of people in recovery and practitioners in the field.

My Daily Dose was indispensable when it came to keeping track of the debates, but it also made me aware that there was a third community out there, equally remote from the drinks industry. It was the people in the frontline, those grappling with alcohol problems and those who help them.

This community has a distinctive and valuable approach to drugs and alcohol issues, and a special interest in getting to the roots of addiction. It has a tremendous contribution to make.

Itís also a community that helps each other. Mutual support has been shown to have a positive effect for people in recovery. Most often they find this through Alcoholics Anonymous. If theyíre not put off by the AA mumbo-jumbo.

But itís a neglected community. Yesterday a Wired In blogger expressed their frustration at the lack of financial support thatís needed to expand the service.

On this occasion itís worth you reading the comments, too. The suggestion is that the drug and alcohol treatment establishment donít want to encourage this kind of thing. They donít want people in recovery taking their recovery into their own hands.

Perversely, perhaps, I think there may be some unexplored common ground between the recovery community and the drinks industry. Iíve tried to bring them together in this blog and on Twitter.

When I started working for the pub trade press we werenít allowed to mention that alcohol could get you drunk, let alone that you could get addicted to it and do yourself and others damage.

Now we have industry initiatives like Drinkaware with £100m to spend on an education campaign. Itís a step forward I suppose. But I have to confess Iím with the new temperance orthodoxy here in being hugely sceptical about what good beer mats and fancy adverts are going to achieve. And it does look like corporate social responsibility PR.

Instead, how about handing over a small chunk of the cash to Wired In? A crazy idea, I know, but it makes perfect sense to a perverted mind like mine.

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