Thursday, December 11, 2008

All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry Into Alcohol Treatment

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I wrote to my MP. Shamefully, I had to look up who my MP was on the internet before I could fire off my missive.

There is to be an all party Parliamentary inquiry into alcohol treatment, so, I thought I'd chuck my views at someone. I'm not at all sure I've gone about it the right way, but, this is what I wrote:

I am, I am ashamed to admit, a complete illiterate in the workings of our democracy (despite working as a local newspaper reporter for many years - I think that says more about our media than our Parliament though - "People aren't interested in politics," our editor used to tell us), so I apologise if I am making this approach in the wrong way.

I am also somewhat ill-informed as to what extent the NHS and alcohol services are devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, so I shall copy this email to my AM too.

I have been a user of services for alcohol abusers in London (Haringey, everyone's favourite London borough), Gloucestershire and Cardiff and I would like to say that in all these locations: there are not enough, they are understaffed and underfunded.

The waiting list to get even an initial assessment appointment through Cardiff Alcohol and Drugs Team is at least a month, to get on the list for a detox is even further in the distance - in the end, I have detoxed myself after my GP prescribed me Diazepam. Counselling is bi-weekly at best. The Fitzhamon centre is an excellent facility and worthy of more support.

It slightly saddens me to say that the most helpful support by far I have found is through a privately run website called, which is an online community of people with alcohol problems - if I could lobby for them to have some public funding or support I absolutely would. (Of course, this is fine for me, safe and secure and in a home with a nice shiny computer to indulge my verbosity on, and many people with alcohol problems will be in far worse situations than I).

I contacted a charity called Progress to Work - I have been unemployed for two years - who were, very apologetically, unable to offer me any help unless I admitted to a drug problem (I have used cannabis, but to say it was a major problem would have been essentially dishonest) and unless I was claiming benefit (my life over the past couple of years has been so chaotic that I am essentially outside the tax and benefit system; I am trying to remedy this now.)

When I was coming to the end of my most recent bout of drinking I saw pubs in your constituency packed with half-way house drug users and people in "supported" housing because of mental health problems - they have nowhere else to go and this is a tragedy.

I quite understand that drug users, particularly heroin users, need help too but the disparity in spending between drug and alcohol users is, in my view, disproportionate.

The last time I was in a public house, there was no publicity about seeking help for problems apart from a poster inviting people to take part in a BBC3 documentary on lives of excess - brilliant.

I absolutely acknowledge that laws - including the blunt instrument of increased pricing, taxation and the like - should not be made to cater to people like me, who are probably always going to have a problem with alcohol even if it were sold from fast-moving unmarked vans and only in return for diamonds and pearls. Those who can and so use alcohol responsibly shouldn't be penalised on our account.

I see alcohol related problems every day where I live - under aged drunks, of age drunks, homeless drunks - and almost none of these problems are related to public houses. I see under aged sales made in corner stores and minimarkets every day and have been approached by teenagers (not entirely without menace - I was able to say no, I don't know how a woman on her own would feel when approached in this way) to buy booze for them.

Young people are learning their drinking behaviour on the streets, not in licensed premises where there may at least be some social pressure to behave responsibly.

I do apologise if I am sending all this to the wrong person, and would be grateful if you could direct me to a more appropriate avenue if such exists. I also realise I've wandered all over the subject rather than concentrating simply on alcohol treatment services, and, again, I apologise for this.

I shall let you know if I get any response or if I can find out the correct way to contribute - I know Alcohol Concern are collecting opinions and there's a link to them on the right hand side of the blog.

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