I have a huge interest in the effects of problem drinking and addiction to alcohol, and in recovery. However, a bit like my other interest disability, there’s a limit to how many ‘white elephants’ I can talk about in relation to the legal profession, otherwise the ‘white elephant’ in currency terms will become devalued. Notwithstanding that, lawyers who have a drink problem do need medical help, I feel. It’s probably true that the vast majority of lawyers and law students know how to have a social drink, and shouldn’t be unfairly stigmatised for doing so.
Like London buses, nothing was in eyesight, until several sightings came along at once recently for me. Alex Aldridge on Monday set the ball rolling with his article in the Guardian, “Law’s problem with alcohol is slowly being addressed – but is still hush-hush“. The article explains elegantly how drinking is indeed said to be part of the culture in deal-making particularly in the City, but also explains how there may be a spectrum of lawyers from ‘law anoraks’ who are driven by academic results to those with severe dependence problems. It is my belief that true alcoholics are those people who do not know how to stop at one drink, so will nearly always keep going until something catastrophic occurs. On Thursday, Paul Venton, Chairman of LawCare, wrote a truly terrific piece in the Law Gazette entitled, “A heartfelt thanks”. Paul writes, “On many occasions, the assistance we have been able to provide to those afflicted by the curses of drug or alcohol dependency, or the debilitating effect of stress in their lives, has avoided personal and practice tragedies and the wider ramifications they entail.”
I believe robustly that those with true dependency problems will need to spend a life in recovery for their own safety, but for individuals with mild problems more bespoke medical help may be suitable. This is one person’s view, and not advice to other law students or practising lawyers. On Wednesday evening, I was gripped by a lecture by Prof David Nutt, @profdavidnutt, an academic who was sacked as being the Government’s advisor on drugs by the last government but who is now Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. In a pleasant chat after the lecture, held at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford, I suggested to him that a team of his PhD students or postdocs should look at the frequency of ‘alcohol’ appearing in the Part II of death certificates in the UK, and examining whether this tallied up with the prevalence or incidence of alcoholism in vivo in the UK.
Prof Nutt interestingly provided that he had found the Liberal Democrats the most in line with his personal views about the tone of regulation. His lecture, chaired by Prof Guy Goodwin from the University of Oxford Warneford Hospital for psychiatry, described how the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was not ‘fit for purpose’, the Dutch cafe experiment, how the harm from alcohol was often much more than from other drugs, how alcohol abuse was globally a cause of disability according to WHO, how alcohol was recently not allowed even through necessity for medicinal purposes, the distinction between legalisation and decriminalisation (in the Q/A session afterwards), “equasy”, and how Francis Crick is alleged to have dreamt up the structure of DNA, amongst many other issues. It was obvious that Prof Nutt felt the debate about the regulation of drugs had been stifled in recent years, but strongly urged people to keep up-to-date with the latest developments on his blog, particularly since reports in the media were so unreliable.