Declan Lynch: Dry spells feed the addict's delusion of being in control
Alastair Campbell aside, abstinence for a recovering alcoholic needs to be permanent
Published 06/01/2013 | 05:00
Dry January is a campaign launched in Britain by the Alcohol Concern group. It is aimed at "social rather than alcohol dependent drinkers", encouraging them with the aid of sponsorship from family and friends, to go off the drink for January.
It has received the support of Alastair Campbell, once described as the second most powerful man in Britain; in truth, the most powerful. It seems on the whole like a pretty good idea. But, of course, it is not.
It is a desperately bad idea.
So bad, indeed, that it seems inevitable that it will be taken up by similar groups in this country, where we have always fancied a month off in January or maybe November, essentially for tactical reasons – to prepare ourselves for another onslaught.
Indeed, I have always found that these months of abstinence are most favoured, not by "social drinkers", whatever they are, but by people with terrible drink problems – it helps to maintain the delusion that they can "give it up whenever they want", whereas of course they have no intention of giving it up, and if anything they are preparing to escalate their drinking to new levels once they have languished for this brief time in purgatory.
As for the "social drinkers", if they have no deeper problems with alcohol, why would they bother giving it up at all?
It is argued that anything which encourages such people to have a look at the amount they are drinking can only be a good thing. And yet for some mysterious reason to do with the baffling nature of alcohol itself, it just doesn't work like that.
On the whole, anything which encourages the drinker to maintain the delusion that he is in control of the situation is bound to be more of a bad thing than a good thing. Because the maintenance of such delusions is at the very heart of the addiction.
I doubt if there is a man or woman in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous who has not done the January or the November thing, who actually found it quite easy, knowing that there was a great reward at the end of it – a drink.
Indeed, the drinker can put up with just about any deprivation if he knows that there is a drink at the end of it. You could say that going off it for a month actually enhances the alcoholic experience.
And I am not just saying this because Alastair Campbell has weighed in with his support for Dry January. Though as it happens, since he became an advocate of his own crazy style of alcohol awareness, almost every contribution that Campbell has made has been, as they say, unhelpful.
He acknowledges the confusion in his own position, which goes something like this: he is an alcoholic, who started drinking again. An alcoholic, it has to be said, on the grand scale, a major drunkard even by the awesome standards of Fleet Street. And then having stayed "dry" for 13 years, he started to have the occasional glass of wine.
Indeed. . .
So far, he says, he has never got drunk. And as to why he would take such a risk – against all known best practice and the advice of his psychiatrist – knowing that it has the potential to send him back to the hell from which he once emerged, he says: "I like to test myself."
Now, that is fine. If Alastair Campbell wants to test himself, let him go ahead and do it. And if it is working for him, let him raise a toast to himself the next time he feels like taking a walk on the wild side, with a discreet glass of red.
What everyone else needs to know is that Alastair is almost on his own out there in that happy state. Because it is a very rare recovering alcoholic indeed who can take the occasional glass of wine without wanting an occasional 14 or 15 on top of that. Just for old times' sake.
But more to the point, it is a very rare recovering alcoholic who would ever want to put himself in that position – after going to all the trouble of giving up the damn thing in the first place, and putting the necessary distance between himself and all the wreckage he left behind him, why would any person with the most basic level of common sense want to torment himself with "the occasional glass of wine"?
Again that is a matter for Campbell himself, and it must be said that he cuts a most attractive figure for certain poor devils out there, the alcoholics who also want to drink in a "controlled" way, which is a contradiction in terms, but you know, if it works for Alastair Campbell. . .
He is, as we know, a man of enormous ego and willpower. He may feel that he can go against the accumulated wisdom of generations of alcoholics who have found his way of dealing with the situation to be catastrophic in their own lives – interestingly, he doesn't seem to object to being called a "former" alcoholic, which again goes against the classic analysis.
But Campbell's reputation was established in politics, which is a world of bullshit. He is not in Westminster any more, having his way with the assembled wretches of the lobby.
This is serious.
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