At least Ireland now recognises it has a drink problem

The Government's decision to implement legislation to regulate the sale and use of alcohol is winning widespread praise from those who deal with the fallout from alcohol abuse.

"Families can now close ranks and look at the real dangers of alcohol abuse," says Andrew Conway, senior clinical child psychologist with the Mater hospital.

"Our children are supposed to be our treasures, but what are we doing to protect them? The permission we give our children to drink is a national scandal.

"We need to deal with this urgently, because we're talking about a lot of children and the tremendously disabling brain disease of alcoholism, which robs a child and their family of the personhood of this child."

Like many people working with adolescents in the county, Conway recognises the value of this legislation."If we did not have new laws, the country would need a rash of treatment centres in 10 years' time to deal with the problem," he says.

Addiction counsellors will be the first to recognise the Government's vital step towards national recovery. Because when an alcoholic admits that they have a problem, they're more than half-way into the solution.

When a government recognises its country has a problem, it stands on the same ground. These new laws, and more to follow, bring hope -- a national campaign for recovery can begin. Of course, it's regrettable that the legislation has taken this long, but denial and resistance is the nature of the beast. Like an addict, the country needed to hit rock bottom before it was ready to face its problem.

Until now, those working with the negative consequences of alcohol abuse were managing upwards -- it was difficult to create awareness of the ill-effects of excessive drinking when our Government was colluding in the denial.

But that's over now. Every great journey begins with a first step. So where to from here?

Conway wants a well-funded prevention campaign across the board (health, justice and education). In particular, he'd like to see a huge improvement in recreational facilities in schools. "This will offer kids a resource they need, particularly the disadvantaged ones, who are going to off-licences after school," he says.

Standing on this, in terms of adult awareness, I would suggest a national advertising campaign targeting 30 to 50 year olds.

The advertisement showing a boy jumping off a building and smashing to the ground because he thinks he can fly is excellent for adolescents. But what about demonstrating the dark powers of alcohol for adults who, when they drink, think they too can fly?

What would we see if we televised a dinner table of adults getting drunk, or a group of parents with children nearby?

Last week a friend of mine told me about her drinking escapades in the Eighties -- which, on hindsight, she regrets.

A group of mothers would meet for a boozy lunch in a Dublin hotel and get the doorman to collect the children who would do their homework in the lobby while they got smashed next door. I didn't ask if cars were crashed as a result of these sessions, but I bet many little hearts crashed when they saw their withering mum on a bar stool.

"We didn't know the extent of the harm we were inflicting," she said. Which is understandable. Because when we're drinking, we don't see ourselves.

Far from it, we think all is well. That's the magic of booze -- it casts a spell. Because alcohol tells lies -- some are harmless and fun but others hurt how we want to see ourselves and behave towards those around us. A sensitive television campaign, informing not shaming, could be effective for a new national mental health programme.

The idea of a country in recovery from addiction is not new. Anne Wilson Schaef, a no-nonsense best-selling author, introduced this idea more than 10 years ago in her book, When society Becomes an addict.

It has had several editions since, but each book outlines the symptoms of a society that admits it's an addict and offers a programme on how that society can get well.

Introducing her subject, she says: "The good news is that, like the individual alcoholic/addict, an addictive system can recover. But before this can happen we must name and accept the disease. We must admit that the society we care about has a disease and can recover from that disease.

"We must also be willing to do the necessary work towards recovery. This is a long process that eventually requires a shift to a new system, one I call the Living Process System." Schaef recognises that addictions can be divided into two categories: substance addictions (alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine and food); and process addictions (accumulating money, sports, gambling, sex, work and worry).

Her views on how to deal with them are controversial but thought-provoking.

She says an addicted society is a dishonest one and that its addictive system reveals itself in the three "ifs" of the individual addict -- 'If only', 'As if' and 'What if'.

Defining these addicts, Schaef says the 'if only' addict is dishonest about the past. The 'As if' addict is dishonest about the present, while the 'What if' addict is dishonest about the future.

For many working in the complex field of addiction, it's wholesome stuff. But, staying in the present, the Government legislation is the first and vital step for a national recovery programme.

It's great news.
source: Independent ie