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Programmes | One for the Road

One for the Road
By Steve Condie, Programme Producer

"Alcohol the cause of and solution to all of life's problems" Homer Simpson

The sage words of the cartoon philosopher Homer Simpson would often come to me as we made Programme Two of the Booze series.

His insightful observation captures the attitude of many of the characters in the programme. From singer Mary Coughlan to astronaut Buzz Aldrin, booze was a refuge, a release and a devastating presence in their lives.

Mary Coughlan: "I had pint glasses of vodka all over the place"  real 56k

Dipso, soak, sot, bevvy merchant, piss artist, lush, alkie, wino. The words we use say a great deal about our attitudes to the subject of Programme Two: alcoholism.

They are a mixture of amusement, contempt, indulgence and indignation. Is it any wonder that many alcoholics are confused about their condition?

During the programme, we met men whose achievements are truly extraordinary. They have travelled to the extremes of human endurance and human endeavour.

Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Robert Swan is the only man to reach both Poles by foot. But booze does not respect intrepid efforts. Both stumbled into alcoholism upon returning from their adventures.

Why? Both point to a lack of purpose in their "civilian" lives, and the pressure of media attention. And both used the exhilarating buzz of booze as a replacement for the intensity of adventure.

But the most ordinary even mundane lives contain their own pressures. Toby is in his early 40's, has a wife, two little boys, a job in computers and a chronic alcohol dependency.

He allowed us to follow him through treatment at the Diana, Princess of Wales Centre in Norfolk.

His experience revealed deep and shocking things about his own life and a fascinating insight into a treatment regime in action.

Sharon Osbourne: "He just lunged on me and got me round the neck"  real 56k

Toby is open about the chaos that engulfed his life when he was on a serious alcoholic binge. That chaos also devoured the lives of musicians Ozzy Osbourne and Mary Coughlan.

Sharon Osbourne, saw her rock star husband veer between behaviour that was bizarre, bewildering, grossly offensive and ultimately, dangerously violent.

Sharon could cope with, even find humour in, his drunken disappearances or his attempts to bring groupies back to their hotel room.

His furious attempt to strangle her while under the influence was however one boozy incident too many. Only then, did Sharon realise how ill her husband was.

On the road alcoholic excess pushed Mary Coughlan to the edge. Her tours were soaked in booze on and off stage.

She would return home to her family and carry on boozing, secretly, stashing bottles around the house or locking herself in a room and downing around four bottles of vodka a day.

Robert Swan: "One minute you felt heaven"
 real
56k

The incident that propelled her into treatment is desperately sad. She renewed her binge drinking after a career break during which she had become pregnant. She suffered a miscarriage.

Her family loathed her, her children called her a "baby murderer". Her pain is powerfully communicated in the programme.

Since that devastating episode, Mary has been sober. She underwent treatment and now visits Alcoholics Anonymous.

A.A. are one off the great social movements of the last century. They have undoubtedly rescued lives, relationships, and families.

They have also advocated the idea that alcoholism is a disease. A disease of "the mind the body and the soul" as Mary Coughlan puts it.

Not all our characters got the point of AA though. Ozzy Osbourne went into treatment expecting AA teach him to settle for a glass of Chardonnay. When he came out, he was drunk by noon.

Over the years, an extraordinary variety of treatments have been used to beat alcoholism. From sterilisation to electro-convulsive therapy; to eating 28 lemons a day.

In the programme we investigate one of the more intriguing therapies, the use of the hallucinogenic drug LSD.

Dr Betty Eisner: "LSD was a threat to AA"
 real
56k

We traced Arthur King who underwent the programme at a hospital in Baltimore in the 60's. He remains convinced his exposure to an LSD trip allowed him to understand the reason for his drinking and how to stop.

Researchers today are pressing the case for LSD to be used again to treat addiction, including alcohol addiction.

Alcoholism is a complex condition with profound personal and social impacts. The science of addiction is still developing, the treatments are diverse and sometimes contradictory.

What is in no doubt, is that alcohol abuse destroys lives and that society needs to face up to the consequences of a culture that is soaked in booze.

You can watch One for the Road on BBC One on Tuesday, 19th March at 2235 GMT

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