Just say what?

When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs announced that our children were losing their halcyon days to booze and drugs, you could have guessed what the reaction would have been. For a start, what a fantastic headline-grabber; I’m getting parents, I’m getting – ooh – a whiff of celebrity, I’m getting base notes of self-guilt, and a light aftertaste of Puritanism with plenty of nose.

I’m not saying they’re wrong. I don’t have the facts to hand. I can’t have the facts to hand because no-one does, them included. Do you think the children they surveyed told them the truth about their drug and drink intake? I’m guessing some exaggerated for reasons of waxing machismo, a few told the truth, and more than a few of the more sensible ones lied because someone could hear. I’m also prepared to believe that most of the boys admitted to having a ten-inch cock and being able to kick your effin’ head in but, you know, not at the moment.

I’ve no idea what you have to be smoking to believe that you can collect reliable data on drug use from 13-18 year-olds, but they’re not the only one’s being sold it. Drugs get linked to kids the whole time. Perhaps more worrying should be, well, people operating machinery on drugs, people making public policy who are drunk more often than not, but more than anything I’d be scared of people basing laws on dodgy stats.

Some things I bet you know: It takes one hit of heroin to make you hooked. Cannabis is linked to psychosis. The maximum recommended intake of alcohol is 28 units a week. Ecstasy can kill you. These are all messages that are or have been sanctioned by the government in the last 20 years

But apply the cerebellum to the following: Heroin is safer than paracetamol. Cannabis only exacerbates schizophrenia in people already predisposed to it. 31 units of alcohol per week can be good for the brain. And do you know what separates these ‘facts’ from those in the paragraph above? They all came from papers written by doctors.

Here’s the rub. Almost everything you’ve been told about drugs and alcohol by government sources is, well, not bollocks, exactly – that would be unfair – but carefully selected to fit policy, spun out of all recognition when it didn’t suit, and rejected (even when from medical experts) if it recommended a solution that the executive didn’t like. Over half the amount alcohol abuse apparently costs the nation (£20 billion, if you were wondering) was basically invented. £11 billion was made up of “lost productivity through absences and illness’ for which the government department compiling the report admitted they had no data. Think I’m lying? Here’s the rider in full: “There is no indication as to how alcohol consumption relates to sickness absence. In fact there are no data currently collected on the number of days of sickness absence related to the use of alcohol for Britain or the UK as a whole.” Bottom of the report. And perhaps the most nebulous excuse ever for mislaying enough money to really offset that NHS debt. Twice.

And the worst bit is that I’m not even trying to suggest that there isn’t a drink problem in the UK. Nor am I suggesting that people should take drugs, that they aren’t dangerous, or that we don’t need coherent policy on tackling substance abuse. All I’m saying is that misleading the public is not, perhaps, the best. It’s counterproductive and counterintuitive. Like a suspicious spouse, once you discover that your main source of information is unreliable on one point it makes you wonder what else has been lied about. Granted, ‘government doesn’t always tell truth’ is hardly man bites dog, but on this issue in particular they have form for talking piss.


Do you remember the booze-fuelled breakdown in lawnordah that was going to result from the Licensing Laws being relaxed? Oh good. Now, think carefully, do you remember it happening? What about the massive increase in cannabis use that was meant to happen once it was downgraded – in stark contrast to the reduction in use that has happened in every other country that has done it? I do remember reading that heroin addiction levels soared after criminalisation in the early years of the last century, but times change.

There are many reasons that drug and alcohol abuse will always be demonised. I suspect that it comes down to the cultural appropriation of happiness; governments get you to vote for them on the promise that they will make your life happier, so the idea that you can buy temporary happiness in a bag from a bloke in Camden is a threat and an anathema. And – because it doesn’t hurt to say it more than once – no-one is saying getting smashed, snorted, ripped and screwed on anything from moth balls to morphine is a good plan. But please, stop the emotionalised balls.

I have every confidence that children smoke and drink. I did. I don’t think it is destroying their childhood. I think it’s part of childhood to break rules, push boundaries and do things you shouldn’t. But then I’m old-fashioned, you see.