You can be addicted to adrenalin, tanning, body-building, overeating, arson, undereating, texting, gambling, sex, work, porn, cosmetic surgery, computer games, self-harm, power, powerlessness, smoking, masturbation, caffeine, exercising, stealing, violence, vomiting, exposing yourself, social networking, shopping, religion, pleasing people, perfectionism, collecting junk, making money and to any one of a thousand of pharmacology's greatest "hits".
The Ministry of Sound reckon you can be addicted to bass and Robert Palmer points out you can also be addicted to lurve.
But it's the addiction to alcohol that is the one that I find the most horrifically fascinating.
How can it be so widespread in all cultures, so apparently random in its victims and why is it so difficult/impossible to cure ?
Although alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes, end-stage alcoholics have had all the personality drained out of them, and yes they look and behave very similarly indeed. And unfortunately that's the kind of alcoholic we get through the Magistrates court.
Unless you're a social worker or a Magistrate or live with an alcoholic yourself, I'm not convinced you would know how damaged these guys and gals are. You'll maybe have an image of drunk people shouting, fighting and chucking up in the street on a Saturday night. Most of these people aren't alcoholics at all - they'll feel rotten in the morning, sleep most of Sunday and have a quiet night on Sunday. Merely enthusiastic amateurs.
Let me take you through the five levels of true alcoholism :-
(1) Adaptation - you drink so much and so often that your body chemistry changes so that the same level of alcohol has less and less effect.
(2) Losing Control - you drink to avoid feeling lousy rather than drinking to feel good. Thanks to your body's adaptation you need to drink so much you can't remember what happened the previous night. You don't drink just in the evenings - every hour is happy hour now. People start noticing and your work is noticeably affected.
(3) Manipulation - your life, assets and friends are used like chess pieces to get you the drink that is your main reason for living.
(4) Control, What Control ? - drink, pass out, drink more, repeat until drink gone, beg/borrow/steal more drink, drink that, repeat
(5) End State - body and mind broken, alcohol is consumed as a reflex until death occurs through organ failure, poisoning, choking, hypothermia or suicide.
We had a late stage alcoholic in the dock this Monday. He was overweight and sweat was gushing out of him. He'd been picked up on Friday night stealing meat from a supermarket to swap for booze and so when we saw him he hadn't had a drink in 60 hours and was really struggling. He had advanced heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. He was in his fifties but he had the face of an eighty year old who had died the previous month.
He had a considerable history of crime - back when he was just a Stage 1 or Stage 2 alcoholic, he had raped and burgled houses. Recently though he was only capable of drunk and disorderly and shoplifting - a cynic would have said that in this case, alcohol does seem to have done the world a favour.
He had failed many times to attend alcohol treatment programmes and recently the Magistrates had adopted a familiar pattern of giving Conditional Discharges where they could and short prison sentences when they couldn't. We decided this was one of those "couldn't" occasions, so off to prison he went.
Well, not quite. He reportedly collapsed in the cells and had to treated by paramedics. I'm sure the prison authorities won't thank us for dumping him on them, but what exactly were we meant to do ?
In a perfect world, maybe we would stuff him in a taxi to The Priory where he would receive the medical and psychology help he needed before being released, a new man, back into a society to which he would now be capable of contributing.
**Rude word deleted ** !
You can't effectively section somebody for stealing bacon. And would people start feigning addiction to get a nice cushy rest-cure rather than prison ? And what about the shops - the law needs to protect them from having their shelves stripped bare. Remember, it's not all about the criminal - the victims' interests also need to be considered.
And anyway, Amy Winehouse continues to lose her fight against alcoholism despite receiving the best help that money can buy, so there's no guarantee that even the "dream" solution would get the job done.
I had a momentary mental panic about sending a dying, sick man to prison. But that's what Magistrates do on your behalf. If you don't like it, write to your MP and tell us to stop.