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Postcards from Scotland

Tackling Scotland's Drink and Drugs Culture - What Next? 14th March 2011

Hilton Grosvenor Hotel (Byres Road/Great Western Road)

Tackling Scotland's Drink and Drug Culture: What Next? attracted over 300 participants from across Scottish life. It was a very different type of event for the Centre as it was the first time that we've been involved in organising a conference focussing on a specific social problem.  Our involvement was quite simple: the event was to take forward the Report of the Independent Inquiry into Drugs and Alcohol in Scotland ('Melting the Iceberg'). Carol Craig, the Centre's Chief Executive,  had been a member of the Inquiry Group and one of the Centre's Board members, Professor Phil Hanlon, was the principal adviser to the Inquiry.  STRADA (Scottish Training on Drugs and Alcohol), were very involved in the Inquiry and are taking forward its 'Circle of Care' recommendations, but it seemed more appropriate that the Centre which taps into a broad section of Scottish public life should organise this initial event.

The dominant theme of the report, which is reflected in its title, is that Scotland's involvement with drink and drugs can be likened to an iceberg. The people who have problems with these substances are 'the tip of the iceberg'. What we don't see so readily is the culture which lies beneath – the values, beliefs and practices endemic in Scotland which unwittingly encourage people to turn to drink and drugs. Of course we need to help those whose lives are blighted by drugs and alcohol but the report argues that as Scots we need to start facing up to the scale of the challenge and ask what we can do individually and collectively to 'raise the temperature of the water'.

The event was filmed and in time some of the material will be available to view. In the meantime here is a summary of the event.

In her introduction to the event, Joy Barlow, Chief Executive of STRADA, reminded us of some of Scotland's worrying statistics: we are 6th in the world in the use of illegal drugs and 8th for alcohol (England is 14th).  If we combine the ranking on drink and drugs Scotland is either top of the international league table for such substance misuse or first equal with Russia.

The keynote speaker at the event was Bruce Alexander, Professor Emeritus at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He is a psychologist with decades of experience in addiction and author of an important book on the topic, The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in the Poverty of the Spirit. Professor Alexander argued that addiction happens when people  become 'overwhelmingly involved' with substances or activities which are ultimately destructive to them or their society. Thus we can be addicted not just to drink and drugs but also to shopping, sex or the internet.  One of the most powerful parts of Professor Alexander's speech was his argument that those who take heroin are less damaging to society than CEOs whose addiction to money and power can have drastic social and economic consequences. Because Professor Alexander argues that addiction happens when people's psychological needs are not met then the problem can easily change from one substance or activity to another. This is why he was particularly fulsome in his praise for the Independent Inquiry report since the authors recognise that the issue is cultural.  (Please the menu on the left to access Professor Alexander's presentation.)

Carol Craig was the next speaker. She explained to the audience her involvement in the Independent Inquiry, that she was not an expert on drink or drugs and that that all she could say that might be helpful to the audience was an outline of the various perspectives which she found useful when writing The Tears that Made the Clyde. You can read a summary of these perspectives as well as view the few slides Carol used in her talk from the menu on the right.

Folowing these presentations there were four short talks in a session entitled 'Postcards from Scotland'. These were informative and moving sessions on how children in Scotland are being affected by harmful parental drinking; young people's 'drinking to belong' culture; the links between substance misuse and violence; and a perspective on hope and recovery from someone who has personally made this journey. You can access more information, and some presentations, from this session from the right hand menu.

The final main session was facilitated by Professor Phil Hanlon. During this interactive session people were invited to form small groups to discuss the full range of changes required to help 'melt the iceberg'. Participants were also asked to record some of the most important points on paper. We've grouped these into categories and you can access these also from the right hand menu.


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