DDN June2022 June 2022 - Page 11


‘ I

hope my openness today can help challenge the stigma that stops so many people asking for help ,’ Dan Carden told the Commons in an emotional and widely shared speech in July 2021 . ‘ Nothing would mean more to me than turning the pain I ’ ve been through , that I ’ ve put my family and loved ones through , into meaningful change .’
‘ I ’ m amazed , really , by the response I ’ ve had ,’ the MP for Liverpool , Walton tells DDN . ‘ I still get emails every week from people who ’ ve just seen it , or the speech has been shared in their AA WhatsApp groups or other recovery places . The number of people who ’ ve reached out and told me their stories and what they ’ ve been through has been wonderful .’
His alcohol use had been the result of ‘ desperate isolation ’ and ‘ shutting down ’ his personal life , he said in the Pride Month speech , as he had not come out as gay until he was in his 20s . He later stated that suppressing who he was had left a trauma , and he ’ s learned from being in recovery that ‘ you ’ ve got to do the work to uncover what it is that ’ s driving these behaviours ’, he says now .
PERSISTENT STIGMA ‘ I think everyone accepts that there ’ s stigma around addiction , and it took me a long time to decide to speak about it in the way I did ,’ he says – he was already in his third year of recovery when he made the speech . ‘ I wasn ’ t really expecting to do it but I saw a debate come up on Pride and I thought , “ if there ’ s ever going
to be a time to do it , this is the speech I want to do it in ”.’
He ’ d long been aware of the impact alcohol was having on him , and had been giving up drinking for ‘ a couple of months at a time , really out of necessity ,’ before entering treatment . ‘ I knew the damage it was doing to my body , my brain , my relationships – you might give up booze for a month or two , but you ’ re not actually treating the addiction .’
FIRST STEPS His first real attempt at seeking help came after a ‘ particularly bad episode ’, when his brother took him to an AA meeting in London . As an MP , that must have been a very stressful experience ? ‘ I ’ ll tell anyone about AA and recovery and all the rest of it these days , but going to that first meeting was terrifying ,’ he says . ‘ I ’ ve met so many people who are regular AA attendees since , and everyone goes through that fear – you can be from any profession or community , people are so fearful of the stigma . Because we don ’ t treat it as an illness , we treat it as a character flaw .’
It was that fear of walking into an AA meeting in the community as an MP – along with working in an institution famous for its drinking culture – that ’ s led him and some colleagues to set up a weekly Parliamentary estate AA meeting as a ‘ safe space ’ for anyone struggling with alcohol . ‘ I understand that AA isn ’ t everyone , but this is the first step towards achieving a long-term goal – that anyone who works on the Parliamentary estate who needs support , has it ’, he says .
TREATMENT VACUUM He ' s described the ‘ vacuum ’ of treatment when it comes to alcohol , and believes it remains the poor relation compared to drugs . While drug deaths are at an all-time high , they ’ re also accompanied by record increases in alcohol deaths ( www . drinkanddrugsnews . com / alcohol-specific-deaths-up-almost- 20-per-cent ). ‘ But you ’ ve got action being taken on drugs , the Dame Carol Black review , the additional funding , all of which I absolutely welcome ,’ he says . ‘ You ’ ve also got the gambling review and new legislation coming forward on that , and more action being taken on smoking . And nothing on alcohol .’
The new drug strategy , of course , was shaped by the recommendations of the Independent review of drugs . This is why he ’ d ‘ love to see a full Dame Carol Black-style independent review on alcohol ’, to inform the long-awaited alcohol strategy that will one day replace the decade-old current version .
‘ Because you ’ ve got to look at everything from the industry to advertising to recovery and treatment ,' he states . And , of course , it ’ s such a part of our culture . I don ’ t want to stop people drinking , but I think we have to be honest about the very powerful role that the alcohol industry plays – that ’ s something that hasn ’ t really been looked at .’
MINIMUM UNIT PRICING He ’ s previously tabled an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill calling for minimum unit pricing to be implemented in England because ‘ it ’ s crazy that we ’ re being left behind on this ’,
‘ We cannot simply arrest our way out of the country ’ s addiction crisis , we cannot punish the already marginalised into recovery , and we cannot end the pointless cycle of harm without evidence-based policy .’
he says . ‘ We know that the most harmful alcohol products are often the cheapest , and we know that alcohol does the most damage in the most deprived communities . There isn ’ t one thing that can be done to solve this problem , but I think proper pricing , and taxation , is a first step .’
One obstacle to reform , alongside the industry ’ s lobbying power , has been the way MUP is often misrepresented in sections of the media , and he ’ s been energetic in his efforts to put the record straight . ‘ I receive a lot of correspondence from constituents concerned about the impact taxation and minimum pricing will have on the hospitality industry , and I use that as an opportunity to write back and explain that it ’ s