Liverpool Addictions Conference 2012 – Part 1

On the 22nd March 2012 Liverpool John Moore’s University hosted Liverpool Addictions Conference. I spent the day with Tim Bingham INEF who had flown over from Ireland and the HIT girls Maddie and Lucy O Hare as well as the lovely Marie Tolman. In addition to Drugs including Alcohol the plenary and parallel sessions covered other forms of addiction such as Sex, Food, Gambling, Tobacco, the Internet & Gaming.

Maddie O Hare and Stacey Smith

Stacey Smith, Lucy O Hare and Tim Bingham

Posing for the camera. Oh dear. (Cheers Tim!)







Here is a brief overview of each session, a combination of the messages the speakers were getting across and my own musings.

Dr. Harry Sumnall introduced the day.

‘Addictions beyond substance use as behaviours driven by the same underlying factors’.

He spoke of a concept that I have often baffled my head over and that is why in society policy supports some addictive (and risky) behaviours but not others? Alcohol, Tobacco, Gambling are all risky and yet the Government legally allows them. Other (if we’re being honest and don’t read the Daily Mail) less harmful substances carry heavy penalties for their possession or supply. Well, we know the reason why. Money of course. Harry gave us some stats which were very telling. Annually the Government raise £15 BILLION on Alcohol tax, £800 MILLION is spent on Alcohol advertising. Unfortunately these figures equate to every £1 spent on education £100 being spent on Alcohol advertising. With the cuts in drug education this is even more depressing.

Professor Christian Muller talked about ‘Drug instrumentalisation’. Basically this means the non addicted use of pyschoactive substances as helpful tools for improving life and acknowledging there is a difference between addictive drug use and other use.

‘The vast majority of those who consume psychoactive drugs are not addicted’.

Really if you think about it we use drugs in this way legally all the time even if it is just Caffeine to wake us up in the morning. I’m interested in why people who use ANY psychoactive  substance at all can judge another person. We all have our feelings of choice.  Any of us can potentially take our pleasure to the point where it becomes more problematic to our lives. However, I think that we still need to get the message out there that there is a fine line (no pun intended) which can be crossed quite easily between less harmful use of drugs as ‘instruments’ and their problematic use. All use starts somewhere. We need to make people aware and as safe as possible. Another reason we need more preventative work out there.

He identified 9 behaviours that can be improved by the use of psychoactive drugs.

*Social Interaction      *Facilitated Sexual Behaviour

*Improved Cognitive Performance/Counteracting Fatigue      *Coping with Stress

*Self medication for mental problems      *Sensory Curiosity/Expanded Perception

*Euphoria, hedonia & high     *Improved physical appearance and attractiveness  *Spirituality & Religion

Of course all of these are reasons people use substances but we need to prevent the use of any substances or behaviour becoming an ‘addiction’. We need to be pragmatic and not bury our heads in the sand.

You can see more about his research here.

Risk Taking Behaviour – Dr. Jon Cole Department of Applied Psychology LJMU

Now I liked this bloke. He began by defining risk taking as …

‘behaviour with an adverse consequence’.

He highlighted the irony of the acceptability of some risk taking behaviours as opposed to others (climbing Everest for example, life threatening situation yet people sponsor others to do it!).

Young people take risks to assert their independence, establish their own identity, gain peer approval, assuage peer pressure and immediate gratification.

As a society we want this, young people and old. We want to feel good as quickly as possible and get what we want as quickly as possible.

The concept of optimism bias explains a lot. He used the common example of smokers. They know that smoking can kill  but will justify it by using a story of a 90 year old who smoked all their lives. While in most of my work optimism and positivity is important people need to get real too. Justifying the continuation of a risky behaviour using this optimism bias can only be a negative thing in the end. Literally the end in some cases.

The point he makes is that the immediate gratification, the good feeling we get from a substance or activity will far outweigh any thoughts of the adverse consequences. The ‘it won’t happen to me’  school of thought.  This has implications for drug education too. Jon suggests that young people’s time perception will also mean that telling them about things that can happen to them in their distant future is basically futile. A combination of their skewed time perception and optimism bias will mean information and advice given really needs to be honed to be more effective. (Again this brings me back to thinking about the drug education cuts. Go the ConDems!…No, really, just go!)

Drug Policy – Professor Alex Stevens

After following him for a good while on Twitter this was the first time I had met Alex Stevens. His session was on Drug Policy and he compared the U.S model and the EU model.

U.S. Model – more abstinence based, poorer access to healthcare and benefits.

Consequences of this have been: Drug related deaths have increased, HIV rates have increased, prison population has increased. In short a FAILURE.

EU Model – Stronger welfare support, better health care & housing, pragmatic approach including harm reduction and psychosocial inteventions, Public health more of a priority and some countries successfully decriminalising.

Consequences are that drug related deaths are more stable and a decrease in injecting drug use and HIV.

It unfortunately looks inevitable that with the recent and future cuts in welfare support in the UK it will make things even harder for people and we’ll be taking on more of the U.S style of continuing to lock more people up and withdrawing support for the most vulnerable.

So it seems we need to cross our fingers that we adopt our European neighbours policies than our U.S overlords. How can I put this politely….? Surely we’re in bed with them enough? Where is the sense in continuing with failed policy?

‘Oh well if America are failing with it then why not us too?’


Next up Tobacco Control & Marketing, Internet Gaming Addiction & Food Addiction. My fingers are flying…..

Thanks for reading, as always.


Follow me on Twitter @StaceInspire and @InspireHandM


Posted on March 27, 2012, in Alcohol, Blog, Dependency, Drugs and Alcohol, Friends of Inspire Health and Mind, Liverpool Addictions Conference, Recovery and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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