Following the recent death of Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the LibDem political party, two remarkable things happened.
Firstly, all the tributes that I’ve read were nothing less than complimentary about him. It’s often necessary to ‘read between the lines’ of such political accolades to discover what the writer really thought of the subject; but this just doesn’t apply here. Gerry Lynch referred to him on Slugger, here, and mentioned Alistair Campbell’s blog piece (here). Now, I’ve never been much of a fan of Campbell’s, Tony Blair’s spin doctor in chief, yet his tribute is quite remarkably genuine and sincere. And Campbell pulls no punches about Kennedy’s demon, one that they both shared.
Secondly, it was reported today (here) that Charles Kennedy died of a ‘haemorrhage’ caused directly by his alcoholism, the demon that Alistair Campbell referred to. There was no attempt to disguise what had happened, to ‘put a gloss’ on it, to try to present it as something that it wasn’t; it was a straightforward, courageous and honest statement.
What sort of disease is alcoholism? Is it a physical illness, a mental illness, some sort of a social problem? It’s really all of these. Alcohol causes a physical addiction, originating perhaps in a mental illness with a major social problem component. Exactly what it is an academic discussion, and a better understanding may well help in the future. But we are in the here and now.
For the present, surely it’s much better to realise it for what it is; a destructive illness that even the best help and support can’t always overcome. What we need now is an honest discussion about alcohol, the problems for individuals and for society in general. And what we certainly don’t need is a load of sanctimonious moralising from the usual suspects.
If you think that someone you know might be an alcoholic, you should seek advice and help:
The Samaritans are on: 08457 909090 (UK) and 116 123 (Ireland)
Robert Campbell is a retired surgeon.