With support, there is life after addiction

Radio: The Science of Addiction, BBC Radio 4; reviewed by Kate Johnstone.

This is a one-off programme by addiction specialist Sally Marlow (and – full disclosure – my co-Associate Editor for this section of The Psychologist). Sally is also a Public Engagement Fellow at King’s College London, and this pithy half hour demonstrates why she is well suited to that role.

Explaining the psychology and neuroscience behind addiction is not easy, but the programme squeezes in the salient points: namely, the complex interplay between genetics, social support and environment which can make one person addicted, but the next person not. The programme is woven through with interviews with people recovering from addiction. Whilst there’s variation in the drugs used, the themes of neglect, poverty or abuse are consistent.

Different response to different types of drugs may have a root in genetics, but if that drug is not available, or too expensive, then an individual is much less likely to become addicted. The explosion of cheap heroin and benzodiazepines in places such as Liverpool and Glasgow in the 1980s, for example, created a whole addicted generation. Availability and price are also both significant factors when it comes to legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

The programme also considers the efficacy of addiction treatment, and why it’s not a cure. Although the drug may leave your brain and body, long-lasting automatic behaviours are not completely reversible.

And drug and alcohol addiction rates are still sky high, despite all we know about addiction and the treatments which are available. But this is against a background of up to 80 per cent cuts in treatment services, which are also fragmented, and challenging for individuals to access. Fundamentally, those with strong social support systems are much less likely to relapse than those who do not have them. But with that support, there is life after addiction.

- Reviewed by Kate Johnstone, Associate Editor for ‘Culture’.

Listen now on iPlayer.

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