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Phil Peverly: Mine's a double (standard)

Why don't doctors fulminate about alchohol as much as they do about other substances?

Why don't doctors fulminate about alchohol as much as they do about other substances?

Charles Kennedy was forced to resign last month after he admitted to a bit of a problem with booze. And while I'm sorry that the pressures of his job and presumably fatherhood have caused him to rely a little too heavily on the sauce, my gut reaction was to think 'Get in there son! Have one on me'.

For the first time in my life I thought there's someone I might have voted for.

This caused me pause for thought. Why do I, and doctors generally, have such a hypocritical relationship with alcohol? It's widely accepted that ethanol causes more health problems in this country than all the other drugs put together, yet I don't feel the same distaste for boozers that I do for those who abuse cannabis or heroin or anything else.

In fact I positively distrust people who don't drink. I saw Gryff Rhys Jones on the telly the other night, that bloke who used to be funny in the 1980s, making a toast with an empty glass. He was boasting that he hadn't had a drink in 15 years. I did a swift mental calculation and thought 'Yep. That's about the last time that you made me laugh'.

My favourite time of the week is Friday after evening surgery when the Extremely Cynical Group Of Sunderland GPs (as opposed to our rival social organisation, the Borderline Burnt-out Group) congregate at the Harbour View for our 'clinical debriefing'. Six or eight of us make a bee-line for the bar, take deep, refreshing quaffs from our nice cold pints, and in our traditional opening statement, simultaneously shout: 'You'll never believe what happened to me today!'

Several pints later, we have the mental fortitude for a weekend's quality time with our loved ones.Despite the fact that alcohol is a dangerous drug, we positively welcome gifts of it from our patients at Christmas. I'm not speaking for the profession as a whole, merely for every GP I have ever met personally.

I'm sure some of you out there wave away those ethically dodgy gifts with an airy 'alcohol is not for me, thank you. You may give that bottle of Devil's Piss to the church fair'.

But me, I line the bottles up and anxiously calculate whether they will last me into February.

I know I'm wrong. If a patient came in before Christmas and said: 'Thank you for your care over the year, doctor; here's a packet of 20 Regal,' I would not only reject the gift, I might even give a pompous little lecture. But what's the difference? Which, long term, is the more pernicious offering? But I will welcome with open arms gifts of wine, whisky, or even dodgy fruit-based neon-coloured liqueurs. So what if it is quince brandy? I'll get around to it after the fig liqueur (in a bottle shaped like a vase with four wizened figs in the bottom). I've given hearty thanks for a miniature of Taboo, something no-one in their right mind would drink. I've even shaken the hand of a man who gave me a bottle of disgusting Glayva, after he told me it was a gift from his daughter that he didn't dare tell her he didn't want.

We do a stressful job. We deal with pain and depression and distress and death every day. If there's a better way to wind down than putting your feet up with a book and an obscenely huge glass of Glenfiddich, or even pomegranate vodka, I'm yet to find it. Cheers.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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