My nan is all kinds of great. She is strong. She had six kids in nine years. She worked. Raised a big family on very little. She's seen a lot of life and she never judges anyone. But there are some problems outside her realm of experiences these days. So as much as my nan remains my favourite person, she's not always the most relevant. Oldest is not always best.
I don't frighten easily. I lived in a constant state of fear for so many years that it takes a lot to reignite it and take me to that dark place now. But when I see people using end-stage alcoholics to measure their own drinking against? It frightens me. When I see the media latch onto one person, the exception to the rule that has been able to subject their body to horrendous amounts of alcohol abuse and still just about function? It frightens me. Alcoholism is not a p*ssing contest. There is no glory to be had in being further up the sliding scale than these individuals.
We got talking about a community that Danny had just visited in Italy called San Patrignano. It is arguably the world's best drug rehabilitation centre for young people, with a huge success rate of 72%.
Many people sneer at the idea that addiction is a disease. "Surely so-and-so can just stop drinking" they say about alcoholics, unaware that an alcoholic can't control his craving for more drink -- just as a cancer or diabetes patient can't control the progression of his disease. Anyone who knows an alcoholic, or a hard core drug addict, will know that many of them desperately want to give up but are unable to.
The British Government spends an estimated £800 million a year on what it calls "addiction treatment" but less than 2% of this is used to fund people to go into residential rehab. Most of the budget is spent on "revolving door" treatments such as home detoxes, community interventions and replacement drugs such as methadone.
Mr Branson, let me ask you a few questions: How many desperate mothers of addicts have you listened to? How many times have you taken an addict into your home and nursed him back to health, taking the time to understand him? Have you met with many who have lost all their money and possessions while a family member struggled through years of drug abuse?
When I was a student I thought cannabis was a harmless pastime, no worse than alcohol, and I was encouraged by the fact that it's not addictive. Many years later I ended up working for an addiction rehab clinic in Scotland where I found out that not only is cannabis addictive but the skunk version of the drug is known to send as many as 20% of users into a psychotic state.