Can a pill cure alcoholism? Film looks at how prescription drugs can fight addiction

Between one and 10 per cent of Canadians receive evidence-based treatment.

Mike Pond,Vancouver psychotherapist and an alcoholic, and his partner, Maureen Palmer, set out to make a film exploring the latest science on addiction treatment.



Research shows that addiction is approximately 60 per cent inherited and 40 per cent environment.

Their documentary Wasted by Bountiful Films, airs Jan. 21 on The Nature of Things on CBC-TV




People with a substance abuse problem are three times more likely to have a mental illness.

In this segment The Current spoke to:

  • Mike Pond,  psychotherapist in private practice.
  • Maureen Palmer, filmmaker and journalist.
  • Dr. Evan Wood, professor of medicine and Canada research chair at UBC.  He’s also an addiction physician and medical director for Addiction Services for Vancouver Coastal Health.

If you, or a loved one, have struggled with alcoholism and getting treatment, or if you have experience with the medications for alcoholism, let us know how effective they were for you.  

Send us an email. Reach out on Facebook or on Twitter@TheCurrentCBC.

This segment was produced by The Current’s Liz Hoath.


Professional cellist reveals she hid her alcohol addiction by sipping vodka on stage from a water bottle

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Rachael, pictured performing Scala at London, recalls how she would perform on stage at venues like The Royal Albert Hall and lean down to have sips of alcohol from her water bottle in every break


An award-winning cellist who has been on tour with London Grammar and worked with Beyoncé and Alt-J has revealed how her life was nearly ruined by an addiction to alcohol.

Rachael Lander, 31, from South London has been sober for eight years after realising she was risking her career, health and happiness with her dependency.

At the height of her problem, she was decanting vodka into water bottles first thing in the morning in supermarket toilets so she could sip the alcohol in secret on stage.

‘I was doing some high powered stuff playing in professional orchestras but I was doing it drunk,’ she admitted, sharing her story in a new Channel 5 documentary on alcoholism airing this evening.

Rachael recalls how she would perform on stage at venues like The Royal Albert Hall and lean down to have sips of alcohol from her water bottle in every break in her performance.

She said: ‘I would think “I just have to get through to that sip”, that was how I was living.

‘I spent a lot of time in the public toilets of supermarkets putting own brand supermarket vodka into water bottles and then wrapping the glass bottle and putting it in the Tampax bin quietly.

‘I would see myself from above and think “what is wrong with this picture? How did this happen?”‘

She believed her high-pressured career was to blame after she discovered her love of the cello at the age of eight and followed in the footsteps of her parents to become a professional musician like them.

‘I really fell in love with the instrument, I really wanted to be the best cellist and I worked really hard, sometimes I think it was my first addiction, it gave me an escape from myself,’ she said.

She attended the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester and then joined the National Youth Orchestra where she would take part in the BBC Proms led by world-class conductors.

But as much as she loved the cello, she said performing under such pressure in front of large audiences with renowned conductors caused her to feel anxious and nauseous.

‘When I was sitting in orchestra sections my heart would start beating and I could feel adrenaline like a chemical,’ she said.

‘I was really conscious of the fact there was lots of people there looking at me and I had to keep my s**t together otherwise everyone would know.

‘I was angry with myself all the time, I thought “pull yourself together”.’

Teenage heartbreak then led her to discover that alcohol could banish her feelings of fear and anxiety.

She said: ‘I had a break-up when I was 17, I felt awful and I drank a brandy and it took the edge off.

‘I thought, “hello that’s it”, from that minute the link had been made in my head, you don’t have to take it anymore, you can feel like this, I used to take it like medicine.’

Rachael said she started to carry vodka in her handbag ‘just in case’ she needed a sip to calm her nerves ‘and be able to function’ and this led to her drinking it throughout the day.

Like many alcoholics, she didn’t think she had a problem.

‘The real tragedy of alcoholism is you are the only person who doesn’t know you have got it,’ she admits.

As she continued to feel unhappy, she believed her career was to blame so she decided to give up playing the cello and become a waitress.

‘I thought there is no way I will drink like this as a waitress because I won’t be scared all the time,’ she said.

However she admits it was then ‘bewildering and depressing to find on her way to work as waitress I would feel panicky and need a drink and then I would be a drunk waitress.

‘I remember thinking “f*** it is not the cello, it is me”.’

Rachael shares her story in the Channel 5 documentary along with other alcoholics who reveal how they became addicted and then finally found the road to recovery after realising they had a problem.

As she kept losing jobs because of her alcohol addiction she knew she had to get help as ‘I couldn’t live the way I was but I couldn’t live without the alcohol either.’

After confiding in a therapist, Rachael was referred to group therapy sessions with other addicts which helped her deal with her problem.

She said speaking to others who knew exactly how she felt made a huge difference.

‘People would say “just cut down” they didn’t understand,’ she said.

‘At the meetings I met people who did understand and they didn’t judge, they weren’t even sympathetic, they just said “yes”.’

It was also at the meetings that she met her husband, Rob, and they now have a baby together.

Rachael has been sober for eight years and picked up her cello again with her career going from strength to strength.

In recent years, she has recorded with artists including Beyoncé, Rudimental and George Michael.

She also appeared on a Channel 4 programme Addicts’ Symphony in 2014, where ten classical musician – whose lives had been blighted by addiction – were brought together for a special concert.

However mother Rachael admits she is ‘terrified of falling off the wagon’ and now won’t touch alcohol at all.

She said: ‘I don’t think I am recovered alcoholic. I am a recovering alcoholic. If I have a drink I know all the good stuff I have done will be gone.

‘People say “you will have a drink eventually right?” But now I feel would rather have my leg amputated than have a drink.’

Speaking about how she has managed to kick the habit, she said: ‘To get to that point of realising I could never drink again it had to sink in.

‘I had to realise I am an alcoholic, I am powerless over my desire to drink and when I start, I can’t stop drinking.

‘Sobriety has been an exercise in feeling difficult stuff and not using anything on it.’

I’m An Alcoholic: My Name Is is on Channel 5 this evening (Wednesday) at 10pm 

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THE LAST HURDLE: How chef Matty Matheson beat alcoholism
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jan. 01, 2016 1:59PM EST
Last updated Friday, Jan. 01, 2016 2:27PM EST

The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail

What does it take to vault a personal obstacle? This is part of a collection of stories in which five Canadians reflect on leaping over the barrier that was holding them back. Read the other stories here.

I have been a psychopath since forever, an all-or-nothing kind of guy. I remember going to concerts at an early age. I would sneak into bars at 16, and I got my first tattoo at 17. I got kicked out of high school for fighting. I beat up a kid pretty bad.

Me and my friends would drive around on the hoods of our cars. We were the kings of bush parties. We’d bring out drums and have big fires, and the after-party was always at my house.

Eventually, I got into culinary school at Humber. It was the only college I got accepted to. I had a natural ability, and I instantly loved it. After, I got a job at Le Sélect Bistro. That was where I learned to make classic French food, where I fell in love with everything.

Then I worked at La Palette, and that was debauchery. You want to talkKitchen Confidential? That was us drinking every night, doing drugs, partying. It was an actual pirate ship. I’ve never listened to more Tom Waits in my life.

When I opened Oddfellows, it was just an extension of that. All I had to do was cook good food, and I could party. You drink till 6 a.m., you sleep till 11. Then on your days off, you drink really hard.

When Parts and Labour hit, it got crazy. There were no rules. It was the craziest restaurant, the loudest restaurant in the city. I could party even harder, because I had a team, and I didn’t have to cook cook any more. I was doing drugs and alcohol every day. We had the perfect space for it. I’d do anything. I loved coke, I loved MDMA, ecstasy, K. I’d take any pill. Smash three Ms, do an eight-ball.

Then, when I was 29, I had a heart attack. Everything kind of caught up. I woke up with this crazy pain. It was like something was gripping my heart, and I couldn’t make it stop. It was something I’ve never felt.

Doctors said I was lucky to be alive. I was in the hospital for five days, back to work in 10. I was supposed to take time off, but restaurants don’t stop. I quit partying for about three months. Then I had a drink, and all of a sudden, I was back in the grips of partying.

My friends, my girlfriend, everyone was worried about me. I didn’t care that I’d had a heart attack, but everyone else did. I had drug dealers that wouldn’t sell me drugs. I started going to different bars, and I started getting different drug dealers.

I didn’t want the party to be over, but everyone was getting off the party. Everyone was growing up, and everyone was trying to make Parts and Labour a really good restaurant. And I kept on being the kid. Everyone was just tired of Matty fucking everything up.

I kind of had an intervention. It was three friends, and they just said, “You’re done.” And I said, “Okay, I’m done.” I haven’t had a drop in two years. It’s still an ordeal every day. I travel the world, and I can’t drink wine. I miss drinking really good wine and beer.

My identity was the party guy. Any chef that came from out of town would come and want to party. Chefs love living well, but there’s a fine line between living well and going past excess. Like why are you chugging champagne? I was the loudest, the craziest. I was the showboat.

Everything has changed in those two years. I’ve filled up with other shit. I oversee four restaurants. I’m working on an international show with Vice; I’m working on a cookbook. I’m about to have a kid. I can do everything, because I’m never hung over. I wake up in the morning, and I get a lot done before noon. I never used to wake up before noon.

This has given me everything I ever wanted. Now I’m at the beginning of who I actually am. The best version of me is this. It’s not the party guy, it’s not the drunk funny chef. It’s me.

How Much Alcohol Is Safe? Perhaps Less Than We Thought

JAN 8, 2016 @ 01:00 PM

The British government has just updated its guidelines for how much alcohol is safe to consume, based on the latest research. The recommendations are stricter than earlier ones, which had been issued back in 1995, and were due a tweaking. And interestingly, they come in the same week as the U.S. issued its new and somewhat vaguer dietary guidelines, which sparked serious controversy in the other direction–with critics arguing they were far less strict and scientifically grounded than they should be. So should we follow the more sciencey lead of the Brits? Possibly–but remembering that moderation is generally good advice for most things.

Photographer: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg

The major change in the U.K.’s new guidelines, issued by Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, is that both sexes should follow the same advice: Men and women alike should stick to no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which is the equivalent of five to six pints of beer, or six to seven glasses of wine, per week. The previous upper recommendation for men had been 21 units per week, and 14 units for women. So what’s really changed is that the recommendations for men have been reduced to what they’ve been for women for a long time. The hope is that the risk of disease, cancer in particular, will also be reduced with the new recommendations.

The authors add that there’s really no safe level of drinking–any level, they say, carries some health risk with it–except for women over 55. “Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone,” said Davies, “but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.” For women over the age of 55, five units per week offers some heart benefit, but over this amount, the benefit disappears.

And for pregnant women, a glass here or there won’t do. Although total abstinence during pregnancy has in the U.S. been somewhat more a subject for debate in recent years, the new recommendations in Britain make clear that abstinence is best. “I want pregnant women to be very clear that they should avoid alcohol as a precaution,” said Davies. “Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drunk small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant.”

Finally, a person shouldn’t “save up” their drinking all for one night of the week. That is, 14 units on a Saturday night is much more hazardous to one’s health than having two units per night. Binge drinking has in recent years had some damning research behind it, as at the same time it’s become clear that more people binge drink than previously thought.

Some critics have condemned the new recommendations for being too strict and serving as an example of government fear-mongering. But as Davies told the BBC, this isn’t scare tactics, it’s science. “If you take 1,000 women, 110 will get breast cancer without drinking. Drink up to these guidelines and an extra 20 women will get cancer because of that drinking. Double the guideline limit and an extra 50 women per 1,000 will get cancer. Take bowel cancer in men: if they drink within the guidelines their risk is the same as non-drinking. But if they drink up to the old guidelines an extra 20 men per 1,000 will get bowel cancer. That’s not scaremongering, that’s fact and it’s hard science.”

Whether other countries will follow suit remains to be seen. The new U.K. recommendations are now the tightest in Europe–and given how fuzzy the new dietary guidelines in the U.S. are, we may not jump on the strict-and-sciencey bandwagon any time soon. But if nothing else, maybe the U.K.’s move will make policy makers in the U.S. and other countries think about putting science first, and standing behind it.