Charles Kennedy's battle with the bottle is out in the open. For him it is probably the first step on his road to recovery. I doubt that he will survive as Liberal Party leader, but his liver might recover. Drunks are very plausible characters. Amiable, amusing, daring, smart; they impress the people around them until they shamble into incoherence.
No-one should be surprised that Charles lied about his dependence on alcohol; lying is what alcoholics do. I remember the Ray Milland film "Lost Weekend". He was willing to do anything to get a drink - lie, cheat, steal, betray. It is an accurate picture.
My daughter is a junior doctor in a busy medical unit. She has been astounded at the number of young women admitted to hospital in terminal liver failure. We used to think that it took 20 years of heavy drinking to develop cirrhosis. She believes that for women, three years is sufficient.
I once had a patient in his forties who came to see me because he had large red blood cells. It was immediately apparent that he was both a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. he had recently remarried. His second wife was a woman aged 23. I explained to them both that they had to change his lifestyle. We decided to try one thing at a time. His 60 cigarettes a day habit was the first target. I referred him to the Stop-Smoking Program. Two weeks later he was admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis and died. His wife pummelled me on the chest, "I could put up with the smoking; why didn't you stop him drinking?" As if I could.
In the past ten years mortality from cirrhosis of the liver has doubled in Scotland and increased by more than two thirds in England and Wales. Although, England and Wales still have among the lowest cirrhosis death rates in Europe - similar to Holland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden, Scotland has among the highest, similar to Austria, Germany, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and France. However, alcohol consumption and cirrhosis have been reducing in many of the European wine-producing areas, but both are increasing in the UK. The problem is greatest in Scotland. Kennedy is, of course, Scottish. (See Leon and McCambridge. Liver cirrhosis mortality rates in Britain from 1950 to 2002: an analysis of routine data . The Lancet, 2006, 367:52-6.)
The British government is suspiciously friendly to both the tobacco and alcohol lobbies. The notrious gift from Bernie Ecclestone which coincided with the decision to allow tobacco advertising to continue on Formula One racing cars, the 'open-all-hours' policy for pubs and clubs despite widespread opposition, the failure to do anything about the widespread smuggling of wine and tobacco from France (supply of French Hypermarkets is a major outlet for British tobacco and alcohol producers), and even the downgrading of cannabis (if it ever becomes licensed the tobacco manufacturers stand to make a killing) all suggest to me that the British governement is in hock to the unacceptible face of capitalism.
It also helps to explain why despite unprecedented increases in funding the national health service is failing.