I was saddened to hear about the passing of Charles Kennedy at the young age of 55. Having lost his father during the general election, and the seat he had held since the age of 23, he was under a lot of pressure. He was destined for a peerage, rightly so, and was a front runner to lead the ‘Yes’ campaign to keep the UK in Europe. But he was plagued by alcoholism that put his body and mind under considerable strain.

Our first EV branded programme was our Community Coaching Project. We train employees to coach and mentor disengaged young people from their local community and take them and their coach to the UKSA at Cowes for three days to develop trust and rapport. One young lad, let’s call him Bob, insisted he was 18 and therefore allowed to buy alcohol at the bar. I showed him his application form which placed him at 16 and he insisted his mum had falsified his date of birth to stop him being served alcohol. We called his mother, together, she confirmed that he was indeed only 16, but also informed me that her son was an alcoholic. Bob still insisted that his mum was lying. He offered to show me his driving license, I waited patiently for 15 minutes while he searched; he did not find it but tried to persuade me that his searching was proof enough. That night, despite our best efforts, he acquired a bottle of vodka and by 2am was drunk beyond belief.

The premise that alcohol or drug consumption is a matter of free will is a fundamental principle of our justice system. The argument goes that whilst people cannot be responsible for their actions whilst under the influence, their decision to consume it in the first place is made under free will and thus is a choice that they should be held accountable for. To view alcoholism as an illness would turn our society on its head, people would no longer be accountable for their actions, no drink driving convictions, no alcohol domestic violence convictions, we get the point. It is society’s view that addiction is a choice.

For people like Charles Kennedy society will be kind, calling him a gifted and talented man who was cursed with a dreaded affliction, a consequence of his environment perhaps. But when it happens to a nobody, someone like Bob perhaps, society is much less kind, his problems are seen as anti-social behaviour, loutish, and self inflicted.   So are these people victims, or simply people who make the wrong choices under free will. Regardless of which part of society they are from, it seldom ends well. This country has work to do.