ADDICTION LIVES: Moira Plant

First published: 24/02/2019 | Last updated: September 20th, 2019

                             

 

In this occasional series in conjunction with the SSA’s journal Addiction, we record the views and personal experiences of people who have especially contributed to the evolution of ideas in the journal’s field of interest. Moira Plant is Emeritus Professor of Alcohol Studies at the University of West of England in Bristol UK and Adjunct Professor at Curtin University Perth Australia. Her main research interests include women, alcohol and mental health, drinking in pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and she is also a psychotherapist and trains and supervises counsellors. Moira was the UK lead on the Gender Alcohol and Culture: An International Project (GENACIS) which now includes over 40 countries worldwide, and has acted as a consultant to the World Health Organisation, the UK and other governments, and the US Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD).

 

ADDICTION (A): Hello I’m Professor Virginia Berridge from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and I’m now going to interview Professor Moira Plant for the next in the series of interviews in the Addiction Lives series.  Moira, welcome. We are going to talk about your career in research and the influences on that and what you’ve been involved in. So perhaps you could start by talking about how you first became involved in the general area of work.

MP: Well interestingly I became involved in the alcohol world because I was interested in group psychotherapy and one of the units in the psychiatric hospital I was working in was an alcohol unit and it used intensive group psychotherapy as the main treatment tool and that was how I became initially interested in alcohol.  It then moved on, because there was a lot of talk at the time about men’s drinking, treatment programmes designed for men and I began to wonder what was happening with women.  At that time and that would have been in the early 70s, there were women in the alcohol treatment unit.  There were far fewer women than men and they tended to be left behind a little bit. Interestingly in groups for instance you would often hear the women talking about emotional issues, but the men didn’t and if the men began to talk about emotional issue, the women rescued them.  So it became interesting for me why that was happening.

 

A: How do you mean rescued them?

MP: Well they would, because of course you could smoke in groups at that point, so they would give them a cigarette or they would pat them on the knee and they’d say I know what you  mean, the same thing happened to me and then they would start talking about their own information, their own lives.  I found it interesting, because it allowed the men, it enabled the men to avoid looking at some of the feeling stuff that was absolutely relevant.  Then I became interested in the issue of pregnancy and prenatal alcohol exposure and that was when I moved out of the clinical field into the research field.  My PhD was on drinking in pregnancy.

 

A: Yes.  Can you talk about how that came about?

MP: It’s an interesting question and you know it does seem such a long time ago now that I’m actually not sure that I can remember.  I think part of it was there was always a huge issue of judgemental behaviour, judgemental attitudes towards women when they were drinking and you add a pregnancy onto that and the judgemental attitudes became even worse and I was never very happy with the judgemental attitudes.  I’m not suggesting that I didn’t have them myself and I think when you’re working you have to be prepared to look at those and some people are more prepared to look at them than others.  But I do think that women were really quite badly treated and if they became pregnant they really were badly treated.   They were frowned on by the health professionals, they were certainly frowned on by the midwives and I think sadly and very worryingly what happened was if a woman early on in her pregnancy, for instance at a booking clinic, which at that time was about 12 weeks, if she disclosed any information on alcohol, the midwives often were very critical of her.   The worst thing that can happen is if someone has a developing drinking problem, is that they lose touch with services.  That these women did not go back to antenatal clinic services again and they would come into hospital in labour having fallen down the stairs at 32 weeks.  So it seemed to me a very, it was a discrete aspect of women and alcohol, but it seemed an important one.  It’s probably not irrelevant that I had very recently had my own daughter at that point and so I was beginning to read about pregnancy.

 

A: To think about those things.

MP: Yeah, absolutely.

 

A: So going back, you were in the alcohol research group, so tell us where you were located when you were doing the PhD.

MP: The Alcohol Research Group was located in the Department of Psychiatry in Edinburgh, at the University of Edinburgh.  It was actually in the Social Epidemiology Unit, which was a Medical Research Council Unit, with some wonderful people in it; Professor Norman Kreitman, who was one of my supervisors, a very bright, very supportive man.  And of course my husband Martin who was part of it and helped a huge amount, not, only by looking after our daughter, while I was busy trying to interview or analyse or whatever, but it was part of the Medical Research Council Unit that I was in.

 

A: So you did your PhD on drinking in pregnancy and how did the work develop after that, how did your interest develop?

MP: Well when I got the results from that study and it was quite a large scale study, there was a thousand women in it, then I interviewed, I had interviewed, I didn’t interview personally, I trained the interviewers, interviewed 300 heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers, light drinkers, abstainers and then we had all the babies examined at birth, within 24 hours and then at three months of age by health visitors.  So it was a large study and I think one of the interesting things about it for me was that really wasn’t what I planned to do. I didn’t plan it to be that big.  But I got more and more interested in it and learnt a lot from doing the PhD as is part of the positive aspect of a PhD, you learn a lot.  I then looked at a number of professional groups, looked at nurses with alcohol and stress, particularly looking at AIDs related issues, because at that time, late seventies, it was very clearly around Edinburgh, Edinburgh was the AIDs capital of Europe in the late seventies. So I interviewed a number of nurses, I think again 800 or something and also worked with the sex workers, which was …

 

A: So that was in the eighties when …

MP: That was in the eighties.  An interesting time, nurses and sex workers have a surprisingly common sense of humour.  So I felt it fitted in very well and it was a time that the AIDs, the time around AIDs in Edinburgh was a very special time. I ran a names project workshop making memorial quilts for people who died of AIDs which went on until the nineties and I worked on that.  So there was a lot of powerful and emotional support around, but there were some very sad situations that occurred as well.  And with my psychotherapy hat on rather than my alcohol epidemiology hat, I felt I was able to support both the researchers and the interviewers, but also the women.

 

A: Because that’s a very unusual combination isn’t it.  You come into the area from a kind of counselling psychotherapy background and then you develop this epidemiological interest.

MP: Yeah it’s quite strange really isn’t it.

 

A: It’s a very unusual combination.

MP: I think it is a very unusual combination, but I think it’s a very powerful combination and I think it’s been, I think both the psychotherapy side and the alcohol epidemiology side have benefitted from the other. Mainly in terms of looking at the complexity, of being prepared to tolerate complexity, even in large scale studies, being able to say well is that really what’s happening, we need to go and find out from the people who know the culture of the country, for instance whether what we’re finding makes sense to them.   So a lot of the work that I did as I moved in my career working with the alcohol epidemiology group, working with GENACIS, the gender and alcohol group, I suppose in some ways that was my role in a sense, to be one of the people who said I don’t think it can be that simple, let’s just explore it a little further.

 

A: Yeah which maybe doesn’t always come out of epidemiological studies in quite the same way.

MP: Well I think that’s right and I think it also means that it enabled me certainly to work with a number of the younger researchers, researchers from countries that didn’t have a tradition of social science or survey collection.  They seemed to find me approachable to ask sometimes about things that they might have felt uncomfortable asking somebody else. I remember working with one of the researchers in Uganda and they had, as part of the funding protocol, they put in for money for tape measures, to measure height.  But actually with all these things some things took more money than they expected. So the tape measures never really got bought, so it was a guess really what height the people were.  They stood next to the researcher who knew what he was and they said he was a bit taller or shorter.  They also, people in Uganda don’t know what they weigh unless they’ve been in hospital recently, they’ve never been weighed in their lives. So we were looking at calculating a BMI on data that actually was really very shaky.  So, because it seemed that I was more approachable, people were able to talk to me about things like that and we were able to work them out in ways that made it possible for everything to be used well and constructively.

 

A: Yeah.  So going back to your own career, you finished your PhD, what happened next?

MP: I moved into working in the Alcohol Research Group with my husband Martin, who was the director. I think still and I’m still more interested in women and alcohol and trying to explore, I think again the complexity of their lives, not necessarily women with drinking problems and that was where the shift came.  But you know I remember the first paper that I ever published, long before I was married and I had been, I had developed a relatives group in the alcohol treatment unit when I was working there.  It was interesting that the staff who knew the relatives had one picture of the patient and you would sit in a group and the patient would be giving you this picture of their life and you’d be thinking actually you know that’s not the story that your partner just gave. So we developed a relatives group, so that the patient and their partner were together in a group and I had written an article about it and it was my first introduction to the toxic UK press, because the headline was, ‘wives drive their husbands to drink, the experts prove it.’

 

A: And you were the expert.

MP: I was the expert.  So as you can imagine the next day when I went into the relatives group, I had a lot of explaining to do.  The relatives were great, they absolutely understand.  But you know I think that one of the issues for alcohol researchers in general is dealing with the media and it can be some quite tough lessons.  But the alcohol and womens stuff, it’s always been there. I moved away from the drinking in pregnancy stuff, I moved into looking at AIDs, women, sex workers and then again looking at nurses and stress.  And the nurses and stress study was an interesting one because I was told by a number of organisations that nurses wouldn’t want to talk to researchers about their stress levels and I do vividly remember sitting in one meeting with a grant giving body, with everyone telling me that nurses didn’t want to talk about their stress levels and the only nurse in the room was me.  So I was able to make it very clear that a lot of nurses needed to have it known that their stress levels were high.  One of the interesting results from that study was that some of the nurses were drinking quite a bit, but they were doing it in a very responsible way.  If they were on duty the next morning, they did not drink a lot the night before.  They tended to drink on the evening of their last shift before their days off. So although some of them were drinking quite a bit, they were actually doing it safely in terms of their patient care.  I think one of the interesting things about that is I made it clear when I started this study that I was going to feed the results to the nursing staff. I think it’s one of the mistakes as researchers that we often make, is we go in and we take a lot of someone’s time up and then we say thank you very much and they don’t hear any more about it. I think that’s bad practice and I think it makes it more difficult for another researcher, who comes along a year later and tries to get some information, because people quite rightly say this is a waste of our time, we are not getting anything. So I set up meetings with morning staff, afternoon staff, evening staff and night staff and I fed back to each one of them, the results from the study.  And they seemed to appreciate that.  And I carried on doing that really, the sex worker study that we did, we had a wonderful woman who we eventually got hold of, who headed up that study. I learned a lot from that study, I learned a lot about the strength that women have. I learned a lot about their pragmatism. I vividly remember talking with someone about sex work and I admit I was angry with her, she was sitting there in her nice little middle class home, saying that this was something that she would never do and I said if I had no skills and I had two children to feed, I would do it. I would probably hate every minute of it, but I would do it.  One of the bits that always annoyed me and still does really, is how judgemental people can be about a group of people they know nothing about.  So after that study was completed, I actually ran a support group for the staff who looked after the women.  There was a peer education programme set up for the prostitutes in Edinburgh and there were women who were working on the streets and the women from the peer support group would go around, particularly in the winter, make sure they were warm.  It was very helpful for the women in terms of knowing some of the men who were dangerous for instance, so they would have descriptions of the men who were dangerous in the office. I enjoyed the idea of doing a piece of work that had a relevance, but not leaving it at that and that is where the psychotherapy hat came in. I then went on, we did some support work and that group is still going, I don’t have anything to do with it now, but it’s still going.

 

A: It must have been a very unusual time in Edinburgh then, for researchers as well as …

MP: It was, yeah and interesting because, one of the difficulties about research is obviously getting funding and we were funded for that and one of the interesting things was um people were, when we wrote papers about it, people were very judgemental about the women.  We interviewed some of the rent boys too and they were a very different group.  But we had some of the sex worker women interviewing some clients, not their own clients, but other clients, so that we could look at what kind of sexual services they wanted and how safe those were in terms of sexually transmitted infections, particularly AIDs.  But after that research project finished, the woman who continued to run the peer education programme had one of the consultants from the local STI clinic come down to the offices to look at the women. So that the women could get services from the sexually transmitted infections clinic, without having to go to the clinic, because when they did go to the clinic, they were treated so badly.  So it was a very positive thing that came out of what was basically a research project.

 

A: So did that go on throughout the eighties that work, your research?

MP: Yes, yes and then as I say the nurses study.  Then we began to look at a more international field.  Martin was working on ESPAD, the European School Project on Alcohol and Drugs.

 

A: Had that been going for some while, or was that new?

MP: That had been going for a while I think, I can’t, I honestly can’t remember when it started, but that was his main project.  I think that the, through the alcohol epidemiology group that we were part of.

 

A: And was that originally the International Council of Alcohol and Addictions?

MP: That’s right, ICAA. It was a conference that was run annually, it was run in a different country every year, but the alcohol epidemiology group began to feel that a lot of the conference was not relevant to them and that is understandable. You get people coming along talking about their work, which is really important, but if you’re a statistician for instance and you’re used to working with a thousand people at a time, people often get, have difficulty in finding the relevance to that.  So the alcohol epidemiology group broke away from ICAA.  It was also a financial thing, most of us did not have a lot of money for travel and for conferences and things like ICAA can be very expensive. So we …

 

A: When did it break away?

MP: I think it broke away in the early eighties and one of the things that happened was, it was done quite subtly really, Robin Room was one of the people who was behind it, we broke away, but met in the same city as ICAA.  It was almost a sort of transitional period really and then we broke away completely and met in a different countries. A different country every year and always with a view to how would this meeting matter to this country’s researchers, how would this meeting, those countries’ researchers get money for research funding, funding for research. So there was always an eye to this being something that might be a positive conference to have in your country.

 

A: So how did that alcohol epidemiology group develop?

MP: It was a small number of people initially.  In fact the first one we ran in Edinburgh was I think in the eighties and we all fitted into one room, so there was about 25 people. I don’t know how many are there now, but probably about 400.  The last one I went to, there were three or four parallel sessions.

 

A: And it’s no longer the alcohol epidemiology group?

MP: It’s now Kettil Bruun Society.  It’s named after Kettil Bruun who was a Finnish researcher.  It’s a very important meeting place for support for social scientists.

 

A: So you developed new networks, or different networks through that group did you?

MP: Yes developed different networks, developed a very strong international network of women and I find it interesting when I talk with people in different countries, feeling that as women they’re not being recognised for the work they are doing. They are not being respected for the work they’re doing.  One of the very special things about the Kettil Bruun Society and the International Research Group on Gender and Alcohol, which we developed from the early nineties, was that women were absolutely equal to men in terms of the research.  I think women are more supportive of each other and there were some wonderful women in that group, Sharon Wilsnack for instance, who headed up the big gender and alcohol project that I became the UK lead for.  An amazing person, who always believed that supporting people was as important as the work they did, because if they were not supported, then the work would not be of a high quality and she always believed that and I think that’s right.

 

A: So the international study which you all started on women, tell me how that came about?

MP: There were 13 of us at a Kettil Bruun Society meeting at Krakow I think in the early nineties and we were all sitting around saying why is it that even if women are included in research projects, the data are not analysed separately by gender and we were all getting a bit annoyed about it really. I think we’d had enough.  So we decided what we would do is look at some of the work that had already been done, which included women and re-analyse some of that data separately by gender.  So that was the beginning of it.  So then very quickly, I think within two or three years, Kim Bloomfield got money from the EU, the EU Biomed Group and we started a study looking at women and alcohol in a number of European countries and some of the key things about that was the people who were the lead researchers in the countries had a lot of autonomy in terms of exploring their culture.  There was a series of core questions that all had to be asked, but each country could then add whichever questions they felt were relevant for their country and that sometimes helped them get funding for instance.  That was really the pattern that developed and stayed because it worked. We had researchers who were experts in their field, in the alcohol field, within their own countries, some of them were also wonderful statisticians in terms of analysis, people who were involved in methodology, so it was a good mix of people.  But the people that we worked with, I suppose in some ways the interesting thing was, we’d all grown up together, professionally, you know, even, we even grew up together personally.  A number of us had our children around the same time, our children knew each other, so it really became a much more supportive, almost family of people.  But also in terms of hard research, the people we chose were the people who we knew would deliver the results at the end of the day.  So even though they were nice people, if we thought that at the end of the day, they were not going to get the results to us in time, then they would not have been included in that.  It was not a romanticised view of working together.  There was a clear core behind it, which meant you had to produce the results.

 

A: And did that European funding continue?

MP: The European funding continued for two, I think three years and then Kim got more money, Kim Bloomfield got more money and allowed us to add a few more European countries and some countries that were not in the European Union and that was helpful.  And then very quickly after that, Sharon Wilsnack decided we really needed to start collecting data, a lot of these previous studies had actually been using data that was already there and we had re-analysed it.  So we decided that we really needed to almost start clean, start fresh and so GENACIS, the Gender Alcohol and Culture International Study came into being.  It’s been a very important study in terms of collecting data that has been useful in the world. It’s also been very important in terms of training young researchers, who for instance come from countries that have no tradition of social science, or survey research. And we designed a questionnaire, as you can imagine with that, I think at the time 20 people round the table, it took some designing really, but we designed a questionnaire.  There were a lot of different components to it.  There were obviously a lot of alcohol questions, but there were also questions about social context of drinking.  There were questions about intimate partner violence in it.  There were a lot of questions on people’s attitudes to drinking and we designed that questionnaire very carefully.  It took quite a long time, but at that time I believe and I still do that taking time at the very beginning of a research project to get it right, is worth the time. I think it’s often difficult for people when they’re starting out in research, they think they have to get something done in three months or something.  But actually if you spend six months at the beginning, the benefits accrue later on. So we collected a number of countries, and NIAAA funded some of the meetings that people could go to, the researchers, travel expenses and things like that. And we included some countries that had not been involved before.  But at the beginning we had Uganda, Nigeria, we had Kazakhstan, we tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. We designed the questionnaire and we decided that really a number of the countries, probably couldn’t afford to do the full questionnaire. So we developed a core questionnaire of alcohol questions, hoping that perhaps if countries couldn’t get the money to do the full questionnaire, they could tag those alcohol questions onto a survey that was being done in the country. So we were trying very carefully to be as helpful as possible, to enable people to become involved in the study.  In terms of translating the questionnaire into each individual country’s language, we had it designed in English and then we had it translated into the country’s language. Then we had somebody else who was not involved in the research at all back translate it into English, to make sure that it made sense. So we relied on the, on each individual country’s researcher, to know what the sense of the wording they meant and use the words that were appropriate to their language and again that takes time, but it really was worth it.

 

A: And were you hoping that they would get funding from their own country for the work?

MP: Yes and they did, some people did and some people didn’t. World Health Organisation funded some countries, PAHO, the Pan American Health Organisation, funded some countries in South America.  And you know there is this thing and it is a reality, good or bad about research that money brings in money.  So if there are a number of countries that have the money, it makes it actually easier for other countries to say well look this is what we’re involved in and these are the countries that already have their money. So that made it easier for people to get money for the project.  But they also could do either the brief, the core questionnaire or the full questionnaire, depending on how much money they had.

 

A: And does that still continue in the same form?

MP: GENACIS itself has moved onto a different phase and the phase that is now there, is harm to others.  It’s looking at the harm caused by one individual’s drinking to others.  I suppose in some ways that took me full circle, because it took me back to the drinking in pregnancy, because obviously harm to others, includes the foetus.

 

A: Yes.  So going back to your position in Scotland, what, you were part of an international alcohol and health group, you were the co-director with Martin?

MP: We ran an alcohol research group and our group was part of that international research collaboration.

 

A: Yes.  So what was happening as part of that?  You were doing the work on AIDs, um …

MP: Yes we did some interesting work, at the time funding was difficult, we got funding actually by Edinburgh City Council and the police, to look at violence and victimisation in gay, lesbian and transgender and bisexual people and that was an interesting study.  It was a small study but it was interesting because it brought to the fore how badly treated people were by the health services and by some of the police.  Edinburgh has a very vibrant gay community and in some ways there’s strength in numbers that they will be protected to some extent by the numbers, in terms of being attacked on the street for instance.  If people are in hospital, particularly if people, if the nursing staff were frightened of HIV, some of these people were treated very badly.  One of the connections of course was the nurses and stress study also looked at a number of questions on HIV and so we could, sometimes we could put things together a little and have a look at a wider picture simply because we had done two pieces of work that related to each other. And from the nurses study it became really quite clear that the nurses were very honest and very able to assess their knowledge about HIV and AIDs.  We had a small questionnaire in the study about questions on HIV AIDs, the women, the nurses who managed to answer those questions, the next question was do you feel confident, or do you feel competent looking at HIV and talking with your patients about it and um the nurses who scored high on the scale said yes they felt competent.  The nurses who scored low on the scale said no we don’t feel competent. So actually they were very able to assess whether they could work with people who were HIV positive.  It allowed us to push for training sessions for the nurses, to make sure that they actually did feel more comfortable exploring things like sexual behaviour with patients that were in their care.

 

A: Moira could you tell me who’s been the greatest influence on you in research, in your research life?

MP: Oh it has to be my husband, Martin.  He was an amazing man and when I started out I knew very little about research. I knew a lot about people, but I knew very little about research and he had an amazing ability to translate what sort of me thinking aloud could be put into a research proposal for instance.  He was always supportive of what I wanted to do.  He occasionally got frustrated with me because I didn’t feel a real researcher because I wasn’t a statistician and he made it very clear that there were lots of different parts of research and statistics was only one of them. I think he also encouraged me with my belief that complexity is the reality of people’s lives and that’s where the psychotherapy bit met with the research bit. We worked together for many years, interestingly we always managed to work out a sentence, even at that detail, if one of us was writing a paper, then we’d put the whole thing together and then the other one would edit it and vice versa. So it worked very well.  Just finding the right word, being able to have somebody else that you could say I’ve not really quite got that word right and he would always, always support me and I miss him.

 

A: Yes.  Well you, I mean you’ve talked about encouraging researchers and he used to do that too, didn’t he, the meetings you had at, where was it?

MP: At Pitlochry and then in Kendal.  And those meetings had a very special atmosphere about them.  Martin always believed that the work that people were doing was more important than whatever title they had and I think that for a lot of the younger researchers the meetings we had in Pitlochry and then later in Kendal were very important, because the people who came to these meetings, however experienced they were, believed that you should encourage younger people in the field. So for the younger people they could come and present work, they could present work even if it was just a thought for a PhD project.  They didn’t have to have a fully formed proposal and I think these meetings over the years helped a lot of people.

 

A: And you used to run those every year did you?

MP: Twice a year.

 

A: Twice a year.

MP: In the spring and in the autumn.  Martin was a climber he loved the mountains, so the spring meeting was a very good excuse to go up, have the meeting and then head off to the mountains.

 

A: Well it’s unusual to have a meeting like that isn’t it, which is much more informal.

MP: Yes and it ran from a Wednesday afternoon, to a Thursday afternoon. So even if people had to go into work in the mornings, many of them could actually come to the meeting, even for a short space of time.  But they were very special meetings in terms of alcohol research in the UK, people came from all over.

 

A: I don’t know if there’s anything quite like them now.

MP: There’s nothing quite like that and maybe that’s just, life moves on, things move on, the pace of life moves on, the amount of time people have to attend meetings like that changes.  But I think that’s really quite sad, because I think that often senior management don’t realise how important it is for researchers to get together and that the coffee breaks and the lunch breaks and the dinners are as important as the actual presentations in people talking to each other, networking. It’s always easier to email someone if you can say, dear so and so, you may not remember, but we met at …  And that makes a difference for encouraging people to look more widely than their small geographical area when they are carrying out research.

 

A: Well talking about how things have changed, how do you think in terms of your own research interest and so on, how has that field changed during the time you’ve been in it?

MP: I think it’s changed, it’s got much more analytical, which is good, left me way behind.  I think that some of the statistical analysis that’s done now is incredibly complex and some of it I’m wary of. I think that occasionally people are wanting available that they haven’t got in the meta-analysis that they’re looking at, so they find it somewhere else and sometimes those data are not particularly robust, but it’s the only place they’ve found that variable.  So they add it to the meta-analysis and I think we need to be a bit more careful about some of the data that we use.  I think we need to ensure if we’re using data that it has to be robust, because sometimes policy decisions and service provision are made on these data.  I think that oh one of my real bug bears is ethics committees.  Over the last ten years or so ethic committees have become more and more concerned about protecting the ethics committee and so some of the people that I’m interested in, the sex workers for instance, you know there are a lot of ethics committees who would not agree/accept working in those areas.  But these are exactly the kind of people that we need to allow their voices to be heard, women in areas of intimate partner violence.  Ethics committees need to be trained and I think we don’t do that well enough. I think we also need to train funding bodies, it’s quite clear sometimes that some work gets funded because it’s cheaper in terms of cost, but for instance there isn’t a control group in some of the clinical work. Now if there isn’t a control group that’s not good practice, it’s more expensive and so grant giving bodies also I think need to be trained better than they are.

 

A: So, but presumably there’s much more work on women and alcohol than there was.

MP: Oh yes and that’s wonderful and there’s much more work on, going back to my PhD, on the drinking and pregnancy and the foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.  Sometimes I feel very old, sometimes I sit in conferences and I hear, and I think when was the first time I heard this was it 72 or 73 and I don’t like that, I love learning and I don’t like not learning.  But there are exciting things happening in the alcohol field; epigenetics opening up huge areas in terms of drinking and pregnancy.  Some of the work that’s done on the technology of assessments and treatments, fascinating work, that excites me, as long as we don’t lose the humanity in it.  I think that’s the bit that no matter what you use for assessment tools, that face to face relationship is the thing, certainly with my psychotherapy hat on, that face to face relationship is what helps people.  It supports them, it shows them respect, it shows them that people care and I still don’t believe and I’m sure someone will prove me wrong in a relatively short space of time, but I still don’t believe a robot can have the same impact as a human being, in a psychotherapy situation.

 

A: Yes.  And you’ve continued with your psychotherapy up to the present day?

MP: Yes and I love it.  It was my first love.  But also still involved in foetal alcohol spectrum disorder field.

 

A: How are you involved in that then?

MP: To a large extent now, raising awareness and the Scottish Government are being very forward thinking about training paediatricians, midwives in awareness of drinking in pregnancy.  So I’m very happy to be involved in anything like that that can help.  I like the support role. I prefer to be in the background supporting, rather than necessarily standing up there pontificating.  I can do that, I’ve done it for years, but my preference is to help support young researchers coming in and giving them a good, sound, good practice floor to stand on, to move forward from there.

 

A: And one of the things I think you’ve also always been interested in is the history of women and alcohol, which came up at your lecture at the conference.

MP: I love it. I love the idea of exploring where women have been historically with alcohol and you know far more about it than I do, but just this whole bit about times in the Middle Ages where women made the alcohol, so they controlled all the behaviour and where we are now, where women used to be the informal social controllers of men’s drinking and that’s not the case anymore, certainly not in the UK.  Young women are behaving in as risky a fashion as young men and really the only controls left are the police and that’s not a good situation for anybody.  So yes the history of women and alcohol has always fascinated me, as has the history of psychiatry and you know I think if I had my life to live over again maybe I would have been a historian, rather than anything else.

 

A: Well is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to talk about?

MP: I don’t think so, that’s been, I’ve enjoyed that, thank you.  I think the only other thing for me is the difference in some of the fields, the difference say between the alcohol field and the tobacco field that I think looking at them, the tobacco field really has been dominated by medical doctors, for me. I think a lot of that has meant that the social context of smoking has been missed.  The kind of aspects that the social scientists would have been exploring has been missed.  That’s not the case in the alcohol field, it’s always had a strong social science component. So I think that there are ways that each field can learn from the other and I would hope that that would continue.

 

A: Thank you very much Moira.

MP: Thank you.

 

Moira Plant was in conversation with Virginia Berridge.

 

Other Resources

The interviewee has provided an annotated bibliography of her work, available here

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The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.

 

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