British television presenters Anthony McPartlin (L) and Declan Donnelly talk to the audience during the BRIT Awards 2016 in London on February 24, 2016. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION NO POSTERS NO USE IN MONOGRAPHS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    Ant McPartlin’s painkiller problem shows us the future of addiction

    22 June 2017

    So Ant McPartlin, one half of Ant and Dec, has disappeared into rehab in order to address his addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. I won’t describe him as a poor bloke, because he’s worth £60 million, but many addicts who check into clinics are cleaned out financially as a result. Especially as these clinics are good at securing repeat business. How many times have you read the sentence ‘after several spells in rehab’?

    The entertainer’s ordeal – and I have no doubt that it was a hideous ordeal, having been a despairing alcoholic myself – tells us so much about the face of addiction in 2017. Booze and prescription drugs? They really do go together these days.

    Chris Owen, also a recovering addict, has written an article in the Guardian telling Ant that he shouldn’t blame himself for his illness. I agree, though Chris and I would disagree on the nature of addiction: I don’t think it’s anything so easily identifiable as a disease or illness.

    Look at how complicated Ant McPartlin’s problems are. After a knee injury he became hooked on Tramadol, a seductive opioid painkiller. As I’ve written in Spectator Health, I’ve been there too, though I didn’t have the excuse of a knee injury – I just did my back in and then started gobbling unprescribed Tramadols like Smarties.

    Yet there is more to his crisis than dependence on opioids – which has now reached epidemic proportions in the United States (the Washington Post reports that 1.3 million Americans ended up in hospital for ‘opioid-related issues’ last year).

    Ant will be in rehab for problems relating to alcohol, painkillers and depression. That’s a nasty tangle: many 12-step programmes are far too crude and dogmatic to clear up this sort of mess.

    However, I’m going to assume that Ant McPartlin will sort his problems out. Although the greedy addiction recovery industry rarely points this out, addicts have a tendency to recover by themselves (though we’re not sure why). So he mustn’t despair.

     But here are a couple of thoughts prompted by his unhappy situation:

     • The distinction between legal, illegal and semi-legal addictive substances is less meaningful by the day. Tramadol is a popular alternative to heroin or cocaine because you know what’s in it; likewise many other prescription drugs that can be obtained legally or illegally (or via the internet, which people think of as a grey area).

     • We live in a society where self-medication is becoming as popular as it was in the Victorian era. So, too, is self-diagnosis. These phenomena feed off each other. Watch this space. 

     • Getting high is an understandable, if disastrous, response to pressures that our grandparents did not face. Not least, the pressure to manage your own career. Celebrities are often mocked for their reliance on drugs; I sometimes think the miracle is that they aren’t all addicts.