Review: Louis Theroux’s Drinking to Oblivion

Drinking culture has become something that enshrines Britain and the way us Brits are seen across the globe. Alcoholism itself is something covered in stigma, and a problem which most of us would merely turn a blind eye to, because quite simply we don’t want to acknowledge it as a mental disease. Louis Theroux has a beautiful way of empathising with those with the addiction, and is never judgemental or demeaning towards them — instead I felt he was something of a guiding light for some of the addicts that he interacted with.

Whilst all of the addicts that Theroux followed had harrowing and emotional backgrounds as to why they fell into their seemingly inescapable addiction, my heart was truly ripped out when it came to Joe. A young man, who encompassed everything that could have gone right in the world, had gone wrong. The unending self-hatred and loathing in his speech directed towards himself was seemingly a result of graduating from Kings College as a medic, but never landing a job. He also had a strained relationship with his father, and dealt badly with a break up which led him to become an alcoholic. One word describes why and how he became an addict: rejection, and the fear of it. Even as he lay in hospital after a relapse, he said to Theroux “I bet you hate me don’t you”. This kind of self-assuming nature that the whole world is out to get you is something one may have dismissed, if it wasn’t for Theroux’s documentary presenting it in a subtle yet forceful way.

I thought the disease had got the better of Joe, as almost immediately after accepting rehabilitation he tells Theroux he’s off to the shop for one last bottle of vodka. When pushed for why he wants the alcohol, he merely responds that it’s easier. That line punched a hole in my stomach; the concept of ruining yourself merely because it’s ‘easier’ is one that so many people frown upon, but it’s the sad truth about addiction. It’s always easier to descend into darkness than it is to find the right support networks and get out of the painful way of life they’ve created. Joe did return with a bottle of Perrier, not a bottle of Vodka. If I could have leapt through that TV screen to tell him I was proud of him, I would have.

Cathy, an alcohol liaison specialist, explained that “the logical endpoint to alcohol dependency is the person sitting in the room on their own with a bottle and nobody else around them”. This point was true at the beginning of the episode where the partner of an alcoholic tells Louis she’s considered leaving him, but knows he’d drink himself to death if that were the case. It was proved true when Joe explains that he has next to no one, and Aurelie only has her dog.

Do you know what else they all have? Alcohol.

We as a nation need to stop moving away from people with such serious illnesses, and need to start letting them know that they have all the support they need. If there’s one thing Theroux made me understand it’s that alcoholics needed a friend, and the only friend they could truly rely on was the end of a bottle.


Rianna Julian


Image courtesy of  The Evening Standard. 

Leave a Reply