Tim Stockwell came to the university last year, joining the new Centre for Addictions Research of BC as its director. A professor of psychology, Stockwell’s research interests lie in alcohol policy and drinking patterns and their consequences. He was born and educated in London, England and early in his career, working at a drug addiction unit, he was active in a public battle to save the facility from Thatcher government cuts. Since then he’s never been shy about widely communicating the findings of solid research, most recently as head of Australia’s National Drug Research Institute. Here are excerpts from a recent conversation.
I was good at math and physics. I like numbers and I like science. And I also like to feel I can do something that will benefit the community.
Most people kind of assume that research won’t be informed by what’s happening in the real world. From a researcher’s point of view that can be quite frustrating. I like to think that everything I’ve tried to do has been to either improve clinical response or, more recently, policy responses.
In Australia, brewers, distillers and winemakers are still able to sell incredibly cheap (products). Among their main customers are impoverished Aboriginal people who then waste themselves. It’s straightforward government policy. I saw our role to do research which shed light on it, raised the issue for public debate and tried to encourage better outcomes.
It seems extraordinary in BC that there’s a mayor in Vancouver who was actually voted in on a harm reduction ticket. I mean, I’ve never heard of this happening anywhere in the world. There’s a lot of progressive thinking and a feeling that new things can happen. That’s been confirmed since I’ve been here.
I think our job as an independent research unit is to hold up a mirror to the community to say, Well actually if you look across the whole province these are some of the things that perhaps you’re not aware of. Yes, you’re concerned about violence, road crashes, young people dying. This is what we know works and this is what you can do about it (through) prevention and promoting evidence-based programs.
Really, the way you get change is to make sure there’s awareness across the whole community. I think we have to communicate at all different levels. If we can set up something which is continually informing the political process and community awareness, as well as being trusted and used, that would be fantastic.
I like wine, I like beer and I occasionally drink spirits. I would like to believe it’s good for you but one of my research areas is questioning health benefits or the extent of them. I think there are benefits but there are a lot of exaggerated estimates of the benefits. The ways we normally use alcohol aren’t conducive to getting any benefit at all. You have to drink just a little bit and often, rather than once or twice a week drinking quite a lot, which is the way most people drink alcohol.
Tim Stockwell is co-editor of Preventing Harmful Substance Abuse, published this spring by John Wiley and Sons. The Centre for Addictions Research of BC is online at www.carbc.uvic.ca.
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