Alcohol Companion, by Phil Cain

Alcohol Companion, by Phil Cain

Sometimes it’s difficult to cut through the hard feelings and strongly held views around alcohol and alcoholism. Phil Cain is a science journalist who was born in Manchester, a city with a strong tradition of technological research and development. His work has featured in the BBC, Economist, Telegraph, FT, Wall Street Journal, Observer and Al Jazeera. Phil’s book Alcohol Companion offers a new and approach to alcoholism and problem drinking that hasn’t been available before — one that makes very good sense and offers a much-needed, well-informed contribution to a subject where everyone involved is often very emotionally invested.

Alcohol CompanionPhil’s clear-headed approach is to collate as much scientific information as possible around our complex relationship with alcohol and make a solid, research-based contribution to a better understanding of the devastating social and personal problems it causes. It sounds like this book might be something of a dry read, but as a skilled journalist Phil is very capable of presenting new and sometimes difficult ideas in an constructive, engaging, and interesting way. So the data and research papers he collates are all written up and summarized with a very human, sometimes even humorous, style.

Sections cover the history of alcohol and drinking, how alcohol affects our brain and body, the social benefits and harms caused by drinking, different responses to alcohol in individuals and cultures worldwide, the phenomenon of intoxication, the biochemistry of hangovers and the problem of dependence. As with any rigorous scientific research, all Phil’s arguments and statements are supported by assiduous referencing to his sources, which readers can later follow up in their own time. Refreshingly, despite the high level of content, Phil’s work remains accessible, informative and very readable throughout.

I’m reviewing the 2016 edition, but this is an ever-changing field and I understand Phil intends to produce a second edition of this book at some point. I was glad to see some discussion of our evolutionary relationship with alcohol here as I think is an area of research that could do more to help people understand their destructive relationship with drink. I would be keen to see another chapter giving Phil’s take on this subject in any future edition, such as the work by biologist Prof. Robert Dudley on the evolutionary psychology of alcoholism in his book The Drunken Monkey: Why We Drink and Abuse Alcohol, which was discussed in the National Geographic’s recent feature “Our 9,000 Year Love Affair With Booze”, an article freely available online via their website.

As Phil argues, our every-day approach to alcohol is rarely informed by this kind of science. Instead it is typically guided by the confused jumble of “common sense” ideas we pick up as we stumble through life. His contribution to this debate is to break through the received wisdom and provide a reliable, valid, source of information. In an age of fake news, that has to be a good thing. You can read more about Phil’s work and receive updates about the latest scientific data and social research on alcoholism and problem drinking at his website, Here you can also subscribe to his email newsletter which is a very helpful resource for anyone interested in this issue.

This was written by Jon who has a great site here


Commenting area

  1. Thanks Mike. Another secular humanist in AA group therapy..almost 4 years here in Tallahassee..people helping people stay clean and sober one day at a time..whatever floats your boat..blogs, podcasts, books, groups and maybe it’s not about what I have to get out of it but rather what I have to give the addicted newcomers sharing my worldview. It’s part of what helps me stay away from the first drink. Cheers, Dan

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