King of documentaries Louis Theroux is back with a sobering series

by Fiona Rae / 10 January, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Louis Theroux documentary

Drinking to Oblivion, Thursday.

The first of Louis Theroux's new series is a revealing and harrowing documentary about alcohol addiction.

Ready to get sober? A new series of Louis Theroux documentaries begins with Drinking to Oblivion (Prime, Thursday, 9.35pm), in which the illustrious film-maker meets people in serious circumstances as a result of alcohol addiction.

Theroux is allowed into King’s College Hospital, London, which has a specialist liver unit where patients are detoxed and then treated as outpatients by specialists.

It’s a place where alcoholics at rock-bottom may find themselves, “people who are drinking not just to excess, but to total oblivion”, says Theroux, who is trying to “understand the mindset of people addicted to Britain’s favourite drug, and the difficult choices faced by those close to them”.

It really is sobering. First, because detoxing can be dangerous, and second, because patients often relapse and turn up again. This is what has happened to 32-year-old Joe, who had been sober for more than four years, but has had episodes of what he describes as “self-annihilating drinking” after a break-up.

He’s bright and articulate, but gets things together only to lapse, appearing at King’s in a terrible state. He wants to detox, but when he starts to withdraw, it’s “like I’m dying as a person”.

Another patient, Peter, is similar, in that he has detoxed a number of times and is warned that the process will eventually lead to liver damage. He has the support of his girlfriend, Mariana, but she has lived through his cycle of extreme drinking and recovery and is wondering how long she can go on coping with it.

There is not much talk about care outside the hospital, such as counselling or AA, although when Theroux catches up with Peter, he is finally getting help for his anxiety.

The least hopeful of the three that Theroux follows is Aurelie, who on waking immediately has a drink to stop her shakes. Her boyfriend is horrible to her and she tells the liver specialist at King’s that she is surprised she is still alive. She is also now more afraid of stopping drinking than of dying.

Cheer up. This isn’t even the most depressing of the five-part series. In A Different Brain, Theroux follows people recovering from a traumatic brain injury; in Heroin Town, he is back in the US, embedding himself in an Appalachian community that has been devastated by opiates; for Trafficking Sex, he’s in Houston, North America’s hub of human trafficking; and finally, he’s looking at guns, race and crime in Murder in Milwaukee.

This article was first published in the January 6, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

The key to long-term success after weight-loss surgery
107438 2019-06-26 00:00:00Z Health

The key to long-term success after weight-loss sur…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Weight-loss surgery is becoming more common, but lifestyle and attitude changes are needed for long-term success.

Read more
Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family recipes
107605 2019-06-25 11:39:22Z Food

Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family rec…

by Lauraine Jacobs

Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki.

Read more
Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's going to make a better world
107579 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's g…

by Emma Clifton

The MP made world headlines when she cycled to hospital to give birth. She talks about how this put her and what she stands for in the spotlight.

Read more
Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky in the road
107472 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky…

by Russell Baillie

The fourth Toy Story instalment is clever, enjoyable and refreshingly weird.

Read more
Mitre 10 living wage ruling sets precedent for retail staff - union
Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebook and Google
107596 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebo…

by Peter Griffin

In the wake of data-privacy scandals, Apple is beefing up protection for owners of its devices.

Read more
Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying tax
107563 2019-06-24 16:28:59Z Business

Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying…

by Nikki Mandow

We are pretty good about paying our taxes here, so why would we willingly go along with avoiding GST?

Read more
Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs crackdown?
107530 2019-06-24 10:19:12Z Business

Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs…

by Nikki Mandow

New Zealand retailers hit by a GST rort that has been going on for at least two years hope officials, Trade Me, ministers and even customers will...

Read more