Doctor Foster slammed by health experts over these “dangerous” scenes

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Kayleigh Dray
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The second series of Doctor Foster has definitely made its mark on the Twittersphere. Ever since the first episode aired, fans of the BBC One show have made it their mission to flood social media with complex theories, earth-shattering spoilers, commentary about the original (oh yes, it’s based on a very old play indeed), and praise for the drama’s conversation about sexual assault and consent.

However, while many are waxing lyrical about Doctor Foster, critics have now come forward to criticise the BBC for airing “irresponsible” scenes to the public.

We’re talking about the titular character’s famously unhealthy relationship, but it’s not the one she shares with her ex-husband.

The stylised drama – all about infidelity and revenge – has steadily tracked Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones)’s loss of control over the past few weeks. We’ve seen her engage in hate-fuelled sex with her former spouse, Simon (Bertie Carvell), sit down with teenager Max for an incredibly disturbing conversation, uncover some shocking home truths about her son and finally convince Kate (Jodie Comer) – the woman she lost her husband to – to leave Simon and move to France with his baby daughter.

We’ve also, in countless scenes, seen Gemma with a full glass of wine in her hand – even drinking straight from the bottle, on occasion.

And now Dr Sarah Jarvis, who acts as a medical adviser to Drinkaware, has pointed out how “dangerous” this could be for viewers.

“I am very sad to see a prime-time drama effectively sending out the message that it’s not possible to enjoy a social situation without alcohol being involved,” she said.

“This sort of portrayal normalises daily drinking, with all the risks this entails.”

Doctor Foster's Suranne Jones
Suranne Jones played the titular Doctor Foster in the BBC series.

Meanwhile Helena Conibear, director of The Alcohol Education Trust, said the show should not be applauded for showing booze as a “crutch for stress” amid the dramatic twists and turns.

She told The Daily Mail: “Portraying alcohol as a way to cope with stress and pressure is worrying as is the image of drinking on your own.

“Both these behaviours can lead to problematic patterns of drinking and that one glass turning into two or three.”

Conibear added: “The glasses shown are often huge too and could be holding 250ml of wine, that's a third of a bottle in one glass.

“As both men and women we're advised not to drink more than 14 units a week – one of those glasses would hold three units!

“A lot of younger teenagers watch Doctor Foster and we really need to think about the kind of image we're portraying of professional adults in positions of responsibility and how they unwind and destress.”

A number of social media users have also taken to Twitter to comment on the tiresome “wine guzzling”.

Of course, Doctor Foster airs well and truly after the watershed – and it’s safe to say the writers are not presenting Gemma as an aspirational character in any way. With the season finale airing tomorrow (3 October), it remains to be seen whether her relationship with alcohol forms part of a plot line.

However, it is worth remembering that there’s such a thing as high-functioning alcoholism – described as addiction to alcohol which apparently has no adverse effects on a person’s day-to-day professional or personal life – and it’s a significant national problem.

In 2007, the most recent statistics available, 33% of men and 16% of women were classed as hazardous drinkers by the NHS, and a high proportion of these were likely to be high-functioning alcoholics.

And research has shown that “viewing a movie [or TV show] in which alcohol is portrayed appears to lead to higher total alcohol consumption of young people while watching.”

The 2009 study – led by Professor Engels, at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands – sat two groups of 20 male students in a mini cinema and played two films to them, one of which featured drinking.

A fridge containing alcoholic and soft beverages was placed next to them and they were told they could pick any drink.

Explaining the “straightforward” results, Engels said: “Those who watched both the alcoholic film and commercials drank, on average 1.5 bottles more than those who watched the non-alcoholic film and commercials.

“This might imply that, for example, while watching an ad for a particular brand of beer, you are not only more prone to buy that brand next time you are in the supermarket, but also that you might go immediately to the fridge to take a beer.”

He added that it was not possible from this study to tell whether watching alcohol on television also had an effect on people's longer-term behaviour.

“But it implies that if people watch often, and are exposed to these portrayals often, they drink more,” he added.

Doctor Gemma Foster with two bottles of wine
Doctor Gemma Foster with two bottles of wine

According to the NHS, there are ways to keep our risk of alcohol-related harm low.

These include:

  • not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it's best to spread this evenly over three or more days
  • if you're trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it's a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week

You could be misusing alcohol if:

  • you feel you should cut down on your drinking
  • other people have been criticising your drinking
  • you feel guilty or bad about your drinking
  • you need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover

If you're concerned about your drinking or someone else’s, a good first step is to visit your GP. They'll be able to discuss the services and treatments available. 

If you think you or someone you know might be suffering from alcohol addiction, you can find support here.

Doctor Foster concludes on BBC One on Tuesday 3 October at 8pm.

Images: BBC One / Drama Republic / Nick Briggs

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.