Monthly Archives: January 2014

Allergy to alcohol

I saw this image and quote, which I love, and it got me thinking.

For many decades, perceived medical wisdom was that stomach ulcers (both gastic and duodenal) were caused by stress and lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking and diet.  Until 1982 when it was discovered that a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori was responsible for many presenting cases and could be tested for and managed with a course of ‘triple therapy’ of two different types of antibiotics and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).  The treatment of gastritis and stomach ulceration was revolutionised with this knowledge.

And then Veronica Valli shared a video of Elizabeth Vargas’ candid admission of her alcoholism on US television last week.  During the video interview she shared how she had described her disease to her children as an allergy to alcohol.

Now in the last 20 years allergies and intolerance’s to food have become common and in some instances, such as peanut allergies, can be life-threatening.  Their existence is accepted and they are managed accordingly.  So my logic was that in the same way that causes of stomach ulceration had been misunderstood in the past could our pigeon-holing and stereotyping of alcoholism have been a victim of the same narrow thinking?  If we were to broaden our thinking about alcohol dependency and alcoholism and consider it as an allergy to alcohol that had negative consequences for those who drank, would people be more likely to admit there was a problem and accept help?  Would it destigmatise the disease sufficiently that we could have an honest conversation with ourselves and each other about the substances effect on us and would it then be managed more appropriately before reaching the equally life-threatening stage?

I have an intolerance to wheat, like an increasing number of people I know, who chose to eat less of it because of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms they suffer as a consequence.  I am not afraid of people knowing this.  Would I be less reluctant to discuss my abstaining from alcohol if I could say that it was because I have an intolerance to it and my life is better if I exclude it, just like I do with wheat?

Just food for thought ……

Sober treats

Sober treats are a corner-stone of Belle‘s approach to getting the better of wolfie.  Initially when I joined Team 100 and she asked me to do some homework to identify treats I did it but didn’t really understand why.  They didn’t have to have a high monetary value, just a couple of quid, and were my reward to myself for not drinking.  She had explained why but I didn’t get it.  I very quickly experienced why and this was some of the best advice I was given to help keep me on the sober path.

Even now whenever I have to do something that I think is going to be hard for me or a sober ‘first’ I make sure I have a sober treat lined up afterwards.  If I don’t, and I experienced this at Christmas because I had forgotten and Belle had to remind me, I get this emotional hangover and feel all sh*tty and deprived and that makes me think about picking up a drink.  When in your drinking life your reward was wine you need to reward yourself in your non-drinking life for not rewarding  yourself with wine (if that make’s sense?!)

So sober treats can be anything, and should be personal to you.  For me my homework list said:

A magazine
Bubble bath

As the days of not drinking have added up I have become a bit more extravagant in my treats.  So after Xmas I hit the sales and bought some clothes from a favourite shop and I have had things like massages too.  When I used to spend £400 a month on booze that leave’s a lot of readies to treat yourself with!  I have also tried to link my treats to my journey and have been using the time and my re-awakened creative skills to make things too, such as this.

What treats do you use that I could adopt? 😉

Psychological preparation

I learned when training to run a marathon that the psychological preparation was as important, if not more so, than all of the training runs, drink and snack choices, warm up and down stuff put together.  If you didn’t believe you could do it – it became so much more difficult on the final miles of the course or when you ‘hit the wall’.

These are some of the things that I did to psychologically prepare for stopping drinking:

Reading everything I could about it in books or on blogs.  Knowing about PAWS was particularly valuable.

Starting a daily gratitude practice.  Fear stopped me from even considering a life without alcohol for too many years and was the fastest at driving me back to it in the past.  Gratitude is the antidote to fear for me.

Developing other ways of relaxing that didn’t require picking up a drink, such as a long soak in the bath, a run or meditation

Finding other sources of positivity such as Notes from the Universe or The Daily Love

Now I don’t want to come across as some hippy-dippy Pollyanna type but believe me stopping drinking stirred up a sh*t ton of deeply buried negative and painful thoughts and emotions in me that I needed to learn to manage if I was every going to climb out of a bottle.  Drinking  had become my emotional anaesthetic and the only way to counter-balance the negativity that was triggered by stopping was to up the amount of positive stuff that I was exposing myself too, both in terms of what I read and how I thought.  All of these things together made the journey from drinker to non-drinker easier for me.

If you’re on the journey already what would you recommend to someone to fortify their psychological defences?

Physical preparation

Having nursed alcoholics I knew what a toll alcohol takes on the body physically so before I stopped I wanted to start addressing that.

B vitamins, especially B1, B2, B3 and B6, are destroyed by alcohol, which primarily affects the liver and nervous system.  When we were detoxing patients on the ward they would all receive daily multivitamins, thiamine and folic acid, intravenously if they could not take it orally.

I started taking a daily multivitamin & multimineral and a 1000mg Vitamin C.  Milk thistle is also good for liver detoxification.

If you read Patrick Holford Optimum Nutrition Bible he recommends for alcoholism:

Multivitamins and multiminerals

Antioxidant complex

Vitamin C 1000mg

Adaptogenic herbs, plus tyosine – which helps to prevent emotional and physical lows after stopping.

Bone mineral complex (including calcium and magnesium)

Glutamine powder twice a day in water on an empty stomach – which  helps the gut and reduces cravings.

He also says that a very alkaline diet reduces the cravings for alcohol and recommends a diet high in whole grains, beans and lentils and frequent meals containing protein such as nuts, seeds, fish,, chicken, eggs or milk produce.  Soberistas are currently running a Love Your Liver 14 day Detox, Cleanse & Rejuvenate Programme put together by their Nutritional Therapist, Clare Shepherd which you can find here.

Oh and lots and lots of water.

He also warns that sugar addiction is often substituted for dependency on alcohol, as booze is just liquid sugar, so avoiding sugar and stimulants is recommended.  I can attest for the sweet tooth but have personally decided to let it slide as I am less than 6 months without a drink and I would rather put not drinking before anything else at this point in time.  The sugar issue will be addressed once being sober is a stable part of my life.

Edited to add 14th May 2016:

Chronic drinking interferes with absorption of critical vitamins by pancreas

Chronic exposure to alcohol interferes with the pancreas’ ability to absorb vitamin C, potentially predisposing the body to pancreatitis and other pancreatic diseases, a new study in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology reports.

So that 1 gram of Vitamin C is a really good idea 🙂

More reading

The preparation and research involved not just reading books about drinking and stopping but also lurking on sober blogs following other people’s journey’s.

If you go back to the beginning of my blog I thank the two sources of support that got me started on my sober blogging journey and they are Soberistas and Belle (tired of thinking about drinking).

Soberistas, if you don’t know it, is a UK based resource, community and blogging forum set up by Lucy Rocca back in November 2012.  If you want to blog about your experience but as part of an organised community, then this is a great place to get support.

Belle, is my sober penpal who during the first 100 days of being part of Belle’s Team 100 I would email every day to say I was sober.  I’m now part of Team 180 and have dropped to emailing her every other day.  Belle’s was the first independent sober blog that I found and she led me to UnPickled and Mrs D is Going Without.  From there I found many other brilliant sober blogs many of whom are listed in my blog roll but there are others that I have bookmarked and try to read every day too.

I gained strength from the fact that there were others out there doing it and who seemed to be really happy with their booze free lives even if I still had a glass in my  hand at the time.  It allowed me to consider the possibility.  The thought that that could be me too began to take root and be turned over in my mind.  If they could do it so could I and my resolve began to strengthen.


So on the cycle of change I had now moved from pre-contemplative to contemplative to preparation.  This stage is crucial.

For 10 years of my working life, l left the NHS and used my nursing skills and knowledge in the corporate world of medical sales and marketing and one of the best things I learned is the 7Ps rule; Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

OK it could be argued that extensive preparation was just a way of procastinating and putting off the eventual day of stopping.  But I felt that this was really important and as I am now on day 127 I would be justified in saying it worked 😉  Just be mindful of wolfie using preparation as a ruse to keep you drinking!

I always start with information and am a bit of a luddite in that the first thing I reach for is a book.  I read a mixture of resource books, autobiographical and fiction.  So these are the books that I have read:

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

The Sober Revolution by Sarah Turner and Lucy Rocca

Ice and a Slice by Della Galton

Last Orders – A Drinkers Guide to Sobriety by Andy McIntyre

Why You Drink and How to Stop by Veronica Valli

Restore Your Life: A Living Plan for Sober People by Anne Geller

Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs

Journey Through Thinking about Drinking Towards a Safer Relationship with Alcohol by Stuart Linke

The final book I read before stopping as it required me to continue drinking until I finished reading it was:

Easy Way to Control Alcohol by Allen Carr

Most of these books I read after stopping, not before, as it helped me in the early days to read about other people’s experiences.

The book I’m about to start reading is Between Drinks: Escape the Routine, Take Control and Join the Clear Thinkers by David Downie.

This list is by no means exhaustive as there are many more books!  What books have you read that I haven’t that you would recommend to someone reading this? 🙂

Edited to add: 31/05/2015

These are other books I’ve read since I originally wrote this post almost 16 months ago:

Beyond Addiction by Foote, Wilkens and Kosanke

Almost Alcoholic by Doyle and Nowinski (I’ve written several blog posts about this book which you can read here and here)

Drink – The Deadly Relationship between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONAL BOOK!

Mrs D  is Going Without by Lotta Dann

Sober is the New Black by Rachel Black

Staying Sober – How to Control The Demon Drink by Binki Laidler

The Good House by Ann Leary (I found this one really triggery even though I read it when I was well over a year after stopping so proceed with caution)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

As I read more I’ll continue to add them 🙂

Edited to add: More books read as of  25/08/17

Janet Woititz – Adult Children of Alcoholics

Meadow Devor – Money Love

Sally Brampton – Shoot the Damn Dog

Dr Shefali Tsabary – The Conscious Parent

Pete Walker – The Tao of Fully Feeling & Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving

Susan Anderson – Taming Your Outer Child

Cheryl Strayed – Tiny Beautiful Things

Lotta Dann – Mrs D is Going Within

Michael Singer – The Untethered Soul & The Surrender Experiment

John Bradshaw – Healing The Shame That Binds You

Claudia Black – Changing Course

Mark Manson – The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Svend Brinkmann – Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze

Melody Beattie – Making Miracles in 40 Days & Codependent No More

Mary Karr – Lit


Turning thoughts into action

So I have shared the reasons that it was important for me to stop but I found it all too easy to sit at this point and procrastinate.

I needed to think beyond these questions and consider more such as:

Imagining that I had decided to stop and what would that feel like?

What would I need to have in place to be able to stop?

What help and support would I require?

What information would I need?

What would be the benefits of continuing to drink?

What would be most difficult for me if I decided to stop?

What would be the benefit if I decided to stop?

Again I would weigh up the pro’s and con’s of staying with the drinking behaviour or changing the drinking behaviour.

Now I needed to act.

The secondary effects of drinking

I love my job as I get to work with children and young people in public health.  Unfortunately though whereas in one of my previous nursing specialities I dealt with the physical primary effects of drinking on alcoholics, in this role I deal with the environmental secondary effects of drinking.  What I mean by that is part of my role involves safeguarding children and many of them are under our care because of parental alcohol abuse and dependency.

There have been 2 serious case reviews in the UK in the recent past that have been picked up by the national media.  These were for the deaths of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan.

In the cases of both these children there were many interlinking factors that contributed to their abuse and eventual deaths that included domestic violence, and in the case of Hamzah Khan, maternal mental ill health.  In both cases alcohol abuse and dependency was also present and this is mirrored in local serious case review reports.

Alcohol Concern produced a report in October 2010 called ‘Swept under the carpet: Children affected by parental alcohol misuse’ and it makes grim reading.  The report includes key statistics that include:

  • There is evidence of parental substance misuse in 57% of serious case reviews
  • In a study of four London Boroughs, almost two thirds (62%) of all children subject to care proceedings had parents who misused substances.
  • Alcohol plays a key part in 25-33% of known cases of child abuse
  • Alcohol use is a feature in a majority of domestic abuse offences

I am not sharing these facts to depress but to highlight an area of concern that I see on a daily basis that the UK govt seems to fail to acknowledge when looking at the effects of harmful drinking.  When the impact of harm from secondary smoking was evidenced smoke free laws were implemented.  When will the same level of importance be attached to the impact of the secondary effects of drinking?

 ‘Alcoholism is hidden because it is legal – it’s swept under the carpet’ Girl aged 13

Thinking about stopping

These were questions that I started to ask myself when I realised that my drinking was once more problematic and I moved from pre-contemplative to contemplative again:

How do I feel about my drinking?

What are the good things about drinking?

Is there anything about drinking I don’t like?

Do I see myself as a life-long drinker?

How do I see my life in the future if I decide to continue drinking?

Do I have any concerns about stopping?

What would get in the way of stopping?

What would I need to have in place to enable me to stop drinking?

How ready do I feel to stop drinking?

On a scale of 0-10 how important is it for me personally to stop drinking?

0 = not very important

10 = very important

On a scale of 0-10 if I decide right now to stop drinking how confident do I feel that I would be successful?

0 = not very confident

10 = very confident

What are my main reasons for wanting to stop drinking?

What do I think my biggest problem will be if I stop drinking?

I found it important to think about all of these things when considering the change.  I weighed up the pro’s (as detailed here) and con’s (as detailed here) of staying with the behaviour vs changing the behaviour.  Maybe these questions will be useful for you too?