Monthly Archives: June 2015

Drink responsibly (but please keep drinking)

Once again an excellent piece of work by Alcohol Concern lifts the veil on the mixed messages of the alcohol industry.

Less of this

‘The drinks industry, supermarkets, pubs and
clubs need to work with government so that
responsible drinking becomes a reality and not
just a slogan’ Prime Minister David Cameron
New research from Alcohol Concern suggests ‘drink responsibly’ messages appearing in alcohol adverts are being used by the alcohol industry to promote their brands rather than to help consumers make sensible choices about their drinking. The study found that, overall, less than half of the alcohol adverts and advertorials contained a ‘drink responsibly’ or equivalent message. Where ‘drink responsibly’ messages were present, these had frequently been expanded to include the brand name or drink type, or some other extra wording added to fit the wider theme of the advertising campaign.
I particularly liked the examples given within the report:
  • Bacardi: Live Passionately, Drink Responsibly
  • Diageo: Celebrate Life Responsibly
  • el Jimador: Be real. Drink Responsibly
  • Grey Goose: Sip Passionately, Drink Responsibly
  • Jack Daniels: Your friends at Jack Daniels remind you to Drink Responsibly. Play with your Heart. Drink with Care. Live Freely. Drink Responsibly
  • Jack Daniels: Make This Season a Winter to Remember. Drink Responsibly.

So yes I concur Alcohol Concern the message is very much Drink Responsibly (but please keep drinking) ……. Oh and Mr Cameron we need less sloganism and sound bytes from you and more action please.  I’m not interested in what you say only what I see you do, which until now has been very little.

Alcohol detox centre ‘saves NHS millions’

This was a news story featured on the BBC website in April looking at how alcohol detox centres being set up could save the NHS millions.

alcohol detox centre

The NHS could save £27m a year by changing the way it deals with alcoholic patients, new research seen by the Victoria Derbyshire programme suggests. We spent a week in a unit which is pioneering a different approach.

It’s Derek Pilling’s first day in the Chapman Barker unit. He was drinking up to 30 pints a day.

“When I was 15 I drunk socially and over the last few years I’ve come out of work and gradually got to the point where I’ve become dependent. Couldn’t go hours and hours without a drink. It’s scary,” he explains.

Derek was brought by his family, but others have come straight from the emergency department or inpatient ward at a Manchester hospital. Instead of getting patched up and sent home they arrive at this small building to undergo treatment for their alcohol addiction for a whole week.

Asked how he feels out of 10, Derek replies “one”. “To be honest I’m terrified. It’s my first admission. And it’s like, I’ve got to go further. . . and a lot more work after this. I just can’t let my family down,” he says.

Alcohol abuse costs the NHS £3.8bn a year, £145 for each UK household. One in three of all A&E admissions are alcohol related. On a weekend that can rise to 70%.

Dr Chris Daly, the lead consultant at the unit, believes the NHS is wasting money by often treating people for the effects of alcohol problems without dealing with the underlying problem.

“We were very surprised that a significant proportion, maybe as much as 50% of the patients [that we see], were not open to any services and some of them had never been seen by alcohol services before, so it’s almost as if we’re dealing with a different sort of population,” he says.

“These are people who are maybe only using their A&E department as their main source of treatment for their alcohol problems.”

The Radar ward at Chapman Barker is the first of its kind in the UK. Set up three years ago it takes alcohol-dependent patients directly from 11 A&E departments across Manchester.

Some 75% of the people who come through the unit do not go back to hospital for at least the next three months.

The scheme, now in its third year, is designed for people like John Courtney. A former RAF man and veteran of the first Gulf war, at his worst he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day.

He has been repeatedly in and out of hospital, often after collapsing and having a fit when sober and withdrawing from alcohol.

He says: “I can’t remember the number of different treatments I’ve had, from the assertive outreach team to surgical wound infections. It goes on and on. I can’t remember how much help I’ve had, and a lot of this is when I’ve been sober.”

The Radar ward is split with separate eating and living spaces for both sexes. Four in 10 of the places here are taken by women, from teenagers right up to pensioners in their 80s.

Patients are treated with talking therapies, support and counselling, but also specialist medical care they would not always get in a large hospital.

Around half of all alcohol-dependent patients can develop clinical symptoms when they try to quit, including seizures, fits and hallucinations.

Without the right support the most severe cases often end up back in hospital.

Nurse Clare Hilton says: “Most the patients here have severe alcohol problems. So it’s a matter of treating the physical addiction to drink then starting to look at the underlying cause.”

She says many people may think patients have caused the problem themselves.

“It’s so important to us that we don’t judge them. They’ve walked in and said, I don’t want to do this any more. We go, great, let’s sort it. What can we do to help you? So the team here all work with people because they know they want to make that change in their lives.”

An independent analysis of the unit by academics at Liverpool John Moores University published in April 2015 found it saves the NHS £1.3m a year.

If the same approach was taken across the country the researchers say it could save the NHS £27.5m in England alone.

This unit has secured funding to operate for another year but the future is always uncertain. The people working there say ignoring these patients will cost the NHS more in the long run.

Four days after Derek was admitted, he is getting ready to move into longer term residential rehab – paid for in part by his local council.

Asked how he feels now he says: “About eight-and-a-half out of 10. The panics have gone away, physically I can actually walk now. I used to be pretty much bed-ridden for maybe a week at a time.

“I feel a lot safer here and I feel a lot safer that my family know I’m here as I’m one of the youngest of nine.

“My family have been through a lot of heartache, it’s not as easy as you think. It’s really, really difficult. But there’s not really any option. It’s got to be done.”

Derek admits he has done some “pretty severe” damage to his body.

“I spoke to one of the doctors yesterday, I had some bloods taken and some more. . . I don’t want to ask, so I thought it obviously doesn’t sound good. I know from the past I’ve got severe liver damage, so basically I’m running on nothing now.

“I’m never going to pick up a drink again, but can anyone ever say never? I’m always going to be an alcoholic aren’t I? What can I do about that, you’ve just got to accept it. I despise it, I see it as a poison.”

We need more of these working in this way to help start to resolve the issues we have with alcohol and to take the pressure off  A&E’s.  I’d happily work at one 🙂

Edited to add: 11/07/2015 this unit was recently discussed in The Lancet too

Tackling the UK’s alcohol problems

A new UK unit, which takes alcohol-dependent patients straight out of the emergency setting to a specialist detox centre, is a promising approach, say experts.


Binge drinking as a teenager can damage the brain for LIFE

Thanks to one of the ladies over at the Sober Womens Awareness Network on Facebook for bringing this to my attention 🙂  It’s a Daily Wail headline hence the use of capitals to make their point.  It relates to binge drinking as a teenager and some new research that has shown that it can damage the brain for life by impacting on the regions affecting memory and learning and be associated with emotional immaturity.  This has long been known in the world of substance abuse as it pertains to cannabis use and the pruning of the neural networks and now evidence is mounting that as we suspected booze has the same effect.


A new study has shown that alcohol exposure during adolescence, before the brain is fully developed, can result in abnormalities that have enduring, detrimental effects on a person’s behaviour.  And scientists warn alcohol could also slow down emotional maturity.

Dr Mary-Louise Risher, at Duke University, said: ‘In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult.  But the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid 20s.  It’s important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions.’

Researchers periodically exposed young rodents to a level of alcohol during adolescence that, in humans, would result in impairment, but not sedation.  Afterwards, the animals received no further exposure to alcohol, and grew into adulthood, which in rats occurred within 24 to 29 days.  Past research has shown that adolescent animals exposed to alcohol grow into adults that are much less adept at memory tasks than normal animals – even with no further alcohol exposure.

But until now, scientists have not known how these impairments manifest in the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.  Using small electrical stimuli applied to the hippocampus, researchers were able to measure a cellular mechanism, called long-term potentiation, or LTP.  This is the strengthening of brain synapses – the connections between brain cells, or neurons – as they become used to learning new tasks or recalling memories.  Learning occurs best when this synaptic activity is vigorous enough to build strong signal transmissions between neurons.  LTP is highest in the young, and effective learning is crucial for teenagers to acquire large amounts of new memory during the transition to adulthood.

The researchers said they expected to find abnormally diminished LTP in the adult rats that had been exposed to alcohol during their adolescence.  Surprisingly, though, LTP was actually hyperactive in these animals compared to the unexposed rodents.

‘At first blush, you would think the animals would be smarter,’ said Professor Scott Swartzwelder.  ‘But that’s the opposite of what we found.  And it actually does make sense, because if you produce too much LTP in one of these circuits, there is a period where you can’t produce any more.  The circuit is saturated, and the animal stops learning.  For learning to be efficient, your brain needs a delicate balance of excitation and inhibition – too much in either direction and the circuits do not work optimally.’ 

Importantly, Professor Swartzwelder, Dr Risher and their colleagues identified that the LTP abnormality was accompanied by a structural change in individual nerve cells.  The tiny protrusions from the branches of the cells, called dendritic spines, appeared lanky and spindly, suggesting immaturity.  Mature spines are shorter and look a bit like mushrooms, refining cell-to-cell communication.  Professor Swartzwelder, added: ‘Something happens during adolescent alcohol exposure that changes the way the hippocampus and other regions of the brain function and how the cells actually look – both the LTP and the dendritic spines have an immature appearance in adulthood.’  Dr Risher said this immature quality of the brain cells might be associated with behavioural immaturity.  ‘It’s quite possible that alcohol disrupts the maturation process, which can affect these cognitive function later on,’ she said.  ‘That’s something we are eager to explore in ongoing studies.’ 

The study was published today in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The aspect of this research I find so fascinating is the emotional maturity element.  I’ve long believed, as have many out here in the sober blogging world, that our emotional maturity stops developing from the age that we start drinking heavily to manage our emotions.  There has been no evidence of this to date but this is the closest we have got to acknowledging this as a real phenomenon with further research to look at this specifically being considered.  I would love for our anecdotal experience to be supported by solid evidence and research in the future!  What do you think?

Edited to add: 25th Jan 2016 More research findings:

How BEER damages the brains of teenagers: Alcohol ‘impairs spatial awareness and memory’

Researchers from McMaster University determined alcohol has a ‘serious impact’ on developing brains.  That impact largely occurs in the hippocampus – the region responsible for spatial navigation and memory function.  The study sheds new light on the effect alcohol has on young brains.  The team of researchers used the popular video game Minecraft to test the effect of alcohol on teenagers.

Saturday sober jukebox – there goes my hero

So I’m up in the North East for the week-end walking, chatting, running and eating with 16 other sober travellers and I put a coin in the jukebox for while I’m away! 😉

The request for this track comes from an old friend who has recently reappeared around these parts (yes that’s you jimsdad!) and goes out to our friend Dave Krohl (we wish!) who recently fell off stage during a performance, broke his leg (!) but got the EMT guy to stabilise it while he carried on singing to finish the gig before heading off to hospital to have it POP’d.  Don’t believe me? Photographic evidence of what a warrior he is!!

dave grohl

Here’s his letter to Glasto, which is also taking place this week-end, and that they were supposed to be headlining explaining how gutted he is.  Me and Jimsdad think he’s legend so here it is 🙂

You could say that he is one of us as he has been hospitalised for caffeine addiction!   Here’s what The Fix  had to say: Coffee is one of the world’s most common addictions. While it may seem innocent, the beverage contains caffeine (a drug), and for some people a daily java habit can spiral out of control. Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl has admitted that a 2010 spoof video he made about his caffeine habit was based on a real incident that had him hospitalized. “We were in the studio making a record and I was drinking a lot of coffee,” the singer recalled, “and I started having chest pains, so I went to the hospital and they told me to stop drinking so much coffee.”

Cindy Grassin, an addiction specialist who works at a drug and alcohol rehab in California, tells The Fix that many people are unaware of the dependence you can develop on the seemingly benign beverage. “People don’t realize how addictive coffee can actually be,” she says. “Especially for those that have an addictive personally, monitoring coffee intake is important.” Grassin advises people to treat java just as they would any other substance. “Coffee is a drug. Period,” she says. “Because of this, you need to treat it that way by consuming it in moderation, and getting help if you, or those around you, feel you may be addicted.”

Because drinking coffee is an integral part of so many people’s daily lives, its dangers may often go unnoticed. “No one ever thought I had a problem because coffee is such an acceptable addiction in our society,” Daniel from Northern California tells us. “At one point, I believe I was drinking a cup of coffee an hour. And it wasn’t just black coffee—I would change it up with Frappucinos, lattes, and lots of coffee ice cream.” Ultimately, Daniel’s addiction landed him in the hospital, where he came to realize the severity of his problem. “I was having severe chest pains, and doctors said my adrenal glands were shot. I’m glad I got help when I did because according to them, I was on my way to a heart attack. I was also having panic attacks all the time, and my heart rate was through the roof,” he says. “Since leaving treatment, I stick to only water. But I still love the smell of coffee.”

So if you’re starting your Saturday morning with a coffee or two – be careful! And to all the sober heroes out there – there goes my hero, watch him as he goes 🙂

A ReThink of the Way we Drink

Thanks to Laura at Club Soda who sent this over to me 🙂  It’s an informational video on Youtube created by a doctor in Canada called Mike Evans who uses the whiteboard art approach to illustrate the facts to encourage us to rethink the way we drink.

rethink drink

It is designed for the American market, even though he’s a Canadian, so the drink guidelines and measures are for the US.  If you need a reminder of the UK drinking guidelines you can find them here.

I like this video because he uses the iceberg metaphor that I very recently used myself here 😉  I like this metaphor because it is so appropriate for drinking and its impact on our health and physical body.  Although we may look and feel okay on the outside things may not be as they appear when we look beneath the surface.  That’s the thing with booze – because it is mainly processed by the liver which has no nerve fibres we don’t know there is a problem until it is too late.  The damage is not visible or felt as it is happening, that is apart from the hangover which is the bodies response to being poisoned ………

He also talks clearly about the mixed messages we get about alcohol and how that effects our behaviour around change and drinking.  It is a clear encouragement to step back from the marketing image created around booze and to listen to yourself and reflect on whether you need to rethink the way you drink.  Whether this means cutting down or stopping completely, as it did for me, I don’t think you’ll ever regret taking a breath and pausing to think about what you are doing before you pour that next glass 🙂  What do  you think?

PS Today I’ve been invited on a sober retreat for the week-end with a group of ladies from the lovely SWAN group on FB so I won’t be about to reply to comments until Sunday evening.  I’ll let the sober jukebox run tomorrow and I’ll see you all in a few days time! 🙂

Using hypnosis for quitting drinking

This is not something I have used personally but I did attend a hypnotist to help me quit smoking many years ago and it did work for a bit.  The ladies over at Mumsnet have used it and shared that they found it really helpful especially with craving management so if they say it’s worth a shot then it gets my vote.  You can never have too many tools in your sober tool box right?


As is often the case it is Youtube that offers this video for free so if you’re wanting to try using hypnosis for quitting drinking this is the one that was recommended called: Complete Stop Drinking Alcohol Self Hypnosis Session

It gets lots of positive comments underneath so I think it is worth using as part of your moderation or quit attempt.  As I stopped 21 months ago I’m not sure there is much value in me watching it and telling you what I think but if you’d like to be a human guinea pig and trial it for me and let me know in the comments or by email at a then please do!! 🙂

Landmark case as council sued over Reduce the Strength Scheme

This was featured in April’s Institute of Alcohol Studies and looked at a landmark case where the council was successfully sued over lost revenue after complying with the Reduce the Strength Scheme with a sub header that it could open the floodgates as the case may set legal precedence.

reducing the strength

Here’s the coverage:

Retailers could be entitled to compensation from councils that illegally enforce bans on certain products following a landmark case where loss of earnings put a store on the brink of closure.

According to Off Licence News, Shabir Mohammed, owner of Lifestyle Express in Newcastle, pursued his local authority in the courts for a loss of revenue amounting to £280,000 when he was banned from selling beers and ciders above 5.6% ABV.

The retailer was also forced to remove certain wine brands from his shelves as part of the council’s Reducing the Strength scheme. The measure was added as a condition to his licence in May 2014 and when the licensing committee refused to remove it later that year, he launched a successful legal appeal.

The senior magistrate who ruled in favour of Mr Mohammed criticised the local authority’s actions for imposing a condition despite a lack of “direct evidence that the premises was undermining licensing objectives”. Legal experts have warned the case could open the floodgates to a tide of similar cases from retailers who believe they have been strong-armed into joining Reducing the Strength schemes, and councils could be liable for significant compensation claims.

Jane Gilliead, the licensing consultant representing Mohammed, told OLN: “It is a huge concern that licensing authorities are adopting such verbal schemes, without there being any consultation with the trade. We are now looking at the possibilities for recouping some of the lost earnings and he is fully intending to pursue this.

“Ultimately my client could have gone out of business, such were the considerable losses and the time it has take to overturn this illegally applied measure.

“Retailers have been reluctant to challenge such schemes for fear of reprisals, so it is a vital step forward for those who are subjected to these schemes.”

As reported in last month’s Alcohol Alert, guidelines issued by the Competition & Markets Authority to retailers concerned they could be participating in an illegal scheme, stated clearly that retailers could participate in competition law-compliant voluntary schemes so long as they avoided discussions with competitors.

Here’s what bothers me about this and hence why I’m discussing it:

The retailer suffered a loss of revenue amounting to £280,000 when he was banned from selling beers and ciders above 5.6% ABV when the measure was added as a condition to his licence in May 2014.

So in less than a year this retailer was making almost quarter of a million pounds on high strength beers and ciders.  I find this astounding and horrifying in equal measure.  Yes he has to make a living, I am not anti-business, but once again this case shows that business needs have been placed above public health concerns.

Not only that but in other council areas this initiative has also helped reduce crime rates so it will do a u-turn on law and order too:

A campaign launched to prevent the sale of super strength alcohol in Ipswich has seen a 50 per cent fall in offending by street drinkers in the town, it emerged today.

And what is even more concerning is you can bet the drinks industry are following this and will be considering ways to reach out to similar retailers to support them in their legal challenges if this indeed sets legal precedence.

We are going bloody backwards on this issue – not forwards …….


Let me count the ways ……

that my perfectionism and self-critical way of being is receding as the booze ship sails further into the distance.

let me count the ways

I’ve been thinking about this as I go about my daily routine and just noticing things that I do differently now.  Count from here:

  1. I used to weigh myself every morning.  I was a complete body fascist and very hard and critical on myself if I gained any weight.  It was just another thing to beat myself around the head with.  I’ve stopped weighing myself every day and have gained a few pounds and it doesn’t seem to matter like it used to.
  2. I used to wash my hair every day as I was paranoid about it looking greasy.  Now I can go three days and even if it starts to look like it needs a wash I’m less bothered.  Just tie it back and it’ll be okay.
  3. Same with eyebrow care.  Waxed every 3-4 weeks and tweezed into submission in between – what would people think of me if my brows were poorly managed?  The irony is my close up eyesight is getting worse so I can’t actually see now so I worry less!  Same goes for other wayward body hair – used to be fastidious about this kind of stuff but MrHOF never noticed or cared most of the time.
  4. Clothes had to be pristine.  Would wash things after only one wear if only for a few hours.  Was equally paranoid about body odour.  Just more relaxed about it – stuff gets dirty if we wear it!
  5. All of these rules extended to my poor family and home environment too.  Chaos and mess used to make me really stressed and grumpy.  I live with a 9 and 7 year old and a husband who isn’t bothered about it but me?  Anal and overwhelmed if things weren’t just so.  Have slowly noticed myself relaxing about all of these things that don’t really matter.  Again this house is lived in – it gets messy and dirty and our newest kitten addition, called Inky, I’m sure has been sent into my life to make me get this stuff in perspective.  Every time he comes through the cat-flap he leaves a trail of muddy paw marks from the kitchen up to onto our bed.  Previously this would have driven me nuts – now I just have to laugh.
  6. The blog – again mistakes were not tolerated and I felt that they would be noticed and I would be thought less of if I made a mistake.  I’m human – mistakes happen.
  7. Academic advancement – this continues to drive me.  Partly because I feel safe when I am learning and growing.  I don’t know why this is but suspect it is how I got reward and acknowledgement as a child and it remains a strong motivator.  I suspect is also related to self-worth and proving that I am intelligent, something I consider important.  Plus because I’m a maven 😉
  8. Fitness – running  has become a pleasure that I enjoy and miss if I don’t go out and do.  It isn’t a chore or something I feel driven to do – it’s something I love to do and it has the added bonus of keeping me healthy.
  9. Diet – has improved immensely.  Yes sugar is still a battle point but generally what I put in my mouth is much more balanced, considered and healthy.  I used to be really unhealthy both in terms of fitness and diet and this was something else to berate myself over.
  10. Financial impulsivity – now I see it!  This was something that was well below my radar when I was drinking.  It was fuelled by drinking – browsing online shops glass in hand.  I used to buy clothes, so as to keep up the appearance that if everything looked ok on the outside I wasn’t falling part on the insides, right? Music and books were also high up on the overspending list – means to escape and feed my intelllectual cravings.  Clothes I stopped buying almost completely.  Music too, but partly as it had such a strong association with booze for me, that in these early days it has been a trigger so I avoided.  Books I still struggle with, but I use the library more often, and rather than impulse buy them they go on to my wishlist and at birthdays and Xmas requests are made for them to be gifts or they become milestone sober treats.  As a result all debt has gone 🙂

It seems when I drank because that felt out of control I sought to control everything else.  If I could just keep everything else looking okay then there wasn’t a problem right?  Thing is I constantly shot myself in the foot.  Hungover I would eat badly, wouldn’t exercise, my weight would go up.  My skin and hair would look like crap but if my hair was cleanly washed every day and my brows were perfectly shaped I was keeping my shit together.  I didn’t look after the house past wine o’clock because I was drinking but if I yelled at everyone else for making a mess then it took the focus off of my lack not them being – well them.  Drinking more cost me more financially so made our home finances worse.

The small almost imperceptible shifts that happen when you drink and then that reverse when you stop are so incremental that you almost miss them but they all add up to the bigger picture of how we feel and treat ourselves.

tip of the iceberg

I hadn’t considered any of these things when I was thinking about stopping.  Stopping drinking is like the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  There is a whole slew of stuff under the water line that are more impacted than just the observable behaviour.  It really is the most almighty of changes to make to your life and one I would strongly support and recommend.  How many changes could you count if you stopped?  🙂

PS This is Inky 🙂  He’s a rescue home cat so didn’t join us until he was 9 months old so not really a kitten anymore 😀


More ‘How to Quit’ workshop dates in collaboration with Club Soda!

Back in May I ran my first ‘How to Quit’ Workshop in partnership with Club Soda.
It was a huge success and if you want to see how some of those who attended are getting on with their new hangover free lives you can do so here 🙂Club Soda image
We are running 3 more dates in 2015:

Saturday 4th July

Saturday 26th September

Saturday 14th November

11am – 5pm
Kingly Court, 49 Carnaby Street, London, W1F 9PY

Here is some of the feedback received:

Just to say thank you SO much for today. Meeting you and Laura was life changing. I’ve just got home from a house party and drank only tonic water and cordial! Very proud and pleased to start my new alcohol free life!

Thank you so much for the workshop it was really fantastic.  It was lovely to spend time with people who understand and not feel abnormal.   I learnt so much and found your story truly inspiring.  I have done a lot of reading and the Allen Carr workshop but yours was really the best for me.  It has given me the boost I needed to carry on with my choice not to drink.  I know I have given up 3 times before and started drinking again but I really hope I have cracked it this time.  She’s now over 100 days hangover free 🙂

I attended your workshop on Saturday and found it very helpful. My goal at the beginning of the day was to cut out drinking completely during weekdays, but I have decided to take a complete break . The “drinkaware” cup which you showed the group was, for me, a key visualisation : the “safe” amount is really very small, and represents barely the beginning of an evening for me and something I have previously paid absolutely no regard to whatsoever.  I have to get to grips with why I want to numb the edge of my day. Drinking wine is definitely not the answer, and although it remains to be seen how quickly I can dismiss it completely, I feel so much better equipped than before to try. Your own story, your professional perspective as a medic and the resources you provided were very helpful, as is learning how many other people share my concerns about the disproportionate and totally undeserved role alcohol plays in so many people’s lives.  Thanks again, and I will let you know how I get on.

My aim was to get the motivation to stop drinking completely (which I have tried doing a number of times) and then pick up tips to help me remain sober.  The day did this and I have not had an alcoholic drink since Saturday evening.  In addition to this I found the following really useful…

  • Hearing other people’s perspectives and that they were in a similar boat.
  • Hearing from non-drinkers that life was “infinitely better” without alcohol.
  • Hearing how I might feel over the next few weeks, months and years.  It is so much better to be prepared.
  • Hearing how non-drinkers dealt with feeling tired and unwell eg just going to bed.
  • Hearing about non-alcoholic beers and wine.

If you’d like to join us you can register for a place here: or click this image to the right of this blog post 🙂

How to Quit Drinking Workshop ad

Everyone loves my dad – they don’t know he’s an alcoholic

This piece was featured in The Guardian recently.  It was an anonymous ‘comment is free’ article from a young man whose Dad is an alcoholic.  This could have been written by me – the fine details are different but the feeling it evokes is the same and on Father’s Day it feels very prescient …..

How very droll Stella ..... your booze puts a bomb in people's lives too :(
How very droll Stella ….. your booze puts a bomb in people’s lives too 🙁

It’s far easier to conceal a drink problem than you’d think. My dad does it every day, his alcoholism almost invisible (unless you know what to look for), busy getting by until it’s almost too late.

And he’s not alone – in Australia, alcoholism is classified as the country’s “worst drug problem for more than 50 years”, and considered an epidemic more deadly and economically draining than heroin, cannabis and cocaine. There is no task force to deal with it effectively though, and the same goes for the UK. In the March budget, George Osborne cut alcohol duty for the third year running, and disregarded repeated calls from the Royal College of Physicians to introduce minimum unit pricing.

Politicians don’t want to deprive the hard-working people of this country of a well-earned pint, do they? The message is: don’t shoot up, kids, but feel free to get slaughtered at the pub this weekend – just make sure you’re back in the office on Monday. And if the health problems catch up with you later on, don’t worry, the NHS will pick up the (nearly £3bn) bill.

With my dad, the time it hits me most is when I’m picking up a takeaway from the local Chinese, steeling myself for the owner to say, as she inevitably does: “How’s your dad? He’s so funny! He’s always so drunk!” I remind myself it is just thoughtlessness, she’s not being malicious. She’s really not, they adore my dad in there; he spends a fortune, he chats, he’s the definition of “a laugh” and he’s not a nasty drunk (although, don’t push it).

In fact, everyone adores my dad. My school friends thought he was the coolest ever, pint in hand and much younger than their golf-playing, coffee-drinking dads. Ours was the house for weekend barbecues that would escalate into parties to be proud of; dad at the centre joking and putting away more cans than you imagine any parent should be able to. People are always telling me how much they love him; how they wish their dad was more like him.

What they don’t recognise is that all this fun conceals an increasingly chronic alcoholic, albeit a functioning one. His alcohol abuse, if only witnessed down the pub amid so many others, can easily be construed as, “he’s just having a good time”.

You see, he has a steady job, a long-term girlfriend, and, despite losing his house, has accommodation. He also has a relationship with his children, although we screen his calls on weekends and weekdays after 7pm. During those times there’s no way to guarantee he’s not started drinking, drunk already, or topping up from the night before. And if I don’t call him, I don’t worry about him so much, which suits me. Worrying about him makes me feel physically sick, dizzy and horribly sad, because when he’s sober, he’s wonderful; smart, sweet and face-achingly funny.

We used to joke darkly that he’d outlive us all, preserved by cigarette smoke and Stella Artois (I can’t see a can of it now without getting shaky). However, several weeks ago my phone buzzed. Perhaps it was pangs of guilt for not having texted him recently, but against form, I answered. I can tell from my dad’s voice alone how much he’s had to drink. He wasn’t yet on a second glass, so had hit a chatty peak: not slurred or over-emotional, but repeatedly saying how much he loves me, how proud he is of me – but failing to ask about my life (it’s easier that way; knowing what we’re up to and realising what he’s lost is, after all, part of what the alcohol anaesthetises). He tells me that he’s started having problems with his feet. “They’re going numb, I can’t drive so well. I’ve got that peripheral neuropathy thing. Google it.”

According to the NHS, peripheral neuropathy is “a term for a group of conditions in which the peripheral nervous system is damaged”, specifically, the web of nerves not controlled by your brain and spinal cord. It can affect muscle control, causing spasms and wasting; wreak havoc on automatic nerves, which manage blood pressure, sweating and incontinence, and, as in my dad’s case, destroy sensory nerves which enable you to feel, resulting in numb feet and hands. In extreme, untreated circumstances, peripheral neuropathy can lead to gangrene and amputation. While the majority of cases are found in people with diabetes – 60% of type 1 and type 2 diabetics will develop it – another major cause, top of the list in fact, is “excessive alcohol drinking for years”. Turns out you can really drink away your feelings.

The worst thing wasn’t getting the news itself, however shocking, but knowing that even the potential loss of his extremities is unlikely to put my dad off drinking. If anything, it will make him drink more out of fear and denial. What’s truly devastating is the fact that I can’t fix it for him, or make him fix it himself.

My dad has had a problem with alcohol since his early teens. He’s not even 60, doesn’t live on the streets and drink to keep warm and sane, or spend Friday nights in a cell for fighting (that, at least, he’s grown out of). He has a willing and loving support network, as well as the professional resources to turn to if he chose to accept that he’s an alcoholic. But it’s not as simple as that, not when his behaviour can be waved away as an accepted norm. If he can still get up for work in the morning, he can’t be in too much of a state, can he?

When my mum finally left him, after years of heartbreak, what was strangest for me was seeing how people judged her rather than my dad. Family friends told her she could have “tried harder”, claiming his drinking “wasn’t that bad anyway”, “he just likes a few – don’t be a spoilsport.” I wish those so-called mates of his loved him as much as they say they do – as much as I do – because my dad is a hell of a lot more fun when he’s sober.

The line about peripheral neuropathy and drinking away your feelings feels so sad and poignant.  My heart aches for this man and his family.

To end this on a more positive note today I wanted to share with you a link to a news piece that relates to a friend of mine.  She bravely gave the interview to Bella magazine detailing her history of drinking honestly and her successful 18 month sobriety since and it got picked up by the Daily Mail (complete with alarmist headline!)

‘I was always drunk for the school pickup’: Alcoholic mother-of-three who drank through pregnancy and abused her family speaks about her journey to sobriety

I’m really proud of you Sarah and the coffee and cheese scone or fancy hot chocolate is on me next time we meet 🙂