There. I’ve started you all off. It’s Alcohol Awareness Week from from 18 to 24 November and Alcohol Concern is encouraging people to have conversations about alcohol and how it affects them. The charity hopes to get us talking about the health risks and social problems that are linked with alcohol use.
So to get the ball rolling, yes I am an alcoholic. Before anyone calls me an irresponsible scumbag, I’d like to share a bit of my story and highlight how people come to develop drinking problems.
My issues with alcohol started at around the age of 18, after I developed an anxiety disorder in my teens. Like many people who embark on a dependent relationship with alcohol, I was using booze as a form of self-medication to ease the symptoms of a mental health problem.
My anxiety disorder, coupled with borderline personality disorder, left me with unbearable feelings of fear, frustration and sadness on a regular basis. Unfortunately my anxiety disorder went undiagnosed for many years, so alcohol seemed the ideal medication to calm my nerves and to function in the world.
Of course the consequences of using booze to cope were huge. Not only did I become someone not very nice when I drank too much, but the constant drinking had a massive impact on my health. My stomach had holes in it, from being burned away by alcohol, and I only have a third of my pancreas left to this day.
When I finally managed to get effective treatment for my anxiety disorder, I believed that I would be able to have a normal relationship with alcohol, but to my horror, addiction had well and truly taken over. Every time I tried to have a couple of pints, I would be shocked and appalled as I woke up hungover and surrounded by empty spirits bottles I didn’t remember buying.
It took me a few more years of trying (and failing) to control my drinking and researching addictions before I finally understood what was going on. In case you’re worried that I’m guzzling down the gin while typing this, I’m now in recovery, and I no longer need to drink. I have recovered from all my issues and now help others to do the same.
I’m not ashamed of sharing my story, as I understand that alcoholism is an illness. That inability to stop after one drink is a flaw that is set up by biological factors, rather than because of a lack of willpower. For an alcoholic, one drink sends the dopamine system into overdrive, leading to a compulsion to continue drinking until the bitter end.
Triggers for dangerous levels of drinking include experiencing trauma or mental health problems. Unfortunately there is a line that you can cross with drinking heavily, and once you have crossed it, your brain and body never recover their ability to drink alcohol normally if you happen to have a certain biology.
Not everyone’s relationship with booze will be as bad as mine, but certain people are more likely to become addicts and that’s just the way it is. Other people may overuse alcohol in stressful or social situations, and while they may not be alcoholics, they might be better off finding healthier ways to deal with life.
If you are experiencing problems with alcohol, there is help out there. As I wrote in my book, The Recovery Formula, everyone’s pathway to recovery will be individual, but an essential part of recovering from an alcohol problem is getting the right form of support.
If you have other problems that underlie your drinking, seeing an Addictions Therapist who understands mental health might be a wise idea. Talking to people who know what you’re going through can be an enormous help too, and Alcoholics Anonymous is a free worldwide organisation that aims to help its members to stay sober through meetings and mutual aid.
Above all, be aware of what your relationship with alcohol really is. Are you drinking above the recommended levels, and if so, is that something you are willing to risk your health for? Excessive use of alcohol is not the answer to stress, anxiety, low confidence and self-esteem or unhappiness. Take it from one who knows.