Sober October has been and gone, as has the alcohol awareness campaign in November, and now the inevitable ‘Dry January’ New Year’s resolutions are upon us. Those who occasionally overindulge will rein in their drinking or smoking for a month or so. Others will promise to cut down for good.
But every day in thousands of households across the UK, people are struggling with a real drink problem.
There are 10.8 million adults drinking at a level likely to pose a risk to their health and of those, 1.6m have some level of alcohol dependency. Harmful drinking costs society £21 billion.
According to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), people turning up for their first meeting are not sleeping on park benches or homeless and are usually employed.
Outwardly they appear to have normal lives. Many of them appear to be very successful with good jobs and a family and a mortgage. They get up, they go to work, they come home and they drink.
Sometimes they drink at work, at lunchtimes perhaps, or maybe they have begun to hide their drinking from their colleagues and their families. They may have become aware themselves that it might be a bit of a problem.
Mostly they don’t think it’s a problem at all. They dismiss criticism of their behaviour, they may not be truthful about their levels of alcohol consumption.
A lot of them feel unwell a lot of the time, a constant low hum of a hangover that gets louder now and again when they have really hit the bottle.
They don’t know what will happen when they pick up a drink. Sometimes they can control it, sometimes they can’t. For some, it has already passed way beyond any form of control.
“Things really started to hurt for me when my family stopped answering my phone calls, my relationship with my best friend broke down and I honestly couldn’t tell you when the last time I felt truly happy was,” says Dave, 28, from Chester.
“I had known I had a problem for a good few years but I couldn’t, or didn’t want to stop. I was, and still am what I would call ‘young’.
“All my friends were very much into going out socialising and having parties, it’s what everyone I knew of my age did.
“But I had stopped attending parties, or going out socialising for that matter, a year or so before I threw the towel in. I couldn’t guarantee I was going to behave in an acceptable manner, I pretty much blacked out whenever I drank and felt very anxious when mixing with people.”
Far from giving Dave confidence or ‘Dutch courage’, alcohol became something he did alone – away from the judgemental eyes of family and friends.
“I never used to feel that way, but slowly as my drinking progressed, so did my anxiety and lack of confidence,” says Dave. “What drinking gave me years previous had slowly stripped it away, plus a whole lot more.
“My drinking was now done behind closed curtains, with my phone turned off and the door on wherever I had managed to stay that week firmly shut. For quite a while I still thought I was having fun.”
The fun soon began to stop though and despite his young age Dave’s health was one of the first things to suffer.
“After a few trips to the hospital and numerous warnings from my GP I decided to try and stop,” he says. “It was killing me.
“I was successful for a few days at a time and then back on the roundabout. I just couldn’t seem to stay stopped no matter what I did or how hard I tried.
“I was then introduced to AA by a friend of the family.”
AA has been in the UK for 70 years this year. Unlike treatment centres, AA meetings are free and available to anyone who has a desire to stop drinking. No waiting lists, no referrals. Their meetings are everywhere, in every city and nearly every town across the UK, every night of the week.
Daytime meetings are available too and meetings stay open on bank holidays and at Christmas and New Year.
“I was initially told to keep coming back and to attend as many meetings as I could and this is exactly what I did,” remembers Dave. “Before I realised it I was a month sober.
“It wasn’t easy but it was easier then the life I was trying to leave behind.
“Slowly but surely I started to feel better, physically at first and then, more importantly to me, mentally.
“I slowly started to gain self-respect, trust from my family and friends and I became employable once more. It really has worked for me, doing what is suggested, one day at a time.”
Far from the preconceived idea of a problem drinker, the AA meetings include people from all backgrounds – for whom the nightly drink became a nightmare.
Using a 12-step programme and support of others who have stayed sober, they help the drinker stop and stay stopped. Then they offer help and support to live a happy and contented life free from a dependence on alcohol.
AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no fees for AA membership as they are self-supporting through contributions.
“AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution,” says a spokesman for the AA.
“It does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. The primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”
AA has a national free helpline where first time callers are offered help by an AA volunteer who will share their experience on recovery and offer to put them in touch with an AA member who will take them to their first meeting.
“Some people find details of their local meetings from the AA website or other sources and come along on their own,” adds the spokesman.
“If drink is costing more than money then there is help available today.”
l The national free number is 0800 9177 650 and covers the whole of Great Britain. There is also help by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and more information at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk including where to find meetings. There is also a Chat Now facility on the website.
l A link to all Chester and North Wales meetings can be found at: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.