I was at the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this week, taking part in a seminar hosted by Labour MEP Glenis Wilmott on the need for both the EU and member states to face up to the need for better strategies to deal with alcohol abuse, a huge problem across Europe.
As well as me talking about my own drink problem and the film I recently made for the BBC about middle-class alcoholism, there were speeches from MEPs, academics, alcohol campaigners and a representative of the World Health Organisation.
But the speech I am putting up here today came from Diane Goslar, who told the story of her own descent into alcohol dependence. It is longer than my usual blog, but worth reading.
‘It’s so difficult dealing with alcohol dependence and living in a society where alcohol is so prevalent and assumes so much importance. You are surrounded by references to alcohol at every turn. It seems that if you want to be a fun, interesting person then you have to drink.
Someone who was trying to overcome a drugs problem said to me that it must be even harder trying to come off alcohol as it would be like having a dealer on every corner. Just think about that. A dealer on every corner. Then perhaps you’ll realise how difficult it is.
Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t want to seem boring – I would love to be able to drink alcohol, but because of what has happened to me, due to my abuse of this substance, I can’t. Ever. If you can’t drink alcohol, particularly on social occasions, you feel like an outsider. Like being on the inside of a goldfish bowl.
Let’s go back about 10 years. My drinking was getting way out of control. I couldn’t remember what I had been doing the day before. Strangely my hands were beginning to shake and I couldn’t sleep very easily because I was sweating profusely. Eventually I plucked up courage to tell my GP and she sent me to an Alcohol Treatment Centre. There they asked me what I wanted to achieve and I replied “controlled drinking”.
The notion of stopping drinking totally was abhorrent to me. I remember thinking that I wanted to be given a “magic pill” to fix things and then all would be fine. The treatment I received was not medication but counselling where you were made to look at yourself, keep a diary of how much, and when you drank, and talk problems through with your key worker.
After a time, and of my own choice, I left the Treatment Centre convinced I would now be able to control my drinking. Unfortunately I failed miserably. Yes, I did manage to control my drinking for about 3 months, and then I was back to my old alcohol abusing ways – only this time it became even more excessive. Eventually I reached the end of the road.
I was in such a state that it took me five long alcohol-soaked years before I could summon the strength to return to my GP to ask her to refer me back to the Treatment Centre. This time I knew that I had to ask the staff to help me to become abstinent. So, after the required preparation I detoxed. This was done by medication and regular checking every day by the medical team. The detox was extremely distressing and very difficult to go through. Certainly an incentive to keep sober if nothing else as I wouldn’t want to go through that again! Even now it is difficult to remain abstinent. But I have no choice because of the chronic nature and length of time of my alcohol abuse.
THE PHYSICAL IMPACT.
Remember when you’re alcoholic that the need for alcohol simply over rides everything and nothing else is remotely important. Personal inter-action and social mores really don’t matter. Let me tell you about a few things that happened to me when I was drinking heavily. Everyone knows about liver damage, but what about the other things that are not so well known?
There is the shaking. At some point in the progression of the disease, you get the shakes and it is both intense and debilitating. I can remember when the shaking got so bad that I could no longer hold my wine glass without spilling its contents everywhere, and my husband used to hold my glass for me so that I could drink out of it. At social occasions people would stare at me but I didn’t care. I needed to drink alcohol whatever that took.
And what about the damage you do to yourself through loss of motor control and lack of spatial awareness? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen down stairs, bruised my body somewhere, bumped into objects or generally damaged myself. There’s no real awareness of danger. Often you lie about the cause of an injury to your GP when asking her to mend the damage. I wonder how often my GP was fooled……..
I’ve also sometimes ended up sleeping on the doorstep outside in the street as I couldn’t function enough to turn my key in the lock to get inside. It’s amazing I wasn’t mugged or worse.
Then there are the black-outs, the loss of consciousness when your body simply cannot function any more. Unfortunately this happened to me rather frequently, and ranged in severity from passing out gently at the dinner table or restaurant to being carried off a ‘plane in a comatose condition and waking up later in hospital. Now I recoil at these things that happened and I’m embarrassed when I think about them. I’m telling you about these incidents because I want you to understand what can happen when you’re in the grip of an addiction that takes over your life and renders you powerless.
THE MENTAL IMPACT.
But there is even more devastating damage that may occur – the damage that you can do to your nervous system and to your brain. I know, because both of these things have happened to me.
It’s a fact that, whether addicted or not, as you drink more alcohol your mind works less efficiently and the power of reasoning and understanding diminishes – you are just not as fully aware of what is going on around you. That effect is multiplied when you’re addicted, and the only important thing is having more alcohol. The idea that you may not have access to alcohol is very frightening, so you probably don’t want to put down your glass or bottle, as you only feel secure when holding it.
But it is this loss of mental agility that is so serious and worrying, as you are probably not even aware that it is happening. When I look back now, I find it extremely distressing that I couldn’t use my mind. Indeed I didn’t want to use it. One of the most gratifying aspects of being sober is that I can now enjoy using my mind again.
However, I discovered that I have suffered some brain damage due to my alcohol abuse. After a brain scan my Neurologist confirmed this and said it was probably due to alcohol. My mind is very precious to me, and the knowledge that I have brain damage due to my alcohol abuse is personally devastating.
As time goes on and as your drinking increases, you start to gravitate towards those friends who drink a lot. A friend is someone with whom you have a bond, and that bond becomes alcohol. That can result in neglecting those friends who don’t have the same way of drinking.
I’m very fortunate in that I’ve managed to keep most of my friends even though I didn’t see some of them for a very long time. That was partly because alcohol wasn’t the main thing in their lives so increasingly we had nothing in common and then later, after I’d de-toxed, I couldn’t cope with the inter-action. They could drink alcohol and I couldn’t. At all. That was too difficult to handle. In fact amongst my friends I’m the only one who doesn’t……no….can’t….. drink alcohol. That’s a hard one. You see, when you detox you have to make a decision if your friends drink (and let’s face it most people do): — do you stay with them knowing how hard it’s going to be or do you say goodbye to them and put yourself in an ivory tower with people who have the same problem as yourself hoping that these new, safer, friendships will become established and in time flourish?
I decided to stick with my “old” friendships. My very close friends know that I’m addicted to alcohol and other friends don’t. How do I achieve this? I achieve this by drinking non-alcoholic wine which looks the same. The taste isn’t too bad. Anyway I have no choice. What it comes down to is that I definitely want to look part of the group and not stick out like a sore thumb. I admire those who can sit happily sipping Perrier water whilst the rest enjoy their wine or beer, but I can’t do that. I want to be seen as an integral “fun” person in the group, not a dampener on others and I have a horror of appearing pious.
These fears seem to be partly addressed by my looking the same, looking as if I’m drinking wine along with the rest of the group. Actually, drinking non-alcoholic wine takes a lot of organisation. If you’re at a restaurant it isn’t available so I have to take my own having made a prior arrangement. Some of my friends keep stocks of it for when I visit them otherwise I take a bottle along. It isn’t perfect by any means, and I would give anything to be able to drink the real thing, as I love alcohol, but it’s a good second best.
Oh, by the way, I won’t touch a wine bottle or glass so if my guests are being served alcohol, and my husband isn’t there, then they must pour it themselves. That’s another way of coping by not putting myself in danger.
You can see that being abstinent because of alcohol dependence is really tough. But I have to be you see because my drinking went way beyond the point of no return. I have said to politicians many times ,both in my personal capacity and with the work I do with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, how very important treatment is for alcohol misuse and that any interventions should be introduced as early as possible. Also the more tools that are made available in the treatment of this disease the better.
It’s no fun having to be abstinent, so if people can be helped before they get to the stage which I got to, then that can only be a good thing. I really don’t want others to go through what I have suffered and still do so to some extent.
Originally from Yorkshire, Diane is a qualified Sociologist with further qualifications in post-graduate French and Librarianship. Her early career was in an academic library followed by both teaching and translating French. Later, after several years working in research and PR for 3 leading London architectural practices, Diane set up her own public relations practice.
Diane’s career was abruptly ended by her becoming totally alcohol dependent. Over time, however, and with a good deal of NHS treatment and support she detoxed and then entered recovery. Since then she has been deeply involved in a number of groups and committees in the Royal College of Psychiatrists. She also assists on a regular basis in lecturing to 4th year students studying addictions at St George’s Medical School in south London.
Diane is a member of the College’s Westminster Parliamentary Liaison Committee, which aims to raise the profile of the Royal College of Psychiatrists amongst parliamentarians and other stakeholders plus at the same time briefing parliamentarians on the College’s work and specifically its key messages on NHS reforms. She is also a member of the College’s Addictions Faculty Patients and Carers Liaison Group and of the Service Users’ Recovery Forum. Diane has recorded a podcast “Back from the Brink”, about her past and on-going battle with alcohol which is available on the College’s website. She has also recently written three articles, “Recovering Reality” “A Patient Presents” and “Diary of a Detox” for the College’s London Division Newsletter.
Diane is a service user who attends an alcohol treatment centre now as an after-care patient.
I remember being told…Alcholism is one of those health problems / addictions that tries to tell you there is nothing wrong with you.
Total abstinence I think, is only the real answer and work a recovery programme.
If the EU want to know how to best to help and support people in the community to recover from Alcholism, then best to ask us how to and not come up with solutions what they think we need.
This happens a lot here in the UK with the NHS, when those responsible for long-term health conditions (including Alcholism) come up with ideas as to what we need. It would be much easier to actually ask us
I can totally identify with the excellent speech as a partner of someone who drank herself to death. What Diane doesn’t mention is the effect that alcoholics have on their families and those close to them. No matter how much family try to help, the alcoholic has no empathy with them. My wife’s alcoholism got so bad that I asked my GP to consider sectioning her under the Mental Health Act as she needed help but would not seek it herself. I found her dead on my return from work a few weeks later.
While ago working within the dazzling advertising world I started drinking scotch on the rocks daily. In a couple of years on the middle of a client presentation I lost my voice. Visiting a doctor I discover that the incident was the early signs of alcoholism. I was so choked that I’ve just stopped. Years passed and all was well. Then I moved countries, different people, more success and loneliness and down the whirlwind of the bottle I went, this time was spirits. Finally I settled down into another country then the language wasn’t my forte then depression settled in. One day after a heavily drunk session in a London club I was so unwell that it took two days to come to my senses. The following day I did had a quick flash into the future and the night before wasn’t it. My personal life was totally rubbish and sad. All the people around me were only taking from me, financially,socially and emotionally. I had allowed myself to be used in every way. People did not like me they only used what I could offer them.
I did not know or asked for any help. I did all myself. I got a flat in Battersea I moved in all alone.
And at every weekend I return to Britain and turn on the TV, Songs of Praise was on, I used to listen to it and bust into tears. Something happen back then… Today twenty years later, I can drink a glass of wine with my dinner. Never more then a glass, because I know I cannot cope. My mind says NO MORE now I obey it. I adore fruit juices and I drink 2 litres or more of water daily. I have even create my own exotic fruits juices and drinks mixtures.
I have a little family, an adorable kid which turn out to be calm collected and just about to go to Cambridge and sings like a canary (I wonder if that has anything to do with Songs of Praise?)
My mind turned the tide. I still love the smell of pouring scotch. I would love to visit a distillery. My mind overrode my social weakness. I could not allow myself to self destruction. I believe that MY MIND and MY MIND alone did it. I have no problem watching others drink. I also somehow have no urges. It is a decision with reason therefore I take it seriously.
The problem with NHS care in the UK is blindingly obvious to many.
It needs to teach abstinence and the need for step recovery.
Without this you are merely feeling around the edges of the problem.
Alistair’s own admission in his documentary that he still drank was a dangerous message to those who think hey can control alcoholism.
This is very illuminating. It was only recently that I discovered that serious brain damage can occur as a result of alcoholism. I found out by chance when I discovered an anonymous house close to where I live, is a nursing home that specialises in caring for, and rehabilitating, people who have damaged their brains by alcohol and drug misuse.
Strange that exclusive members clubs basically served booze 24 hours even with Lloyd George’s government introducing pub hours a hundred years ago. A concession, as they thought they could cope with the organic compound in a water flavoured solution better?
Nightclubs then started at some point for “afters” for the masses at some point. Then cheap booze in the low employed regions of the UK during the 1980’s, again, for strange mind-numbing(!) reasons.
And now here we are, when home boozing via supermarkets is cheap and rife, HIC!
And then there is the genetic natural selection Charles Darwin factor over thousands of years, where it has entered our DNA as a need, especially when sexually mature, due to it’s interactions with hormone-type chemicals in our blood at that age. And of course, there is the factor that usually our livers with the rest of ourselves were lucky to live much past fifty.
Quite complicated it is, the alcohol factor.
If you’re in the Nottingham area in the next week or so (last day 27 May) you may wish to drop into Lakeside to see this study:
Chris, I’m so sorry to hear about your wife. I hope you’re as OK as you can be. You’re quite right alcoholics have a terrible effect on their families. I did. We were lucky to pull through. Just. Strictly limited time for the presentation that’s why I didn’t mention it. I’m glad you did talk about it.
Take care. Diane.
Sharp end modern living is only a micro-squirt how we were, drinking grain/honey/sites/alastaircampbell.org/filesle/any friut alcohol, so don’t be so hard on yourself. punishing yourself won’t help, understand it through history and genetics, as I pointed out below. Eggs and bacon/wild boar and borage/evening primrose oil and oily fish from old times then helped us not crave alcohol so much, oily fish with their EPA, DPA and DHA.
Right, this is the first and last time I point out cans of alaskan wild red salmon, and no, Sarah Pallin has got nothing grizzly to do about this, just what I have found, since wild Atlantic salmon is rare as rocking horse shit after the Nomans, but when you can buy them, be prepared to pay a leg. Available supermakets near, sockeye tins that is.
Off topic, but bollocks to it, a song for the miserable belligerent FFF git, Noel Gallagher, finally getting one over Sir Alex, as a supporter, in getting “ONE” toppo in english footie in century donkies years, Calm down Noel, and tell your bro Liam to piss orfff, yeh come and get it, Manch boy smally, up yours too bro, ff u to, come and get it then…
What was I on about again, oh yes, Oasis,
hope their mother knows they’re out……
OOPS, did I post the link,
Totally agree with everything in this excellent article
having seen the effects of out of control drinking and alcoholism close to
home. I do feel there is another aspect of excessive drinking which is
under-reported, and that is the incidence of serious accidents and misjudgements
whilst under the influence of drink.
Young people, in particular, seem to be unaware of the risks
they take when they drink to excess, encouraged by advertising and peer
pressure to get off their heads on a night out. I recently met 2 people who
have had their lives devastated by permanent, very serious neurological
injuries which occurred whilst intoxicated. How many people are mugged, raped
or even killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Alcohol impairs,
or renders absent, our sense of danger and people put themselves in dangerous situations
that they would normally have the good sense to avoid.
I don’t think it’s likely to happen under the present
regime, but I think we need a high profile, hard-hitting campaign aimed mostly
at the young, to highlight the very serious dangers involved. This could
kick-off a strong anti-alcohol message before youngsters start to indulge and
would complement public information and other projects to raise awareness of
the dangers of chronic heavy drinking and alcoholism. Some statistics from Drinkaware.co.uk:
Alcohol is a factor in 1 in 5
road deaths (figs include drunk pedestrians)
At a conservative estimate, there
are 400 deaths in alcohol-related home accidents.
Around 1 in 3 fires are caused by
people under the influence of alcohol.
Between a quarter and half of all
adult drowning victims have alcohol in their bloodstream.
Alcohol is a factor in up to one
in four workplace accidents
Peter, Thanks for the information – I won’t be able to get to see it unfortunately but it looks an excellent study. Wish I could get there but impossible in the next two weeks. Thanks again and best wishes Diane.
,,,and avoid simple suger and modern wheat as much as possible, and have plenty of healthy fat in your diet, olive oil and cows butter, to keep insulin activity down.
Modern wheat is becoming unhealthy, and pure carbo whitesuger is a poison. Sends your delta six and delta five desaturase hormones bananas in balance. Needing alcohol craving.
Root vegetables and above, but not too much rice and potaoes with their starch, now genetically modified to have as much starch as possible available, as per fast food joints.
I know Liam and me will be like this II after two minutes in a pub – he will look into my eyes, I would look into his, and then we will throw everyone out of the nearest window for sport. No, only joking, We’d leave the barman.
Here’s a good pic of Liam, not shy of the grog, at the match yesterday, looking “happy”, if it is possible. His brother Noel watched it in Las Vegas where he is on tour, in some bar with a big screen 8am yesterday morning, The yank opened his bar especially for them – fair fella!
Leveson today Alastair – good honest true, fair judgemental, performance from youself today, as I know it would have been – I am a good judge of character, as you might have noticed when I can spot, what can only be described as, “bastards”.
Clip here of Alastair here all, just posted on the beeb,
Furthermore Alastair and all, don’t forget to watch 56 UP tonight, on 9pm ITV1 tonight. Stunning sevenually series that has been going on since 1964, before Murdoch and his clan ever sniffed our land.
A super-serious must watch all. Super sweet it is.
Murdoch the chancer knew that Labour would win in ’97, acting as he always has done, for personal corporate wealth possibilities, wherever they lay. He is a bastard, and Thatcher should not have allowed him to buy the Times plus Sunday Times. That is when it got serious, the media corruption of politics in this country.
Let’s get rid of the Murdoch c%$ts I say. We now have a chance. Sling your hooks, you slimey bastards, isn’t it, ey?
Noel on beeb radio this morning – he was crying? Pussy!
And San Diego it was, not Las Vegas, but what’s the difference…..
Buggeretto it, a songa for, uhhh, Roberto Mancini, eee uhhh might likee eett,
Ciao, and all that uhhhh bollocks.
Delta-6 and delta-5 are enzymes really acshually, but you might get what I am saying, they float about in our blood and cells, playing games with our mind, if they are not looked after. And we hit the bottle, if not. High histamine too, where alcohol stimulates liver enzymes to break it down, making us calmer, but that is another story.
As I said, alcohol, it is quite complicated.
Thanks to Diane, I hope this article will inspire more people to abstain from alcohol because it’s really bad for the health. 🙁 I’ll share this to others and hope to enlighten them. Thanks again!
Sounds like this person has extreme issues about the disease concept of Alcoholics Anonymous (abnormal reaction to alcohol) To go to such extreme lengths to appear like a normal socialable drinker. She obviously soesn’t subscribe to the Alcoholics Anonymous “…idea that somehow someday he will CONTROL and ENJOY his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker… p 30.1
Hello. I’m not sure I agree with you although you may have a point about my wanting to appear similar to what others in “the group” are doing ie not wanting to stand out. For what it’s worth I did try going to Alcoholics Anonymous but didn’t like it too much – perhaps it was just the ones I hapened to choose which weren’t for me…..
Best Wishes Diane.
There is clearly a distinction between some meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I found a ‘home group’ that aims to carry the message of recovery outlined in the basic text namely ” Alcoholics Anonymous”. The fellowship takes it name from the book.
The common solution that the founding members of ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ discovered (which they could all agree upon) was to “work our solution on the spiritual as well as the altruistic plane.” The Doctors Opinion, Alcoholics Anonymous xxii Fourth edition
“By setting forth a clear statement of the recovery program, a book could prevent distortion of the message.” Pass It On, The Story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A message reached the World. p.190
And if I may
“An illness of this sort-and we have come to believe it an illness-involves those about us in a way no other human sickness can. if a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But not so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of ll things worth while in life. it engulfs all whose lives touch the sufferer’s. It brings misunderstanding, fiercr resentment, financial insecurity, disgusted friends and employers, warped lives of blameless shildren, sad wives-husbands and parents- anyone can increase the list.
We hope this volume will inform and comfort those who are, or may be affected. There are many…
Alcoholics Anonymous Ch:2 “There Is A Solution” p.18
Good reflective Blog, keep up the good work Tall Man!
After many years abusing alcohol I am now abstinent. Unlike Diane I make no apology for this to anyone and I find the idea of ‘pretending’ to drink alcohol by consuming non alcoholic wine ludicrous. Why not just be upfront and say ‘no thanks, I don’t drink’. I feel that not drinking alcohol has set me free and given me a whole new lease of life and I will never go back.
The point Diane makes about ‘a dealer on every street’ is an excellent one. Take a look in your local corner shop and supermarket and take note of just how heavily they promote alcohol to get you inside. Imagine if that was cigarettes and the outcry that would provoke!
This is a story that many people ought to read. It makes me much more vigilant on my own drinking. The culure of drinking has changes, 30 years ago, when I was 18, it was beer or lager, mainly normal strength, and whilst there was spirits around, young people didn’t really touch it. Now, there are alcopops, its like the dealers were able to upgrade their offer from a bitter and volume based product to a cheap, sweet adversing led product which made it increasingly difficult to monitor your drinking. I always avoided cocktails for that reason!
It seems almost analogous to the food industry and fructose syrup that is implicated in making people fat. I am certainly not saying that there were no problem drinkers 30 years ago, there were, but its hard to get too far down the road just on beer. My view is that the industry has contributed to the current problem. I mean who actually wants to drink a bottle of blue liquid and be “wicked”?
Can I recommend german alcohol free beers, I got the idea looking at ski racing, one of the sponsors is a german beer. Its really good and you’ll look like you’ve got a beer TBH, I have them in the fridge because I like them! (Erdinger if you were interested) Better than a lemonade or ant “free” wine I’ve tried!
would love to know how Diane got help, especially on NHS, as I have been trying to get my husband help for the past year.Have been to GP, hospital, treatment centres but keep hitting brick walls. He has deterioated very rapidly in the last few weeks and fear it will be too late for help soon.
When you drink, sip your drink slowly. Take a break of 1 hour between drinks. Drink soda, water, or juice after a drink with alcohol. Do not drink on an empty stomach! Eat food when you are drinking.
Excellent article thank you. I stopped drinking completely 2 years ago after realising that my “normal” social drinking was excessive. I never reached rock bottom but I knew some who did and others who are still on their way.
My wife still drinks and most of our friends also do.
It is only over the last 2 years that I have properly seen the horrific levels of alcohol abuse in the UK amongst so-called normal drinkers.
In the town we live in, in the UK, it is not uncommon to see young men and women passed out in flower beds. After a weekend, the front garden of our town house looks like a bottle bank.
The middle class drinkers amongst our friends can drink 3 bottles of wine each over a long Sunday Roast and there just seems to be no stopping them.
Over the past couple of years, these social occasions have become an increasingly isolating and tiresome experience for me. It is very difficult to join in with drunken banter as a sober person.
This, in my view, is the real problem, namely the prevalence of heavy drinking in our society at every level. It seems to be everywhere and also promoted by big business.
The quality of my life in every way has improved ten-fold since I stopped and I wouldn’t dream of going back to drinking. There is no temptation on my part only social pressure to join in and a puzzlement when you ask for water at a wedding.
At a recent wedding, one of the guests was insistent that I had a beer with him so I politely declined and had a Coke instead.
He asked me “Why don’t you drink?” to which I replied “For the same reason you don’t smoke”