'I've met people from all walks of life suffering this addiction'

By Don Shenker 
Published: 07 January 2006 


During 14 years of counselling for alcohol dependency,
I have met people from all walks of life, from
professional men and women of all ages to unemployed
people in their 20s. They include single parents,
doctors, lawyers and journalists and all began to
develop problems for different reasons. 

Some, previously social drinkers, are simply reacting
to stress at home or in the work place and drinking
more. Others are reacting to a life event - a divorce,
the birth of a baby, losing a job. The problem they
all face is that alcohol, like any other drug, can
become physically and psychologically addictive very

The danger signs are all around. If you can't function
without an alcoholic drink, you can't get through the
day or cannot socialise, or just can't relax at home
in the evening without alcohol - alarm bells should
ring. You are developing an unhealthy relationship
with alcohol.

Most people who come to treatment say they know they
have a problem and have had one for a long time. But
they don't want to face up to it. There are many
reasons for this such as the social stigma, and
knowing that change is necessary - they know they will
have to give up the thing at the centre of their

Many clients have lost their coping skills. They need
to learn how to relax without drinking - change their
routine, go for a walk or a swim. The first thing a
new client must do is reveal how much they drink, with
whom, when and how often. Then they are asked to look
at the negative sides of drinking. They may have let
people down, damaged relationships with their family.
They may be suffering health problems, struggling at

The next stage is to discover the positive sides. This
is where the triggers are. They may use alcohol to
give them confidence in social situations. In that
case they are advised to tell friends of their problem
and ask for their support. The advice is switch to
soft drinks, avoid getting into rounds and, if
necessary, don't go to the pub. Go to the cinema
instead. If you want to cut down, make a plan for
nights out and stick to it.

When people deal with their alcohol dependency they
feel incredible. Alcohol no longer controls their
lives - they have made a positive change and are back
in control. Their health will improve and
relationships will start to grow again.

At present the Government spends only 95m a year on
treating alcohol dependency, treatment for drug
problems is three times that even though a third more
people die through alcohol abuse. More money must be
spent on these services and there must be more
training for GPs and social workers to help them spot
the problems.

The author is policy director at Alcohol Concern 


Are you just a social drinker or are you now an
By Jonathan Brown 
Published: 07 January 2006 


The image of alcoholics as broken-down old wrecks
drunk on a park bench in the middle of the day is
dangerously outmoded, campaigners said in the wake of
Charles Kennedy's admission. 

Problem drinking comes in many forms and large numbers
of people continue to hold down jobs and families
despite habitually exceeding safe drinking levels. In
England alone, a recent report from the Department of
Health found that eight million drinkers were
currently at risk, with 38 per cent of men and 16 per
cent of women suffering some form of alcohol-use
disorder. In Scotland where the problem is worse, two
in five men and a quarter of women regularly exceed
safe levels.

The danger signs are varied, ranging from the obvious
- regularly getting drunk, losing a job through
drunkenness - to the more subtle: an increasing
tendency to drink alone or persistent feelings of
guilt after drinking. The DoH recommends that men
should consume no more than four units of alcohol a
day - the equivalent of three to four glasses of wine
or two pints of standard beer. Women should limit
their intake to between two and three units.

"There are different types of problem drinking," said
Helen Symons of Alcohol Concern. "There is dependency
- the need to have alcohol to get through day-to-day
life physically. Then there is psychological
dependency when someone needs alcohol to cope with the
everyday issues of life."

The symptoms vary a lot, she said. And even among
problem drinkers there are two further categories.
Hazardous drinkers regularly exceed safe alcohol
limits and run the risk of experiencing health
problems. Harmful drinkers consume significantly more
than the recommended intake and are likely to be
suffering negative health effects. It is estimated
that 1.1 million people in England alone fit into one
of these two categories.

When it comes to treatment, the statistics are more
disquieting. According to Ms Symons: "People tend to
think there are two options. The first is to do what
the celebrities do and check into an expensive private
clinic. The other is to follow the Alcoholic Anonymous
12-Step Programme." However, the vast majority of
people who seek help turn instead to the NHS and only
one in 18 problem drinkers ever receives any help.

There is also a pernicious post-code lottery in
alcohol treatment. In the North-east for example, only
one in 102 are treated. For those lucky enough to
receive help, the first step towards recovery is
normally a visit to the GP and a referral to the
alcohol treatment service. Counselling is the
frontline treatment, either in a group session, one on
one or with friends and family. Many require more than
one session and regularly return over the years for
more help. Some quit drinking completely while others
learn to moderate their behaviour and cut down, able
to continue drinking sociably. There are no figures on
how successful NHS treatment is.

Professor Roger Williams, the liver specialist who
treated the former footballer George Best, believes
that will power is the key. He believes that you have
got to see what it is that makes you drink, be
determined not to drink and know the harm it does.

"When people realise just how harmful it is, that is
the biggest factor in my experience that makes them
stop, when they know how much they are damaging
themselves," he said.

Support of loved ones also plays a vital role. "It is
very important to have support of colleagues, of
families, husbands, wives, children - all this
matters, the support you get. But, at the end of the
day, it is the person's own decision whether they
drink or not," Professor Williams said.

Danger signs 

* Getting drunk regularly: Not able to enjoy life
without a drink

* Can't stop: Can affect people who drink only now and

* Increasing tolerance for drink

* Losing interest in hobbies

* Letting people down: Drink more important than

* Drinking alone: A tipping point for problem drinkers

* Finding excuses to drink

* Smelling of alcohol by day

* Guilt: Ashamed of drinking

* Shaking 


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