Recovering alcoholic Neil says his life without alcohol is now better than ever.
WIGHT LIVING EMPLOYED people are more likely to drink than those out of work, and over 45s are three times more likely to drink every single day.
At the same time a recent survey has shown the extent to which young Islanders are misusing alcohol, with 17 per cent of ten to 16 year olds admiting they had been drunk in the last four weeks.
These surprising facts come from Alcohol Concern, the national charity for alcohol misuse, and the team behind this week’s Alcohol Awareness week, which started on Monday.
When you hear the word alcoholic, it’s easy to think of someone homeless, laying on a park bench, clutching a bottle in a paper bag, but rarely is this the case.
With this year’s awareness week’s theme being 'it’s time to talk about drinking’, it’s time to learn that alcoholism can affect anyone, from any walk of life, at any time.
Neil, 36, from Sandown, is a recovering alcoholic and drug user. He now works with Result+, a group offering support and advice to those dealing with alcohol and substance misuse.
He said: "From being a young man, as soon as I started drinking, it was a problem for me.
"I was working as an apprentice straight away after school and I was on quite a lot of money. Alcohol was an answer to my nervousness and shyness."
Neil also suffered with bipolar disorder, something he admits he self-medicated with alcohol.
He said: "I was a functioning alcoholic. I got married and had some unpleasant things happen, and it spiralled out of control.
"I got really quite desperate. You hate what you are doing, but you can’t stop. First, you’re physically hooked, and secondly, you’re an emotional wreck and can’t see any way out."
After his marriage eventually broke down, Neil began a new relationship.
"She stood by me for a long time but my mental condition wasn’t right and I lost the little family we had built together," he said.
"She was totally right to take the kids away. I wasn’t violent but I was completely dependent on alcohol."
After his family left, Neil’s drinking accelerated until he was drinking a bottle of vodka every day.
He said: "I spent a good few years trying to drink myself to death because I couldn’t cope with not seeing my family and that went on until the summer before last."
Neil had been admitted to hospital with pancreatitis, likely caused by his alcohol misuse, when suddenly something changed.
"Something happened to me in the middle of the night. I woke up and couldn’t work out what the feeling was.
"I had a feeling of happiness, and as I had been miserable for so long, I didn’t recognise it. I decided to stop there and then."
With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Island’s support services, Neil has been clean and sober ever since.
"My life now is infinitely better than it has ever been," he said.
Simon Bryant is consultant in public health for the IW NHS Trust, and part of a team that tries to improve the health of the Island’s population.
He said on the Island roughly 16,000 people over the age of 16 binge drink, there are around 4,400 people dependent on alcohol, and about 16,500 more are at increasing risk levels.
Mr Bryant said: "This means they are drinking at levels over and above the recommended daily limit of three to four units, with one day free a week, for men, and two to three units, with one day free, for women. And at levels that are starting to harm their health."
The NHS Choices website warns heart disease, stroke, liver disease and certain cancers, including bowel and liver cancer, are a major risk for those who misuse alcohol.
Mr Bryant adds: "Apart from the long-term health effects, there are the immediate effects of alcohol, including accidents, violence and alcohol poisoning, which can be equally horrendous."
The Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for the Island — conducted by the IW Council, with the IW NHS Trust and the police — said as well as affecting our health, drinking to excess can impact upon other parts of our lives, contributing to breakdowns in relationships and domestic abuse.
St Mary’s Hospital has approximately 1,600 alcohol related admissions each year, spanning from someone who has drunk too much, to stomach cancer from alcohol abuse.
Worrying reports of children and young people misusing alcohol have been in the news recently, and the Island is no exception.
The most recent Tell Us survey of the Island’s ten to 16 year olds revealed 44 per cent of all respondents had had an alcoholic drink, 17 per cent had been drunk in the previous four weeks, and frighteningly, 11.5 per cent frequently misused drugs or volatile substances, or alcohol, or both.
Bryan Hurley is the commissioner for the Drugs and Alcohol Action Team on the Island. He said of Alcohol Awareness Week: "It is prompting discussion about alcohol use. It gives people the opportunity to think about their own use and an chance for us to let people know what constitutes harmful drinking."
The Island has many support outlets for people to visit if they think they may have a problem with their drinking, including the Cranstoun service, 1 Orchard Street, Newport, which offers an open access support service, Island Drug and Alcohol Service, 102 Carisbrooke Road, Newport, which offers more structured care from medical professionals, and Get Sorted, The Quay, Newport, for those under 24 who are worried about substance misuse.
Result+ works alongside the services, and Alcoholics Anonymous meets across the Island.
Mr Hurley said: "The different centres offer individual work with clients and also group work. People have to make a big step to put their hands up and say 'actually, I have a problem’.
"At the beginning, people may want to be more individual but it can be a very powerful thing when people see they’re not the only one."
The NHS Choices website offers advice on how people can recognise their own, or others’, alcohol misuse.
When people feel they should cut down on their own drinking, feel guilty about it, or feel they need a drink first thing in the morning to steady their nerves, or get rid of a hangover, they could well be drinking too much.
Signs someone you know may be misusing alcohol could be if they have gaps in their memory from the night before, regularly exceed the daily limit or fail to do what they were expected to because of their drinking.
Neil added: "I carry a lot of guilt as an alcoholic, but that’s not the reason I help other people. I just want to become the best person I can be and everything I do now goes straight towards some kind of good somewhere."
Contact Cranstoun on 01983 821569, IDAS on 01983 526654, Get Sorted on 01983 814182, and Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555.
Islanders attending Alcoholics Anonymous on the Island share their experiences:
"I have no reason to be an alcoholic, no traumatic childhood or abuse. I went to school, did well, and went to university. I got a good job, got married and had children. By my Forties, alcohol was a big part of my life. I binged most weekends, and went from an occasional night of excess to drinking heavily, every, and all, weekend."
"Another night of sweats, being sick, nervous twitching, shaking, and lack of the will to live. Hands shaking so badly it’s impossible to hold a cup or bottle. If only I could find a drink. The sheer screaming of every nerve in my body, and the craving for alcohol, is nearly more than I can stand."
"I stopped eating, never got dressed and lost all interest in life, and self respect for everything. I shook beyond belief and could barely hold a cup; vomiting, and drifting in and out of blackouts."
"By the age of 23, I was drinking every day. I was a park bench drunk, but the bench was my settee at home. Eventually I suffered an alcoholic fit and my heart stopped. I was resuscitated and detoxed. I knew I was beaten by alcohol and went to AA, prepared to go to any lengths to get well."
"I turned up crying and terrified at the doors of AA. I worked with people who understood me completely. A year sober, I laugh, smile, work and help others. I will always be an alcoholic, it is an illness, but if I keep to the programme, I can live a safe and happy life. And so can those close to me."