Dry January: Mental health manager opens up about overcoming an alcohol addiction

Dry January: Mental health manager opens up about overcoming an alcohol addiction
26 January 2018

It’s dry January and millions of people have vowed to give up alcohol this month in a bid to save money, lose weight and to sleep better.

For some however, not having alcohol isn’t something they do for one month out of the year. It’s something they manage and maintain on a daily basis because of a past alcohol addiction.

“I knew I had to stop drinking,” said Colman Pyne, assistant clinical director at the trust. “I had been trying to recover and stay well for some time but I had experienced a number of relapses. It was five years ago and I was on the tube and I hadn't drunk for 12 hours. I was attempting to get to the point of complete abstinence on my own. I was doing ok at first, but then, as I sat on the underground I started to sweat.

“I was looking at a picture in the newspaper of a jockey and a horse at Ascot, and I remember the horse’s head began to move. I knew I was hallucinating and that I was about to have a withdrawal seizure. As a trained nurse I knew the signs, but it was terrifying. Whatever my determination my body wasn't coping.”

Desperate, Colman made his way to the street and ran to the nearest pub and drank one drink after another. The cure to his situation was itself the problem. He knew then that he had to get help, and that it had to be different from the past. Colman had attempted to stop drinking several times over previous months, but he would relapse with each relapse being considerably worse than the previous.

Colman grew up in Southern Ireland, near Cork, and although he remembers a mostly happy childhood alcoholism had featured in the family. His father had been an alcoholic and his sister has been some years in recovery.

“I’m not sure when I first realised drinking was becoming a problem,” he says, “but looking back I think I always had an unhealthy and dependent relationship with regards to alcohol. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but I probably spent a fair amount of time thinking about having a drink, or drinking situations.”

Colman added: “Drinking, then heavy drinking, and heading towards alcoholism, took the course of an insidious, progressive disease. It crept up slowly over the years and had a high cost in terms of health and sometimes relationships.”

Alcoholism is the most serious form of problem drinking, and describes a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. As it develops sufferers of alcoholism can often place drinking above all other obligations, including work and family, and may build up a physical tolerance or experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop.

In the UK there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths (the mortality rates are highest among people aged 55-64) in 2015. In England there are an estimated 595,131 dependent drinkers, of whom only 108,696 are currently accessing treatment.

Colman Pyne has been working at BEH since 2003. Although he has battled with alcoholism for many years, he never drank alcohol whilst at work and his work with patients has never been affected. However, keeping his condition unnoticed from others became increasingly difficult as the condition progressed.

“I kept thinking that I could manage the situation if I just tried harder,” he said. “At first I never talked about my condition openly because I was afraid of what people would think, and I was fearful of potential consequences. I had to talk eventually and I had to trust that sharing my vulnerability would help me recover and that family, friends and professionals would be there for me until I became well.

“I want to help breakdown the stigma that surrounds mental health and if me talking about my experience gives someone the courage to get help, then I am glad I have made a difference.

“For years I fought alone with the problem of drinking, but there is lots of help available in many forms. I am so glad that I found a way through with my condition and now know so many others in recovery leading happy, fulfilled and purposeful lives. I feel liberated from this condition and am now able to appreciate all things I had lost in the latter stages of active alcoholism.”

If you are struggling with alcohol, having access to the right help and advice can make the world of difference. Enable, a drug and alcohol service offered by BEH in partnership with Blenheim, provides free support, advice and treatment for people over 18 living in Enfield. If you would like to talk to someone call 020 8379 6010 or email: beh-tr.enable@nhs.net. For anyone else, the organisation HAGA and Alcohol Concern have information on their websites.

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