‘How drink ruined my life’

With the government set to publish its strategy to tackle alcohol misuse, BBC News Online’s Melissa Jackson talks to a recovering alcoholic about the pain of addiction and its destructive effect on his life.

More than two-thirds of Phil’s life has been spent under the influence of alcohol.

His taste for booze began early. He says his father innocently introduced him to wine at the age of nine and by the age of 15 he was regularly drinking in pubs and clubs with friends.

By the time he was 17 he was sinking up to six or seven pints a night - four nights a week.

He liked the taste of it and he enjoyed the kick it gave him.

Now aged 50, he reflects on a life that has been dominated and destroyed by alcohol.

He said: “By the time I was in my mid-twenties I was locked in to drinking.”

He managed to hold down a job, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to cover his alcohol addiction - he was effectively drinking all the time.

He would take time off because he was either still drunk or hungover and he was spending half his wages on alcohol.

Addiction denial

His personal life suffered too.

His marriage crumbled after three years and he has completely lost contact with his son from that partnership.

He said: “I didn’t think I had a problem. I was in denial. I thought drinking was what working men did and I excused it in that way.

“I realise now that a lot of my first concerns were about drink and everything else came second.”

Drink took over his life and he could no longer hold down a job, but he was still buying alcohol on credit.

Drugs were part of his life too and he was regularly taking amphetamines, which enabled him to drink more because they kept him awake.

He said: “I was hanging on to life by a thread.”

By the age of 35 he realised he had to sort out his addiction, not just for himself, but for the sake of the precious young daughter he now had.

‘Impending doom’

He said: “I started to realise when I didn’t have a drink I had a sense of panic and I would start shaking.

“I called it my ‘impending feeling of doom’.

“If I had to go without a drink, which was rare, I would go through shakes and sweats.

“I couldn’t go for more than a few hours without a drink.”

Eventually he went to his doctor, who referred him to the Maudsley Hospital in south London.

A six-week residential treatment programme got him off the demon drink, but it was short lived.

As soon as he was back on the outside, he was back to his old tricks.

“I was back on drink within days of getting out and drinking as heavily as before.”

He returned to Maudsley 18 months and thousands of drinks later.

He embarked on another six-week course and lasted about a month when he got out before hitting the bottle again.

“I always had low self worth when I got back to drink, but just buried it. If I was ashamed I just drank more,” he said.

His mid-thirties were blurred by alcohol and he was in and out of detox until he hit 40. Then came the turning point.

Ups and downs

He was put in touch with Equinox - a drug treatment centre in Lambeth, London.

After a month at Equinox, he went to a residential rehabilitation unit for eight months. On leaving, he was drug-free for a further nine months.

But his demons got the better of him and for the next seven years he was fighting his addiction with only limited success.

Three years ago he returned to Equinox for a month. He came out and stayed dry for three months, but relapsed.

“It was the best relapse I ever had,” he says.

“I realised me and drink were finished.”

Up until then, alcohol had not really affected him physically, apart from the odd bout of sickness, it had just tortured his state of mind.

Shakes and rattles

But now he noticed a change.

“I was being sick in the mornings and rattling again,” he said, referring to the bouts of shaking he’d experienced before.

It was to be his last association with alcohol and he has been dry for the past two-and-a-half years.

Reflecting on his alcohol battle, he said: “It was insanity to see that you were killing yourself, only to continue doing so.

“Alcohol damaged my life terribly. I think I could have done a lot more with my life, if I hadn’t been an alcoholic.

“Drinking has got to be one of the most self-centred things in the world.

“All you need are drugs and alcohol and everything else is secondary.

“Life is hell with it and hell without.”

State funding

Although he was given lots of help from charities, he believes there should be more funding from the state.

He said: “There aren’t enough facilities around. We need better resources for alcoholics and a better system in place for referral and treatment.”

Although still unemployed, he wants to give something back to society and help others who go through similar experiences.

“He said: “I have seen the dark side of the moon and I have learned from it.”

He is training to be a drink and drugs counsellor.

He said he has achieved more in the past two-and-a-half years than he has in his whole life

He has got closer to his daughter and he feels he has a vocation in life and hopes he has said goodbye forever to the alcohol addiction that nearly killed him.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD