When alcohol is not your friend but your enemy

Janet Hiscock
Research published by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that bright, professional women, who might be expected to know better, are drinking to excess.

The alcohol related death rate in Britain almost doubled between 1991 and 2006.

Young girls are regularly hospitalised after binge drinking. Older women hide their drink problem until their whole lives, career and relationships, fall apart.

Janet Hiscock, a chartered counselling psychologist, works with private clients and in a community drug and alcohol team in South West London. She has seen hundreds of women who by the time they arrive at Janet’s door are in dire need of help.

“Some are drinking perhaps three bottles of wine a day. They may still be working but are always first at the bar and last to leave. They are functioning drunks but beginning to really lose it."

“Others have lost everything, their children may have been taken into care and they may be homeless. Their self esteem has hit rock bottom. When they wake up each morning they can do nothing, not even put on their make up, until they have a drink. They shake so much they have to drink through a straw. And they don’t know what to do about it,” says Janet.

So what are the signs that alcohol is becoming a problem?

“When you can’t go one day without it. When you realise that every night you are looking forward to a drink and it becomes central to your evening,” says Janet.

“Wine begins to represent a friend. Problems with work, children, partner and the friend is there for you, psychologically you rely on it. You come home from work, or put the kids to bed, and think ‘now this is my time with my friend.’”

Janet says that in this state “You have to be brave enough to look at what is wrong in your life, what you are trying to avoid. If you can’t address the problem seek help. Talk to a trustworthy friend, don’t keep your drinking a secret. Don’t be ashamed. This is a common problem but the more you hide it the worse the problem becomes.”

Secret drinkers, says Janet, start to withdraw, fail to turn up for social arrangements, take time off work. They feel guilty, that brings low self esteem and the conviction that all their problems are self inflicted.

Janet describes Jo (not her real name), a high flying professional, travelling the world, giving high-powered presentations and expected to keep up socially with the boys. Always the family clown and the life and soul of every party, she had two elder beautiful sisters. She kept up the clown pretence by drinking. After a detox and counselling from Janet she has been sober for three months, has dealt with issues of feeling inadequate, of bereavement, of feeling lonely in her role as clown.

She has joined a social group where activities and not alcohol are the focus. “She has taken control of her life,” says Janet.

Ruth (again not her real name) has three grown up, successful children and having gone through an acrimonious divorce, was hit by a life threatening illness. She was deeply depressed, thought she had nothing to look forward to, no purpose in life, so why not drink?

She arrived at Janet’s with major surgery pending and not caring whether she lived or died. “Well, sober she cared but drunk she didn’t,” says Janet. Now with her operation a success Ruth is sober and struggling to reinvent herself without alcohol.“She really has to start again, find herself while craving her old friend,” says Janet.

“Ruth has very low self esteem, a feature of many alcohol problems and that is where therapy comes in. It helps you go back to your roots, to get perspective, to realise what your gifts are and what you are good at. You are never too old to reinvent yourself, to start again. Too often we see ourselves through our children, our partners, but we are independent beings and we are worth the effort.

“If you are reaching for the bottle every day as a way of blanking out problems get help. If you trust your family GP that may be the route or search the internet, look for the British Psychological Society, who have a directory of chartered psychologists or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who have a find a therapist section.

“Most of all don’t keep alcohol your guilty secret because that’s when you are on the slippery slope.”

Janet Hiscock is based in South West London and can be reached at: janethiscock@hotmail.com

Patricia McLoughlin