Warning over threat from alcohol

TODAY'S world glamorises alcohol through promoting products particularly aimed at the teenage market – and that can lead to ongoing problems. COLIN ADWENT spoke to one young woman who is now facing up the sobering fact that she is, and forever will be, a binge-drinking alcoholic.

TODAY'S world glamorises alcohol through promoting products particularly aimed at the teenage market - and that can lead to ongoing problems. COLIN ADWENT spoke to one young woman who is now facing up the sobering fact that she is, and forever will be, a binge-drinking alcoholic.

BINGE drinking is rapidly becoming known as a phenomenon which destroys lives and blights society.

Instant gratification and the feelgood factor are often seen as being easily accessible through alcohol in the world we live in today.

Jane is just 28 and has been an alcoholic for the past 10 years.

Now in recovery, Jane - who wants her real identity to remain anonymous ­- said: "I see people who are now at an age I was when I was going out drinking and clubbing.

"I look at some of the young girls and worry about the risks they are putting themselves through. I worry about the level of violence and aggression.

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"I would not want to be around an incident kicking off. I have seen people being kicked to the ground and continually being kicked while on the ground.

"That terrified me. It is not just other drinkers. It's the innocent bystanders, who intervene to help, who get hurt.

"Alcohol completely messes your brain up and you don't think straight or clearly.

"That level of alcohol in your body is not healthy. My short-term memory is quite poor but that's improving since I have stopped drinking. I don't know what damage I have done to myself physically.

"There was nothing fun or glamorous about drinking. It was a miserable existence."

Jane, who lives in Ipswich, agreed to tell the story of her dependency on the bottle as a warning to others.

She said: "The first time I got drunk I was 14 and that was to see what it was like. A school-friend of mine and I put our money together and said 'let's buy a bottle of vodka.'

"It was a half bottle and did not last very long, but it had an effect. At 14 it's not something you are tolerant of.

"I did actually like how it made me feel which was quite worrying in hindsight. By the age of 17 I was a binge drinker.

"I left school, started work and began meeting new people and going out and that was it. By 17 I was well on my way, drinking most nights. I was living at home which caused a lot of tension with my parents.

"It was just the done thing really. It made me feel more confident and uninhibited.

"I always thought I was quite a confident person, but I clearly wasn't. I needed a drink to feel confident. I would be inebriated most nights of the week.

"Weekends were a big thing and the company I was keeping was not helping. We would quite often go out after work.

"That gradually moved on to having the odd lunchtime one. We would end up going to a friend's and carrying on."

Jane said at the time Bacardi was her preference, although she would often sink pints of cider. When asked how much, Jane just replied, "too much, too often".

She consumed well over the recommended limit but said everyone she was hanging around with was the same.

"I did not think it was a problem until 18 months ago, when I realised I did have a problem and I admitted it to myself.

"Alcoholics are in denial. They don't want to admit it. I consider myself an alcoholic and if I have one swig of an alcoholic drink that would just start me off again. I have no doubt in my mind about that.

"Once I had it I would get a craving and would not be able to stop."

Jane's desperation for drink became worse at the age of 19, when she began a three-year relationship with a violent alcoholic.

"The relationship was volatile. He was very aggressive and it was worse when he had been drinking or denied a drink. I suppose that was my excuse for drinking at the time."

The relationship came to an end when police were called after Jane's boyfriend broke into her parents home, before assaulting her and her father with a builder's trowel he had bought from a hardware store.

"I needed to drink anyway but that was an excuse for it. It was my defence. The addiction had set it.

"Certainly during that relationship it was a way of escaping and numbing how I felt about the whole thing. I had very low self-esteem.

"My mum said to me once or twice I think you have had enough."

At evening meal times a glass of wine had progressed to a bottle as the desire for drink set in.

In the morning Jane said she used to wake up with a hangover, feeling tired and lethargic.

Wine, cider, vodka and lager were Jane's preferred choices. She said she turned to pints as well as spirits because they lasted longer.

"If I was going out on a weekend night I would start an hour or two before I was due to meet people.

"I would open a bottle of wine and have as many as I could fit in. Then I would go out and carry on. I did not ever give myself a break. I went to pubs and clubs and straight to the bar.

"I remember being supported to walk. I fell down a flight of stairs in a nightclub and didn't recall it, but I was told about it the next day."

On occasions Jane would hit the dance floor and knock into people as she tried to remain upright. She ended nights being carried out and pushed into a taxi to be taken home, where she was put to bed.

"Throughout most of this I lived in Colchester and tended to try and avoid the squaddies' pubs as I didn't like the attention and would get quite aggressive verbally with them.

"My mum told me once that she heard me come in one morning and looked downstairs and I was clinging to the banister, trying to keep upright. In the end I crawled up the stairs."

The dangers of being a drunken woman walking alone never occurred to her, she said.

Her parents were horrified Jane walked home on her own, and tried to get her to stay with someone and not drink so much, but to no avail. The alcohol knew best.

RECRIMINATIONS, regrets and apologies often followed Jane's nights of drunkenness.

When she sobered up the verbal abuse she handed out was a source of embarrassment and she was left trying to repair the friendships she had fractured through excessive drinking.

At times she also became physically aggressive, telling people to mind their own business when they interfered.

"I was always excusing my drinking by saying 'you would drink too, if you had to put up with what I had to put up with'. It was self-pity.

"Most of my drinking was at home. I was hiding away, isolated, just drinking with the curtains drawn in the middle of the day in my own little bubble."

Eventually Jane admitted alcohol was a problem to her, even though at first she did not want to face losing the crutch she so desperately needed to function.

She rang Alcoholic's Anonymous national helpline and spoke to a counsellor who told Jane about her own problems with drink.

After summoning up the strength to go to her first meeting 18 months ago, Jane listened to addicts pouring out their stories and said she could not relate to them as those who spoke had progressed further into alcoholism than her.

Jane said: "I thought I was not an alcoholic and left the first meeting, went home and opened a bottle of wine. When I went back things did get a lot worse. I drank a lot on a daily basis.

"I hid a bottle of vodka behind the rubbish bin and every time I went to the kitchen I would sneak a drink. I would put fruit juice in a glass and top it up with vodka. I never actually finished the drink, I would get halfway down the glass and top it up again. I could only track what I was drinking by the level of vodka left in the bottle."

Jane's alcoholism also left her relationship teetering on the brink of being destroyed.

"To say my relationship was strained would be appropriate. My partner admitted he did not like coming home from work because he never knew what state I would be in.

"He would come home sometimes and I would be in blackout, on my feet and waffling, or crashed out on the settee or wherever I had fallen."

Eventually Jane went back to an AA meeting again a year ago and is now a recovering alcoholic.

"Now life's fantastic. It's just unbelievable. I never thought I could stop drinking, even though I repeatedly tried to stop on my own.

"It's nice to wake up with a clear head and clear conscience. I used to get a gut wrenching feeling of 'have I done anything awful I can't recall?' I don't get that now.

"I am just a nicer person. Alcohol turns me into something really awful. I have behaved appallingly in the way I have treated people. I was very argumentative as a drunk.

"I really upset a member of my family and they did not speak to me for a long time and that had a knock-on effect to other members of the family.

"That's a big regret but that was one of the things which made me wake up to the fact I had a problem with alcohol.

"There was a period recently where they were things happening in my life I had very little control over and I did come quite close to having a drink. But instead of picking up a drink, I picked up the phone and spoke to somebody else about how I was feeling and got support."

Jane also keeps attending AA meetings where she and others find comfort in sharing their experiences and feelings.

Jane hopes her worst days are behind her, but knows temptation is never far away.

For her, the cloak of alcohol she once shrouded herself in has become a prison from which she must continually escape.

It is a battle she must fight for the rest of her life - a high price to pay for the lift alcohol once gave to her brittle confidence and self esteem.

N Have you, or has anyone you know, been affected by alcoholism? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

N Alcohol helpline contact numbers

ACA: Adult Children of Alcoholics. Telephone 01473 216870 or www.adultchildren.org

Alcoholics Anonymous. Telephone 01473 212224 - 24 hours, or www.alcoholicsanonymous.org.uk

Alcohol misuse - NORCAS. Telephone 01473 259382

MORE British teenagers drink regularly by the age of 15 than in most other European nations, an international study of adolescent health and lifestyle has claimed.

The World Health Organisation report published last month, gathered the responses of 160,000 11-15-year-olds in 35 countries - 32 European nations, Israel, the United States and Canada - who were surveyed in 2001/02.

The Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) report covers a range of issues.

It shows that at the age of 11 and 13, more youngsters in England and Wales admitted having been drunk at least twice already, while spirits were most popular among English, Scots, Israeli and Maltese adolescents.

A third (34 per cent) of 13-year-old boys in England said they drank alcohol every week, as did 24.8pc of similarly aged English girls - both representing the highest proportion of all countries.

Wales had the second highest number of teenage drinkers for both sexes - 32.1pc and 24pc respectively, compared to the HBSC average of 15.3pc for boys and 9.2pc for girls.

The two home nations topped the league table for the age of 15, but reversed

positions, as 58pc and 54.4pc of Welsh male and female respondents said they drank alcohol weekly, while the English figures were 55.9pc and 48.5pc.

The male and female averages for that age group were 34.3pc and 23.9 pc.

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