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When resolution is not enough

19 January 09

If that festive drinking, or any similar problem, is still going on for you or someone you know, try giving LawCare a call

by Trish McLellan

Christmas and Hogmanay have been and gone, and now it’s time to rest our livers, cleanse our innards and get on with the year ahead. You are one of the lucky ones if you can say and do that. Many can’t. That new year resolution to reduce alcohol intake or abstain altogether is difficult for them to sustain beyond 1 January.

Alcohol, or drugs, have got a grip on them and they can’t loosen it – no matter how hard they try. When an addictive substance has taken hold of you, it has become far more than social enjoyment – it is a disease, an addiction, and help will often be needed to become free from it.

In 2005 the world mourned the passing of George Best, one of the finest footballers of all time. A good-looking man with the world at his feet, he had seen his mother die from alcoholism and well knew the catastrophic effect it could have on family life, and yet he could not resist the lure of the bottle himself. He was a man with many to whom he could turn for help. He had spells in rehab, tablets to stop him drinking, and ultimately a liver transplant – but he could not stop drinking. It limited his playing career. It spoiled his looks. It ruined his relationships. Yet still he continued until the alcohol killed him.

Christmas is a time for joy and celebration, often washed down with a few beers or a bottle or two of wine, perhaps a recreational drug. Harmless enjoyment for most, but for some, a drink or substance too many. They can’t stop until they are incoherent, incapable of standing, have become totally irrational and argumentative, perhaps a liability to themselves and their work commitments – frequently destroying the lives of those who love them and of those who surround them. They don’t usually mean to; they just can’t help themselves.

In 2006 Charles Kennedy admitted that he had an alcohol problem and resigned his position as leader of the Liberal Democrats. This was a painful episode to watch, played out in the full glare of publicity. Those in his party had covered for him and urged him to seek treatment, but it appears that for some time he was unable to accept the seriousness of his situation. He must have believed he was able to control the drinking but, ultimately, he had to accept that was not the case and sought treatment. He announced bravely to the world that he had a drink problem, had not had a drink for two months and would not be drinking again. That is such a daunting prospect for the majority, with our social lives dominated by a culture of drinking for fun or to aid relaxation.

For generations, there has been almost an acceptance of the prevalence of drug-taking in the music industry. Its history is littered with names of those who have seen their lives blighted by addiction – the likes of Billie Holliday, Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis, or the well documented more recent struggles of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears.

But it is no longer largely confined to those acknowledged to be living near the edge. For a growing number of people, drugs form part of their regular leisure pursuits – gym on Monday, cinema Wednesday and cocaine Friday: a lifestyle choice for hardworking people with disposable income. Drug use among the middle classes is widespread and growing.

Then there are people whose lives, rather than income, seem disposable – addicts feeding habits by prostitution or burglary. There is nothing glamorous about this picture; quite the contrary: it’s an advert for complete abstinence.

But is it possible to have one without the other? Does consumer choice necessarily entail social or professional casualties? Such questions are notoriously difficult to answer.

People are often in denial about addiction. But it doesn’t discriminate between age, sex, race, religion or class, and of course some people can be genetically predisposed to addiction – be it alcohol, drugs, food or whatever.

At LawCare we aim to provide confidential non-judgmental support and advice to those in any such difficulty, facilitating treatment where appropriate. We have a team of volunteers throughout the country who have experienced similar problems themselves, overcome them and who are willing to help others with their struggle. Call us if you want to talk about alcohol, drugs or any other addiction. We want to help.

Trish McLellan is LawCare
co-ordinator for Scotland and Northern Ireland

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