|Alcohol Awareness Week: Small changes have a big impact
“Life begins at 40,” laughs Michael, “and I’m living proof!”
The words are far closer to the truth than might be expected. As a recovering alcoholic, Michael is acutely aware of the life-threatening damage he caused himself over two decades of heavy alcohol consumption and openly alludes to the risks he was taking.
“I kidded myself that I had it under control and regularly experienced symptoms of alcohol withdrawal - uncontrollable shaking, fits, hallucination. But what many people fail to realise is that in extreme cases, when drinkers don’t seek the right help, sudden withdrawal can be dangerous. That’s why it’s so important that people who drink excessively find the courage to speak honestly to their GP and get access to the medical support and advice that’s available to help them come off alcohol.”
But it wasn’t only medical support that Michael sought five years ago when he decided enough was enough. As part of his recovery, he also benefitted from the support of a range of groups across the borough that provide the kind of advice, strength and encouragement from those who know best – people who are themselves recovering alcoholics.
“What made a significant difference in the long term was the peer support I had from these groups,” explains Michael. “They all played an important part in my recovery journey. And it is a journey. I remind myself of this every day. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that once you’ve detoxed and stopped drinking that’s the end of it. But I just take it one day at a time.
“We’re so fortunate in Wigan Borough to have access to a range of organisations made up of committed people who are with you for the long haul. They don’t parachute in when you have a problem. They’re there through good times and bad. And they help you rebuild your life, whether that’s through counselling, skills development, learning, housing, money advice, even voluntary employment opportunities that help you build confidence and self-esteem.”
After personally benefitting from this peer support, Michael spent three years volunteering for one such group, using his own experience to help others on their journey. And he’s proven to be such an asset in this role, he’s now secured full time employment.
“I can’t believe it! Five years ago I lost everything: my job, my friends, my family. But when I was stopped from seeing my daughter, that was the final wake up call that I needed. Things couldn’t be more different now. I have a fantastic job doing what I love, so much so it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve learnt new skills. And I’ve got a great relationship with my daughter, family and friends. I’m hoping to learn to drive in the new year, so life really is on the up!”
Monday 19th November marks the start of Alcohol Awareness Week, a national campaign which aims to make people aware of how much they drink, particularly relevant in the run up to Christmas.
As well as challenging people to give up alcohol for the month of January, the campaign also encourages those who drink regularly to talk about the health risks, social problems, stigmas and taboos relating to alcohol using specially designed conversational prompt cards.
Cllr Keith Cunliffe, Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board and Wigan Council cabinet portfolio holder for healthier communities says:
“Alcohol abuse has a profound effect, not simply on individuals and their close families, but also on the wider community as a whole, ranging from the consequences of addiction to the damage caused by crime. Aside from the obvious and tragic human cost, the issues associated with alcohol abuse require significant investment, from a great many partners.
“The Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board brings together local GPs with responsibility for Health Commissioning and Cabinet Members of the Council to work proactively in addressing these issues and many other areas of concern.
“As well as seeking new approaches to service delivery across health and social care, we are also encouraging individuals, families and communities to take responsibility for their own health . Proactive campaigns such as Alcohol Awareness Week, which urge people to make small changes in their behaviour, can have a big impact on health and wellbeing.”
“We should get people to talk about their drinking and remove the stigmas,” says Michael. “I spent most of my adult life working in the licensed trade. I was immersed in the lifestyle. I didn’t talk about my drinking, even to my family. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. It took me years to admit to my GP that I had a problem, but I’m so relieved I did.”
For further information about the support available in the borough, contact Wigan and Leigh's Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service on 01942 487578