'I've met people from all walks of life suffering this addiction'

During 14 years of counselling for alcohol dependency, I have met people from all walks of life, from professional men and women of all ages to unemployed people in their 20s. They include single parents, doctors, lawyers and journalists and all began to develop problems for different reasons.

Some, previously social drinkers, are simply reacting to stress at home or in the work place and drinking more. Others are reacting to a life event - a divorce, the birth of a baby, losing a job. The problem they all face is that alcohol, like any other drug, can become physically and psychologically addictive very quickly.

The danger signs are all around. If you can't function without an alcoholic drink, you can't get through the day or cannot socialise, or just can't relax at home in the evening without alcohol - alarm bells should ring. You are developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Most people who come to treatment say they know they have a problem and have had one for a long time. But they don't want to face up to it. There are many reasons for this such as the social stigma, and knowing that change is necessary - they know they will have to give up the thing at the centre of their lives.

Many clients have lost their coping skills. They need to learn how to relax without drinking - change their routine, go for a walk or a swim. The first thing a new client must do is reveal how much they drink, with whom, when and how often. Then they are asked to look at the negative sides of drinking. They may have let people down, damaged relationships with their family. They may be suffering health problems, struggling at work.

The next stage is to discover the positive sides. This is where the triggers are. They may use alcohol to give them confidence in social situations. In that case they are advised to tell friends of their problem and ask for their support. The advice is switch to soft drinks, avoid getting into rounds and, if necessary, don't go to the pub. Go to the cinema instead. If you want to cut down, make a plan for nights out and stick to it.

When people deal with their alcohol dependency they feel incredible. Alcohol no longer controls their lives - they have made a positive change and are back in control. Their health will improve and relationships will start to grow again.

At present the Government spends only £95m a year on treating alcohol dependency, treatment for drug problems is three times that even though a third more people die through alcohol abuse. More money must be spent on these services and there must be more training for GPs and social workers to help them spot the problems.

The author is policy director at Alcohol Concern

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