Priory clinic targets City high-flyers who need drink to cope

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The drinking culture within London's "Square Mile" of leading finance and law firms has long been the butt of jokes, with "business lunches" in the City notorious for their focus on liquid refreshment as much as on contractual niceties.

The drinking culture within London's "Square Mile" of leading finance and law firms has long been the butt of jokes, with "business lunches" in the City notorious for their focus on liquid refreshment as much as on contractual niceties.

And although afternoon drinking has been curtailed in recent years, a leading private addictions clinic has decided to capitalise on what doctors say is a rise in alcoholism referrals from City workers.

The Priory, whose celebrity clients have included Kate Moss, Michael Barrymore and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, has chosen the business pages of London's Evening Standard today to launch a £60,000 advertising campaign targeting successful professionals who "seemingly thrive under pressure", but in fact turn to drink to cope. The advert, which will run for six days over two weeks, aims to "normalise" discussion of alcoholism among Britain's leading bankers, solicitors and consultants, particularly senior ones who feel isolated by their power and look to the bottle for help.

"There's a culture of youth and machismo in the City," said Karen Croft, a spokeswoman for the clinic. "Admitting you're struggling is forbidden. The 'eat what you kill' culture lives on and it doesn't allow for personal weakness. But recognising you've got a problem takes much more guts than self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs; that's the message we want to get across."

Dr Neil Brener, a consultant psychiatrist for The Priory who practises in the City, said four million British workers were dependent on alcohol, and it was in business leaders' interests to help address the problem.

"The City is more about a frame of mind than a place," he said. "It is about striving to achieve, long hours and big targets. High performing alcoholics appear to be successful - professional, hard-working, super competent - while hiding the extent of their problem. But they find their work performance and personal relationships suffer. Troubles build and risk-taking becomes an easy option."

GPs referred many more City workers, particularly women, although it was unclear if this was because alcoholism was rising or attitudes changing.

Alcoholics Anonymous holds 26 meetings a week in the Square Mile - 600 in London - with an average of 20 to 30 people at each. Demand rocketed on the Isle of Dogs after major banks moved to Canary Wharf, and meetings are held early in the morning and at lunchtime to help alcoholic commuters. A manager at AA's London telephone helpline, which has 1,000 calls a week, said his organisation did not target City workers but he hoped the ads would help tackle a "culture of denial" among professionals.

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