Annie’s Blog

When I first stepped off this wine oiled hamster wheel, others were surprised or even a bit sceptical — but over time, many friends and strangers (mostly women) quietly started to reach out, letting me know they were inspired and had followed suit, or asked me how it was done.

How? For me, it started with a genuine desire for change. Then a very intricate search for a method that made sense to me. I did not want group therapy, I didn’t want to share intially my habit with others, but I did want to find someone who was on the same page, except without the daily intake of alcohol, and a skilled one to one approach that was suitable for my lifestyle, the only name that seemed to keep coming up trumps was Harrogate Sanctuary.  After the ice breaker meeting online with Sarah, I was convinced that her very personal, understanding and empathetic nature was a good fit. Over six weeks, she taught me how to rewire and reboot. There were no scripts or rules, the programme was tailored to me. We worked together for over six months in the end, and still have a light maintenance programme going on, she keeps me on track, but has allowed me to see that I am not damaged or a slave to wine or what others may think of me for being alcohol free.

She taught me about making commitments to myself rather than trying to please people, which I had done for over 45 years. This was made stronger by telling others rather than allowing them to assume, or making up stories about health kicks and so on. Then persistence, dredging up a belief I could do it, staying focused on the positives.

Sarah also feels it is critical to maintain being busy, even through these awful last few months.  I needed forms of joy and abandon in my life to stave off becoming bored and resentful.

Sarah’s programme is goal driven, that suited me as well.

She reminded me that change was a long process and to do it properly you need to have both a reason and the ability.

I had both, she told me — others who wanted to stop drinking weren’t nearly so lucky or priviledged. I had choices — so what kind of life did I want to choose?

Her advice to consider how drinking fits into life goals, along with being aware of alcohol’s relationship to stress.

I found like so many others,  that alcohol is an ingrained coping mechanism and so can feel very necessary in order to deal with stress or help wind down after a challenging day. Swapping that for writing daily to Sarah, became my new coping mechanism, and always journal for my own wellbeing these days.

Writing down why I drank, why I no longer wanted to and what it was like dealing with stress and anxiety without an artificial crutch became extraordinarily useful.

I cannot recommend this wonderful, logical, and no nonsense approach enough.

Annie’s Blog

Alcohol and mental ill-health: what’s the connection?

This is one of the best blogs I have read, to describe the lack of care for one of the biggest triggers of mental illness, alcohol. As someone replied to a tweet of mine recently, ‘I think it’s largely because almost everyone uses it and society doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s a problem for many, many people… it’s hidden in plain sight.’

We know that people’s mental health is suffering during the pandemic and is likely to worsen during this second winter lockdown, and also that many of us are consuming more alcohol than usual.

The trouble is that alcohol presents itself as an immediate (but short-term) solution to feeling anxious, low mood, winding down from a stressful day, difficulty falling asleep, and moving on time when it hang heavily on our hands. Lockdown may add relationship and financial stresses, and significantly reduces our access to other options for destressing.

However, the short-term fix that alcohol provides starts to become the problem as tolerance develops and we need to drink more to have the same effect. Once that happens alcohol starts to cause or add to the problems we were trying to solve (feeling anxious, low mood, poor sleep etc).

So, the same symptom may be either a cause or a consequence. For instance, symptoms of depression or anxiety may increase our alcohol use, which then is likely to worsen our mental state, worsening anxiety and depression symptoms, and fuelling further alcohol use which people may regard as treating their anxiety or depression.

Similar vulnerability factors (genetics, adverse childhood experience, social inequalities, stress, life events and personality traits) may be common to both mental ill-health and alcohol use disorders. For example, higher levels of impulsivity are seen both in alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder and likely contribute to their high co-occurrence.

But while stigma around mental ill-health is thankfully starting to reduce, the same cannot be said for people with alcohol use disorders, where it remains frequently dismissed as a ‘lifestyle choice’, a ‘lack of willpower’ or a form of ‘moral weakness’.

People who become physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol often feel a huge sense of shame, and self-stigma, which adds to their already low mood, and sense of hopelessness, and is a significant barrier to seeking appropriate help.

Sadly, most health professionals are not trained in what should be the simple act of assessing levels of alcohol consumption or offering brief interventions, which have a strong evidence base for effectiveness.  

Other factors also have an impact: confusion over alcohol units; the increase in alcohol strength and portion size in recent years; the alcohol industry’s sub-standard labelling; and advertising which implies that no event is complete without alcohol (have you tried finding a birthday card without an alcohol reference of late?). All this results in a potent cocktail of social norms of high alcohol consumption combined with ignorance of its harms, which can drive people further down the road to mental ill-health and risk of suicide.

The health and social care act changes of 2012, resulted in addiction services taken out of NHS commissioning, and subject to frequent re-tendering and budget cuts. This has disproportionally affected people with co-occurring alcohol dependence and a mental health disorder.

Many addiction services no longer have competencies in-house to deal with co-morbid mental ill-health, and mental health services frequently refuse to work with people who have a comorbid alcohol use disorder, such that patients wanting help with the depression that they see as causing them to use alcohol, are often told they can’t be helped until they are alcohol-free. People in truly desperate states are bounced between addiction and mental health services, with many often falling through the gap.

 So what can be done?

  1. We all need to be more aware of what we drink, and why, and at a population level increase our alcohol health literacy
  2. We need to be aware and challenge the alcohol and advertising industries’ attempts to encourage alcohol as the only narrative in our social world
  3. We need to encourage conversations about alcohol use as we now seem better able to do about mental ill-health
  4. We need health professionals to recognise alcohol as a modifiable risk factor for so many mental (and physical) health disorders and have the competence to manage it
  5. We need mental health services to reclaim alcohol use disorders as primarily a disease of the mind, and genuinely embrace person centred care
  6. We need government to commit to the resources required to redress the balance of 10 years of funding cuts

This may seem like a lot that needs to be done, which it is, but the most effective thing we can all do is make small but sustained changes to our own alcohol awareness and behaviours.

Written by Julia Sinclair

Alcohol and mental ill-health: what’s the connection?

Depression, Anxiety and Alcohol

It has taken me too long to write this blog, for the relevance and importance of the connection between wine time and depression is so key.

More and more I hear from clients of how they are treated by GPs with regard to their mental health, and primarily, their drug of choice, alcohol, which is a gateway to so much more, is broken before the conversation can begin.  I am very fortunate in having a great general practitioner, caring and compassionate, and most importantly, a good listener. However I am in the minority. Before anyone starts about how much pressure GPs are under, we all are, which is why so many seek solace in a bottle or two. It is not to have fun with, it is to self medicate, having drawn a complete blank with their professional health expert, their first port of call, their hope.

There is a script that seems to be followed to the letter. It goes something like this. ‘Doctor I am very anxious and depressed, probably drinking a bit too much’, nervously giggling which translates into shameful embarrassment. Asked how much is imbibed, the lie is told, and that is just above safe guidelines, with the odd binge now and again. Then asked if they are depressed, there is an immediate admission of that, often ‘Yes, deeply, and so anxious, work, family, you know….’ Three options are offered, the go to anti depressants, which will take apparently weeks to take effect, and you can potentially suffer awful side effects, including more anxiety and depression, beta blockers, along with ADs these won’t work effectively either given the drinking that’s going on, and possibly CBT, with a therapist who is up to their eyes in it, months of waiting, and when you get to see them, few specialise in alcohol or other drugs, another script. GPs also have alcohol problems, some of them, and I have seen many. So they do leave judgement at the door, although often my clients tell me they have had a sniffy sort of look followed by, ‘cut down, you know it makes sense’. Doh, we are not stupid, we are at the end of a very long tether, wanting some sort of clear and kind plan to help.

So that has taken the ten minutes, off you go, with your new prescription, and get on the merry-go-round of most likely anti depressants, which could be another lifetime of despair. 

Hoping for the best, because most people that I see do have that attitude, they don’t feel like victims, they start the course, along with celebrating that they at last may have an answer to the low mood, with a bottle of white.

Now it becomes extremely dark. Anxiety ramps up, tiredness, worse than before sets in, and the drinking increases. There is an awful pattern of guilt and frustration because we have always been taught that doctors know better than we do. Well, newsflash, they don’t with this. They haven’t got a clue what to do with us, they are not trained and they have no empathy unless they have been in the same place as we once were.

There is a major epidemic now, more than ever before of stigma and taboo. There are more and more suicides and lost families because of the non joining up of dots with drinking too much and mental health. No amount of shiny leaflets and platitudes can replace some honest and quality care.  What is potentially a fixable mental health issue, then becomes something so much darker, more dangerous and potentially life threatening, when what was needed was some truly empathetic care and general non stigmatised attitudes. 

More and more in the media we hear of tragic loss because of complex mental health crisises, many of which could have been nipped in the bud if they had been handled appropriately in the first place.

It makes me incredibly angry, and more and more fired up in my desire to break this last taboo, and most especially for women. 64% of my clients this year were on anti depressants, having stopped drinking, only 12% remain on them.  We just want an open and honest approach to this without all the fear, and a simple change of attitude will do that.

Depression, Anxiety and Alcohol

Tailored Care at The Sanctuary

Every other potentially life-threatening illness receives specialist care. As each patient will present with a unique set of diagnostic problems, the treatment will be altered for their best outcome.

For the most part, there is blanket coverage with alcohol misuse, dependence or fully blown alcoholism. Every client I have seen has their own story about attempting to get to grips with their own problem. Most have already tried mainstream agencies, and some have gone to AA. The results have been not only poor, but incredibly demoralising for them. A professional client also pointed out that she not only felt at ease with our modern approach, but I had also been thoroughly vetted, CRB check along with my reputation, could that be said for anyone she spoke to at a meeting of strangers at an AA meeting in such a vulnerable state?

The first admission of needing help is a huge deal. It can take weeks, months even, to pluck up the courage to stop sailing down the river of denial and decide to do something about it. So, they brace themselves to confess. The next step, from a GP is to get them some help. From where?  Often mainstream agencies who naturally are doing their best with the script they have. As a leading light in the GP circles told me on twitter, there is simply nowhere that is ‘Specialist’ to help. Then they have another soul searching, heart wrenching decision to make, exposure to a room full of strangers to admit they have a problem with alcohol and that they are powerless. When women are in an anxious state does anyone really consider that lowering their self-esteem more is helpful? They probably have never felt so shameful in their lives. AA for example, may be a huge organization but how effective is it? So antiquated, founded for men, have we not got a duty of care to the modern woman who can actually think for herself? How can anyone seriously commit currently to a life time of meetings to stay sober? Given the rise of the problem during the last year, if AA was able to address this epidemic, then the numbers would be falling, right?

We really do need a new approach. As much as I have been asked to use my expertise in other age groups and demographics, I have refused simply because the best skill that I have above all others, is that I totally empathise with my clients, and vice versa. Which means that their outcomes are incredibly successful.

A man talking about his fall from grace with booze has different ramifications than those of women. A 22-year-old co-dependent, with other drugs along with the gateway one generally, alcohol, has little in common with a Mother of 3 who drinks wine.

The cost will be far too high I hear the cry! The costs involved in the treatment I offer are very effective. I give my clients the opportunity to stay well, and my fee is less than the amount that they would have spent on booze in the first place. Win win, they spend on their wellness, and I can continue to help.

I have no idea why anyone would really need to spend 6-8 weeks incarcerated in a Rehab, using either private or public money, vast amounts of it. Being cut off from the real world is surely going to be a problem when they go back to it. I have a client who tried it three times, her words, ‘It was like being on an 18-30s holiday’. She was 57 at the time. Coupled with the fact that as soon as they are released, alcohol is everywhere, no one must score it on a street corner.

Then there are the box tickers. Whilst a client is trying to bear their soul, with a very intimate subject, forms are filled in and if they don’t match then, tough. Generic, and often very patronizing, my women are often highly skilled and incredibly articulate. Nor do we throw people away just because they might have the odd blip. It happens.

The powers that be, who seem to be so opposed to change need to start to join up some dots. I now have established an 86% recovery rate, which is both rewarding for the client first and foremost, and importantly very cost effective. The best part is that is it so very simple. Or perhaps that is the problem, that there are no vast swathes of trustees, directors, committees and think tanks involved to see what is glaringly obvious to me and my clients.

If you are a middle aged or mature woman, and have run out of options for appropriate care, finding it more and more difficult to avoid self medication during lockdown, Harrogate Sanctuary has solutions, we talk, we have ice breaker meetings, we communicate rapidly and empathetically. It is a very personal service, and you have nothing to lose by picking up the phone.

Tailored Care at The Sanctuary

Achieving Self Control

When your self-control leaves something to be desired, so does your productivity, there was a study in America some time ago when the question was asked, where does self-control come in your list of strengths? It took bottom slot.

When it comes to self-control, it is so easy to focus on your failures that your successes tend to pale in comparison. And why shouldn’t they? Self-control is an effort that’s intended to help achieve a goal. Failing to control yourself is just that—a failure. If you’re trying to avoid knocking back that cheeky bottle of Pinot on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, because you want to lose a few pounds or prove you have control, and you succeed Monday and Tuesday nights only to succumb to temptation on Wednesday by doubling up on a binge, your failure outweighs your success. You’ve taken two steps forward and four steps back. Here, at the Sanctuary, we work on self-control because no one should have to be engaged in a life sentence of feeling first of all that not drinking is somehow missing out, or that they are weak and abnormal because they don’t use alcohol as some kind of cure all.

Since self-control is something we could all use a little help with, I went back to the data to uncover the kinds of things that emotionally intelligent people do to keep themselves productive and in control. They consciously apply these twelve behaviours because they know they work. Some are obvious, others counter-intuitive, but all will help you minimise those awful failures to boost your productivity.

They Forgive Themselves.
A vicious cycle of failing to control oneself followed by feeling intense self-hatred and disgust is common in attempts at self-control. These emotions typically lead to over-indulging in the offending behaviour. When you slip up, it is critical that you forgive yourself and move on. Don’t ignore how the mistake makes you feel; just don’t wallow in it. Instead, shift your attention to what you’re going to do to improve yourself in the future.
Failure can erode your self-confidence and make it hard to believe you’ll achieve a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve something that isn’t easy. Emotionally intelligent people know that success lies in their ability to rise in the face of failure, and they can’t do this when they’re living in the past. Anything worth achieving is going to require you to take some risks, and you can’t allow failure to stop you from believing in your ability to succeed. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens, and your past becomes your present, preventing you from moving forward.

Don’t Say ‘Yes’ Unless You Really Want To.
Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty that you have saying NO, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression, all of which erode self-control. Saying no is indeed a major self-control challenge for many people. “No” is a powerful word that you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfil them. Just remind yourself that saying no is an act of self-control now that will increase your future self-control by preventing the negative effects of over commitment.

Don’t Seek Perfection.
Emotionally stability which will come from passing on the vino will allow women/people not set perfection as their target because they know it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure that makes you want to give up or reduce your effort. You end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of moving forward excited about what you’ve achieved and what you will accomplish in the future.

Focus On Solutions.
Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems that you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions which hinder self-control. When you focus on the actions you’ll take to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Emotionally intelligent people won’t dwell on problems because they know they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.

Avoid Asking “What If?”
“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry, which are detrimental to self-control. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend taking action and staying productive (staying productive also happens to calm you down and keep you focused). Productive people know that asking “what if? Will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go. Of course, scenario planning is a necessary and effective strategic planning technique. The key distinction here is to recognize the difference between worry and strategic thinking.

Stay Positive.
Positive thoughts help you exercise self-control by focusing your brain’s attention onto the rewards you will receive for your effort. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, self-control is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, self-control is a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, or will happen, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the past and look to the future. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative, so that you don’t lose focus.

Eat.
File this one in the counter-intuitive category, especially if you’re having trouble controlling you’re eating. Your brain burns heavily into your stores of glucose when attempting to exert self-control. If your blood sugar is low, you are far more likely to succumb to destructive impulses. Sugary foods spike your sugar levels quickly and leave you drained and vulnerable to impulsive behaviour shortly thereafter. Eating something that provides a slow burn for your body, such as whole grain rice or meat, will give you a longer window of self-control. So, if you’re having trouble keeping yourself out of the company sweetie tin when you’re hungry, make sure you eat something else if you want to have a fighting chance.

Sleep.
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and maintaining your focus and self-control. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present, which are a major productivity killer. Being busy often makes you feel as if you must sacrifice sleep to stay productive, but sleep deprivation diminishes your productivity so much throughout the day that you’re better off sleeping.

When you’re tired, your brain’s ability to absorb glucose is greatly diminished. This makes it difficult to control the impulses that derail your focus. What’s more, without enough sleep you are more likely to crave sugary snacks to compensate for low glucose levels. So, if you’re trying to exert self-control over your eating, getting a good night’s sleep—every night—is one of the best moves you can make.

Exercise.
Getting your body moving for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed and keeps you in control of your impulses. If you’re having trouble resisting the impulse to walk over to the office next door to let somebody have it, just keep on walking. You should have the impulse under control by the time you get back.

Meditate.
Meditation actually trains your brain to become a self-control machine. Even simple techniques like mindfulness, which involves taking as little as five minutes a day to focus on nothing more than your breathing and your senses, improves your self-awareness and your brain’s ability to resist destructive impulses. Buddhist monks appear calm and in control for a reason. Give it a try.

Ride the Wave/Crave.
Desire and distraction have the tendency to ebb and flow like the tide. When the impulse you need to control is strong, waiting out this wave of desire is usually enough to keep yourself in control. When you feel as if you must give in, the rule of thumb here is to wait at least 10 minutes before succumbing to temptation. You’ll often find that the great wave of desire is now little more than a ripple that you have the power to step right over.

Squash Negative Self-Talk.
A big final step in exercising self-control involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.

You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labelling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.

Putting These Strategies to Work.
The important thing to remember is you have to give these strategies the opportunity to work. This means recognizing the moments where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving in to impulse, taking a look at these strategies and giving them a go before you give in.

Achieving Self Control

Jenni’s Blog

Christmas

This Christmas I was not only AF, but I wasn’t  a dry drunk. I completed the 6 week programme at the beginning of December 2020. Every Christmas I have said “things will be different next year” and this year they are. I cannot thank Sarah enough for that, neither could my boys, my husband, my parents and the rest of my family.

I cannot put my finger on what has worked for me. I think it may take some time to reflect on that, certainly having unpicked my triggers from the past which was vital for me was a key to it.  6 weeks of no alcohol has given me immense clarity but I think the daily contact, knowing when it is all going wrong and I feel intensely overwhelmed, that Sarah is there to off load to, and respond in such an understanding, non-judgemental, knowledgeable way, very truthful and honest (my god she can be honest!!!), has supported me in a way words cannot describe.

The major changes I have come away with is the perspective of “drinking is something I used to do and I don’t do anymore, no big deal”. A behaviour that I obsessed over, was constantly trying to analyse, find answers to, excuse, change etc etc are now so trivial. I have managed 6 months AF before. The difference this time is that it barley occupies my thoughts. Before I constantly analysed it, my own and other peoples drinking.  Others can do as they please and me, well, I can’t think of a reason I would want to drink.

At the beginning, I was sceptical and doubtful that Sarah’s programme would work for me. I did not think it was possible I would be at this point today. I had contacted her nearly two years ago but decided her programme was too expensive. The reality is, I spent twice the cost in booze over that time and how can you put a price on living, really living a well and fulfilled life.

Although alcohol may have drowned some tough feelings for me, it also made the good ones, the ones that we live for disappear too. I knew life was made harder by my drinking, but I couldn’t find the power to stop on my own. I lived in fear. Fear of carrying on, and fear of how life would be if I stopped. I couldn’t cease on my own, I had tried so many times and every time I failed it just intensified my feelings of worthlessness.

In reality, the world around me is a wonderful place. Tough at times, but then easy is pretty dull right!! I am now seeing the joy that is there. I know it is not possible to feel fully joyous and happy all the time. It is the difficult feelings that come in-between I will continue to learn how to accept and manage better. Now I am well, I know that this and so many other things are possible.

Sarah must have had hundreds even thousands of clients, and somehow she has made me feel special.

If you are a woman, who is miserable from drinking alcohol, have been sucked into this black hole that so many women have been victim of, I cannot urge you enough to contact Sarah. A wonderful life is within reach. I wish all who are reading this well on your journeys, it’s really not as tough as we think it’s going to be.

Happy New Year Sarah, you have given me the opportunity to have a new start.

Jenni’s Blog

Women and Booze in the News – The Times

 Kathryn Cooper and Hannah Summers 

booze-in-the-news-2

Nearly two-thirds of women in wealthy areas drink more than the three units a day limit (James Glossop)

WEALTHY women living in Britain’s most exclusive postcodes are far more likely to have an alcohol problem than those residing in more modest addresses.

New research has found that females in places such as Knightsbridge in London, Esher in Surrey and Merchiston in Edinburgh are more than twice as likely as the national average to drink too much and suffer from mental illness or depression.

Households in these enclaves are among the richest in the country with many residents living in multimillion-pound homes and often earning six-figure sums.

Nearly two-thirds of the women in these areas drink more than the recommended limit of three units a day — higher than any other social type, according to an analysis of the country’s health and habits broken down by postcode area.

About 6.5% of men and women in these areas also suffer from anxiety and nerves, compared with a national average of 2.9%. The only social type with a higher propensity to mental illness or depression are those living in highrise flats, elderly people in social housing and young renters.

“Women in these [expensive] areas have lavish lifestyles, but without the need to work, and they are extremely socially active. It is the classic group of ladies who lunch,” said Patrick Tate, director of analytics at CACI, the firm which carried out the research.

The data will add to growing concerns among health officials about middle-class drinking, seen as a “silent epidemic” that can pose as many health problems as binge drinking.

The research has also uncovered a “footballers’ wives” effect. Four in 10 women in leafy suburbs such as Totteridge in north London, Heswall in the Wirral and Hale Barns in Altrincham, all areas that have become synonymous with wealthy footballers and their partners, drink more than three units of alcohol a day compared with 28.9% nationally.

Men in these exclusive neighbourhoods are also more likely than the national average to drink too much, but the trend is less marked than for their wives and girlfriends.

“Research has shown that middle-class drinkers may be disadvantaged by their advantage — in other words, aspects of their lifestyle which are known to promote health such as low-fat diets and exercise are able to mask symptoms related to alcohol problems,” said Lyn Brierley-Jones, research fellow at the University of Sunderland’s department of pharmacy, health and wellbeing.

Esher in Surrey is one of the affluent areas where some women drink too much (Alex Segre)

Glynis Jones, a retired academic from Nottingham, typifies the growing problem of women with relatively lavish lifestyles who have serious drinking habits. For years Jones, 62, led what she describes as a “functioning lifestyle” with a successful career, but at times she was consuming up to 10 bottles of wine a week.

“When I married for the second time my husband, who is since deceased, was fairly wealthy and we would holiday abroad regularly all over Europe. The children were out of the frame and I was not short of money. Even though I was retired, I could always go to the off-licence and buy several bottles of wine,” Jones said.

“I never went to work drunk, I never missed work . . . but I never had a sober evening and at the weekends I would drink all day.”

Jones has now been sober for three months after finding help through the Harrogate Sanctuary, an organization that specializes in gender and age specific care for alcohol dependence.  Sarah Turner who is the founder of the Sanctuary, campaigns tirelessly  for tailored care. “The work I do was the result of having been through the most desperate struggle myself to find appropriate treatment, and failing miserably “ says Sarah. She has been hailed as a One Woman Army by Eric Appleby CEO of Alcohol Concern, and Andrew Langford of the British Liver Trust.

Brierley-Jones said Jones’s attitude was not unusual. “Our research showed a common perception among some middle-class groups that regularly drinking at home, particularly wine, is safe and sensible.”

“These home drinkers don’t see their drinking pattern as problematic, but evidence suggests that such regular drinking will lead to significant health problems later in life.” she said.

Women and Booze in the News – The Times

THE NEW AGE OF PROBLEM DRINKING

middle aged drinking

Recent figures show it’s middle-class professional women aged 45-64 who are now drinking the most, not teenagers.

For Jennifer, it was a family Sunday lunch that made her realise she had a problem.
Her daughter and son-in-law were coming over with their young children. Jennifer also invited her new neighbours, another young couple with children of a similar age.
The food was good, the children were happy, conversation flowed – and so did the wine.
But while the guests stopped drinking after a couple of glasses (the drive home/work the next day/children to put to bed), Jennifer kept going.

For her, the latter part of the afternoon becomes hazy.

‘I remember freeze-frames, flashbacks,’ says Jennifer. ‘My loud voice blathering away. My daughter’s mortified face. Her husband shepherding the children out of the door.’
When Jennifer woke some hours later on the sofa, with her usual dry mouth and aching neck, her house was dark and still. Her daughter had cleared up for her and left the place tidy.‘The worst aspect was knowing that I hadn’t drunk much more than I do most days,’ Jennifer admits. ‘The only difference was that this time there were people to see it.’
At 63, Jennifer, an affluent semi-retired therapist who never touches spirits but knows her wines, may not seem like the typical ‘problem drinker’. But that’s just what she is.
Recent figures show it’s middle-class professional women aged 45-64 who are now drinking the most.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development reveals that women in the UK are twice as likely to be problem drinkers if they have a good education: one woman in five who has been to university regularly drinks too much compared with one in ten among those with lower levels of education. The problem drinker is not the teenager bingeing on shots and alcopops – it’s the professional woman respected by her peers, perhaps retired, divorced or bereaved, who drinks wine at home, after 6pm.

And overwhelmingly the drink we’re talking about here is wine. It is regarded as a socially acceptable tipple, and women now consume significantly more wine than men.
The problem drinker is not the teenager bingeing on shots and alcopops, or the lonely man with cans of Special Brew – it’s the professional woman respected by her peers, perhaps retired, divorced or bereaved, who drinks wine at home, after 6pm, which she buys online with her weekly supermarket shop.

In some senses, Jennifer is the poster girl for this phenomenon.

Divorced 15 years ago, her professional life winding down, she spends increasing chunks of time by herself. Drink has featured in the background throughout her life – with friends, colleagues and at home with her husband.

‘My mother didn’t go to university, she didn’t work outside the home and I don’t think I saw her drink more than a glass of Advocaat,’ says Jennifer.
‘I’m the generation that wanted it all – and enjoying a drink was part of that liberation.’
In recent years, though, alcohol has switched from being fun and sociable to being her company.

‘You’re alone, there’s emptiness. A glass of wine and your problems retreat – but then you feel guilty about finishing off a bottle by yourself. So you open another to stop yourself dwelling on it. I’m a therapist – I see what’s happening.’

Ann Dowsett Johnston also developed alcohol dependence in her 50s.
Now 61, the Canadian writer has charted her struggle in her bestselling book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.

‘If you’ve been a career woman, raised a family, juggled, then wine has probably helped you decompress,’ she says. ‘If you’re a sophisticated professional, you’ve come to know your wines. It has become the modern woman’s steroid.

‘You get home from work, start cooking dinner – you don’t have time to do an hour of yoga so you pour a glass of sauvignon blanc instead. For years, one glass was enough for me but my 50s were difficult. There’s a perfect storm that happens in women’s lives,’ Johnston continues.

‘There was the menopause, my son leaving home, the sense of time passing. I was divorced and had moved to another city to take on an extremely stressful job. In the evenings, one glass became two and two became three.

‘It’s how women self-medicate if they’re anxious, lonely, stressed, depressed. It’s legal, it’s everywhere and it’s way easier than going to the GP.’

This rings true for Margaret, 71, who sought help for her drinking last October with Harrogate Sanctuary. A mother of two and grandmother of three, Margaret enjoyed a fulfilling career as a nurse, midwife, and counsellor (‘There are 27 letters after my name,’ she laughs).
She founded support groups for people with HIV, set up community treatment programmes and, through it all, barely drank a drop.

‘When I watch Holby City or Casualty, they’re all drinking after work, but that never happened for me,’ she says. ‘I was too busy and had to start my shift the next morning at seven.’

Based in various hospitals in the North, Margaret and her husband moved to a village in the Yorkshire Dales for her husband’s job.

‘He loves it here,’ she says. ‘I hate the isolation, but when I was working, it didn’t matter.
‘When I stopped, I felt alone. We live in a six-bedroom house in the middle of nowhere. In the daytime, our road is deserted – everyone’s at work.

‘My daughter and son live two hours away and are busy with their own lives; they only call when they want help with the grandchildren. My husband’s happy watching TV and pottering around. I love him, but he doesn’t talk much.’

On top of this, as can happen with age, Margaret was hit by health problems.
A cartilage injury in her knee meant surgery and weekly injections. She was then diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, despite having never been overweight and always being health conscious.

‘At first, I didn’t drink at home, but I started drinking more at family parties: my 25th wedding anniversary, my daughter’s wedding.

‘I had a few more glasses than everyone else. It made me bright and bouncy like I used to be I could enjoy myself again.’

As the years passed, Margaret started drinking at home, too.

‘Alcohol took me to a different world – and when you’re lonely, you need a different world,’ Margaret says.

‘I was popping out to get petrol or post a letter and coming back with a bottle of wine. It got to the point where I was drinking every day, but instead of making me happy, it made me nasty.

‘When I’d drunk enough, I’d phone my family and give them an earful or start picking on my husband.’

Last October, when her husband warned her that her drinking was going to split up the family, Margaret picked up the phone to ask for help.
The person she called was Sarah Turner, founder of Harrogate Sanctuary, which offers a bespoke service for women drinkers.

The average age of Turner’s clients is 47 – her oldest is 73.

‘For years, they may have denied there was a problem,’ she says.
‘Then something happens – a bad fall; a horrible row with their partner; another lost Christmas where they’ve been too drunk to participate.’.

According to Turner, ‘the myth of wine’ has a lot to answer for. Whether it’s Bridget Jones, Sex and the City or Last Tango in Halifax, it’s seen as utterly benign.
‘Everyone does it on TV, in films,’ says Turner.

‘It’s about laughing and good times, it’s fun and sophisticated. You don’t even need to leave the house to buy it, you can get it delivered. It comes in pretty bottles, not out of a tin – but the outcome is the same.’

Ann Dowsett Johnston agrees. ‘I have friends who are gluten-free, they only eat organic and they’re aware of transfats, but they don’t think twice about what wine is doing to their bodies.

‘Democratically, women are equal to men, but hormonally and metabolically, we’re not.’
In truth, women drinkers are at higher risk than men.

‘The impact of alcohol on women is far worse – even if they weigh the same as a man,’ says Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and medical advisor for the charity Drinkaware.

Women have more body fat and less body water to dilute the alcohol consumed. They also have lower levels of the metabolising enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, which helps eliminate alcohol from the body.

‘Women process it more slowly than men, especially as they get older.’

Liver disease sets in earlier for women than men, and drinking more than four alcoholic drinks a day quadruples a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease and increases her risk of breast cancer.

‘The increased risk of breast cancer is particularly worrying because there’s no lower limit,’ says Dr Jarvis.

‘One unit of alcohol a day increases your risk by seven to 11 per cent.’

Alcohol is also a significant risk factor in many other cancers, including colon and throat.
On top of that, for older women especially, is the danger of falls.

‘It’s one of the biggest issues,’ says Dr Jarvis.

‘One woman in three will develop osteoporosis, and alcohol is a major risk factor. You’ve had a few drinks, you’re unsteady, you fall, you fracture a bone. We focus a lot on young drinkers, but the over-55s are the greatest cost to the NHS.’

For women who do decide they have a problem, there are limited options.
‘Alcoholics Anonymous is not right for a lot of the women I see,’ says Sarah Turner.
‘Most of my clients are busy professionals – they don’t have time to go and beat themselves up in a church hall three times a week. They drink in an entirely different way to men.

‘A woman of 50 or 60 who is drinking two bottles of wine from Waitrose a day is not going to sit in a room full of people who are drinking two litres of vodka a day.’
Turner offers therapy online or face to face, for a minimum of six weeks.

‘For my clients, the fear of stopping drinking is as great as their fear of carrying on,’ she says.

‘I don’t say they have to stop for ever. They stop for the six weeks while we look at the issues behind it, reset reward patterns and find new coping mechanisms.
‘At the end of the six weeks, they have a choice.

‘Sarah cleared out a lot of clutter for me,’ says Margaret, who is also making an effort to get out and meet new people – she has joined an art class and a flower-arranging club.
Jennifer has chosen to cut down her wine consumption rather than stop completely. She is keeping at least three days a week alcohol free – and having no more than one or two glasses on other evenings.

‘There are no easy answers, but once you admit there’s a problem, you’re moving in the right direction and when you start waking in the morning with a clear head, feeling good about yourself and full of energy, you really believe that anything’s possible.’

Harrogate Sanctuary is also now offering couples therapy and believes that this will help both parties to understand the differences and issues why they have, perhaps over a long relationship developed an enabling situation.

THE NEW AGE OF PROBLEM DRINKING

Thinking Drinking

woman thinking

For the most part, the amount of time that we physically drink alcohol is usually only 2 to 3 hours a day, in the case of my clients. The witching hour comes round, bottle opened, sorting tea for children if they have them, if they don’t a sit down along with a sigh of relief, that another day is over and now is the perception that this glass is deserved, and if it could stop there, we would have all been more than relieved. But once the cork is pulled, the top unscrewed, that method is much easier, then the habit has been started, and generally doesn’t finish until the bottle is empty. Dependent on mood, what thought processes are being run through, often one bottle is not enough. This is absolutely nothing to do with fun, it is about self-medication, trying to calm the anxiety, the stress, which alcohol temporarily does, but also has caused, only to slap us in the face the next morning, or regularly around 3am in the morning, waking up in a cold sweat and wondering how on earth we got here. Sleep deprived, we then get on the merry go round again, swearing that it will not happen again the following evening.

So, during most of the remaining hours in a day, we think drink. We abhor ourselves during the morning, often sluggish, sometimes paranoid that someone will notice that work is less productive, logic kicking in but that proves difficult because although we know what causes this, most of my women are well aware of the hazards of drinking too much, in our minds we try to form a plan to avoid the same routine that following evening, denying that we have been trapped by the cycle.

Resolve in the morning, constantly buzzing in our heads, by lunchtime after perhaps a juice, tea and something to eat to mop up the low energy, the next couple of hours are reasonably manageable.

By mid-afternoon, clock watching starts, thinking only another two hours before I go home, or if retired or not working, the anxiety is starting to ramp up and adrenaline starts to flow, shall I or shan’t I, will I or won’t I? We fidget we wrestle mentally with the decision.

The exhaustion is so overwhelming, that we are vulnerable now, and the thoughts of NOT drinking that evening seem and often are, impossible. It has become routine. Most humans do like routine, most especially over 40.

When we were children, the end of school bell would ring, well in my baby boomer age group, and we would all scramble out of class as fast as possible, to enjoy playing and chatting to our mates, good tea and nowadays time on phones and Facebook. A healthy routine that is missed if there is some hiccup.

Because of all the thinking drinking, we press the destruct button, again. Always promising that it will be that one seductive glass, no more.

The point I am trying to make is drinking for those few hours, is a tiny piece of the problem, it is the all-consuming cognitive process that those hours bring for the rest of our time awake.

It envelopes every part of the day, our world revolves around it, and there is never a happy thought about it. We are like cage fighters, entrapped in this dreadful line of thought. Sadly, unless the habit is broken and alcohol is then trivialised, not normalised, this will never change.

Might be a bit of a negative blog, but I do wish that people who don’t have the problem would understand this is not just about drinking, it is the thinking that is equally as powerful.

Thinking Drinking

A Hs Blog

When I reached out for help from Sarah I had come to my own personal limit with my drinking. I had managed to be tea-total from Monday to Friday but binge drank on Friday and Saturday night, believing I deserved it after a long week in Healthcare. I just couldn’t give up drinking on the weekend and as a result was hungover Sunday and Monday, was just starting to feel better again and then Friday rolled around again and the madness would recommence. I was truly sick and tired of being sick and tired and needed help to get through the weekends without drinking. 
Sarah was just so positive and engaging. It felt like she was an old friend, right from the start. I quickly realised I could tell her anything and not only would she understand, she never once made me feel judged or uncomfortable. 
And, she laughed a lot. Sarah had such a great sense of humour and we had fun together. Sarah helped me to manage my painful feelings, she taught me how to be kinder to myself and to stop the negative self talk. She also encouraged me to move on from the past and much of those painful feelings and to focus on the present. I learned that no matter how often I relived the past, I wouldn’t get a re-do, or a different outcome or whatever it was that I wished had happened. I was effectively reliving those past experiences which reignited the burning embers of anger, bitterness and disappointment. I was enraged about how badly I was treated in my 22 year marriage by someone who supposedly loved me. Sarah helped me to understand I was abused and that they didn’t love me but that I was strong enough to escape that relationship and that I am actually an incredibly strong person. I’m happy to say that with Sarah’s help, I have let go of all that pain so I can be free in the here and now. I don’t have to go back there anymore. I have a wonderful relationship now with a kind and gentle partner who only wants the best for me. 
I have the rest of my life ahead of me and I’m excited to see what’s next on my sober journey. I used to be awake half the night between the hangxiety and the withdrawal and now I sleep so well every night. I’ve lost 20 pounds because I’m not drinking a load of empty calories but also because I love exercise and nutrition. I am optimistic, positive and healthy. I feel like I have come back home to myself. I trust my intuition and gut feelings and like what I see in the mirror every day. My eyes are bright and my soul is alive again. 
Sarah told me this is the best gift that I could have ever given myself and all I had to do was reach out and ask for help. The time was right and I was ready. I’ve had a magical time getting reacquainted with my sober self, and I have to say, I like her! This truly has been my greatest gift because I like myself again. And that’s something Sarah said to me one day, the most important person is yourself and once you can rely on yourself again, you’ll always be there. 
And, I’m here. I’m strong 💪 . I’m sober. I’m liberated. I’m motivated. I’m engaged. I’m reflective. I’m inspirational. I’m me. 
Thank you Sarah for being “only you” , for “only you” reacquainted me with “only me” . And because of “only you” and all the others that you have helped, we are living our best life now instead of being trapped in the dark past where dreams only die. There are really no words to say how fabulous our time has been together. I will remember your wisdom and gentle soul forever. And, I’ll keep in touch as will you. 

A Hs Blog