You have a problem with alcohol
You can also read on to learn more about alcohol, your treatment options, next steps and our free resources.
You could have a problem with alcohol, please contact us to be sure
You can also read on to learn more about alcohol, possible treatment options, next steps and our free resources.
The legal profession can be extremely stressful, which can lead to some lawyers turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. The problem is that what may appear at the start to be a solution can actually turn into the problem.
The recommended safe number of units to be consumed in a week is 21 for men and 14 for women. However, these should be spread out over the course of the entire week. Drinking more than this each week, or drinking more than 11 units on one day, is harmful. To put this into context this means that you are drinking too much if, over the course of a week, you consume:
- Two and a half bottles of wine OR
- Seven pints of beer OR
- Seven pub double measures of spirits.
Another guideline is that if you are worried about how much you are drinking, then you are almost certainly drinking too much.
Alcohol is known to be a major cause of coronary heart disease, several cancers, liver disease, depression, pancreatitis and stomach ulcers. It can also very quickly destroy your career, your personal and family life, and the lives of those around you.
Dealing with it Yourself
If you believe that your alcohol misuse is in the early stages ie.you are not yet physically or psychologically addicted or dependent, then you have a good chance of dealing with it before it develops into a problem the scale of which which could control and / or destroy your life. These tips may help:-
- Keep a drinking diary. Write down honestly how much you drink each day, in what circumstances, and how it makes you feel. After a couple of weeks, analyse it and count up the number of units you drank. Look for patterns, be aware of excuses, and be honest with yourself. Be aware that if you are thinking of controlling your drinking, you probably already have a problem. People who do not have a problem do not need to ‘control’ their intake.
- See your GP and explain honestly that you are drinking to excess.
- Talk to your family and close friends or colleagues and explain that you will be addressing your alcohol intake, and would like their support. Chances are they have been worried about you for some time are will be happy and relieved to hear that you have accepted you have a problem and are dealing with it.
- Avoid drinking environments. Keep out of the pub.
- Find a new hobby or interest and put lots of time and energy into that to distract you from drinking.
- Put your wife or partner in charge of your money. Give him / her your cash and credit cards.
- Seek support from work colleagues.
- Be creative and “think outside the bottle” when it comes to drinking. Try exotic fruit juices, healthy smoothies or non-alcoholic cordials if you must have a glass in your hand in the evening. Develop alternative ways of dealing with stress, relaxing or celebrating. Go out in the evening to a coffee shop, the cinema or bowling instead of the pub.
Controlled Drinking Programmes
Many local health authorities have a Community Alcohol Team and will run a controlled drinking programme. This generally involves working with NHS staff, including a keyworker, who will discuss your drinking and set reasonable goals – for example, having no more than two drinks a day, with two alcohol-free days per week. They will also discuss strategies to avoid high-risk situations (such as social events) and help you monitor your progress. There may be an element of counselling, and you may also be prescribed drugs to help reduce any cravings or counter the effects of alcohol. In some cases the programme may be administered by your GP. The aim is to change your drinking habits back to those of a normal, “social” drinker and prevent your alcohol use escalating further. The programme can be accessed by seeing your doctor and asking to be referred to the Community Alcohol Team, or similar organisation.
Our experience at LawCare is that controlled drinking programmes are only effective in a minority of cases. Most people calling the helpline have passed the stage where their drinking can be controlled in this way. Often, however, it is failing to achieve the goals set that helps the person to realise that their drinking is out of control and that they have no option but abstinence.
Your GP may be able to refer you for counselling on the NHS, or you can choose your own counsellor if you are paying privately. Counselling involves a number of sessions, usually an hour long, with a trained and qualified therapist specialising in addictions. Various techniques may be used, from hypnotherapy to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but you will probably be encouraged to examine the reason you drink, the feelings you are trying to anaesthetise, and to discuss the effect drinking is having on your life. The counsellor will guide you to decide for yourself to become abstinent, and will help you to achieve this.
Founded in 1935, AA is the world’s largest alcohol recovery programme. It is entirely independent of any outside organisation, and has the considerable advantage of being free. The “anonymous” in the title is taken very seriously. Attendees do not even share their full names, and confidentiality is guaranteed. AA is essentially a support group, and has been very effective for millions of people. There are AA meetings across the country, and the general advice is to attend daily for the first three months. No two meetings are ever the same, and you may find some you enjoy more than others, but try to remember that you are not there for entertainment – you are there in an attempt to save your career, personal life and health.
The programme is based on lifelong abstinence, one day at a time. Each new day you make the choice not to drink that day, and are supported in that choice by your sponsor and other members of AA. Remember that anyone you meet at an AA meeting–and many LawCare callers fear running into clients–is there for the same reason that you are, and will desire anonymity as much as you do. However, if you are concerned about confidentiality in your local community, why not attend a meeting in a different area?
Most treatment centres for addiction of any kind follow the Twelve Steps used by Alcoholics Anonymous, often in conjunction with one-to-one counselling and other types of therapy. The most effective treatment for alcoholism has been shown to be a period of inpatient treatment followed by regular follow-ups, and attendance at AA meetings, but there is a considerable cost involved, both financial and in terms of time.
Referral can be either through a GP, through an organisation, or direct – you can phone the treatment centre yourself and ask to be admitted. You will need to be assessed before admission, ideally in person, but it is sometimes possible to have a telephone assessment. You can then be admitted as soon as a suitable bed is available – with private treatment centres there is rarely long to wait.
Once admitted, the first step in treatment is detoxification. This is a two-week period of withdrawal from alcohol which can be unpleasant for the patient, but in most centres will be closely monitored and medically aided via drugs to reduce the withdrawal symptoms. This close medical supervision means that detox is often the most expensive part of the treatment and some centres offer stand-alone detox and treatment. Not all centres offer detox, and if you plan to go to one which doesn’t, you will need to arrange to detoxify first either through your GP, in hospital, through a private detox service, or simply by abstaining for the length of time required by the treatment centre (often ten to fourteen days).
Even in the more expensive treatment centres, it is common for patients to be responsible for cooking, cleaning and housework. In most centres they will also share a bedroom with other patients. Treatment is not meant to be a holiday but “boot camp”.
The treatment centre aims to re-educate the patient to live in the outside world without alcohol, but to aid this many have a follow-up programme of regular meetings and outpatient appointments, and most will encourage former patients to attend AA meetings as often as possible.
Inpatient treatment can be very expensive;prices range from £500 per week to over £8,000 per week. The more expensive centres do not necessarily guarantee a better outcome, but you are likely to have a wider variety of treatment options, better facilities, and your fellow patients are more likely to be fellow professionals.
If you are concerned about your drinking, see your GP and be honest about your problem. You could also phone the LawCare helpline (numbers in the drop-down panel above) for free and confidential advice, support and referral directly to a treatment centre or counsellor if required.
Achieving sobriety is a matter for sincere congratulation, but it must be realised that it is just the first step on a lifelong path. Most alcohol experts have found that, for practical purposes, once the “addiction switch” to alcohol (or any other addictive drug) is thrown “on,” it rarely returns to “off,” even after years of abstinence from the drug. This means that you cannot ever become complacent and think that, say, after five years without a drink, you could start drinking again as a normal, social drinker. You will find that the chances are very high that you will return rapidly to the alcoholic pattern of drinking you had before you went into treatment.
This is why alcoholics in treatment are educated to call themselves a “recovering alcoholic” and to acknowledge that they can never safely return to even moderate social drinking.
The following tips have been provided to LawCare by alcoholics in recovery:-
· Avoid environments where alcohol is freely available and/or part of the culture. Avoid the pub / cocktail bar / heavy drinking social events.
· Understand that it may be necessary to lose contact with certain people. Your “friends” at the local pub weren’t necessarily friends, but drinking buddies. Your real friends will support you in your sobriety, not challenge it.
· Think “HALT”. Do not allow yourself to get Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
· Do not think about never being able to drink again. This may terrify you. Just give up drinking for one day, each day.
· Make full use of your AA sponsor / LawCare helpline / LawCare supporter / or a close and understanding friend. Phone or call regularly whenever you are feeling weak or falling prey to distorted thinking.
· Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself when you make genuine mistakes, even if these involve letting others down. Accept that these things are inevitably going to happen.
· Relapses happen. Accept them as just that – a relapse. A one-off blip, not the end of the road to your sobriety and new life. Start again the next day.
· Look after yourself physically. Eat a good breakfast, don’t rush or get stressed during the day, and get to bed early.
· Look after yourself spiritually. If it helps you, pray, meditate or read something spiritually uplifting each day.
· If possible, let those around you know that you are in recovery and should not be offered alcohol. If you prefer not to admit that you are an alcoholic, use another excuse to explain why you don’t drink. “I’m on antibiotics” or “I’m driving”.
· Get out of the house, even if only to the shops, and enjoy watching life going on around you.
Living each day free of alcohol can be a tremendous challenge, but it is necessary and achieveable. It is not easy to beat an addiction to alcohol, or to maintain that sobriety. But it can be done, one day at a time, and it is well worth the effort.