To mark Alcohol Awareness Week the Prevention Programme is shining a light on the impact of alcohol on health and the role of Alcohol Care Teams supporting dependent drinkers to overcome their alcohol dependence and improve their lives and health. This is Rachel’s story:
I’ve lived a pretty ordinary life really. I had a happy childhood and did OK at school. There were no traumatic events in my life that caused me to turn to drink for comfort or as an escape.
Drinking was a habit to begin with. Every day I would come home from work and reach for a can, the same way most people would put the kettle on. I had no idea at the time how easily habit would turn into a problem.
At the height of my addiction I was drinking at least 6 litres of cider a day. I was aware that drinking at this level could have a serious effect on my liver, but that was the only thing I ever really took into account when I thought about the health issues alcohol could be causing. I was wrong.
My youngest brother was also alcohol dependent. We would talk about our drinking and liver disease. We both said if our blood tests came back showing signs of liver damage that’s when we’d stop.
He died two years ago at the age of 32 after having a fall at home. He never got the warning sign he was expecting from his liver.
My deterioration was a slow. A gradual process. So I just got used to feeling generally unwell and accepted it. I lost my appetite and would go days without eating. My weight dropped from 9 to 6 stone. I couldn’t concentrate, found it hard to put words into context or retain even the simplest information.
My vision was affected, I found it hard to focus on anything and started to see and hear things that weren’t there. I’ve since found out these symptoms combined, plus poor nutrition were all warning signs of the onset of alcoholic dementia.
I had neuropathy – damaged nerve endings – in my feet which meant I had constant pins and needles and my feet were completely numb. My legs and feet were swollen like balloons due to water retention and were itching all the time – my skin was red raw from scratching.
I slept on the settee for years because I couldn’t get upstairs to bed. My lack of balance meant I fell over quite often. I suffered with depression, anxiety and paranoia.
I felt worthless, lost all confidence, dignity and self-respect. I had to surrender my driving licence and lost my job because of my drinking. Alcohol had taken over every aspect of my life. It wasn’t a life, it was an existence.
One of the worst things was the effect it had on the people around me, it was destroying them. They were watching me slowly killing myself. They tried everything but there was nothing they could do to help.
My husband would check I was still breathing every morning before he left for work. He never woke me up, if I was asleep I wasn’t drinking. His journey back each night was filled with anxiety and dread, not knowing what he’d find when he got home or even if I’d be alive or dead. My parents had already started to plan my funeral. They were facing the prospect of having to bury their eldest child within 12 months of their youngest.
In 2018, my Mom took me to City hospital, I was too ill to get there on my own. The alcohol care team there assessed me and I was admitted for an inpatient detox. I was in hospital for a week and the care I received was second to none. Their care and patience saved my life.
I was given medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms and to help slow down and eventually reverse the damage I’d done to my brain. I wouldn’t have believed it but my appetite was back in less than 12 hours, I was ravenous.
With further support after I was discharged, I have learned so much about how alcohol affects the body and brain. Why it creates such a strong physical and psychological dependency.
I have stopped drinking completely, my health has improved immeasurably and I am now dedicated to helping others understand the wider impact of alcohol as well as sharing the message – it is never too late to get help.