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Back from the brink: Fighting the drink

14 November 2014

It's no exaggeration to say that Lucy has turned her life around. Now a trained Art Psychotherapist, six years ago it was a very different story. Lucy was an alcoholic.

Breakfast used to be a bottle of wine with a few Cheerios. And that was just for starters. Another two bottles would follow, at least. In fact the 35-year-old used to carry on drinking all day and would regularly just black out.

"It was a nightmare - horrible, terrible. I just couldn't stop. I had tried to quit drinking before, but it was the team here in Islington that helped me give it up for good."

Lucy was referred to C&I's Substance Misuse Service (SMS). With a team of more than 80 staff across both Camden and Islington, they were able to help Lucy, with a service almost on her doorstep.

"We need to be local, within easy reach of people's homes. The people who come to us can be quite marginalised in the community," explains Rae Dowds, Service Manager for Islington's Specialist Alcohol and Drugs Service.

"We can get between 30 and 40 people a day coming through our doors. We offer them something special. Many of our clients have complex mental health and social care needs which can't be dealt with by other services. While we work closely with other organisations in the area most other services aren't able to deal with clients with very particular mental health needs."

It's this speciality which makes C&I's Substance Misuse Service so important for people wanting to turn their lives around.

"They taught me to look at the world differently," says Lucy. "They made me realise I could take control and that the drink wasn't ruling my life."

Dr Paramabandhu Groves is a Consultant Psychiatrist at C&I. "What we try to do is to change people's attitudes to drink. We can do that in a number of ways including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

"We ask our clients why they drink, what are their drivers. We ask what they enjoy about it, and what they don't. And invariably it's the realisation of the downsides that helps them to quit and take control."

And that is what helped Lucy, "I drank pretty much non-stop for 20 years and I tried to hide it from everyone.

"Most mornings I had the shakes and vomited, and the only thing that stopped me shaking was having another drink, so it was bad. People think you're drunk, you're happy, but it was hell. I started to turn yellow and my doctor told me I was within months of liver failure. I could've died."

And Lucy isn't alone. It's estimated in Islington there are 5,000 dependent drinkers, with around 30,000 residents drinking what is classified as hazardous amounts. These shocking figures are borne out by the fact that both alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions locally are way higher than national and regional averages.

"People drink for a host of reasons, and it's surprisingly easy to become addicted," says Dr Liz McGrath, Borough Lead Clinical Psychologist for Islington SMS.

"People drink to relax after a hard day's work. They drink to relieve tension, to make themselves a bit more social at a party, to stop feeling depressed or to suppress a painful memory. But this can become a problem. The body and brain begins to need the alcohol in order to relax, or reduce anxiety, so you drink more frequently. As you drink more frequently you also start to drink a larger amount to get the same effect, so it's a vicious circle, a circle that we are here to break.

"If people drink to reduce a mental health problem like depression then they have to seek help. Drinking excessively actually causes depression so people's drinking can quickly spiral out of control."

C&I offers a host of alcohol and drugs services.

"We provide an extensive range of treatments," explains Dr Groves, "We deal with people who have mental health problems in addition to drink and drugs issues. They can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or they may hallucinate, have delusions, anxiety, or depression.

"We provide people with a package of care in an outpatient arena. We help them beat the bottle and prevent relapse. We give them strategies to deal with the crunch times when they want to neck a few drinks because they are on a downer, had a row or bowing to peer pressure.

"We also provide medical treatments which can help people stay off the drink too, as well as helping people to change their own behaviour. We even offer mindfulness and acupuncture in our newly refurbished site."

Lucy freely admits that without the treatment she received from the team she wouldn't be where she is today.

"What really helped was the team listened to me. They didn't just help me stop drinking, they helped me understand why I was drinking in the first place. They helped me understand and control the triggers that made me want to drink, and that made a real difference."

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