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The warning signs were there, but I didn’t listen

Phil is 54 and lives in Northampton. He has been a consistent drinker for almost 40 years, regularly consuming two to three times the newly revised recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol a week for a man. Phil had started to notice his health was in decline but he just wasn’t ready to face up to reality. Until one afternoon when his body decided to give him the warning sign he’d been dreading, which finally made him face up to his drinking. This is Phil’s story of how he managed to turn his life around, and receive gender specific substance abuse treatment put in place by Port of Call.

Phil’s story

“To me, drinking was something that everybody I knew did. Working shifts in a factory all my life – well, there wasn’t much choice other than to join the others and drink. It was what we all did at the end of the day to relax and shut off from the daily grind. My uncle bought me my first pint when I was about 16 and that was it. I got a taste for it. I was always first down the pub on a Friday afternoon. They let us out early in those days, so I had to get the drinks in. Once you start buying rounds you have to keep up with the others, don’t you?

Gender differences in substance abuse

“It wasn’t until my mum passed away last year, of heart failure, that I began to think about my own health and my drinking habits. I’d never thought of myself as an alcoholic – it just didn’t fit with the image I had in my head of what an alcoholic was. I mean, I didn’t sit on the street drinking cider. But I could feel in my body that things weren’t right. I was feeling far more panicky after drinking. It just wasn’t pleasant anymore but I still didn’t think that my drinking was that big a deal.

“Even when they started putting those warnings on cans and bottles, I never believed it was actually true. Until one afternoon I just had the most awful panic attack. My heart was pounding, I was sweating like a pig – I honestly thought I was going to drop down dead on the spot. It was such a horrible experience, I knew it was time for me get help.”

How much is too much?

Phil was one of the many men his age who are in denial about the government health warnings on alcohol. A recent report in The Guardian revealed that, according to the independent charity Drinkaware, around 3.5 million men regularly consume more than the recommended level of 14 units of alcohol a week.

“More than half (53%) of middle-aged men drinking above the low-risk guidelines do not believe they will incur increased health problems if they continue drinking at their current level, with almost half (49%) of these drinkers also believing moderate drinking is good for your health,” say Drinkaware.

“They just haven’t adjusted their drinking levels in line with the new guidelines. In fact, we believe that there are gender differences in substance abuse that need to be addressed, if we are going to be able to tackle the high level of drinking in men that is way over the recommended guidelines.”

Some middle-aged men are drinking to even more dangerous levels, with experts claiming that there does seem to be a link between gender and substance abuse. Around 800,000 men regularly consume up to and over 50 units every week. That’s the equivalent of 21 pints of beer. Whereas, the new guidance of 14 units is the equivalent of six pints of 4% beer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this age group are now the most likely to be admitted to hospital with alcohol-related disease.

The Drinkaware research, which was conducted before the new lower recommendation came into place in January 2016, reveals that many middle-aged men were even exceeding the original guidelines of 21 weekly units. In fact, men aged 45 to 64 admitted to drinking an average of 37 units of alcohol per week on a regular basis. 

How to know when enough is enough

“Seeing how the panic attack just took hold of my body without warning, changed my mind drastically,” continues Phil. “I’d had odd twinges in my body before and I knew I couldn’t keep ignoring the dangers, but at the same time it was really hard to reach out for help.

“I was embarrassed after my funny turn but I knew there was no escape and I had to face up to my fears. A mate of a mate recommended Port of Call to me. Turns out he’d had a similar experience and had managed to turn his life around completely, thanks to their support and guidance.

“When I first contacted Port of Call, I was really nervous but they put me at ease straight away. When I talked to the adviser, we discussed how many units I was drinking a week but I just couldn’t believe it was true. I had no idea it was so many. No wonder I was so skint all the time! It was enough to convince me to book into a proper detox clinic where they specialise in something called gender specific substance abuse treatment.

“I’d never heard of it before but the staff at the clinic told me that men and women have different drinking habits, so the approach they took was different. The gender specific treatment I got helped me to understand why I was drinking and what my relationship to alcohol was all about.

“After the detox, I was advised to see an addiction counsellor. They used something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help me learn how to understand and deal with my triggers. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of bad habits.

“It hasn’t been easy but, now that I’m six months out of rehab, things have really started to get better. I don’t have the panic attacks anymore and I’ve realised that I don’t need alcohol to have a good time. I’ve taken up martial arts instead. I still spend plenty of time with my mates but I’m also a lot fitter.

“I want to thank Port of Call for opening my eyes to the dangers of drinking too much and for giving me the opportunity to understand why I was drinking and how the alcohol affected my body. I couldn’t have made it without them setting me on the right road to begin with,” Phil concludes.

Make us your first Port of Call. If you, or a loved one, are dealing with addiction we can help you to access the right addiction help at the right time. So why not take that first step today by speaking to one of our advisers for free on 0800 002 9010.

Disclaimer: The names and details have been changed to protect the identity of the case study participants.

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