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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Paul Gascoigne?

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GAZZA
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As a fellow addict, I have been struggling to read the ongoing coverage about the resurgence of Paul Gascoigne's alcoholism; perhaps the most difficult thing of all is to see well-meaning people staging what might be an entirely pointless intervention.

As an alcoholic myself, I know the pain of relapse. It goes with the territory. I know the horrendous embarrassment of being a minor, pesky celebrity at my local A&E after yet another life-threatening binge; I can not even imagine the shame attached to having my relapse splashed all over the tabloids, and then trying to come back from that.

I have already seen the cutting remarks beginning; people are tiring of Gascoigne's apparent antics. Why can't the man just pull himself together? Why would he throw his life away like this? Gosh, how many times has he been through rehab now? Doesn't he care about how his friends and family must feel? He's going to end up dead.

Personally, I do believe that Gazza does want to get better. If you're a serious alcoholic, you don't make it to 18 months sober without a certain willingness behind it, believe me.

But despite his commitment, what most people do not realise is how complex an illness addiction is. It is not as simple as willpower. It is not as simple as changing your life. It is not as simple as doing a rehab programme and coming out sober, shining and new.

I call myself 'recovered' from alcoholism, because I no longer drink to deal with my problems. I am now a positive, grateful person with pretty good coping mechanisms that don't involve alcohol. In fact it has been a long time since I encountered cravings or the wish to have a drink to deal with life.

But what I will never be rid of is the 'screwy thinking' of an addict. That lasts a lifetime. And that's what a lot of interventionists, friends, family and even some substance misuse professionals don't get. Even at the many alcohol services that I attended over the years, no-one told me about 'Addict Brain'. The fact that as an alcoholic, I would fall prey to utter delusions about alcohol, even after many months and years happily sober.

The fact that suddenly the idea might pop into my head that "maybe I'm not an alcoholic", despite having been through terrifying and life-threatening alcohol withdrawal hundreds of times. That the nonsensical idea that "I could probably just have one" might rear its ugly head despite me never having had a single drink that didn't turn into a session ever in my adult life.

I have no intention of ever touching a drink again. I love my life sober. I am an intelligent person. And I still have these thoughts from time to time. Because that is a symptom of alcoholism.

Alcoholics have to focus on their problem on a daily basis, because one screwy idea that a drink might be OK, or one split second decision to maybe just try a sip "to see what happens", and it's all over. You're back in the cravings, the compulsion, the shame that only drives you to drink more. And that may well be the cause of Gascoigne's situation today.

I don't think Gazza's problem is that he doesn't want to beat alcoholism; I think that he doesn't know how to. That is the trap that most alcoholics fall into on the road to recovery, because it's such a confusing, confounding and logic-defying disorder.

The good news is that the delusional thoughts that come out of nowhere can be controlled. The solution is to spend time in the company of other addicts. It sounds ludicrously simple, but sometimes it's the simple things that we miss.

I don't know if Gazza really needs an 'intervention'. I don't know if he needs to do thousands of pounds worth of rehab all over again. I don't know if he needs years of psychotherapy. What I do know is that he needs to sit down and talk regularly with other addicts. Simply chatting with fellow-sufferers over a cup of tea is where a lot of this insight into the reality of addiction is revealed.

When one addict talks to another, they realise the common symptoms and the traps of alcoholism. They share their 'screwy' thoughts, and in doing so, render them far less powerful. The perspective of another addict can be the difference between long-term sobriety and relapse. That is a lesson I learned the hard way. I hope, if anything positive is to come out of Paul Gascoigne's relapse, it is that he learns something that will make his subsequent recovery even stronger.

Kettle's on, Gazza.

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