"To everyone else, I'm at the top of my game. But I can't seem to go a night without a drink and I'm worried I'm becoming an alcoholic."
This is a sentiment I've heard, expressed in different ways by different people, over and over again in my work as an online alcohol specialist with DrinkCoach. Men (and women) who seem to have it all - a high-flying job, a house or apartment in an up-and-coming part of town, good health, looks, a great partner and an active social life - but who are worried they are becoming 'trapped' in a vicious cycle of boozing and blagging their way through the increasingly negative impacts on their health, work and relationships.
Today's on-trend professionals pride themselves on their knowledge of barrel-aged craft beers, or their expertise in a gin and tonic tasting. The past few years have seen an explosion in 'premium' drinks and experiences - from artisan whiskeys to tutorials in making the perfect negroni. The unspoken assumption is that if you consider yourself a connoisseur of high-end alcohol, you're a more responsible drinker than someone opting for generic bitter or cheap super lager.
Of course, there's no reason not to enjoy a few drinks after work, or the latest craft beer from the local micro-brewery. But we do know there are times when people worry about their drinking - perhaps when their hangovers start seriously messing with their ability to perform at work, in the gym or, dare I say it, between the sheets.
What many are finding is that as their after-work IPA becomes a nightly old fashioned (or two) as well, the proliferation of premium alcohol may be leading them unwittingly into problem drinking. Recent research shows that risky drinking is more likely among those who earn higher salaries; almost one in five higher earners (£40,000+) drink alcohol on at least five days a week - higher than any other income group.
If you've ever worried about your drinking, you may have dismissed the idea of seeking treatment or even seeing your GP as out of proportion - after all, it's not like you're an 'alcoholic.' And it's impractical too, as you juggle work, family and a busy social life.
Nowadays we're all increasingly looking online and to our smartphones for support to improve our health and well-being. We created DrinkCoach, an online coaching service and app, in response to this trend. By bringing together our alcohol expertise - gained from helping thousands of people drink differently, with accessible tech - we wanted to offer people support with their drinking that fits with the way we live our lives today. Opting for an on online lifestyle coaching session via Skype means that you can get support at a time that suits you and can speak to a professional confidentially from anywhere. In our online coaching, we work with people to review their current drinking levels, explore relationship with alcohol, identify desired goals and support them to make positive changes to their drinking. Between sessions, our free DrinkCoach app helps people to keep track of their drinking.
Most of my clients would never set foot in a conventional alcohol treatment service, usually due to stigma or embarrassment. Talking to them over Skype offers anonymity and accessibility - no travel, no 'private appointments' in work hours, no bumping into people they might know. I have carried out over 6000 assessments of people's drinking during my career as an alcohol specialist and I find that people are much more relaxed over Skype. They are talking to me from the comfort of their own home, with a cup of tea or in their favourite chair. I've even had pets jump up on screen during a session!
All of this helps my clients feel they are in control of the programme, rather than just part of a system. Clients have told me that "it feels like a safe space - you can terminate the conversation at any moment," and that "talking via Skype was very easy and intuitive. I found that I was able to fit these sessions into my busy life."
What many people don't realise is that people can move in and out of patterns of dependent drinking behaviour at different points in their lives, often influenced by a heavy drinking culture in their work or social environment. Many of these will be only mildly dependent drinkers in need of brief treatment. Our goal is to give people the confidence and tools to stop them from slipping into risky behaviour, or to bring them back from the brink if they already have. For me, it's really rewarding to see how much happier people are when they've made positive changes to their health and lifestyle by being more aware and in control of their drinking.
- Mark Holmes, alcohol treatment specialist and Nursing Times' Mental Health Nurse of the Year 2012
DrinkCoach is the brainchild of independent alcohol action charity HAGA. Sessions cost £55 each, and a programme usually involves four sessions. The app is free to download. Profits generated are ploughed back into services for people with more severe alcohol dependency.
More information and how to book is at www.drinkcoach.org.uk
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