Louis Theroux's 'Drinking To Oblivion' Reveals The Terrifying Reality Of Alcohol Abuse

'I was drinking myself to death, but I didn't want to die.'

Louis Theroux is sat in a hospital ward with a young man wearing a camel-coloured jacket. His hair is dishevelled, his speech is slurred and he looks tired.

The man, named Joe, announces that he's leaving the hospital to get a bottle of vodka.

When Theroux asks why, Joe replies: "I like the sensation as it goes down my throat. And I want to experience that for one last time."

Joe's reality is one that's shared by thousands of people struggling with the most common addiction in the UK - not cocaine or heroin, but alcohol.

In a new documentary, 'Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion', Theroux spent time with patients on the rocky road to self destruction at King’s College Hospital in London.

Many of the stories highlighted on the programme were heartbreaking, with some battling life-threatening illnesses as a result of their excessive drinking.

Louis Theroux with Joe, who is now in recovery from alcohol addiction.
Louis Theroux with Joe, who is now in recovery from alcohol addiction.

One man, an antiques dealer called Stuart, was brought into hospital with a swollen stomach full of fluid.

"I'm paying the price for drinking," he told Theroux.

Stuart has cirrhosis of the liver caused by continuous, long-term liver damage. The condition occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver and prevents the organ from working properly.

The damage caused by cirrhosis can't be reversed and can eventually become so extensive that a person's liver stops functioning completely.

Stuart revealed that he used to drink between four and five pints of strong lager followed by a few bottles of wine every day after work.

According to medical staff, 76% of people with Stuart's condition don't live longer than three months.

"On the bright side I'm still here," said Stuart. "I must be in the 24%."

In England alone, nine million people drink more than the recommended daily limits, according to Alcohol Concern.

The NHS estimates that around 9% of adult men in the UK and 4% of UK adult women show signs of alcohol dependence.

However just 1% of dependent drinkers access treatment.

Theroux's latest documentary followed three people battling alcohol addiction. One of them was Joe, 32, (pictured above) whose dangerous drinking habits led him to hospital on more than one occasion.

One time, Joe was hospitalised after drinking so much vodka that he developed ataxia, a term for a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech.

In hospital, Joe told Theroux: "I feel pretty scared to be honest.

"My legs, they're feeling weak. That's never happened before and it's quite frightening."

Joe was given a walking stick by medical staff to keep him steady. When he held his hands up in front of him, they shook violently.

He explained that he turned to the bottle after he went through a break-up and then didn't land the job he wanted. The double dose of rejection was enough to tip him over the edge and he began to consume between one and two bottles of vodka every day, for two months.

"I think I collapsed in the street and a stranger must've thought, 'you need to go to A&E'," he told Theroux.

"I was drinking myself to death, but I didn't want to die."

Throughout the show, Joe drifted between hospital and home. On a sober day, when Theroux caught up with him, the 32-year-old mentioned that it was scary how quickly things could spiral out of control.

Soon afterwards, Joe was back in hospital again, inebriated. He had been kicked out of his flat, had temporarily lived on the streets and his mental health had suffered severely.

Thankfully things have since turned around for Joe, who has moved to Brighton to live with his dad.

He said the motivation to give up drinking could never come from his friends or family, but had to come from himself, when he was in a place where he was "about to lose everything".

"I was completely crazy," he said. "I felt off kilter and anxious and like everything was either going at 100mph or wasn't going quick enough.

"But now I just feel okay, which is nice."

Joe's story proves that overcoming alcohol addiction is possible, but - like any other addiction - it's far from easy.

'Drinking To Oblivion' aired on BBC Two at 9pm on Sunday 24 April.

It also followed the story of Peter, whose drinking spiralled out of control after the loss of his dad, and Aurelie, who said that giving up booze is like "going to war and not winning".

A spokesperson for Alcohol Concern said: "If anyone has concerns about their drinking, or that of a loved one, we’d advise them to see their GP or to call Drinkline - the national helpline for free and confidential advice - on 0300 123 1110."

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