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Wellbeing Wednesday 17 November 2021

Jane Fowler

Jane Fowler – Head of Customer Support Services

Hello and Happy Wellbeing Wednesday. I hope that you are keeping well and making use of the hints, tips and information that is in these updates. We have covered a lot of topics throughout the year, so please do take advantage of the information and look back on previous editions as you need to.

This week we are covering alcohol and addiction. As a country we have a strange relationship with alcohol – whisky is such an icon of Scottish culture and heritage, and we have an underlying caricature of ourselves that links ‘hard’ drinking with having a good time and being able to ‘take a drink’. But at the same time, we know that excess alcohol consumption can be very damaging to health and wellbeing, to relationships and to our finances. I don’t think that I drink a lot – just a few glasses of wine at the weekend but I still have occasions when I wake up the next morning and think ‘Why did I keep filling my glass?! I feel terrible!’ So why not stop? Because it makes me feel good at the time? Or does it?

Alcohol addiction needs support and intervention, over time, to deal with both the physical impact and the underlying psychological reasons for addiction. But even if we don’t have an alcohol ‘problem’ reducing our intake keeps us healthier, fitter and more up for enjoying our mornings – without a hangover. Maybe this year I’ll give Dry January a go.

We also have a great book review for you this week from Julie Hallett, which follows our theme around addiction.  It sounds very hard hitting, but sensitive too as a father tries to come to terms with his son’s addiction.

Take care, all and see you next week.

Alcohol Awareness Week 16 - 22 November

Alcohol awareness week is a week for change, campaigning and to get thinking about drinking. This year charity Alcohol Change UK takes on the theme of alcohol and relationships.

Alcohol and relationships are closely linked. Many of us associate alcohol with socialising and it can become a big part of our connections and interactions with those around us. But when our own or a loved one’s drinking starts to negatively affect our relationships it can have huge impact on our lives.

Research shows that many of us have found ourselves drinking more to deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. Returning to a more normal life will present further pressures too, to get back to ‘normal’ socialising. 

Guidelines

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) guideline for both men and women is that:

  • You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week. This is to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level.
  • If you do drink as much as 14 units per week it is best to spread this evenly across the week.

27% of drinkers in Great Britain binge drink on their heaviest drinking days (over 8 units for men and over 6 units for women)

In Scotland in 2018, 9.9 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult (16 years old and above), equivalent to 19 units per adult per week. This is a 3% decrease from 2017 and the lowest level in Scotland since 1994. This coincides with the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland in May 2018.

How much is 14 units of alcohol?

 One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, units are a good way of telling how strong your drink is. The new alcohol unit guidelines are equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or six 175ml glasses of average strength wine.

Alcohol’s impact on health

In Scotland in 2019/20, there were around 35,781 alcohol-related hospital admissions. Alcohol is a also a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including: mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver; and depression. How much do you know about the link between alcohol and mental health? Have a go at this quick quiz to find out.

If you’re worried you may be drinking too much or even just curious, take this quick health check to find out if your drinking is affecting your health.

You could also consider a ‘dry January’ Alcohol Change UK advises that most people who do Dry January see a whole host of obvious benefits including:

 

  • see your skin get brighter
  • your wallet fuller
  • your days busier
  • your step get bouncier
  • your mind calmer
  • your nights sleepier.

 

To help you stay on track you could consider downloading the free Try Dry app.

If you are worried about your drinking and how it is affecting your relationships or you are worried about how a loved one’s drinking is affecting you, you can obtain confidential advice and support from the employee assistance programme Health Assured by calling 0800 030 5182 or by visiting the Health Assured Portal.

If you are worried that alcohol or another addiction may be affecting your performance at work, support is available via the councils Addiction Policy and Procedure.  You can access a copy via The Hub or by contacting your line manager or the Wellbeing Team.

Beautiful Boy - A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction
by David Sheff

Book Review by Julie Hallett

Following on from our feature a couple of weeks ago about substance abuse, and following the theme of addiction this week,  I have just finished reading Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, which details the experiences of a father dealing with his son’s increasing drug and alcohol use, through to addiction and tentative recovery.

This is not an easy read, but it is very well-written, which is perhaps not surprising given Sheff is a journalist and author.  It is an unflinchingly honest account of the impact of addiction on the user themselves and their loved ones.  The book explores the cultural changes in relation to drug-taking in America and explains in detail the effects of particular drugs on the brain (particularly meth-amphetamine) and the cycle of drug-use, recovery, relapse, which may be repeated many times.

The focus is on David Sheff’s teenage son Nic, who is described throughout as a “beautiful boy”, much loved and full of promise for the future.  He is charming, athletic, creative, funny and highly intelligent, a loving son and brother to his two younger siblings, but is also drawn to a darker and more dangerous world and starts experimenting with drugs and alcohol at the age of 12-14.

By Nic’s late teens he is severely addicted to crystal meth and alcohol but is also using a wide cocktail of other drugs, including heroin.  He becomes aggressive, evasive and dishonest, stealing from his parents, family and their friends, disappearing for weeks at a time, living on the street or with other users, which soon takes its toll on both his mental and physical health.

Although the focus of the book is undoubtedly on Nic, and the effect of drugs on those who abuse them, the book is told from the perspective of a father, and this is what was most powerful for me.  David’s descriptions of the young Nic and their lives together are somewhat rose-tinted. They are extremely close and spend a lot of time hiking, surfing and cycling, as well as talking about music, books and films. David’s expectations of Nic are high and these expectations frequently have to be adjusted throughout the book, due to the reality Nic’s increasing addiction to meth and the slow realisation that Nic may not fulfil his full potential or more devastating, ever be truly happy with himself.

David develops an obsession to try and understand addiction and undertakes extensive research into drug use, rehabilitation programmes and medical evidence of the effects of drug use on the brain.  He powerfully describes the pain and torment of not knowing where his son is, who he is with, or whether he is alive or dead.  He also comes to dread the phone ringing, with the fear that it will either be Nic begging for money, or telling him he has stopped using, when he hasn’t, or the Police or a hospital etc. etc. The strain takes its toll on his own physical health and his relationship with his second wife and their young children, who all love Nic dearly, but have come to fear him and what he may do when using drugs.

David constantly blames himself and questions whether his own actions have impacted on Nic’s addiction due in part to the acrimonious early divorce from Nic’s mother and his own drug-use as a young man.  After countless times where Nic has lied and been taken to rehab and checked out, and lied about his drug-use, David reaches a point where he feels he cannot do any more and feels that nothing he can do will help so he stops responding to Nic’s calls and requests for money. He does not however abandon Nic and when he is ready to receive help, he is there, but he learns that he also has to protect himself in order to survive and Nic has to make his own choices as an adult, even if they are destructive. There are many periods of recovery for Nic and many relapses, and he continues to struggle to remain drug-free today. 

This book does not give any answers about why people become addicts, although there is evidence that at least 50% of the risk of becoming an addict is genetic, with environment and development of the brain also playing a part.  Nic starting using at a very young age which would make it much more difficult for him to control his risky behaviours and for addiction to develop. David also references a lot of scientific research and analysis of the rehab system in the book, which provides some insight into the cycle of addiction, recovery, and relapse. 

There are many descriptions of addicts and their families, some who made it, others who didn’t.  There are heart-breaking accounts of parents feeling relieved that their child is in jail because then they know where they are and that they are alive, and there was one account by David when he briefly wishes that Nic had never been a part of his life, which was very difficult to read.  Despite these low moments, Nic was fortunate to have a loving family who supported him and who also had sufficient resources to fund the many rehab sessions he required, not everyone is that lucky.

The book also shows that addiction can affect anyone, at any time and that love is not always enough to prevent your children from coming to harm, but there is hope. Addicts can and do recover and we can learn to love who they are rather than who we would like them to be.

If you want to read more about what it is like to be an addict, Nic Sheff has also written a bestselling memoir of his drug addiction, called Tweak.

The book has also been made into a film, also called Beautiful Boy, which is a faithful adaption and well worth a watch.

For more information and access to support and advice regarding drug addiction, the following sites may be helpful:

Drug addiction: getting help – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Drug Addiction Treatment & Detox – Rehab Guide

Drug Addiction | Recovery.org.uk

Please also let us know your thoughts and ideas about the items featured in our Wellbeing Wednesdays each week and send us your suggestions for future topics – we love to hear from you.

The Wellbeing Team:  wellbeing@argyll-bute.gov.uk