Healthy Living: Help is at hand to resist lure of festive drinking

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An extra glass of wine at this time of year is usually considered a harmless treat, with the seasonal round of Christmas parties and family get-togethers providing ample opportunity to indulge in a tipple.

But for some, the temptation of alcohol during festivities is much more harmful - even life-threatening.

Giz Sangha, clinical director at Sheffield’s NHS Substance Misuse Service, said the run-up to Christmas is a ‘particularly difficult time’ for people with a drink problem - and that the earlier help is sought, the better.

Meanwhile recovering alcoholic Maria Sievewright, aged 33, from Pitsmoor, is facing her first-ever teetotal December 25, after almost losing her life to alcohol.

“As a child, my mum was on the pub darts team and my dad was in the pool team, so we spent a lot of time around alcohol,” said the mum-of-two.

“When I was 10 my dad died from alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. All I associated alcohol with was people smiling and being happy, so I didn’t really make the link.

“I got a taste for drink properly at about 13 and it just got worse. That was the start of my addiction but I didn’t think I had a serious problem until my early 20s.”

Maria gave up her job as a care assistant because of her drinking, and at her lowest was downing up to 12 litres of cider every day.

Five years ago she was referred to the Fitzwilliam Centre, where Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust’s substance misuse service is based, and a two-week hospital detox was arranged.

But three months later, Maria was drinking again, and two more attempts to dry out were similarly unsuccessful, until early this year matters became even more grave.

“I went for a routine blood test and then the GP turned up at my house with an ambulance and said I needed to go to hospital urgently,” she said.

“I was in liver failure and had acute hepatitis. I left hospital in April but was told if I touched another drink it would kill me, and that scared me so much that I haven’t drank since. My life and my kids are more important.”

Maria added: “I have had enormous support from my GP and the Fitzwilliam Centre. It helps me so much – I have new friends who have been through the same thing so you don’t feel judged, and the knitting group I attend has taught me a new skill.

“I do have regrets. The impact on my children and what I put my mum through - I am so sorry to them all.”

She continued: “To anyone else who thinks they might have a problem, I would say get some help before it’s too late. I feel like a new woman who can choose what she wants to do. My life is not restricted by addiction.

“This is my first teetotal Christmas. Despite booze being everywhere you look at the moment, which is incredibly difficult, my festive time will not revolve around drink. I’ve come too far.”

Ms Sangha agreed that alcohol is difficult to avoid in December.

“Drink offers are being promoted, with temptation at every turn,” she said.

“We usually start talking to service users about Christmas from early November so we can provide support and put relapse prevention strategies in place. We encourage them to see the role of alcohol differently.

“Alcohol services have changed greatly over the years and are now much more recovery-focused. We try to help people see that a reduction in alcohol or giving it up completely is a lifestyle change that doesn’t stand alone, and support is given in a variety of ways.

“We have seen referrals increase over the past three years, I think due to people recognising they have a problem and being more aware of our services.

“The earlier you get support, the better.”

Thousands in city have alcohol issues

According to NHS figures, Sheffield has hundreds of thousands of people for whom alcohol is a problem - including 126,000 who regularly binge drink.

Official guidelines say women should not drink more than two to three units a day as a matter of routine, while for men the limit is three to four units.

Regularly drinking above the lower-risk guidelines increases the chances of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, larynx or breast.

Other conditions brought on by alcohol abuse include strokes, heart disease, liver disease and reduced fertility.

Drinking also has an impact on weight - if a person downs 10 pints most weeks, they could be taking on more than 120,000 calories annually.

For help from Sheffield Health and Social Care’s open-access alcohol service, based on Fitzwilliam Street in the city centre, call 0845 345 1549 or 0114 30 50500, or ask your GP for advice.
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