Jenny Rees Davies - MBACP (Snr Accred), Post-Grad Dip Couns, UKRC

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Registered Practitioner with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy

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Alcohol and drug-related problems

Article for London Business Matters   

Liz (not her real name) is 31, holds a middle management position in a large financial organisation and is virtually indistinguishable from many other City workers.  Indistinguishable, that is, apart from the fact that she has a serious alcohol problem. You wouldn't know to look at her;  smart and business-like, Liz seems poles apart from the stereotypical problem drinker – unemployed, isolated, deserted by friends and family.

But this stereotype is largely a myth;  people dependent on alcohol are just as likely to be professional, economically stable, living ostensibly happy and successful lives. There are people with alcohol problems from every walk of life, but the unique culture of the City means that it's easy and entirely acceptable to drink excessively – with women's drinking, in particular, on the increase.

Liz would probably agree. She only acknowledged her problem when her boss noticed her increasing absenteeism, lateness and erratic quality of work, even though her drinking had been causing regular rows with her boyfriend.

Liz would drink heavily from Thursday evening after work, and with her friends at weekends.   During the week she would try to stick to a few glasses of wine at home, but more often than not she found that once she'd opened the bottle she'd finish it. She found cutting down harder than she'd thought.

So if Liz decides to get help for her drinking, what is available? Most people are familiar with the abstinence-based groups of AA and residential treatment centres. However, an alternative approach for people who might want help to reduce without necessarily giving up altogether, is alcohol counselling. If Liz choses this option she would be offered weekly sessions where she could discuss her alcohol use in confidence, look at related problems such as difficulties in relationship or at work, and set goals to reduce or give up. 

Looking at problem drinking as a health issue does not mean viewing it as an intractable disease;  many people with an alcohol problem are able to regain control over their drinking, thereby dismantling the conventional view of 'alcoholism' and accepting that anyone can develop a drinking problem.

Many people who come to see me don't want to stop drinking completely. I support people while they are looking at the way they use alcohol – often to cope with stress – and work with them to achieve their goal, whether it is to stop drinking or gradually cut down.

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