It’s not hard to find a message telling you what to drink – it’s called alcohol advertising and it’s on TV, in magazines and newspapers and at the footie. But what if you need a different message – one that tells you where to get help to trim your alcohol intake or maybe stop drinking altogether? Most people with an alcohol problem aren’t in a bus shelter clutching a bottle in a paper bag – they’re the ones consistently feeling rough in the morning when they get to work, or whose single glass of wine in the evenings has become half a bottle or more, says Associate Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, Director of Drug and Alcohol Services for South Eastern Sydney Area Health Services. “They may not need to stop drinking altogether, but they do need to get a handle on it,” he says.”About one in ten of us will have a problem with alcohol dependency at some point in our lives.”

But while everyone knows the Quitline can help you stop smoking, how do you find a service to help you quit – or cut down – on your beer, bourbon or sauvignon blanc? That’s what musician Kevagne Kalisch wondered when she found herself nursing a broken ankle – the result of a fall after too many drinks. She hobbled to her computer and googled ‘Alcoholics Anonymous and alternatives’. Kalisch, 63, describes herself as a ‘functional drunk’ who could quit periodically but otherwise drank daily. “I think there’s lots of people like me – not homeless, not drinking 45 bottles a week, but who are averaging four glasses of wine seven days a week. You can delude yourself that it’s not that much, but how much I was drinking wasn’t the point – the point was that I couldn’t not drink. I had hangovers every day, I was eating enormous amounts of barley sugar to get me through the hangover each morning, and I was grouchy.”

But back to the Googling.

Her search turned up SMART Recovery, a free self-help program offering both group and online meetings to help people overcome addictive behaviours.

“Because it was online I could do it any time and if I needed someone to talk at 4am, there was always someone there. It was good to get support at live meetings too but I think my recovery was online,” says Kalisch who was familiar with the AA approach but felt it wasn’t for her. “The idea of turning my life over to a higher power didn’t feel right to me, although I’m not slamming AA because I have friends who’ve been helped by it.”

While SMART isn’t just about alcohol or other drugs – it also helps with other addictive behaviours like gambling, overeating and over-shopping – alcohol is what draws most people to it, says its co-ordinator Josette Freeman. Short for Self-Management and Recovery Training, the program began in the US and was established in Australia by Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, and now runs groups in most states. It teaches practical skills to help people cope with cravings and regain balance in their lives – and emphasises self reliance rather than powerlessness.

But although Kalisch’s goal was to avoid alcohol altogether – she’ll celebrate her fifth alcohol free year in August – some people just need help to reduce their drinking, not stop entirely, says Nicholas Lintzeris. Again, there’s an online controlled drinking program run by the Australian Centre for Addiction Research (or it’s available by correspondence too.)

Most people overcome problems with alcohol without help, often because of pressure from loved ones, Lintzeris adds. But for anyone needing services in their area – including controlled drinking programs or rehab – the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) in NSW on 9361 8000 or 1800 422 599 (for callers outside Sydney), or DirectLine in Victoria 1800 888 236 can tell you what’s available. They can also provide counselling on the phone. You can talk to your GP too, Lintzeris says.

But while the programs might be there, we don’t hear much about them. I was watching TV last week when on came a Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare ad with its warnings about binge drinking – but minus any information on how to get help if your drinking is out of control.

If you’re wondering if your own drinking habits rate as risky or not, this questionnaire developed by the World Health Organisation can help you decide.

What’s your experience with this? If you or someone close to you needed help with an alcohol problem, what did they do?

Photo: Darwin Bell under the terms of a Creative Commons Licence.

Posted by Paula Goodyer
March 17, 2010 12:00 AM

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