Change the way you think about alcohol dependence

Rob Cockerill | November 2018 | 6 minutes

When I first published my book about alcohol dependency’s effects on our family, its effects on me, I did so under a pen name. I thought long and hard about it, and I still chose to hide behind that anonymity – for a while at least.

"Why did I do that?

"I did it for two reasons: first and foremost, I grossly overestimated the success and reach of my book and feared my brother or I being pursued for some kind of questioning. In hindsight, there was really no need to worry in that respect; my humble little book is far from a best-seller.

"Secondly, however, I think I did it due to the stigma attached to alcohol abuse – or alcohol dependency, or alcoholism, whatever you want to call it. I knew I wanted to share my story, to raise awareness and to help others. But on some level I was equally scared of putting myself out there and exposing what really went on in our house. I didn’t see it as a stigma back then, in fact I don’t think I really knew what I was worried about exactly – but I was definitely concerned by what people would think of my parents and, by extension, of me.

"Back then whenever I had to share my story in conversation I used to worry about what my friends would think of me. I even used to worry what my fiancée would think – despite us having been together for years and her already knowing much of what I had been through. It still used to worry me that she might somehow think less of me or have reservations about what the future me might evolve into.

"As it happens, most people think more of you for what you’ve coped with, and that’s how it should be. But still – there’s a dangerous stigma attached to alcohol dependency, even today. That stigma is what kept me silent about the pain I suffered for so many years. It doesn’t only affect the drinker; stigma stops whole families affected by drinking from getting support and starting to heal. We as a society need to change how we think about addictions, or we risk causing even more harm.

"There’s a dangerous stigma attached to alcohol dependency, even today. That stigma is what kept me silent about the pain I suffered for so many years. It doesn’t only affect the drinker; stigma stops whole families affected by drinking from getting support and starting to heal."

"People who drink too much almost never do it because they want to hurt others. Nor do they do it simply because they enjoy alcohol and let it go too far. In fact, there is rarely one reason why people drink, and there are usually issues behind someone’s alcohol use. While my parents’ drinking caused me a great deal of pain, I have tried to understand it. If we stigmatise those who drink, they are even less likely to seek the help they need.

"It strikes me as a very different world today to 15 years ago, at the time of my parents’ dependency. There is so much more awareness and, I think, empathy now. There’s inspiring work being done by charities and organisations, for example through campaigns like Dry January and Alcohol Awareness Week, to get people talking and thinking about alcohol, and to connect people who need it with support.

"And yet, I still think our collective mindset has a way to go. I still surprise myself sometimes with how difficult it is to tell others what happened to my parents. It’s still a worry how that clumsily-spilled sentence will be received, and often even if someone says the right things their facial expression suggests a different response.

"Even after all these years – 11 years since I lost my Dad and over 15 since Mum – talking about it isn’t easy. We still need to change the way we think about alcohol dependency."

Alcohol Change UK works to challenge stigma. If we can all talk openly about alcohol, more people will be able to get the help they need.

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