Julian’s story: It's important for me to keep in mind that alcohol misuse is on a spectrum.

Julian | November 2021 | 7 minutes

I am an NHS recovery worker, based in a public prison in England. Each day I work to help the men in my care to better understand the truth of their relationship with alcohol and other mind and mood-altering substances.

Once we have established that truth – we seek to establish what a future relationship with alcohol might look like. Approximately 20% of the men on my caseload have established that based on their past experience – they are unable to use alcohol safely – and plan to abstain on their release from prison. Needless to say, many of the men with whom I work were drunk at the time they committed the offence for which they were imprisoned.

As a recovery worker, it is important for me to keep in mind that alcohol misuse is on a spectrum. There is a sliding scale and those who are cross-addicted are particularly at risk of minimising their alcohol use, particularly if they view it as benign. My understanding is that a ‘social’ drinker does not allow alcohol to disrupt their life or cause physical, mental, emotional or personal problems. Honest self-appraisal is vital in order to place oneself correctly on the spectrum of alcohol consumption.

I hit rock bottom on my 26th birthday – and have been continuously sober since then.

I know where I am on the scale, by the way: right at the sharp end! I picked up a drink at age fourteen, was running wild around the streets of Liverpool two years later – and would easily have qualified for the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous at the age of eighteen. I hit rock bottom on my 26th birthday – and have been continuously sober since then. That was over fifteen years ago at time of writing. Getting sober was the hardest and most worthwhile thing I have ever done. After a career spent in the education sector, with much of my free time spent practicing avocational recovery work - it was a natural step for me to ‘professionalise’ and move into my current role.

In my line of work, every week is alcohol awareness week! But for Alcohol Awareness Week 2021, my colleagues and I will (in addition to our regular duties) be spending extra time on each wing in the prison, raising awareness via learning materials and dialogue - and trying to plant seeds of change. This year’s theme of ‘Alcohol and Relationships’ is particularly poignant for those in the custodial environment. There are very few prison inmates whose relationships are as they would like them to be. Pain is perhaps most acutely felt by those who have been separated from their children as a consequence of their drinking. I tell those men that irrespective of practical considerations and outcomes beyond their control - one thing they can do is work towards being the kind of father their children would be proud to call ‘dad’. My own son has never seen me drink. Neither has my wife. God willing, they never will.

My experience is that whilst alcohol impacted negatively on every aspect of my life - the exact opposite has been the case for recovery. There is no area of my life that has not been improved by continuous abstinence from alcohol. To return to the theme ‘alcohol and relationships’, I am now able to see that when I was drinking, my relationship with alcohol was the most important relationship I had. Thankfully that is no longer the case.

Find out more about Alcohol Awareness Week 2021

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