Fresh ideas about alcohol

Drinking experts have come together to tackle booze misuse in a holistic way. Reformed alcoholic Kevan Martin has set up a group in Sunderland called North East Regional Alcohol Forum to help recovering alcoholics with holistic therapy methods.

Alcohol misuse campaigners gathered in the region to explain why a new holistic approach was needed to support people with the problem.

Kevan Martin, chief executive of the North East Regional Alcohol Forum (NERAF), set up the national charity after the system failed to help him through his own journey out of addiction.

Addressing experts at a special Alcohol Abuse Symposium, hosted by Northumbria University’s Centre for Public Policy, Mr Martin said it was pointless giving people detox as the only form of support.

“It is essential that we move towards a more holistic approach to tackling alcohol misuse,” he explained.

“It’s pointless giving people detox alone as it just doesn’t work in isolation – you have to look at all other aspects of life at the same time as providing treatment.

“Relationships, housing and debt are just some of the external factors that can all impact on a person’s treatment programme and ultimately on their recovery.

“We believe that by taking this holistic approach, it will enable people to enjoy a total and radical lifestyle change, which is what is needed for people who have been misusing alcohol for many years.”

Alcohol misuse affects every area of life, from education, employment and health to crime and disorder.

At the event some of the strategic priorities for reducing the risks of alcohol abuse were addressed.

The event focused on alcohol misuse in its broadest sense, with a specific interest in young people and binge drinking.

It also looked at the links between alcohol and domestic violence and focused on alcohol policy within a regional context.

The Centre for Public Policy, which has had a team of staff working with NERAF, organised the meeting.

They have devised an extensive toolkit that is set to help people experiencing problems with alcohol, as well as providing a wide source of data regarding misuse.

Rob Wiggins, business manager at Northumbria’s Centre for Public Policy, said: “This project is part of a major initiative called Urban Regeneration: Making a Difference.

“The aim of the scheme is to tackle some of the real and very complex problems facing communities across the North of England.

“Working with NERAF has given us the opportunity to provide academic and research expertise to a valuable organisation while working alongside the team in a holistic way.”

He added: “We have devised a special toolkit that enables individuals to chart how alcohol is affecting their lives overall, including their health and wellbeing, relationships with family and friends, finance and employment and their self-esteem.

“The progress results will be charted on a specifically tailored database that will then give a clear view of the wider social and economic impact of alcohol misuse in the lives of the individuals.

“The results from this database could also potentially have a policy impact in terms of the way individuals receive and respond to treatment, as well as the implications for wider society.

“This has been an excellent opportunity for us to help make a real difference to people’s lives, as well as providing a greater understanding of the key issues. We believe this could eventually become the template for a national model of excellence.

“It has also given us the opportunity to work alongside the NERAF team in a genuinely collaborative way.”

The Alcohol Misuse Symposium was chaired by David Warcup, Det Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, along with Rob Wiggins from Northumbria’s Centre for Public Policy and Rosie Cunningham, associate dean of Northumbria’s School of Arts and Social Sciences.

The event came days after the findings of a study conducted by Northumbria and Keele University were presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference, revealing binge drinking by teenagers may put them at risk of everyday memory loss.

Binge drinking teenagers run the risk of losing their memory because of the permanent damage alcohol is doing to their brains.

Psychologists in the region discovered high levels of everyday memory loss among university students who have regular heavy boozing sessions.

Bingeing appeared to have a large impact on prospective memory, the kind used to remember future tasks such as calling a friend or buying washing powder from a supermarket.

Study leader Dr Thomas Heffernan, from Northumbria University, said: “There is evidence that excess alcohol and binge drinking in particular damages parts of the brain that underpin everyday memory.

“Not only may these teenagers be harming their memory, if their brains are still developing they could be storing up problems for the future.”

Scientists who carried out the tests on volunteers aged 17 to 19 from the region believed the harm caused to the brain may be long lasting or even permanent.

Teenagers were asked to fill in questionnaires about how good they believed their memory was before carrying out a video memory test.

Dr Heffernan added: “We found no differences between binge drinkers and non-binge drinkers in the self-reporting questionnaires, but when it came to the video the binge drinkers recalled significantly less than the non-binge drinkers.

“Although from their own reports they appeared to have good memories, they didn’t perform as well in the video test. The binge drinkers recalled up to a third less of the items, a significant difference.”

Help in looking at your lifestyle

Reformed alcoholic Kevan Martin was addicted to booze for 20 years but has now turned his life around and set up the North East Regional Alcohol Forum.

The 47-year-old, of Whitburn, South Shields, said his out-of-control habit ruined his life as it cost him his job, his marriage and his relationship with his daughter.

He would consume an average of eight litres of cider a day until he won his battle in 2000.

To help others in a similar situation, Kevan set up the North East Regional Alcohol Forum (NERAF) to offer a holistic approach to tackling the problem.

He said: "I misused alcohol for 20 years and it ruined my life during that time. I lost my job, my home, my relationship with my daughter and my wife.

"My addiction to alcohol started when I was in my 20s. I enjoyed going out to the pub and I liked socialising.

"I did not realise how addictive alcohol was and how much of my lifestyle was taken up by drinking. My problem just crept up on me without any warning signs."

He added: "When I finally accepted I was an alcoholic and stopped drinking I realised I’d been failed by the system. I had only been given ways to combat the issue through medication and was not encouraged to look at my lifestyle – which is essential.

"As a result I set up the North East Regional Alcohol Forum, which I did using my own money as it is something I’m very passionate about.

"It is crucial if someone wants to give up drinking that they look at the root cause of the problem, which generally involves assessing their lifestyle as that can be why the misuse of alcohol begins.

"Often people start drinking because they are in debt, unemployed, have a terrible home life and very few friends. NERAF provides long term aftercare and support to those affected by alcohol misuse.

"We highlight the dangers and health risks of misusing alcohol and, at the same time tell you that if you treat alcohol with respect and drink safely then none of the health risks should affect you."

source: Evening Chronicle