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The Real Cost Of Drinking

Every year 3,000 women die as a result of alcohol, while binge drinking among British teens is rocketing. Here four women explain how alcohol has blighted their lives

The Binge Drinker

Dawn Morris, 27, lives in Watford with her husband James, 29, a promotions manager, her five-year-old son, Lewis, and two-year-old daughter, Isabella.

“At college I loved the party lifestyle. I was a performing arts student and partied six nights a week. Each evening we’d go clubbing and I’d knock back a couple of bottles of wine and at least six shots. It didn’t matter that most nights I hadn’t a clue how I got home – it was all part of the fun.

I decided to give up college after a year to spend a drunken summer as a club rep in Turkey and Spain. Once the season was over, I went back to Sheffield where I lived and got a job working in a local supermarket.

In just over a year my 8st, size 8 body was unrecognisable. I piled on weight, hitting 11st and a size 14. The reason? I was binge drinking, spending around £100 on booze each week.

It wasn’t until I became pregnant after a drunken night of sex with a local guy I’d been seeing for a few weeks that I had a reason to turn my life around. I was about to become a 22-year-old single mum and knew I had to give up drinking.

Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant I started to suffer severe stomach pains and felt awful. I was constantly sick and my skin had a yellow tinge.

My GP said it was severe morning sickness, but it got so bad that I was losing weight and twice needed to be rehydrated in hospital.

Despite this, my son Lewis was born on 24 May 2004, weighing a healthy 8lb 10oz.

I cried with relief.

But my weight kept dropping – within weeks I was just 7st and still suffering from stomach cramps. Some mornings when I was changing Lewis’ nappy I’d grip the sides of the changing table to stop myself passing out from the pain.

A few weeks after he was born, I had a night out with friends. For once the pain had eased and we went to a club, where I met James. We swapped numbers and arranged to see each other the following week in London.

Our first date ended in A&E. Just a couple of hours after meeting James at his flat, I was doubled over in agony. But the hospital dismissed it as bad indigestion.

The next day, I went to see my GP and was referred for further tests. Two weeks later, I got the results. I had chronic liver damage, caused by binge drinking.

I was told if I didn’t stop drinking I’d need a liver transplant. If I stopped, I was young enough that my liver would repair itself within six months.

Back home, I gave my son a huge hug. I knew what I had to do. That was five years ago, and I’ve hardly touched a drink since – just the occasional glass of wine on special occasions. I do miss alcohol, but it’s not worth the risk.

In 2007, James and I had a daughter Isabella then married a year later, and I’ve recently trained as a beauty consultant.

Now when I see young girls drunkenly tottering around the streets, I just want to shake them. I know they’re having fun, but they really need to be aware of the damage they could be doing before it’s too late.”

The Drink-Drive Victim

Angela Coulton, 45, a housewife, lives in north Wales, with her husband Derek, 47, a glass processor, and son Daniel, 18.

“I wish I could remember every detail of the last time I saw my 20-year-old daughter Amanda, but I can’t. All I can recall is saying goodbye that dark January evening last year.

‘I won’t be late,’ she said as she breezed out the front door.

The next time I saw Amanda she was dead in hospital. She looked as though she was sleeping – beautiful, peaceful – with just a small cut on her head. I ached to touch her cheek, to let her know I was there, but I couldn’t, as there was a pane of glass between us. My husband, Derek, had already identified her body but I had to see for myself. And in that awful moment, life as I knew it ended.

Amanda had been killed by a drink driver. The car she was a passenger in had been hit by another vehicle – driven by local man Daniel Storey, 30. Amanda had been killed instantly, while the driver, her friend Jack, was seriously injured with a broken back, leg and shattered cheekbones. Storey was more than twice the drink-drive limit.

I don’t know how we got through the following months, it’s all a blur. Friends and family would bring us meals, but I barely touched them. I didn’t sleep.

That was two years ago, but my life is still in limbo and every day is more painful than the last.

I try not to be too overprotective of my son Daniel, but it’s difficult. Since Amanda died, he’s become much more ‘live for today’, as he says you just don’t know what will happen tomorrow. It petrifies me, but I have to let him be a teenager.

Every day I ache to see Amanda again. Her bedroom remains just the same as when she left it – her pink duvet is neatly smoothed over her bed, the wall is covered with pictures of her and her friends. I can’t change anything in there. I won’t.

For me, time is no healer – every day I miss her more. It’s the little things that hurt the most. If I wanted to know whether a top or dress looked nice on me, I’d ask Amanda. Now I have to judge myself.

Derek and Daniel find it too hard to talk about her, but I want to – I find it therapeutic. In some ways her death has distanced the three of us, but we’re also much closer as we realise how precious life is.

I’ve started to campaign for longer drink-driving sentences. The man responsible for Amanda’s death got just eight years in jail, which means he will probably only serve four.

I’ll never get over losing my daughter, but if I can stop just one more family going through what we have, then I’ll feel as though Amanda’s death hasn’t been in vain.”

The Alcoholic’s Daughter

Emma Speigler, 26, lives in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire and is a support worker. Her mother, Jane, 49, is an alcoholic.

“To the outside world, Mum was perfect. She drove my younger sister and me to ballet class every week, and was there waiting for us at the school gates at the end of the day. With her glossy blonde hair and trim figure, she was a classic yummy mummy.

Behind closed doors, however, life was very different. My mum was an alcoholic and drink had made her an emotional stranger. While we wanted kisses and cuddles, she just wanted to cry and tell us she was a failure.

Mum and Dad split up when I was four, and Mum remarried soon after. My stepdad worked, so she stayed at home and looked after us. And drank.

Growing up, I knew she could get depressed and teary, but she’d also bake cakes and make sure we got to drama club. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realised Mum’s boozing wasn’t normal.

As a result, I focused on school. It was a release from all the tension and tears at home. When the bell rang at the end of the day, my heart would sink and I’d slowly walk home, afraid of what I’d find when I got there.

Once, some friends came round after school and we found Mum slumped over the kitchen table. She was so drunk she’d passed out. I made my friends promise to stay in my room while I put her to bed. I was 14.

No one wanted to discuss it at school the next day, which was a relief. I didn’t invite friends round again, and hardly went out after that. I was too ashamed.

While I loved Mum with all my heart, I hated with a passion the person she became when she’d been drinking.

I was so angry all the time, and I would take it out on my younger sister. We both felt so helpless and took out our frustration on each other. Our stepdad did what he could, but Mum was out of control.

I tried everything to help Mum. I was sympathetic, I ignored her, I begged her to get help and I even yelled at her. But she didn’t listen.

By the time I was 21, Mum was drinking at least a bottle of red wine a night, as well as swigging vodka in 500ml water bottles to try to fool people during the day.

I went to university to study media and sociology, and while other students were enjoying themselves, I was rushing home to make sure that Mum was OK.

Eventually I contacted a support group for family members affected by addiction. I went to meetings and realised there was nothing I could do. Mum had to help herself.

It was two years before she took that step. One morning, as she reached for a bottle of wine for breakfast, she decided she didn’t want to live this way any more.

But it wasn’t easy – it took three stays in rehab before she was clean. During one relapse, when I was 24, I came home to find Mum lifeless on the floor. I thought she was dead. Thankfully, she’d just blacked out.

Mum has been sober for four years. Now she feels like a proper mum.

After what I’ve been through I rarely drink. I certainly don’t need it to have fun.

My sister and I have a good relationship. Although we do talk about what Mum used to be like, we don’t dwell on it.

When Mum first recovered she tried to apologise, but I told her actions speak louder than words and she hasn’t let me down.

I don’t resent Mum for the way my childhood turned out – she was ill. I’m just relieved she’s finally recovered.”

Jane says: “I feel great sadness for the hurt I caused my children, and part of me wishes I could go back and be a better mum. But in a way, what we went through has made Emma and me the people we are now, and for that neither of us would turn back the clock.”

The Drunk Mum

Shirley Porter, 37, lives in Leeds with her son Ryan, 12. She is single.

“As far was I was concerned, alcoholics were people who spent their days on park benches clutching bottles wrapped in brown paper bags.

Now I know different – now I know that I was a functioning alcoholic.

As exports manager for an electrical firm, I was always on boozy lunches with clients. Drinking was part of the job.

At home, I’d put Ryan to bed then drink as I cooked dinner for me and my partner, Dave*. I needed wine to unwind. Didn’t everyone?

But when I was 34 everything changed. I started experiencing back trouble and needed an operation to fix a disc in my spine. I suffered complications and wasn’t able to go back to work.

Soon, I felt isolated, and most nights I’d drink heavily. If Dave questioned me, I blamed the painkillers I was on for making my speech slurred. He suspected I was drinking though and he pleaded with me to stop. I wanted to, but couldn’t.

I did try to hold it together during the day for Ryan – he was only nine.

But in September 2007, I was driving Ryan to school when I clipped another car. I hadn’t been drinking that morning, but I’d had a few as usual the night before. The police were called and I was breathalysed and charged with drink driving, outside Ryan’s school. I was mortified and he was completely humiliated.

I went to court, lost my licence for a year and was fined £100.

Dave insisted I went on an alcohol-counselling course. But even after that, I still didn’t think I had a problem, and I soon slipped back into drinking.

The final straw came on a family holiday last April. Dave asked me not to drink while we were away. I’d agreed but hid a bottle of vodka in my case and drank it in secret. For Dave, it was one broken promise too many and he left me.

Back home, I went to see my doctor, who recommended Addiction Dependency Solutions (ADS), a charity that would help me through my withdrawal from alcohol with one-to-one support. I attended Leeds Addiction Unit and was prescribed medication that would make me violently sick if I drank.

From having a drink every day, I went cold turkey and had nothing. I suffered sweats, nausea and terrifying hallucinations.

After four days, I started to feel better. When I craved a drink, instead of reaching for a bottle, I just thought of Ryan and what it would do to him if I went back on the booze. With regular counselling sessions I mastered my alcohol addiction.

I haven’t touched a drop for 18 months – I know I can never drink again.

I talk to Ryan about the bad times. He gets angry, but he’s proud of me. I’m determined to be the mother he deserves.”

ALCOHOL – THE FACTS

  • British teenagers are the third heaviest drinkers in Europe.
  • Around 29 out of every 1,000 women are dependent on alcohol.
  • Over 15,000 women were admitted to hospital in 2006-7 with an alcohol-related problem.
  • There are approximately 33,000 drink-related deaths a year and around 3,000 women die from the effects of alcohol.
  • Alcohol Awareness Week takes place from October 19-23. It aims to raise public awareness of the scale and harm of alcohol abuse.

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