As some who gets hangovers lasting a week, Carol never drank too much - Once she got to a sensible age! However as a patient with an auto immune illness, since she was a teenager she has to drink very little. So she really understands how Irish society makes this very difficult. Carol is responsible for all aspects of Lifewise operations that Valerie and Angela do not cover.

Courses by Carol

I’m a social drinker (Sofun)

You’re a social drinker and you crack open a nice bottle of wine after a hectic booze free week.

If the above applies to you, then you may be in trouble.
Doctors are now seeing women who have terminal liver disease which had little or no symptoms.

In just 15 minutes find out how you can continue drinking and avoid problems in the future.

Posts by Carol

Taking action on your Christmas drinking triggers

Last week we wrote about identifying your Christmas drinking triggers, in this post we talk about taking action on Christmas drinking triggers.

As regular readers, will know it’s all  about the  planning.

Why is planning so important?

In our alcohol obsessed culture where drink is everywhere it’s very easy to drink too much. So it takes effort and advance planning to make sure we’re don’t get sucked down into the glug glug of boozy Christmas drinking.

Everybody’s different so what works for one person may not work for another. So thinking about what will work for you is really important.  Once you know what’s going to be  your Christmas drinking triggers you can take action. You might find these tips helpful.


Create an advent calendar

Creating an advent calendar covering those days which are most stressful for you can be useful. Lidl sell a range for just €4.99  were  you fill each day yourself. You can  use this to write little notes or reminders to yourself for different days. Or maybe even put in little gifts to help you stay focused.

To get you started, here‘s a calendar we came across that many people liked. It focuses on happiness.

christmas drinking triggers


Office Christmas parties

These can be a real killer as a Christmas drinking trigger. Everybody out to have fun, relax and in many workplaces there’s a free bar.  Not drinking means you can be seen as a real killjoy.

One way to avoid this pressure is to ring the venue in advance and see will they be serving no or low alcohol drinks. These can often look like the real thing. So you  look like you’re drinking when you’re not actually drinking.  Sneaky huh! For suggestions on low alcohol drinks see this post.

For even more tips on office parties click  here.


Family events can be real Christmas drinking triggers

If you’re part of a family where socialising consists  entirely of sitting around drinking, this can be very tough. It’s easier to take part then sit watching as the conversation gets more and more boring as people start slurring their words.

Also there’s usually one toxic family member present. I’ve heard one woman say we’re all encouraged to cut toxic people out of our lives, so why do we all feel the need to meet up with toxic family members at Christmas? It’s strange all right. So very important to keep our expectations of enjoying toxic family events low!

Here’s a few tips for family events we’ve heard you might find useful.


Arriving late

Not really good manners, but when the event is going to be a long drinking session, arriving late means you cut the amount of drinking time you spend there. And managing your drinking is much more important.


Bring any kids in the event for a short walk in the fresh air

I know we’ve been minding kids all year, so going for a walk in the cold, does not sound appealing. But I’ve found even a little break from the event does wonders.  It freshens me up, the kids can be really funny and I always go back in better humour. The other adults always appreciate you more as well.

(Did anyone see the wonderful Toy Show, I’d love a walk and  chat with so many of those lovely kids in particular Scott and Grace)


Make a bingo card

In Club Soda, one lady suggested making a bingo card. The bingo card has a range of different tasks on it. Like count the number of people at an event, or talk to someone who is not drinking. Or count the number of times someone mentions a particular word or phrase. Crossing off the bingo card when no one was watching made the event much more interesting.


Line up a friend

So  you know an event is really going to be full of   Christmas drinking triggers. For example, you’re going to feel really lonely in that crowded room because you’re the only one not drinking. Your sister in law will be making snide comments about your kids, while the brother boasts on and on about his new car.  So plan ahead and line up a friend that you can text or WhatsApp when you go to the bathroom. That way you can get a bit of moral support to help with  those lonely feelings.


Christmas is not perfect

So make your plans, but remember despite all the pressure around us to have the picture perfect Christmas it really is just another few days and we don’t have to be perfect or even to actually enjoy it!

What are your triggers for the Christmas drinking season?

Yep, that time of the year again, the Christmas drinking season is on us. When you’re trying to reduce your drinking or even not drink at all, it can be a very tough time.


Christmas is not a happy time for everyone

Memories of past Christmases can make life difficult. Loved ones that are now gone. For me, Christmas means the day services are closed. So I’ll be spending more time looking after my Mother who has Alzheimer’s and needs 24 hour care. I love her dearly but after eight years of care it takes a toll. For the first time ever, my daughter won’t be home from England, so can’t even enjoy her company. So I’m definitely not looking forward to Christmas and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.


What does Christmas mean to you?

I find not pretending Christmas is a happy time really helps. The times when I do meet up with friends, or go out with my other daughter are more enjoyable because they know how I feel and we don’t pretend. So it’s useful to understand for yourself what does Christmas mean for you and not pretend it’s a happy time if that’s not right for you.


Are triggers an issue?

We’ve heard from many people who say the Christmas drinking season is the toughest time to control their drinking. All that pressure to be happy, all the parties and meeting ups. The feeling that if you don’t drink you’re an outsider and weirdo.

So identifying your specific triggers for the Christmas drinking season is really helpful


What are your triggers?

What are your specific triggers?  Could it be work Christmas parties, or is it particular family members, or putting up the Christmas tree. Even specific Christmas decorations can be triggering. I always find a Christmas decoration with all our names painted on it makes me feels really sad. I can’t bring myself to throw it away. So now I just put it in a separate box which I never open.

Is spending too much time with family a trigger? Or maybe tiredness after too many late nights or not sticking to your usual daily routine.


Start planning for the Christmas drinking season

So write down all your likely triggers by the 1st of December and then you can start planning how you are going to deal with them. That way you get to control your drinking and actually enjoy the Christmas drinking season.

In the next post, we’ll give some tips on dealing with these triggers.

You can also see more advice on Christmas drinking here.

My teenager is drinking

An interesting advice column on  “my teenager is drinking” issue recently. A Mother found her 16 year old son had been drinking at a friend’s family event and wanted to know what to do about it.


Keep the relationship open

The advice was good – try to keep a real and trusting relationship with your teenager while tackling the drinking issue and setting boundaries.


I’ve had the “Teenager is  drinking” problem myself

I’ve had this problem myself. My then 16 year went to a friend’s 16th birthday party, where the parents pointed to a slab of beer and said “help yourself”.  Initially I did not handle it well. I said

“ you do know that when a teenager  is drinking it is illegal, and they are breaking the law “


Report to the Police

She was terrified I was going to report the parent to the police! Eventually when I calmed down, we had a good conversation about teenage drinking.  I even sympathised with her that it was very difficult not to drink in Irish society at just 16. She was adamant none of the other parents had a problem the way I did.


A compromise

She was into sports at the time so we agreed she would use that as an excuse to only drink one or two drinks on very special occasions. We also agreed that if she did get into trouble she would ring me and I would come collect her. So as a single parent, this meant I could not drink when she was out in case I had to go collect her.


No friends to the house

That all seemed ok. Until I noticed her friends never came to the house to get ready for nights out. It turned out, unless they were allowed drink they were not coming to the house. This went on for two years.


A big night out

I was away for work one weekend and she wanted to invite friends over prior to a big night out. I was not too comfortable with a gang of teenagers in the house while I was not there.  No other house was available that night. So I agreed if there was no drinks and they had no other option they could use the house. This seemed to be ok.


A plaintive plea

Then while I was away, I got these emotional phone calls. All the friends were saying they would not come, unless they were allowed drink. Initially, I held my ground but she was really upset and felt she would be ostracised. Yes, I know teenagers can over dramatise but the friends had not been in our house prior to a night out for nearly  2 years at this stage.


Spoke to colleagues

My colleagues noticed I was taking all these long phone calls and asked what was up. Their response surprised me. They said to ask her what would she do if some of the friends drank too much and caused trouble.  My daughter’s response was very direct.

“Rub their face in the vomit and  use their dresses to  clean it up”

So chatting to the friends again, we agreed it seemed like my daughter would be responsible and maybe I should take a risk. I was still very nervous. At that time, as a single parent I felt like my parenting skills were always under scrutiny.  Accusations could be raised

“You let a group of 17 to 18 year olds drink unsupervised in your house”


Party Time for 17 year olds

I knew there would be a bad impact on my relationship with my daughter if I did not let her go ahead. So against my better judgement I decided to take the risk. All her friends came, they had a great time and when I got home the next day, the house was cleaner then I’d left it. My daughter was delighted and felt like I actually trusted her.


Keep listening and talking

We’ve had lots of good conversations about drinking since, including my own drinking! I  really did miss not being able to have a nice glass of beer when she was out. It forced me to look at how I used alcohol to relax.


Too strict?

I know many parents have a much more liberal attitude to drinking and maybe this would not be a problem for them at all. All the research shows though that the younger you are when you start drinking the more likely you are to have a drink problem and to move on to other drugs. Other parents will think I was mad to let a group of teenagers drink unsupervised in my home.


What’s right and wrong is not always clear

So I think the key lesson for me in this was to keep listening and tease out “what if” with my daughter. Understanding her as a young person who was strong minded, reliable, conscientious and could be trusted meant I could take a risk. Maybe it’s not the same for other parents if their  teenager is drinking. In which case they need to look at other solutions.

I’ve found John Sharry on parenting issues to be very helpful. The HSE have also just published new advice which you can find here.


The key lesson

As the article says if your  teenager is drinking

“The situation needs a long-term steady and reasonable approach that sets your son up as the self-managing person, you hope he will become.

I think this applies not just to young people  but to  us all. We need a long term steady and reasonable approach to managing our drinking. We can’t change the habits of a lifetime overnight.

For quick tips on how to get started take a look at this post.


Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels


Emma was a high flyer with a drinking problem

Emma Kinsella was a high flyer with a drinking problem. She  had graduated from college with a business degree and got a highly sought after job in one of the big four accounting firms.  On the surface everything was great.

She was passing her accountancy exams. She was getting good performance reviews. Life was busy and good. Inside though she was struggling.


A drinking culture

Emma started drinking in her 20’s. Fairly late by Irish standards. She had heavy drinking nights out in college, but always studied hard in between. In work, there were 12 hour working days with a post work drinking culture. Emma however preferred to go home to relax with a bottle of wine. She did not realise this was the start of a drinking problem.


She stopped drinking

Although sometimes she felt her drinking was a little high, she had no problem stopping when she got pregnant. She had a difficult labour and suffered from post-natal depression. But she could not put into words

“How I was feeling or how overwhelmed I was”


A major drinking problem

Drink helped Emma turn off her emotions. However it stopped working and she started to drink more and more. Her drinking problem became a major issue. She ended up in St Pat’s psychiatric hospital, Cluan Mhuire, then the Renewal addiction centre. Her partner left taking  their son with him.


She was a nightmare patient

Emma describes herself as a “nightmare patient” She just kept drinking again and again.  This makes me really angry because Emma had what is called a dual diagnosis. She had both a mental health and addiction issue. But health services see these as totally separate issues, so she kept being told they could not treat her mental health until her drinking problem was under control. As Inside Rehab says

“addiction is the only area of health care where we blame the patient when the treatment does not work”.


Emma was failed by the healthcare system

So I’m angry because Emma could have suffered a lot less. The healthcare treatments she received did not meet her needs. They also missed another major issue.


Emma‘s childhood experience

When Emma was just 3 years old, the sexual abuse started. It was a relative. Emma blamed herself and thought everybody knew.  She carried a lot of guilt. She blocked out these emotions and never disclosed what had happened to all the different health care professionals she met.


Difficult childhood experiences

Difficult childhood experiences ( the experts call these Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE) are well known to be a cause of drinking problems. However  our treatment systems do not look at this. They ask

“What’s wrong with you?”

 Instead of

“What happened you”?

They don’t create a safe space for people to tell their stories and take the first step in healing.

Until our treatment systems change, people like Emma will continue to suffer more than they need to. Treatment systems need to become “trauma informed”, as the experts say.


Emma made a great recovery

Eventually Emma  got the right type of help. Now she’s got her relationship with her son back. Her ex-partner  trusts her again. Emma shows even the most severe drinking problems can be fixed with the right help.


Is your drinking problem caused by childhood trauma?

So if you’re having difficulty getting your drinking under control, consider whether your childhood experiences might be an issue for you. It does not have to be as horrific as Emma’s story. It could be something like childhood emotional neglect. We’ve written about this here. It’s very common in Ireland.

So as brave Emma’s wonderful story shows never give up hope. Change is always possible.


Like this post?

You can read Emma’s full story, written by Sheila Wayman here.   

You can find out more about the role of childhood experiences in alcohol harm here.

You can find help on finding the right treatment here.


Photo Dara mac Dónaill

Brian’s ability to control drinking destroyed by his beliefs

I wrote previously about beliefs and how the meaning we take from events, influences our ability to control drinking. It may seem like beliefs have nothing to do with taking control of our drinking, when in reality it can be the key to not just drinking too much, but to leading a happy life.

Brian’s story shows how our beliefs can even be a matter of life and death.

Brian’s story

I knew Brian as a sensitive, gentle, intelligent man. Despite leaving school unable to read, he now enjoyed reading and poetry. Patrick Kavanagh was his favourite. He could discuss politics and any kind of music you’d mention. Because of his rough time at school and home, he was really scared he was

“A bad person who was going to hell.”

In all his time in the mental health services, this belief had never been challenged or addressed. It’s easier to throw drugs at people, despite it costing more in the long term.


Impatient Boss

When the boss changed in work, Brian could not cope with the new boss’s style, he got too stressed and he left on disability. Life went downhill from there. His kidneys failed and he went on kidney dialysis.

He was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. Brian had no health insurance. However because the doctors thought it might be TB, they put him in a private room to prevent other patients being infected.

We all thought this was terrific, because now he had peace and privacy and would be able to sleep at night without noises and interruptions.


Let him die

But then Brian became unconscious. He stopped talking. Drips were inserted. Even when he was brought down for his regular kidney dialysis, Brian never appeared to wake up. The Doctors called a case conference, where we all came together to discuss Brian. At the case conference, the Doctors suggested nothing more could be done. They wanted to stop kidney dialysis which meant Brian would be dead within the week.


Natalie saves the day

We were all so upset, nobody could talk. I could not get any words out.  I wanted to ask how somebody who walked into a hospital with a chest infection just two weeks earlier, could suddenly get so ill, and be allowed to die. But I was too upset to talk.

Luckily we had a friend, Natalie, with us who was able to ask that question. So the doctors decided they would do more tests and keep going with the kidney dialysis.


Brian wakes up

The test for TB is clear. Brian is moved from the private room into the main ward. Next day he wakes up and starts eating breakfast. He gets up and walks around. Soon he is well enough to be released home. It really feels like a miracle.


None of this made sense

I asked Brian what had gone on. How come he had been so ill in the hospital and then got better?

His answer, to use a cliché “made my blood run cold”.

When he was put in the private hospital room, he assumed he was put there because he was dying. So he decided he might as well get on with it. He always knew he would die young.  It was one of the reasons he drank too much.Then, when the doctors put him back in the main ward, he realised he was not dying and decided to live.


His beliefs nearly killed him

I was horrified and in shock for days after hearing this. None of us had even thought to explain to Brian why he was in the private room. We assumed the doctors or nurses had told him. We also assumed he would like it. It brought home to me how powerful our beliefs are and how they can control our physical bodies. Brian’s belief that private rooms were for people who were dying, nearly killed him.


Beliefs about alcohol

Which brings us onto our beliefs about alcohol and our ability to control drinking. All around  us we’re surrounded by messages that drinking is essential to a happy life. We’re conditioned to believe, that every event needs drinking, every time we’re stressed we need drink, every time we’re happy we need a drink and so on. Advertisements are all around us linking drinking to happiness.

We even believe that becoming an adult is all about having your first drink.


What are your beliefs about alcohol?

So when we’re surrounded by all these messages, is it any wonder we find it difficult to control drinking?  So  a good tip is to identify your beliefs about alcohol.  What does alcohol mean to you?  For example

  • Drinking helps me to relax
  • Drinking means I’m less nervous meeting people for the first time
  • Life would be boring without drinking
  • I’d have no social life without drinking
  • People would not like me if I’m sober


Control Drinking by looking at your beliefs

Once you’ve listed your beliefs on a sheet of paper. Then you can take action. Challenge these beliefs. Would life really be boring without alcohol, or would you start doing new more exciting activities? Sky diving anyone?

control drinking

Take action

Are there other actions you can take which help meet the needs drink currently satisfies?

For example, developing a social life which does not involved drinking. You’ll find some suggestions here.

Or maybe using meditation to relax.


Control drinking by changing your beliefs

So a key part of your control drinking toolkit is changing your beliefs about alcohol. Then it becomes easier to actually control drinking. For many people there’s also a second part to beliefs. The beliefs they have about themselves. For example, I’m not good enough.

We’ll deal with this in a future post as these can also really impact on people’s ability to control drinking.

Photos by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash   

And  by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash

How will the Alcohol bill affect Irish drinking?

Last week we described how the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to reduce Irish drinking was delayed yet again.


Good news at last

Well the good news is this week, after another long winded debate the bill actually passed thought the Dail. There was even a round of applause after the bill passed.

A small number of TD’s attempted to delay the bill yet again. Many with personal connections to the alcohol industry.


Reducing Irish drinking

Minister for Health, Simon Harris said:

“This is the first time in the history of our State we have endeavoured to use public health legislation to address issues in relation to alcohol. It is therefore a ground-breaking measure.

“For the very first time in our history we are legislating for alcohol as it affects our health and it is right and proper that we do that.

“We know that we have a relationship with alcohol in this country that is not good, that damages our health, harms our communities, and harms many families,” he said.

“The measures in this bill will make a real difference to change the culture of drinking in Ireland.”


How will this affect me?

So how will this affect drinkers?  Well, there will be health warnings on alcohol and alcohol will have to be sold in a separate part of the shop.

The biggest impact though is something called minimum unit pricing.

What this means is the price of alcohol will be related to how strong the alcohol is.

To set the minimum price for a particular alcohol product, you find how much the drink weighs in alcohol strength and multiply it by 10 cent. The Bill uses a specific formula.


A bottle of wine will be €7.10

So taking a bottle of wine of 750ml with 12% strength.

That would give

750 *.12 * .789 (figure specified in bill) which gives 71.01.

Multiply this by 10 cents and it gives a price of €7.10

So retailers won’t be able to sell this bottle of wine for less than this. It will mean selling wine below cost  as a discount sales offer can’t happen.


A bottle of vodka will be €20.71

Taking a bottle of vodka say, 700 ml and 37.5% strength. This would give

700 * .375 * .789 giving 207.11.

Multiply this by 10 cents gives €20.71.

So this will be the minimum price of vodka. While vodka’s normal price is €25 and upwards, there are often special offers which reduces the price below this. You can even get it free sometimes as seen below.

irish drinking

Check out your tipple of choice

So using the formula you can now calculate how much minimum unit pricing is going to affect you. If you drink mainly in a pub or wine bar it’s unlikely to have any effect. If you normal pay €12 euro for a bottle of wine, you won’t pay more. However all those special deals for low priced drinks will disappear. No more €4 euro bottles of wine which were €12 euro.


Minimum unit pricing is pretty clever

A basic law of economics is the lower the price the more people will buy. (Except when it’s something like a designer handbag which has appeal because it is so expensive and exclusive)

So what minimum unit pricing does is encourage people to buy alcohol with a lower alcohol strength because it will be cheaper.

Young people tend to buy the cheapest alcohol because they  have less  money. People with a drinking problem tend to buy the cheapest alcohol because they drink so much.

So now  these groups will tend to buy lower strength alcohol as it will be cheaper. Lower alcohol strength means less harm. So minimum unit pricing is pretty clever as unlike excise duties it targets people who tend to drink too much.


Can the minimum unit price change?

The aim of the bill is to reduce Irish drinking to levels suggested by the World health Organisation.

irish drinking

So if  Irish drinking  does not fall, the Bill gives the Minister the power to review the minimum unit price in 3 years’ time.


A final word

We got some fairly aggressive emails for our support for the bill.  Shows the level of support for our alcohol culture. But we also got some lovely emails thanking us for campaigning for the bill. So thanks to those people. You know who you are.




Bad week for the Public Health Alcohol Bill

The Public Health Alcohol bill which we wrote about here was back in the Dail this week. It’s now 1,000 days since the bill was first proposed. In that time over 3,000 people have died from alcohol related harm.


Alcohol kills more people than suicide

As we’ve written before alcohol harm kills more people than illegal drugs and suicide.

Public Health Alcohol Bill

So you would think the bill which is aimed at reducing these deaths would be treated urgently. But no, two other bills, the Good Friday Pub bill and Craft brewery opening hours bills  have been introduced after the Public Health Alcohol bill and  are now law.


The Public Health Alcohol bill came back into the Dail

It was hoped the bill would be approved by the Dail on Wednesday. The debate started in the evening and ran for over 4 hours. A small number of deputies kept talking with total misinformation.

Michael  Healy Rae- Yes- he of the publican family, that thinks overgrown hedges kills more people, thought the bill was aimed at young people only.

In fairness, Stephen Donnelly, the Fianna Fail spokesman on health withdrew his amendment as he did not want to delay the bill. He also admitted to now being aware of the links between alcohol and cancer.

Louise O Reilly also proposed a useful amendment to start detailed tracking of alcohol related harm.


The Bill does not pass

With all the hot air, though the debate ran out of time. As one commentator said

“Listening to the filibustering and misinformation in the Dail by a handful of Deputies.

We have been apple picking in orchards in childhood and down the Wild Atlantic Way”

You can watch the full dispiriting debate at this link here- (pick Wed 27th Sept)  if you have masochistic tendencies, or you can pick up the speeches here.


The media role

The media did not cover themselves in glory either. Disgracefully, Virgin Media asked Michael Overgrown Hedges Healy  Rae to present a current affairs programme dealing with the Public Health Alcohol bill. Healy Rae missed a Dail vote to do this. There was no mention of his conflict of interest. However Senator Frances Black did a great job defending the bill. You can see a clip here.

Gerry O Sullivan, questioned Healy Rae ‘s appearance as a current affairs presenter on Kerry Radio and got a lot of abuse for his troubles. Link here.

On Twitter, the political editor of the Irish Times, Pat Leahy said he could only watch the debate with a half bottle of claret. (Smart Pat, you’re not binge drinking ). This generated multiple  replies mainly along the lines of

“It would drive you to drink, all right,”


You’re going to die, we’re all going to die.”

Very few of the replies were active supporters of the Public Health Alcohol bill.


Alcogenic Culture?

So if you’re trying to manage your drinking, our alcogenic or drinking environment does not help. All the messages are drinking is fun, sexy, entertaining and that life without drink is boring and uninteresting.

It can be very hard not to absorb these messages. It makes trying to reduce drinking very difficult as  discussed here  and here.


It’s changing though

There are signs of change though. 92% of the public do support the bill.

Public Health Alcohol bill


Minister Simon Harris has committed to bringing the bill back into the Dail next Wednesday. Hopefully the Government will stand up to alcohol industry pressure.

So just keep reminding yourself, your thinking is more informed than many of our TD’s and media. You know alcohol is a problem.


Motivation wavering?

And if you feel your self-belief or confidence weakening try reading some of our writer’s stories on our blog. For example

MSBG writes about “how living in Ireland made her  drink more to be accepted by Irish Friends

Irvine says “  he can’t live in Ireland as he drinks too much.

Siolta writes ” on her fears of  being seen as no craic ” if she does n’t drink

Beanyneamy writes ” on drinking away the Irish stereotype

Or just watch the very funny Irish intervention.Over 4 million people have enjoyed it so far.


Is everything we know about treating drinking harm wrong?

The more I learn about treating drinking harm, the less I think I know. In health care, the debates about what is the best way to solve drinking harm rage on. Is not drinking at all better than moderation? Do people have to reach rock bottom before they get better? Does medication have a role in treatment?


Which treatment?

There’s a wide range of services for treating drinking harm most of which are underfunded and under pressure. There’s AA, private and public residential services, community services, psychotherapy, counselling, housing first, etc.

Each of these services for treating drinking harm have their own approach and can offer anything from 12 steps treatments, medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, peer support groups, psychotherapy, occupational therapies, exercise therapies, anger management to neurofeedback and EMDR.

We wrote about choosing a service here.


Which service for treating drinking harm work best?

So which treatment for drinking harm work best? The answer to this is we don’t know for sure. We know some treatments work for some people but not for others. I get really frustrated by the lack of regular up to date reporting on success rates. Services make claims about treatment success rates, but we don’t even have one standard definition of what success is. Is it about not drinking at all?  Is it about  drinking less? Is it someone being happy and fulfilled in their life?


There is no look back to see what works

At this stage, I’m sure everyone knows about the cervical cancer screening scandal. We wrote it about here. But if this type of scandal happened in alcohol treatments nobody would know. Because there is no routine clinical audit in alcohol treatments. Unlike mainstream medical treatments where there is a culture of looking back on what treatments worked and which did not , alcohol treatment services don’t do this. You see if the treatment does not work, the tendency is to blame the person with the problem- not the treatment. People who fail are told.

”You did not work the system hard enough”


Pat Bracken throws some light

So when I first came across the writing of Pat Bracken, some years ago, it was a light bulb moment for me. It was really helpful in making sense of why some treatments work for some people and not for others.

Pat writes that what is most important is looking at the values, meanings and relationships in our lives. We should prioritise

  1. Understanding the power and relationships in our lives
  2. Understanding what is the meaning and context of our lives
  3. Understanding what are our values and our priorities.

In these areas, we are the experts. We are the most knowledgeable and well informed in our own lives.

Pat argues that the role of therapy, treatment models, research are all secondary or subservient to these three issues.


You are the expert

In Pat’s approach, the role of the health care professional changes from being an expert “fixing” the person drinking too much. Instead the health care professional becomes a trusted ally helping the person drinking too much to make sense of their lives. The person drinking too much is the expert in fixing their own life.


Sounds crazy?

Maybe this sounds crazy. And, yes there are many crazy approaches to treating alcohol harm. (The scientologists are even setting up in Ireland, but sin scéal eile) But Pat is most definitely not crazy. He worked as a HSE consultant psychiatrist in West Cork for many years and introduced many new and novel approaches there which are gradually being adopted nationwide.


Try it out

So why not try it out?  Ask yourself these questions

  1. Do you understand who has power in your life? E.g. you, your partner, your boss, your parents, siblings, friends
  2. Do you understand the relationships in your life e.g. are they supportive, critical, nurturing, toxic etc.?
  3. What is the meaning and context of your life e.g. Do you know what your purpose in life is? If yes are you happy with that purpose
  4. What are your values and priorities e.g. Do you know what your values are. Are you living a life consistent with these? What are your priorities? Do you feel you are making progress on your priorities?


These questions can help

Asking yourself these questions could be the first step in getting your drinking under control. In a future post, I’ll talk about a real story, where someone I loved nearly died, as a direct result of the meaning they placed on something that happened in their life.


If you found this post useful you might enjoy these as well

Can an alcohol counsellor help you?

Rehab when is it useful?



Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Lynn Ruane shows the way to success

Lynn Ruane grow up in a loving and working class family in an area known for poverty. She did not know she was “disadvantaged”. She just knew school did not suit her. You were not allowed to be yourself, it assumed everybody learned in the same way. She became disruptive and rebellious.


Tragedy strikes

At just 13 years old, Lynn Ruane saw her friend die in a road traffic accident. She realised she might not live long enough to fulfil her dreams. To ease the pain and escape reality, she started drinking. Then she was onto cocaine and ecstasy. She got hold of heroin. But  in the local library she learned she would become addicted, so she flushed it down the library toilet. At that stage, she was robbing shops and cars to buy drugs.


Pregnant at 15

Lynn became pregnant at 15. Her dreams was to be old enough to get the lone Mother’s allowance and get a house. But she also wanted to be a good role model to her unborn child. She begged the school to take her back and did her junior cert when eight months pregnant.


A new beginning

The social welfare department told Lynn she could go to An Cosan  which is a centre providing a different type of education. Lynn describes it as a place where you could be yourself, it was holistic and allowed her to heal. Crucially the centre provided child care.


Fighting against the system

Lynn broke new ground getting the Institute of Technology in Tallaght to change their policy so she could be considered a mature student at just 18! She became a homeless and addiction project worker and changed  the services there.


Filling the gap

Lynn introduced a new way of treating drug harm. Most services concentrate  on the mechanics of addiction. How to deal with triggers. Lynn believes talking about triggers is in itself a trigger. Lynn focused on “filling the gap”, moving towards activities which make life worthwhile and enjoyable. She believes education and learning is a key part of escaping drug harm. An important point for anybody trying to reduce their drinking. We‘ve often written about this. (Link here)


Funding cuts means go to college

When addiction services were devastated by funding cuts during the austerity years, Lynn realised she did not have the power or words  to defend her service. So she went to Trinity College becoming the president of the Student’s Union. Lynn began to realise she was a victim of bad policy, her experience of education, the fact the school system was unable to help students deal with a bereavement. Her lack of understanding of what life could be in her early years.


Meeting Lynn Ruane

With my Dual Diagnosis Ireland hat on I met Lynn some years ago. I was very impressed. She used her terrible experiences to energise herself and make a difference to other people’s lives. Her insights into our very dysfunctional society and alcohol treatment systems were crystal clear. What struck me most of all was her honesty about her life and the mistakes she had made. She “owned” her mistakes but did not dwell on them. She was not ashamed of them. Another key point for anyone trying to control their drinking. Accept and learn from your mistakes. But don’t keep punishing yourself or being ashamed for drinking too much.


Lynn goes public about her sex life

In the middle of all the scandal and media coverage about women being forced into having sex, Lynn wrote a powerful article for the Irish Times. I flinched when I first read it. It was so honest and raw. Would her family be hurt by it? I knew she was bound to get criticism and boy did she get it.

In the article which you can read here, Lynn admitted to losing her virginity at just 13. She states she just did not know how to say no.

“From that point onwards, sex was an activity that I felt was expected of me”

 “On many of those occasions, I was way too intoxicated to even remember the encounter”

Again showing the role of alcohol in unwanted sexual contacts. as we discussed here.

Thanks to Lynn, Trinity College have now introduced mandatory sexual consent workshops.


Lynn becomes a Senator

Lynn decided to run for senator and again beats the odds. Rarely does someone succeed on her first attempt. She also unseats a serving senator, which hardly ever happens. She has been very active in the Seanad speaking on a wide range of issues.


Publishing a book “People Like Me”

Lynn Ruane has now written  a book “People Like Me” which is due to be launched Tuesday the     18th  of September. Over 400 people have said they will attend and the event is booked out.

We’ll be there to help her celebrate. At just 33 years old Lynn is an inspiration. Not just to women who drink too much but too many Irish people.


Remember Lynn

So if you’re struggling to get your drinking under control, use people like Lynn Ruane to inspire you. If Lynn can succeed against all the odds so can you. You can have a happier life.