Jesus Life takes a look at the widespread but often hidden problem of alcoholism amongst middle-class professionals in the UK
“I THINK Britain has a huge drink problem,” Alastair Campbell, former Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair, recently told Jesus Life. “I think there’s a real danger that all the focus is on binge drinking and people causing trouble in city centres. I’m not saying that isn’t a problem, but I think the bigger problem is the middle class professionals who are addicted to alcohol.
Dominic Finch-Noyes leads an alcohol support group 'Stay Dry, Be Free'
“As a country I don’t think we have accepted that so many people, particularly middle-class people, are addicted to drink. They’re not so visible – they are often at home – they don’t come out drunk.”
Dominic Finch-Noyes, 58, a member of the Jesus Fellowship, runs a group at Northampton Jesus Centre for people who with serious alcohol issues called “Stay Dry, Be Free”. Dominic has experienced firsthand the painful slide into alcoholism.
“My father was a wine merchant,” explains Dominic; “I grew up in a drinking environment. I went into the wine trade, too, and had my own business. Until my late 30s I was a borderline alcoholic.
I had a young family and a mortgage and started drinking incessantly to cope with the stress
“In the late 80s and early 90s I had been very successful businesswise. But the early 90s financial crisis caused interest rates to rise quickly. Being a small business man, my company overdraft suddenly cost me much more; customers stopped paying; cash-flow dried up. I had a young family and a mortgage and started drinking incessantly to cope with the stress.
“My wife, Susan, was a Christian (I wasn’t). She had the courage to believe that things would eventually get sorted. She coped until she couldn’t cope anymore, but eventually told me I had to live somewhere else.
“I tried as hard as I could, for four years, to give up drinking – unsuccessfully. I wanted more than anything to stop. I managed to get into residential rehab, but was chucked out for drinking (worse than ever) and hitched to near our house in Huntingdon, where I lived rough. One morning, I waited till the kids were at school, knocked on the door and asked my wife for a cup of tea. I went into the downstairs toilet and saw myself in the shaving mirror and the enormity of my helplessness hit me; I looked like a twitchy scarecrow. I realised I just couldn’t fix this. At that point, for the first time in my life, I started crying out to God.”
Dominic’s wife had heard about the Jesus Fellowship and rang asking for help. Two weeks later, Dominic went to stay at Honeycomb, a Jesus Fellowship house in Northamptonshire.
Alastair Campbell, speaking at the Northampton Jesus Centre
Dominic continues: “I was ill with alcohol, underweight and weak. I spent June and July 1994 working on the Jesus Fellowship’s farm. I got physically well and at the same time I found new life; I was born again. Later I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I did drink a couple more times, but six months later I had my last drink. That was in January 1995.”
“My wife visited me and made friends, too. I lived at Honeycomb for six months and Susan was so happy with what she found that she had the confidence to agree to sell our house in Huntingdon. In 1995, my family all moved into Honeycomb with me and we stayed for six or seven months before moving to our own new home.
“My family was back together again. They’ve forgiven me for the pain I caused them and I have a new church family too. Jesus continues to give me the strength to stay dry and to help others to do the same.”
Alastair Campbell describes his “big crash”, back in the 1980s – the day he ended up in hospital when drinking and depression triggered a breakdown – as “the best day of my life and the worst day of my life; it was the best because I survived and sorted myself out”.
He added, “I think part of the problem with all mental illness, and I include alcoholism in that category, is that there’s still so much stigma and taboo attached to it that people are generally reluctant to open up. The most important thing, I think, is to bring it more out into the open. If you’re reluctant to open up, you don’t find the services that might be able to help you.
“I know from experience that the first step you have to take is to admit your problem. My worry is that for some people there is no rock bottom, before death.
I know from experience that the first step you have to take is to admit your problem
“It’s only because of what I gained through the experience that I have been able to do what I have done since. It’s helped me prioritise and accept things that are important which before I had pushed away.”
Dominic identified relationships as key to his recovery: “I had never met Christian men I could relate to before. Now I met guys of my age,
'Stay Dry, Be Free' group members
people I could connect with. I realised there was a masculine, virile, radical faith available. I’d never appreciated this – and it was for me.”
“Stay Dry, Be Free”, the alcohol support group Dominic and others run, aims to be a secure, trusting environment for people to share honestly how they have coped with their addiction during the last week.
People need to not just know about forgiveness; they need to experience it
“The group has to be a safe place,” Dominic explains. “People can look at us and say, ‘If they can do it – people who have hit rock bottom – I can. The group is inclusive – people of any faith or none are welcome. However, we do say, ‘This is the Jesus Centre; sometimes we may pray – but we will not shove it down your throat. We may also discuss our experience from a spiritual dimension.’ There is no programme, no professionals and sometimes we just sit around and have a discussion.”
Paul, a member of the group, put it like this: “A car that has had a head on smash can take months, even years, to repair and that is the same with us. We have to learn to cope with the guilt, the regrets. People need to not just know about forgiveness; they need to experience it.”
What is an alcoholic?
Someone who is dependent on or addicted to alcohol.
What are alcohol's withdrawal symptoms?
When alcoholics abstain from drink their experiences include: sweating, nausea, shaking, diarrhoea, rapid heartbeat and seizures (which can be life threatening). Psychological symptoms include stress, anxiety and depression.
What are the side-effects of alcohol dependency?
• Physical problems include: insomnia, infertility, memory loss, liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease and obesity.
• Psychological problems include: anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings.
• Personal problems include: loss or disruption of relationships, loss of employment, financial difficulties.
• Social problems can include crime such as violence or theft.
• Safety problems include accidents at work, at home, and on the road.
What causes alcohol addiction?
Sometimes drinking is an integral part of people’s social life and dependence gradually creeps up on them; sometimes it runs in the family; sometimes stress at work or in the family such as the death of a family member causes people to find temporary relief in alcohol.
How widespread is alcoholism?
More than one in 25 adults in the UK are dependent on alcohol and the UK has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe. According to The Office for National Statistics, the professional classes are the most frequent drinkers in the country.