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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 12:52 GMT
How people beat the demon drink
By Nick Triggle
BBC News health reporter

Pint of lager
There are a variety of treatments available for alcohol misuse
Millions of people suffer from alcohol problems ranging from heavy drinking to dependency.

The scale of Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's condition is unclear, but he is now among the minority of people with booze problems who seek help.

It is estimated that just one in 10 have treatment for their drinking - despite 1m in the UK being dependent on alcohol and five times as many drinking more than is good for them.

For the heavy drinkers, common treatment may involve a consultation with their GP or brief counselling from an alcohol specialist.

But if the condition is more serious - dependency - a whole range of options are available from counselling to drug therapy.

Rehab

There are two stages to the treatment - becoming alcohol free and rehabilitation.

Detox schemes can take place at home with support from NHS community alcohol teams which comprise of GPs, social workers and nurses or in hospital or residential setting.

The idea is that you get the person to admit the problem and then you can start the recovery
Paul Kitching, of AA

Once the individual is off alcohol, the rehabilitation starts. The counselling often takes three months although for some it can last much longer and varies from groups sessions to intensive counselling known as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Clinics such as The Priory may be well known for treating celebrities, but most people live at home while counselling is done.

However, the NHS does pay for people to be treated in a residential setting if they have no support network.

Drug treatments can also be used to either subdue the craving for drink or to induce a feeling of violent sickness if alcohol is consumed in a bid to make people afraid of drinking. Football legend George Best was given the latter.

Self-help groups are also popular - the most famous being Alcoholics Anonymous which has over 3,000 groups in the UK.

Winston Churchill
Churchill had a fondness for alcohol

AA officer Paul Kitching said: "The idea is that you get the person to admit the problem and then you can start the recovery.

"We believe that talking to people face-to-face whether in groups or on your own is the best way of dealing with it."

But whatever help a person receives, it is the individual themselves that has to beat the problem.

Professor Roger Williams, the doctor who treated George Best, said "It is very important to have support of colleagues, of families, husbands, wives, children - all this matters, the support you get.

Cost

"But at the end of the day it is the person's decision whether they drink or not."

Two thirds of people who have treatment manage to stay off alcohol afterwards, even if they are prone to the odd relapse.

But with so many people not asking for help, alcohol remains a scourge for the nation.

A study this week revealed the UK had soaring liver disease cirrhosis death rates because of excessive alcohol consumption, while drinking costs the NHS 3bn a year and the economy much more in lost working days and alcohol fuelled crime.

It could work both ways, people could see the publicity and not seek help, or it could increase understanding
Professor Colin Drummond, consultant psychiatrist

A spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern said: "The problem is that there is still a lot of stigma attached to the issue.

"There is no reason why it should be treated like other problems such as back pain, but it isn't."

Nor is it clear if a high-profile case such as Mr Kennedy will help in the long term.

Professor Colin Drummond, a consultant psychiatrist who treats people with alcohol problems at St George's Hospital in south London, said: "It could work both ways, people could see the publicity and not seek help, or it could increase understanding.

"However, I would hope this would highlight that it is not an isolated problem. It is something that the whole society has to face up to."

After all, Mr Kennedy is not the first politician to be fond of the drink. William Pitt the Younger was said to have habitually drunk several bottles of port a day, while war-time prime minister Winston Churchill was well known for his fondness of brandy and champagne.

And early 20th century Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith was such a fan of alcohol that the term "squiffy" was born.

But despite the pressure being put on the Lib Dem leader, Professor Drummond said there is no reason why he cannot continue at the top of politics.

"If the right support is there and he gets help, there is nothing to preclude him from office.

"People are facing these problems the world over, they can be dealt with."




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