Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Tuesday, 13 November 2007

How alcohol killed my son at 23

Chris
This picture of Chris was taken in his last summer of 2006
Chris died earlier this year at the age of 23 as a direct result of alcohol abuse. Here his mother Kathy describes how her only son went from a thoughtful little boy to a desperate alcoholic.

It's funny looking back now, how strongly he objected to alcohol at the age of nine or 10.

His father had been an alcoholic and had committed suicide when Chris was just six. But I had thought that together, we had come to terms with this and moved our lives on.

He wasn't one of these 12 or 13-year-olds you read about downing cider in parks. He didn't have his first drink until he was 15, and he certainly wasn't out bingeing then.

He was working hard at school, and left with 12 GCSEs.

He never smelt of alcohol, or even appeared intoxicated

It wasn't until he was 17 and he went to college that I think he started drinking regularly - or at least that was when I started noticing it. There was cannabis too, with his friends.

But I think a lot of the drinking was going on at home, secretly. I clearly remember at Christmas that year noticing that a bottle of spirits was missing.

Violence and shoplifting

At 18, he inherited 20,000. I had no control over how he spent this money. Some went on a motorbike, the other 15,000 was spent on alcohol and drugs.

But the strange thing was he never smelt of alcohol, or even appeared intoxicated. His father was the same, and I think it allowed Chris not just to hide it from other people, but also stopped him from facing up to his own problems.

I was also starting to suffer violence from him. But I never really confronted him over this or called the police in because I was scared stiff of alienating him at a time when I felt he needed to be close to me.

There was shoplifting too. We were in the supermarket together and he concealed a bottle of vodka. He was arrested, but I paid the penalty to avoid him having a criminal record, because I was still convinced he would turn a corner.

He dropped out of college and flitted from job to job. He went to see the doctor who said he was depressed and prescribed him something like Prozac.

Letting go

He started to suffer from great social anxiety, and was unable to go out. During the day he would come to work with me and sit in the car all day waiting for me.

He just got put on more anti-depressants.

Raising taxes on alcohol probably wouldn't have made much difference to my son. However the fact it is so easily available - and appears so glamorous in adverts - is part of the problem

One day he said to me: "Mum, today I crossed the road and nearly got knocked down by a car. And do you know what? I just didn't care."

I tried to get him psychiatric help with limited success but I was absolutely terrified that he was about to take his life.

The GP came out to see him, and for the first time he was prescribed a detox programme.

But there was no medical supervision for this. I got rid of all the alcohol in the house, although he must have still had a secret stash. But when this ran out he asked me to go out and buy him a bottle.

I refused, and he assaulted me. I knew this time I had to call the police, and I did. They arrested him, charged him.

Saying goodbye

The police advised me not to take him back.

This was the toughest decision any parent will ever have to make, but I felt then it was the right one. I felt he would have to hit rock bottom if he was ever going to turn a corner.

There needs to be more education in schools on the dangers of drinking, for the kids and for the parents too. That must be a priority.

He stayed with friends, he was due to stay with my sister-in-law in London. He was in contact with my sister so I had tabs on him, but I knew if I spoke to him he would just try to come back.

We did sort out accommodation for him but it didn't work out. He thought he then had a place at a centre, but he had to be completely detoxed for them to let him in.

Then there was nothing - we didn't hear anything.

Finally, there was a phone call from the local hospital. I was told my son was there, and that I shouldn't come in without support.

He had caught streptococcal pneumonia because his immune system was impaired as a result of liver disease. Every organ was affected.

I sat with him through the night. At 4am, the nurse told me he was deteriorating. I had to leave the room at 7am for a shift change, and when I came back it was clear they were scaling down the level of care.

It wasn't long then.

Nobody's problem

I guess I feel let down by the system. With both him and my husband I wanted them sectioned for mental health because I felt that was the only way, but I was told it wasn't possible.

I say to myself: at least I know he is safe now

Alcoholics can't take responsibility for their own lives, but then doctors won't step in and take responsibility for them.

Of course the government can also do more, although raising taxes on alcohol probably wouldn't have made much difference to my son. However the fact it is so easily available - and appears so glamorous in adverts - is part of the problem.

But I think both as parents and a society we need to think hard about this. Why are kids now turning to drink at such a young age? I think schools are letting them down a lot of the time by failing to give them any fixed aspirations.

Some of my son's friends at college moved from computer courses to health and safety ones in the blink of an eye, without anyone asking them what they actually wanted to do with their lives.

There needs to be more education in schools on the dangers of drinking, for the kids and for the parents too. That must be a priority.

I wish my son was out there still, although there is some respite in death for someone who was always going to find living hard.

I say to myself: at least I know he is safe now.


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