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Sky News and Help Me Stop: Dispelling the Myth of the Functioning Alcoholic

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Dermot Murnaghan presents this edition of the Sky News Daily podcast in Alcohol Awareness Week, which looks in depth at the stories behind the headlines. During the pandemic, Help Me Stop research found an increase in problem drinking, due to the enforced isolation, as well as massive disruption to people’s routines. In Sobering thoughts: dispelling the myth of a functioning alcoholic, former Help Me Stop clients, Anne and Chris, share their experiences with alcohol addiction. Chris Love, our Director of Admissions, speaks about the myth of the ‘functioning alcoholic’, as well as our Dayhab treatment programme, available in central London, west London and online.

Anne’s Story of Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Recovery

‘My name is Anne, I’m an alcoholic. I was pretty much a normal girl, going to university in France and in England and partying with the rest of my friends. Except that from a fairly young age, I noticed that when everyone else was managing to stop, I couldn’t. But I carried on and took the consequences. For years, there was lots of fun with consequences. And towards the end of my drinking, there was no more fun and plenty of consequences. It’s a mental illness that is borderline of insanity really, when you do something that you don’t want to do. You know it’s bad for you but you still do it. Most people would tell me, ‘Can’t you just stop drinking? Can’t you just have a glass of water?’ They did not understand that it was bigger than me.

‘The consequences were in all aspects [of my life]. My health: I started to have severe blackouts, where I couldn’t remember where I had been, who with, what I had said, waking up, not finding my phone, not finding my keys, not finding my credit cards or debit cards. And becoming abusive, saying things that I didn’t mean, or even if I meant it, I shouldn’t have said it. High blood pressure, irritability and yes, I had a promising career that I sabotaged when I look back now. There’s so much I could have done and I didn’t. I had phases of hyperactivity, where I thought I was wonderful and brilliant and I would do all sorts of things. But then I had periods of severe hangover, where I was extremely tired and grumpy and all those wonderful things I had started, I didn’t follow through. I can think of dozens of missed opportunities because there was no consistency in my behaviour. It was a rollercoaster, highs and lows, ups and downs. And I have since found out that alcoholism is a disease and a lot of people who suffer from it have that very low self-esteem with inflated ego. And that’s part of the problem. Professionally, I had very, very high dreams and opinion of what I could do, but my self-esteem was so low behind it that I couldn’t follow through.

‘[In treatment for addiction], I sat in a room full of people, suffering from the disease, sometimes different symptoms, different substances, but we all had the same disease. We could not understand how we had got there. But by talking together to each other, and being able to admit the things we were most ashamed of, that we had carried all our lives, I became liberated of that burden. By stopping drinking, my problems didn’t disappear, but I was finally in a position where I could tackle them.’

Listen to Anne’s full story about alcohol addiction and recovery on the Sky News podcast: Sobering thoughts: dispelling the myth of a functioning alcoholic.

Chris’s Story of Alcohol Addiction and Recovery

‘I first discovered that I had a problem with alcohol, or I should say people starting commenting on my relationship with alcohol, probably about five years’ ago, back in 2016. My experience around it was that it was just becoming a major part of my life. When I had a problem, I turned to alcohol. When I didn’t have a problem, I turned to alcohol. And I think because I know now it as a mind-altering substance, I started to see consequences and feel consequences of my using of alcohol. And I think other people saw it before I did. Back in 2016, it was being commented on. And I actually sought some initial help with the problem, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to help me stop. And in the next three to four years since that, my life deteriorated because of my consumption of alcohol and some other mind-altering substances around that.

‘Family, job, relationships, I’m a father, I was in a relationship, I run my own business – and all of these areas of my life were suffering, as well as the things more personal to me, my own health and hygiene, my own wellbeing. It got me to a place were it was gripping hold of my life, it was almost like it was sort of strangling me. I now know today that I was just isolating, I was living life alone and slowly, but surely, I was destroying it.

‘I reached what I know as a rock bottom, and that rock bottom was a place where I just needed to seek help. And that was where I was fortunate enough to find a Dayhab treatment centre, a place called Help Me Stop. I would describe it as they wrapped me up in a blanket. It was almost like an intensive care to rebuild me.’

Listen to Chris’s full story about alcohol addiction and recovery on the Sky News podcast: Sobering thoughts: dispelling the myth of a functioning alcoholic.

Dayhab: the Leading Alternative to Residential Rehab for Addiction

Speaking to Sky News, Chris Love, Director of Admissions at Help Me Stop, said: ‘The traditional model of residential treatment is very disruptive. That’s not to say that it’s not a very valuable and viable option for certain people – I am a product of residential treatment myself. However, it is a very expensive option and unfortunately, local authority funding is stretched. So, people are very much restricted as to their opportunities to address this issue. And that’s where Help Me Stop is fundamentally different. Not only are we more affordable, but we are more accessible, in as much as we are significantly less disruptive.

‘If you have a tree that is wilting, withering and dying in its environment, and in order to save its life, you uproot it and plant it in a fresh environment – and as it is starting to flourish and develop and grow again, you congratulate that tree, but you uproot and plant it back where the problem existed – it doesn’t have the tools to address the issues that it previously faced.’

The Myth of the Functioning Alcoholic

On the term ‘functioning alcoholic’, Chris Love said, ‘It’s a term that we hear people use frequently to describe themselves. And I believe that it stems from the stigma attached to the illness. There is so much shame surrounding admitting you have a problem, that people will use the fact that they are still turning up at work, they are able to pay the bills, they are still in the family home, as a means of justifying their behaviour or their relationship with alcohol. And it’s very dangerous. The people who we see that are really struggling, and really struggling to come to terms with the fact they have a problem, are the people who are describing themselves as functioning alcoholics. So it’s an absolute myth of a term, and in our experience, quite a dangerous term for people to be using.’

Get help with alcohol addiction and/or drug addiction today from Help Me Stop. Call 0208 191 9191, email or contact us here. We offer a free addictions assessment, so that you can decide if we are the right place for you to get addiction treatment.