FORMER footballer Keiron Brady has spoken of his recovery from a “hellish” alcohol addiction in the hope that people with a drink problem will see the warning signs and tackle it.

The ex-Sunderland midfielder feared he would never become a dad because of his alcoholism and said it had a major impact on his physical and mental health – including causing depression and depersonalisation disorder.

The Northern Echo:

Mr Brady’s drinking escalated until his mid-30s when he reached crisis point and went into recovery.

He has been sober since June 2009, and has since married and started a family, which he never thought possible.

He now supports people with alcohol problems and has shared his story during Alcohol Awareness Week to raise awareness of the issue and support available.

The Northern Echo:

Mr Brady, who played 40 times for the Black Cats between 1989 and 1992, said: “One of the things I say to people who think they might be drinking too much, or on that path, is to assess their drinking as honestly as they can.

“If it is costing you more than money and becoming problematic in your personal and professional life, now is the time to look at how much you’re drinking, the reasons why and make a change.

“I found out the hard way. Recovery has taught me that life events do lead people to turn to alcohol, mainly for solace, but I was already drinking far too much.

“As well as affecting the body, alcohol affects the mind and it can create many different mental health conditions for some.

“I was diagnosed with depression and depersonalisation disorder, both of which were alcohol-induced.

“Thankfully, my mental health improved because of my recovery and I haven’t suffered from depression since becoming sober.

“It’s important that people recognise the warning signs if their drinking is creeping up. Consider how much you think about alcohol when you’re not drinking. Have you ever hidden your drinking, started drinking early, or a loved one has told you that you might be drinking too much? Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. I often say to people – has anyone ever told you that you can be ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ because of your relationship with alcohol?

“My drinking was at the extreme end and it was hellish. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I went through and whatever your relationship with alcohol, you can turn it round with the right support.

“If you’re drinking too much, I can honestly say that cutting down and even trying some time off the booze will bring you all of the things alcohol promised you but failed to deliver.”

A new survey for Alcohol Awareness Week showed four in ten drinkers reported anxiety, stress or worry as a reason for drinking at least once in the past six months – meaning nearly 740,000 people in the North-East may have turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Prof Eilish Gilvarry, consultant psychiatrist in addictions at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Covid has affected us all – it has been a fearful and stressful time with job and family worries, loss of routines and because we don’t know what is going to happen it can be frightening. Very often these are the feelings we would use alcohol for. But long term drinking is very much associated with worsening depression.

“It is certainly problematic for those with anxiety – people might think it reduces anxiety and it might if you just leave it at only one or two drinks, but that is often not the case.

“People often think it will help with sleep, but as your body is processing alcohol, you can wake up in the night with much greater anxiety and even panic attacks.

“People then think they are suffering from stress when it can be the alcohol causing it, so they drink more again causing a vicious cycle and potentially a problem with alcohol. And when it comes to people in treatment services for alcohol, probably about 70 to 80 per cent have problems with anxiety and depression as well as a problem with alcohol.

“Alcohol is a drug and we need to have a very healthy respect for it.

“There are some tips to avoid drinking too much – get outside, exercise, have a structure to your day and do something you love that doesn’t involve drinking.

“And if you do drink, don’t drink during the day and wait until at least six or seven o’clock in the evening.”

Balance’s new campaign, Alcohol – Not the Answer, highlights how alcohol can weaken the immune system against infectious diseases like Covid, contribute to low mood and anxiety and cause cancer, stroke and heart disease.

The Northern Echo:

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “These new findings for Alcohol Awareness Week are worrying. They are the latest to show that the last eight or nine months have pushed more people down the road towards alcohol becoming a real danger to their physical and mental health.

“Sometimes when it comes to alcohol there is denial, and sometimes there is stigma. For Alcohol Awareness Week it is time to recognise we as a nation have a problem and encourage people to get the support they need.”

The Northern Echo:

Prof Gilvarry added: “When it comes to taking time off from alcohol, I don’t think I have ever come across anyone who hasn’t told me how good they feel when they’ve taken a month off alcohol. They’ve lost weight, are sleeping better and are less anxious, even if they’ve found the first few days difficult.”

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