Northern Ireland

Alcohol abuse: 'I didn't stop drinking for a decade'

Whisky, wine and beer on a bar Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Between 2001 and 2016 over 3,500 deaths in Northern Ireland were attributed to alcohol

"Anything I could get my hands on, I was drinking."

Louise, now in her mid-twenties, began drinking at school and did not stop for almost a decade.

"It wouldn't have mattered if it was drinking a spirit without a mixer, and then I was making myself sick but would have still got up and drank more," she told BBC News NI.

Only around two years ago did she finally seek help.

The organisation she turned to was Start 360, who offer support to vulnerable young people and adults.

Image copyright Start 360
Image caption Start 360 have produced a number of alcohol awareness animations

They have now produced a series of videos to get people of all ages to think about the amount of alcohol they consume.

'Prolonging my problems'

Louise said she used alcohol as a way of coping with other problems in her life.

"I took my first drink when I was about fifteen, just with people from school in parks," she said.

"But I never thought it would get a hold of me in the way it did."

Soon her addiction to drink began to control everything.

"I was leaving myself with no money for food - drinking was more important than feeding myself," she said.

"I didn't have the luxury to even buy make-up.

"There would have been days when I went by and would have maybe only had a bit of toast and I wouldn't have cared."

She added: "It was all about what was going on at the time - the party, the laughs.

"I come from a very good family and my family have always been there for me, but I thought that I knew best.

"I was a big girl, I could handle it.

"I was turning to the drink to make me feel better, but it was actually prolonging my problems."

Relapses

Only when she got into trouble with the police did Louise realise she needed to seek help and change.

She was referred to a worker with Start 360, but it took time to battle her addiction.

"You have relapses sometimes, no matter how many hurdles you get over," she said.

"You're going 'I'm just going to have a couple of drinks,' but a couple of drinks turns into an all-nighter or maybe a week bender."

Start 360 chief executive Anne-Marie McClure said their new series of short videos is aimed at getting people of all ages to think about their alcohol consumption long before they reach Louise's stage.

The videos are animated and humorous, rather than hard-hitting.

Image caption Start 360 chief executive Anne-Marie McClure

"What we want to do is start a discussion," Ms McClure said.

"We don't want to be pointing fingers or want people to feel criticised or patronised."

"We just want them to have a discussion with their peers, with their friends, with themselves."

Alcohol misuse has been called the biggest health problem in Northern Ireland.

And although some studies have indicated that fewer young people are drinking, recent figures show that alcohol poisoning in children is on the rise.

For Louise, though, there has been - eventually - a happy ending.

"I've been in a job since August, in full-time employment," she said.

"I have my own flat and I have friends."

"Most importantly I have self-worth, and I know I'm a good person."

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