You can find treatment for alcohol addiction on the NHS, but be prepared to push for it. There are local NHS drug and alcohol services in almost every borough or city in the UK, and most of these are walk-in services. This means you don’t need a referral from your GP. You just go there and tell them you need help.
In our case, Ben’s GP referred him to our local drug and alcohol service. This was last summer, after Ben had been picked up by the police staggering along a highway, carrying 16 beer cans in his rucksack and reeking of drink. He had gone out to buy milk at about 6pm that evening, and didn’t get back home until well after midnight (escorted by the police). I was woken up by Ben, who very calmly asked me to have a word with these two ‘nice people’. An officer had a word with me in private, asking me whether this had happened before, while Ben sat on the landing sifting through the usual mess of plastic bags crushed inside his backpack. They had a word with him, too – not that it made much difference.
It sounds naive now, but at the time, I didn’t realise just how serious his drinking actually was. I was at work; he was our daughter’s principal carer. It was easy not to see what was going on, largely because he was so good at hiding it, and I was working long hours. We rarely spoke. At that point, I still believed his drinking was confined to the evenings – to after I got home from work. Perhaps I believed that because it was more convenient to. And perhaps I believed it because I still trusted that he would never put Rosie’s life at risk in that way. It took many more weeks before I realised how wrong I was.
Ben’s referral to the local drug and alcohol service probably wouldn’t have materialised had I not accompanied him to his GP appointment – an appointment I insisted he make. He’d been going to see the GP for several months, with little effect, largely because he had refused to admit he even had a problem. So, I went with him, in the first of many interventions, and described the latest incident to the GP. Ben had also been experiencing bouts of uncontrollable shaking and vomitting – what I only later discovered were withdrawal symptoms.
The GP arranged to take his bloods (a liver function test as well as a test to determine his blood/alcohol levels) immediately, at my insistence.
He then mentioned the name of the service, said Ben could go along on his own or that he could refer him. Ben nodded as if to say he would do it himself. I said: ‘No, please refer him.’ And he did.
Within a week, Ben was assessed by someone at our local drug and alcohol service. A week after that, he was assigned a key worker, whom he saw every week.
That was step 1.