At Merchants Quay Ireland, we support people dealing with drug and alcohol dependency, from providing day services and harm reduction, to counselling, paths to recovery, detox and rehab. MQI Addiction Counsellor Berny Murphy supports clients at our Riverbank Open Access who are coping with drug and alcohol addiction. She provides warmth, comfort, guidance and practical support for clients who often have no one and nowhere else to turn.
Here, she speaks about alcohol and what she sees in her role at MQI’s Open Access service.
What is your role at MQI?
I’m a project worker and I’m also a counsellor. So, in the mornings, I would be down on the floor [of MQI’s Riverbank center] as a project worker, and then for the rest of the day, I’ll do counselling.
What are some of the most common signs of alcohol dependence that you’d see?
Because our Open Access service is so low threshold, by the time people come to us, their dependency is usually fairly well advanced. So the obvious signs would be physical degeneration, their drinking would have begun to affect their health and their appearance. We’d see a lot of psychological degeneration as well, and people having trouble with relationships. There’ll be bridges burnt, they’ve lost their homes, they aren’t working because they can’t keep a job due to their drinking. It’s about giving them emotional support and giving them a sense of belonging and community, so that they feel they have something left in their life, because they’ve often lost everything by the time we see them. And it can happen to anyone. Addiction is a human behaviour, and if you have an emptiness, be that from trauma, or from loss, or whatever it is, you’ll always be trying to fill that emptiness, so it’s about helping clients to feel supported in finding new ways to cope and addressing the issues that caused the dependency in the first place.
Addiction is a human behaviour, and if you have an emptiness, you’ll always be trying to fill that emptiness, so it’s about helping people to feel supported in finding new ways to cope.
Would you find that people tend to have experienced problems and trauma that have led them to alcohol dependency, or would those things usually come as a result of drinking?
It’s often a gradual thing for people. They start off having a social drink and find it makes them feel good, or better, or helps them forget. But for a lot of our clientele, they would have come from difficult backgrounds, and started drinking from a very young age, as young as twelve or sometimes before, so there’d be huge trauma there from early on.
And for people who’ve been using alcohol practically their whole lives, they have a very well established habit, and I think that’s something people don’t think about. People think “well there’s trauma and that is causing the addiction”, and yes, often that’s how it starts, but it’s maintained through habit and habits are hard to break whether you’ve got a traumatic childhood or not. People often think a relapse has to be caused by something major, you must have had a bad day or somebody must have died, but you can go back on the drink for any reason; just as easily because you had a good day and you want a better day, or again just because you’re bored. It’s not always about tragedy. And I think it’s good for clients to know that, because then they can begin working towards making changes that will fill the gap that they’re using alcohol to fill.
What are some of the ways you’d advise to break habits?
You’ve got your three options: you give it up altogether, you don’t give it up at all, or you do it gradually. It’ll all depend on the person and what they’re able to do, and it’ll depend on whether they’re physically dependent or not, whether they may need to go on medication such as Librium to help them come off alcohol. But if someone is not physically addicted, then it’s psychological, so it’s about distracting yourself and developing healthier habits, so that you’re not bored, and you can fill your life with other things. Some people go on stabilisation or on courses, which allow them to work on building up relationships with other people, so they’re connected again and they’re not feeling that emptiness, which can also be a trigger. We’d often recommend focusing on exercise and going to the gym, because as well as the health benefits to exercise and strengthening your body, improvements in your physical appearance can be a great motivator.
People often think a relapse has to be caused by something major, but you can go back on the drink for any reason; just as easily because you had a good day and you want a better day, or just because you’re bored. It’s not always about tragedy.
What would your advice be for someone who is worried about their own drinking or a loved one’s drinking?
If someone is acknowledging that there’s an issue with their drinking and they want to begin managing it, then that’s a great first step, and from there, there are various things they can do. If the person is isolated, I would recommend going to AA or NA, or any of the support groups because of the fellowship that you can find there. The sense of connection and moral support can be instrumental in combatting that sense of emptiness that frequently leads to addiction issues. Unhappiness, in one form or another, can often be the root cause of alcohol dependency. Of course it’s not black and white, but if you do the right things, you can become happier, so you need to look at all the areas of your life that have been neglected and start working on bringing them back, whether that’s forming new relationships, looking after yourself physically, allowing yourself a creative outlet, or sticking to a structure and routine. So broadly, I would say it’s about stepping back and looking at the areas of your life that you can work on and finding fulfillment in working on them.
Unhappiness, in one form or another, can often be the root cause of alcohol dependency.
On a day-to-day basis, it’s about taking things one step at a time, one day at a time, maybe one hour at a time. Thinking, “can I wait till next month, next week, can I wait an hour till I have a drink.” If that isn’t possible, then it’s about harm reduction, so asking yourself, “could I drink beer instead of spirits? Could I eat better? Could I sleep more?” Then the next step is to get referred for detox, or rehab, if those options are suitable. Speaking to a GP or an addiction counsellor will be helpful, as they’ll be able to guide you in the right direction for you.
Further information on alcohol is available on the HSE website.
If you’re concerned about your own or a loved one’s drinking, you can contact MQI here.