A new service launches this week to help the growing number of professional women who have alcohol problems. Catherine Scott reports .
Gina Easom is the first admit that she had a problem with alcohol.
The mother of two from Burley-in- Wharfedale, had been a binge-drinker since being a teenager.
“I wouldn’t really drink during the week but then at weekends I’d go out with friends and drink an awful lot,” says Gina, now 41.
“During my 20s the functioning, educated mother striving for achievement was happening in parallel with a young woman who was an habitual binge drinker. Come what may, the drinking continued. The dark side of this relationship was making its power felt physically and emotionally, trudging through days with debilitating hangovers, the ensuing anxiety and mood swings and the realisation that I had come to panic at the prospect of attending any event without alcohol.
“Every other weekend, after I divorced, my ex had the children, and so I saw that as my chance to break free and release all the stress and I would drink. I’d have the most terrible hangovers but drinking is so socially acceptable I found it difficult to say no.
“I didn’t have the time or inclination to attend any local community groups; I didn’t fit the ‘at rock bottom/ lost everything’ stereotype. I belonged to the grey area somewhere in-between ‘normal drinker’ and ‘alcoholic’, a somewhat hidden place where the ‘grey area drinkers’ are apt at blending in with the ‘normal drinkers’.
Gina was one of a growing number of women who are rapidly gaining equality with men when it comes to hard drinking. She started to realise that her relationship with alcohol was dysfunctional and what was worse it was starting to affect her moods.
“Three years ago I tried to stop. I realised that after a session I suffered from very low mood and anxiety but it was extremely difficult. Alcohol is so socially acceptable. The messages given to women are that alcohol is positive. I even saw an advert for a Prosecco and yoga evening. It is seen as a reward or a treat but at the end of the day it is a drug and is addictive.
“If you go to a party and say you aren’t drinking, people want to know what is wrong with you. They see you as this fun person who is the life and soul of the party, but they don’t see the after effects – being sick and feeling terrible for days. Society sees it as a problem with the person rather than a problem with alcohol.”
Gina had a year without alcohol but people constantly asked her what was wrong with her and when she started dating she started drinking again.
“It is hard to go out without alcohol. I tried just drinking a little but that didn’t really work for me. Everyone is different, some people have a huge tolerance for alcohol and others don’t. As soon as I have a drink my good intention goes and I would also sometimes end up smoking.”
It was meeting her second husband who wasn’t a big drinker and also when her son who was 14 was invited to party where there was alcohol that she realised that she really had to take action.
“I was turning 40 and I decided that what I really wanted was a healthy lifestyle, not one controlled by alcohol. I also wanted to be a role model to my children and for me that meant abstinence.”
Gina says giving up alcohol has given her more confidence and she now feels more in control of her life. And she now want to help other women who may find themselves in a similar position.
A former teacher and qualified psychotherapist who works with the mental health NHS crisis team, Gina feels in a unique position to help others.
Holla & Heard, is an online therapy service for professional women using Skype to give support.
“I am keen to get more women facing up to how their relationship with alcohol could be affecting their kids,” says Gina who believes there is a huge proportion of professional women, particularly in Yorkshire, who currently go unserviced, women who might not think they have a problem.
Having worked within the mental health crisis team at the NHS and also through her previous teaching career, Gina has seen first hand the devastating effects alcohol abuse can have on families and is determined to provide preventative care to try and combat the spiralling statistics.
“I want to tackle head-on the importance of preventative work to try and achieve a shift. You don’t have to be obese or have chronic health problems to go to the gym, you just want to get into better habits, to be in control of your body – you might hire a personal trainer to help you change those habits. It’s the same with what I offer. I’m here to help change habits to put clients back on control.
“Alcohol Concern research suggests that many potential alcohol dependent drinkers exist in a state of denial – with over half believing that they were ‘fairly normal’ when it came to their drinking but so often I see the effects of ‘social drinking’ having an impact on women’s wider lives and relationships, as well as their productivity. These women are currently hidden in society – there are no services for them, nothing targeting successful functioning women who are drinking too much.
“With Holla & Heard I want it to be normal for people to bring attention to this, just like other behaviours like unhealthy eating or smoking, without the shame and judgement which can be sometimes be attached to alcohol issues.
“They holler and they get heard, and then work with me from the comfort of their own home to find tools and techniques to help them make changes.”
Alcohol Awareness Week runs from 13-19 November
Alcohol Concern research highlights there are an estimated 595,000 dependent drinkers in England, of whom only around 100,000 are currently accessing treatment.
Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.
Gina Easom’s service is now up and running and she offers 50 minute sessions which can be booked up to four weeks in advance, or as little as 24 hours notice