Heart disease, liver failure, strokes – there are many ways in which alcoholism can be fatal. In some cases it’s as simple as choking on your own vomit. But when exactly should you start seeking help? Hopefully it’s long before you get anywhere near this point. The first things to look out for are signs your drinking has crossed the line. If you are excusing, comparing, justifying, minimising or rationalising the amount you currently drink – all forms of denial – you can consider yourself in trouble with alcohol. Another question you should ask yourself is ‘Is alcohol beginning to affect my life negatively?’ and it shouldn’t take long to identify whether your work, relationships, family, social life or finances are suffering as a result of your drinking habits.
There is still a relatively limited amount of help available in Dubai, but it is definitely there if you know where to look. Though there are dozens of well-qualified general counsellors in the city, Johanna Griffin, 48, is currently Dubai’s only licensed alcohol addiction counsellor. Originally from the UK, Johanna has spent the last four years helping people from all walks of life overcome difficulties with alcohol in Dubai. She currently operates out of Life Works Counselling and Development centre, and notes that most people tend to realise they have a problem when there starts to be ‘serious consequences’ to their drinking. ‘Everyone drinks for different reasons, and alcohol abuse doesn’t just occur with one type of person or in the face of one particular issue – it can affect absolutely anyone,’ she explains. One of the main things that unites everyone with a drinking problem is the risks they are exposing themselves and their families to. Johanna warns: ‘People should look out for early signs of physical withdrawal, like sweats, shakes and panic attacks.’
So if any of the above sounds familiar to you, what can you do? As well as the option to seek counselling and professional help from Johanna, you also have the choice to attend one of the numerous Alcoholics Anonymous meetings which take place all across town, every day of the week. Established in the US in 1935, AA has had a presence in the UAE since the mid-’80s, and the free support group now hosts upwards of 20 meetings a week. Adam* and John*, two European expats in Dubai who have been sober for six and 18 years respectively, are both part of the AA fellowship, and volunteer for its public information arm, doing their best to make sure as many people as possible are aware there is a support group in the city. Quite rightly, they too are adamant you don’t need to be a particular type of person to find yourself facing difficulty with alcohol – it can happen to anyone. For these two (and many others the world over) making contact with other people in similar situations through AA helped them tackle the despair and feelings of isolation alcoholism can exacerbate. As with all addiction, you can only truly stop if you want to for yourself (which, by attending a meeting or seeking help you are in effect acknowledging you want to do), but many find the extra courage in this place of shared understanding.
Ultimately, shame and denial are the two biggest preventers to getting help. You’re unlikely ever to meet someone who woke up one morning and decided to get into difficulty with alcohol – that person does not exist, which is why it is important people know they are not the first to get into trouble with drink, nor will they be the last. Don’t die of shame or embarrassment, or lose hope. Help is available, and no matter how lost your drinking may have left you feeling, it’s never too late to get your life back.
Some names have been changed to protect anonymity. For more information on AA meetings in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain, visit www.aaarabia.org. To arrange an appointment with Johanna Griffin, contact Life Works on 04 394 2464.
Sobriety in the Sands
The Middle East Regional Committee for Alcoholics Anonymous (MERCAA) is hosting its ninth convention in Dubai from November 17-19, entitled Sobriety in the Sands. There will be several closed sessions solely for those dealing with personal alcoholism, but there will also be open sessions where affected others (family, friends and colleagues) are welcome. For more information on attending and for a more detailed programme visit www.mercaa.org.