If you picture someone with a binge drinking problem, they would probably be a young person falling out of a nightclub and vomiting into a gutter.
It's unlikely you'd imagine someone like me – a 50-year-old, Cambridge educated, middle-aged mum of three. Yet, new the UK's NHS figures show that we over-fifties are overtaking youngsters as Britain's problem drinkers.
This doesn't surprise me, because just a few years ago I was drinking around seventy units of alcohol a week, which even I recognised was way more than the government recommended limit of 14.
But not even my husband - who thought I should cut back, but didn't think I needed to quit - or my closest friends realised that my drinking had become an issue. Nobody staged an intervention.
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I hadn't reached this point overnight. It was six years earlier, when my youngest child was born, that I had given up a high-powered job in advertising. I'd imagined spending a few years being the perfect stay-at-home mother; baking and making endless models out of yoghurt pots.
But, as any full-time mum knows, it's not a walk in the park. Well actually, it's endless walks in the park, pushing swings and negotiating your way around toddler meltdowns. At the end of a busy day, I'd kick back with a large glass of Chablis (because if you spend enough on wine you're a connoisseur and not a lush, right?) and have some "me-time."
I wasn't alone. Among my social circle, you were as likely to be offered a glass of wine at an afternoon playdate as a cup of tea, and my social media feed was filled with memes about "wine o'clock".
After all, we'd grown up with Bridget Jones and her Chardonnay, and the Sex and the City girls with their Cosmopolitans.
I saw Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous as role models rather than caricatures.
For my generation, part of being a modern, emancipated feminist was being able to drink as much as, if not more than, the men.
What I hadn't taken into account is that alcohol is a drug. Who knew? Our society certainly doesn't treat it like one. Yet, as with any drug, the more you take it, the more you build up a tolerance, so my one large glass at the end of the day became two, then three. And if your glasses are large enough (which mine were), three makes up an entire bottle.
So, I was drinking around seven bottles of wine a week, without ever appearing to be drunk.
That doesn't mean it wasn't doing me a huge amount of damage. I was two stone overweight, I had terrible insomnia, I was anxious all the time. I was also failing miserably at my main job; I was a terrible mother.
I was irritable much of the time, so our house was shouty and not at all like the zen home I'd envisaged. Even worse, I often ended up running away from my own children. I'd wrap up bed-time stories as quickly as possible so I could retrieve the wine from the fridge. And I was an awful role model - teaching them that adults can't cope with everyday ups and downs without a glass in their hand.
Things had to change, and several times (usually after a few drinks) I'd find myself asking Siri "Am I an alcoholic?" Siri would provide some form of survey with questions like "do you drink alone?" I'd answer yes to some, and no to others, and would convince myself that all I needed to do was cut down.
Easier said than done. Because alcohol is a drug, the more you try not to take it, the more obsessed you become with having just one more. I tried not drinking during the week (but decided the weekend started on a Thursday). I tried not drinking at home (and went out an awful lot). I tried alternating every alcoholic drink with water (and spent loads of time on the loo). Within weeks, I'd be back where I started.
My "rock bottom" moment was not dramatic. It didn't involve a trip to casualty or a court appearance, but it was enough to make me hate myself. I'd woken up with a chronic hangover, and I knew that the only thing that would help was a hair of the dog.
But it was 11am, and not drinking before midday was one of my rules. It was what stopped me being (whisper it) an alcoholic. My kids were making a terrible racket, and my head was pounding.
So, I poured a couple of inches of red wine into a mug, so no-one would notice, and drank it. I felt much better, until I looked at the slogan on the side of the mug I was holding: "The World's Best Mum".
I haven't had a drink since. Not for four years. And you know what? It's transformed my life. I'm happier, less stressed, and calmer. I sleep like a baby. I lost two stone in weight.
And I'm a much better parent – not perfect, obviously, but far more perfect than I was.
I'm also a better wife and friend. My husband and I still have the occasional row about stacking the dishwasher or leaving towels on the floor, but less often, and our arguments are less likely to escalate in the way they used to.
I'm a more empathetic person, too - I know better than anyone that we all have issues going on in our lives. I listen to people rather than being stuck on transmit.
But quitting wasn't easy. If you give up smoking, people treat you like a superhero; give up drinking and you become a leper.
Alcohol is the only drug that you have to justify not taking. Some of my friends found it difficult to get used to me no longer being the "party animal," but they've come to terms with it, and I've made loads of new friends since I stopped drinking.
There's a growing sober community out there, as many more people than you would imagine decide that alcohol no longer agrees with them.
My therapy, though, was writing. I started a blog – anonymously – and called it Mummy was a Secret Drinker. Then that blog became a book – The Sober Diaries.
Since it was published, nearly two years ago, I've had thousands of messages from people saying "I thought I was the only one". And, generally, they aren't hedonistic binge-drinking millennials, they're people in their fifties, sixties and beyond.
They're doctors, lawyers and chief executives. Many of them were managing their drinking until something happened to tip it over the edge – divorce, redundancy, illness, bereavement, or just the stresses of modern life.
That's why the new NHS figures did not come as a shock. So if you're reading this and thinking "she could be describing me", then why not join me in supporting Macmillan Cancer Support's Go Sober challenge this October? I'm living proof that it can be done - it might even transform your life.
ADVICE FOR ADULTS
Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:
- two standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
- three standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week
- at least two alcohol-free days every week
Reduce your risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking by drinking no more than:
- four standard drinks for women on any single occasion
- five standard drinks for men on any single occasion
The above advice is based on "standard drinks'. A standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. A common serve or pour of an alcoholic beverage is often more than standard drink. Find out more about standard drinks.
(Source: Health Promotion Agency)
WHAT IS A STANDARD DRINK?
330 ml can of beer @ 4% alcohol = 1 standard drink
100 ml glass of table wine @ 12.5% alcohol = 1 standard drink
335 ml bottle of RTD spirits @ 8% alcohol = 2.1 standard drinks
750 ml bottle of wine @ 13% alcohol = 7.7 standard drinks
1000 ml bottle of spirits @ 47% alcohol = 37 standard drinks
3 litre cask of wine @ 12.5% alcohol = 30 standard drinks
(Source: NZ Ministry of Health)