“I TRY not to regret the years I lost or dwell on the damage I caused myself and those around me,” says 53-year-old lifelong successful professional and alcoholic in recovery Alex Molyneux.

A senior adviser with Altrincham-based drug and alcohol addiction treatment advice service Port of Call, Alex has decided to tell his story after new research by the organisation, revealed myths over the scale of the UK’s alcohol problem as well as ongoing taboos around addiction.

“I always wore chinos and brogues even at home, the Merc was parked on the drive and I told myself ‘there really is no problem,’ Alex said.

“If I had an early appointment I’d try to stop drinking earlier in the evening before, but when I hit the curb on the way, I didn’t stop to pick up my wheel caps because, really, I knew I was over the limit.

“I developed mental rules of never drinking before 6pm, only drinking Smirnoff vodka because ‘alcoholics drink supermarket own brand vodka’ and only wine that cost £10 or more.

“For a good while, I still stuck to my rules, but might be standing over the toilet bringing up bile at 5.30pm looking at my watch thinking ‘I can’t have a drink yet.”

The new Attitudes to Addiction report by Port of Call showed only one in four people believe alcohol to be the biggest problem substance in the UK now. Yet official figures show there are vastly more hospital admissions due to alcohol than illegal drugs, deaths due to alcohol than illegal drugs, people in treatment for alcohol abuse than illegal drugs.

There were 1.7m alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2017/18, with the highest rate in England being in Salford, where there were 3,430 admissions per 100,000 of population, according to Public Health England.

Alex can trace his drink problem back to his first taste of alcohol age 10 when he was allowed a little wine to ease the pain of a broken toe.

He said: “I felt like Superman. All my problems had gone away and I realised ‘this works for me.’”

Describing himself as an anxious child who felt he didn’t fit in, as a teenager Alex sometimes drank before school for confidence.

Then through university and his early career he masked his dependence with a persona of being the wild, party animal. When he got into business importing garments for high street retailers he told himself he worked hard and played hard and deserved a drink to offset his stressful working life.

He said: “At 30, I was drinking a bottle of vodka a day and set up my own business working from home. Then the drink was always there within arm’s length. I’d stopped being ‘the charming eccentric’ to friends and colleagues and the invitations to social events had started to dry up – people were bored of Alex demanding the party continued until 4am. People had generally had enough of me and I was starting to isolate myself.

“I began letting people down more and more and wasn’t a productive member of my family or partnership. I babysat my sister’s children for an evening once and drank a bottle of vodka. No harm came to the children, but I still remember the look on my sister’s face when she got home. There were lots of moments like that. I may have been physically present but I wasn’t emotionally available to anyone.”

He was in his early 40s when his drinking finally unravelled him.

He said: “I had switched to drinking Guinness because it was the only thing I could keep down. I was regularly bringing up dry blood like coffee granules. I couldn’t really function any more – emotionally or physically. My then partner, who was on the verge of leaving me by then, came home one day and found me collapsed. My pancreas had basically given up and liver function was down to 5 per cent.”

It was only after a major operation to remove part of his pancreas, the best part of three months in hospital and what he describes as a ‘total emotional breakdown’ that Alex began to get well. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and spent three years rebuilding himself - stepping back from work throughout that time.

“I probably could have got better much quicker with more support but I wouldn’t accept it,” Alex said.

“Once I was ready to work again, I decided I wanted to continue my recovery in a professional capacity and do something more constructive than worrying 18 hours a day about clothing. I got the opportunity to come on board with Port of Call and the complexity of helping people in crisis ticked the boxes I was looking for.

“I try to focus on the fact that I don’t think I could be as happy as I have for the past ten years if I hadn’t been so unhappy for the 20 before them.”

Port of Call founder Martin Preston said: “Addiction is a shame based illness. What keeps people stuck is that they don’t talk about it. They think there’s something wrong about it or bad about them.

“This is why it is so important for all of us to start talking about addiction openly and dropping the judgement. The work of organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous is vital, but that word ‘anonymous’ perpetuates this sense of needing to keep your addiction a dirty little secret.

“Addiction really is one of the last taboos. In reality, while it is often said that everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer – the same is true of addiction.

“Most people have a story about someone they know or cared about suffering. There may have been terrible moments of frustration with that person, perhaps sadness or even heartache. But, in every case I have ever heard about, the people around that person still loved them and just wanted them to get better.”

Port of Call runs a website and helpline for anyone affected by addiction, offering advice on treatment services in the UK. Visit www.portofcall