Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) can occur as a result of long-term heavy drinking and can show in various forms including alcohol-related dementia. The theme this alcohol awareness week is Alcohol and Me so we would like to share Laura’s story. Laura’s husband was diagnosed with alcohol-related dementia in 2017 in his early fifties.

Laura grew up in an environment where alcohol was a rarity, brought out for celebrations and special occasions such as Christmas. Peter's upbringing was very different to Laura's as his relationship with alcohol was nurtured from a very young age.  His father was a docker and would often take Peter to work with him where the pubs welcomed workers 24/7 and meetings with the captain were usually accompanied by a drink as it was tradition.  At 10 years old Peter was handed a measure of vodka to drink which laid a foundation for his alcohol abuse.

Peter always had a passion for football, which inspired him to manage and coach children’s teams.  He put his heart and soul into this and spent time completing a referee coaching course.  There were times when he would mentor children who were at a financial disadvantage, struggling to afford kits.  Peter took it upon himself to purchase new boots for some of these players, pretending they were second hand or spares to save them feeling embarrassed. This gave Peter a focus however, after training it became the norm for him and the other coaches to end up in the pub, allowing his problems with alcohol to fester.

Laura and Peter's house was always seen as a party house, friends often called round for a drink and it was a very sociable environment. With upbringings that were worlds apart Laura had no issues turning down alcohol and could take it or leave it, whereas Peter did not have this restraint and struggled to say no. There were times where his affinity for alcohol would turn Peter violent and Laura sadly endured abuse as a result of this.  

In 2017 the night before the couple were due to go away for their son's wedding, to get them in the holiday spirit Laura and Peter decided to have some celebratory drinks with friends. Unfortunately, the night took a very sinister turn and Peter once again became violent towards his wife and, in her own words, it was like an explosion went off in his head that night. This incident resulted in the police having to be called and he was subsequently arrested.  

With the wedding imminent their son told his father he was not welcome and ordered him to go to a rehabilitation clinic.  During his time in rehab the doctors highlighted that the behaviour and mannerisms he exhibited were not typical of the alcoholics they support as he was adamant he was happy and content.  

Once Laura revealed the extent of her ordeal, her sons were understandably very protective over their mother. They struggled to come to terms with how she had managed to hide the abuse from family and friends for so many years, attempting to internally deal with it.  Fearful that this would happen again her sons were very reluctant to let Laura get her marriage with Peter back on track, but she persevered and had faith that the man she fell in love with was still there, just shrouded by his relationship with alcohol.

After being in rehab for nearly 2 months Peter was diagnosed with an alcohol related neurocognitive impairment presenting as dementia.  Laura feels that Peter still doesn't quite understand or accept his diagnosis and it is sometimes difficult broaching the subject of dementia. The family find some comfort in being able to link his unpredictable behaviour to a medical condition and they spend time researching and having regular family meetings where they can address any concerns.  

Peter has been sober since his diagnosis and Laura feels as though his dementia might have allowed him to forget his fondness for alcohol.  Having at one time been bewitched by a bottle Peter now feels terrified being in the company of alcohol, even to the extent where an alcoholic symbol on a piece of clothing has sent him into a state of panic.  

Peter is still leading an active life, volunteering for charities and continuing his hobby of cycling although unfamiliar and out of routine journeys would be a challenge for him. Peter has never been the same since the incident but despite this he has not lost his caring and supportive nature and still takes pleasure in helping people.

The first time Laura and Peter came to one of our groups he became very distressed got out of the car and bolted, leaving his family to go out looking for him for over 4 hours.  Undeterred they tried once more and both Peter and Laura are now regular members of our Kindred Spirits young onset group for people diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 and their partners.  Laura says the group gives Peter a sense of purpose and he feels a responsibility to attend and give his support to other members.

The couple have attended AA meetings since 2017 and although he has abstained from alcohol since this time they have chosen to continue attending to remind Peter that he is in control of himself, and for Laura she finds it useful to listen to other people and realise that they are all real people and the alcohol doesn't define them.  

Laura said she felt like a fraud seeking support for an illness which some may consider as self-inflicted from his alcoholic tendencies. We assured her that alcoholism is an illness and they are just as entitled as anyone else to access any of our services.  Dementia doesn’t discriminate and neither do we.

Laura's advice to anyone going through anything similar is “Please don’t hide it, you have to talk to someone before you end up losing yourself.  There is a wealth of support available and going to counselling and meetings were a massive help to me.  As a family we do not dwell on the past, we have all moved on and all we talk about is the future now.” 

We'd like to thank Laura for her bravery in sharing her story, her strength and courage can only be admired and we hope her words will inspire those in a similar situation to speak out and get the support they need.  

If you or someone you know would like to get support for alcohol abuse you can contact Alcoholics Anonymous whose helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 9177 650. If you would prefer, you can also email them at [email protected] or live chat via their website at www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk.

If you would like information about our Kindred Spirits Young Onset group for people diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65 and their partners please call us on 01474 533990 or email [email protected]