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Does everybody have an off switch?

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It's National Alcohol Awareness week and we've invited guest bloggers to contribute their thoughts and experiences on this subject.

Here, James Walsh opens up about his family's experiences with alcohol and suggests that we all have an 'off switch'...but do we?

I’ve come to realise that alcohol has played a massive part in my life. Now I like a drink, and I am a dab hand at making cocktails and when we throw a party it’s a really lively affair. However, I always know when I have had enough as my “off switch” is triggered. This is when I switch to water and start to look out for other people going over their limit.

I guess the “off switch” is something I developed sub consciously as a kid. Some of my earliest memories were being in bed when my dad came home from the pub; the arguments with mum would start, glasses were broken and mum would end up in tears.  Many times I would eventually drift off to sleep telling myself  “it will be ok in the morning”. Some memories were funny too, like the time my grandad fell into the paddling pool after a few too many cans. And the time I tried a sneaky sip of my dad's can of Breaker lager - it was disgusting, I really couldn’t believe people drunk for pleasure!


As I have gotten older I have realised that not everyone drinks for pleasure. A few years ago a close relative told me “I drink to forget that I have nothing worth remembering”. Reflecting on that I thought how sad it was, they also said  “I’m not living my life, I’m just here”. 

Sadly many of my relatives have a stark awareness of alcohol and its dangers. I would like to share with you their experiences.

Pat is my youngest aunt who has struggled with dependency on alcohol and she also suffers with depression and has previously attempted suicide . I’m glad to say she’s still with us but her life is still defined by alcohol and I would say that she struggles to find her “off switch”. She’s a fantastic woman and I love to remember her as the hard working, passionate skin head she was 25 years ago. I hope and pray that she finds her way back before its too late.   

By “too late” I am referring to her older brother  (my uncle Colin – pictured)  who tragically died from liver failure caused by alcoholism. Colin was funny, independent, hardworking and he stood up for what he believed in. As a gay man in the early 80's this wasn’t easy. Unfortunately he was hit by a car one night and suffered damage to the brain. He was never the same man again and sadly he spiralled downwards and in the end he drank himself to death. Colin was just 41 years old.

Christmas Wish
James Uncle Colin

Then there is my uncle Mark who is in between Pat and Colin in age. I loved my uncle Mark when I was young, he lived with us for a while and he took me to my first Aston Villa game and always spoiled me. He too was a grafter and could turn his hand to anything. After Colin died Mark began to drink very heavily and changed dramatically. His health deteriorated, his family fell apart, he lost his job and he ended up living in a shed. His older sister Debbie (yes there are loads of them) took him in and about 2 years ago she wrote to the Jeremy Kyle show with a Christmas wish “please save my little brother from the drink”.  


Well, I am pleased to say that they had the family on the show and the team helped him access a rehab programme which got him sober. Mark has now reconnected with his grandson (Markie) and is channelling his energy into him and his football. Markie is aged 5 and is part of Aston Villa's youth academy so my uncle Mark is really proud of him.

During alcohol awareness  week its worth taking a look at those closest to you to see if there are any early warning signs in someone’s alcohol consumption. Especially as the Christmas party season is approaching!
I think everyone has an “off switch”  they just need someone to help them find it.

For Colin it was too late but Mark has found his off switch, and we hope and pray that Pat comes through too.

There is help out there. Never give up.

This is one a series of blogs being posted during Alcohol Awareness Week. Please click on the titles below to read the others:

Alcohol Everywhere

Do small things with great love

A sobering thought

The occasional drink

It's not big, and it's not clever

Come and have a look at how we help and if you feel that you could make a difference, you could even come and join us. 


('Off Switch' mage courtesy of Marcin Wichary)