Living with alcohol related brain damage

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Regular TFN blogger Dan Mushens speaks to David Wilson about his recovery from alcohol addiction and living with peripheral neuropathy

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26th September 2018 by TFN Guest 2 Comments

You could say I had a fairly middle class upbringing growing up in an affluent suburb of Glasgow. My childhood was generally good with no major dramas or traumatic events needing navigated. There was no family history of addiction, mental ill health or exposure to violence – a common precursor to alcoholism. So how I became addicted to alcohol and subsequently diagnosed with alcohol related brain damage, I’ll never quite know.

I received a good education, attending university and leaving with an honors degree in English and History. My interests include world affairs, arts and literature and I speak three foreign languages fluently.

I had some minor success as a journalist as well as working as a supply teacher from time to time. My heart wasn’t really in either of these roles and after some periods of unemployment, I worked as a clerk and in call centres. I was given my marching orders from one job after I left a door unlocked in a room where I had shredded some sensitive data.

Dan Mushens

Dan Mushens

I’d been drinking consistently since I was around 20 years old and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a contributing factor as to why some of my jobs ended. I’d always find a way to squeeze in a pint of beer or a red wine during my lunch breaks, it must have been blatantly obvious to my colleagues. This is the way my life was all the way into my fifties - sporadic employment with any down time spent getting drunk.

I’d received some inheritance in my younger years which was a great financial reassurance but it meant seeking meaningful work opportunities wasn’t of the greatest importance to me. I always knew my drinking was a problem but I never pursued any treatment to stop it. I was becoming more forgetful, I’d skip meals and I’d have the occasional fall here and there, but it was my mobility issues which affected me the most.

As a keen walker who would regularly walk fifteen miles a day - albeit from pub to pub - I was concerned with the constant pins and needles and poor balance I was feeling which prevented me from walking great distances. I read some medical books from the library and self-diagnosed myself with peripheral neuropathy, a condition which affects nerve endings in the body’s extremities such as hands, toes, arms and legs.

 A visit to my doctor confirmed this and I’ve been taking Gabapentin medication every day since to manage the pain and discomfort. Peripheral neuropathy is commonly related to diabetes but in my instance it was caused by excessive alcohol use over many years.

Despite my memory deficits, I’ll always remember the 11th August 2013. It was a Sunday afternoon and upon leaving one of my usual watering holes late in the afternoon, I had a seizure and fell in the street. The culmination of decades of alcohol abuse had taken its toll on my mind and body. It was also the date of my last drink!

I was taken to hospital where I ended up staying for thirteen weeks. I was detoxed from alcohol and pumped full of vitamins and nutrients, all the good stuff that my body had missed out on for so long. For a short while I was in a secure ward as I was hallucinating and couldn’t make any sense of anything. Upon discharge I was admitted to an ARBD unit where I spent another thirteen weeks to continue my acute recovery.

After that I spent nearly three years in a state of the art ARBD supported accommodation complex in the east end of Glasgow. This gave me the opportunity to reintegrate into society and relearn skills such as cooking and cleaning, life skills that I had forgotten.

I’ve been sober for over five years now and have my own flat and receive support from Penumbra who visit just twice a week. It amazes me that after all I’ve put my body through with excessive alcohol use over the years - it’s my feet that have suffered the most. You just presume it’s your liver that will take the brunt of the damage.

I have no desire to return to alcohol use, and now that I’m officially retired, I intend to indulge in my passion for the arts and might even learn a new language, Japanese maybe. My future is there for the taking.

David Wilson was speaking to Dan Mushens, who is a recovery practitioner for Scottish mental health charity Penumbra

*David Wilson is a pseudonym

26th September 2018 by Jimmy Riddle

I think David has shown great bravery by sharing his story. It acts as a reminder that alcohol addiction affects everyone and not the stereotypical image you see perpetuated in media. David is clearly an educated and intelligent man who showed great insight to self-diagnose himself. We all need help from time to time. Bravo

27th September 2018 by Alan Coupland

I was diagnosed with Alcohol related premature dementia in 2014 so bad I couldn't remember how to do up shoe laces for instance let alone manage my life. Fortunately after many hospital/detox/mental health units & rehabs I got sober in 2016 & after 26months total abstinence my memory/mental health/general health 95% better but my enjoyment of life is 100% better.