Heavy drinking and health module
Heavy drinking and health module
Preferred Name: Jakub
Jakub lives with his wife and her son in Sydney. He was born in Poland and describes his ethnic background as ‘Polish’. Both of his parents were born in Poland too.
After Jakub moved to Australia in his 50s and divorced from his first wife, he started drinking heavily. He was ‘bored’ and ‘lonely’. Over time Jakub started experiencing ‘blackouts’. After presenting to a hospital Emergency Department, he was diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease, polyps in his bowel, and a fatty liver. Jakub now drinks less and only with friends. At the time of the interview, he was enjoying many hobbies and activities.
Eventually Jakub started experiencing ‘blackouts’ and on one occasion he lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital. At the hospital he was diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease and heart problems. As he puts it, his ‘heart was working too fast’. The staff at the hospital referred Jakub to a drug and alcohol counsellor, who organised a residential withdrawal program. Jakub stopped drinking for six months but eventually started drinking again. His counsellor then organised for him to attend an out-patient clinic where he received cognitive behavioural therapy for his drinking. Jakub says that this therapy helped him understand more about himself and why he drank.
Jakub’s GP also referred him to a specialist liver clinic. After having an endoscopy, he found out that drinking had caused intestinal polyps, stomach bleeding and a fatty liver. He says that the doctor at the clinic encouraged him to drink less and start looking after his diet by eating more vegetables and fish. Jakub also began taking special medication for his liver.
Jakub now drinks less, and only with friends. He says that he’ll have a ‘problem’ with alcohol for the rest of his life so is more careful now about how much he drinks. Some of his friends still like to drink heavily so he drives his car when he catches up with them to limit how much he can drink. Jakub currently sees his GP and a psychiatrist regularly and says that he ‘keeps in contact’ with health professionals to help manage his drinking. They provide support and encouragement. He also says that remarrying five years ago has helped him not to drink. His wife doesn’t like it if he drinks too much, and her preferences along with his health issues, encourage him to be more mindful of his drinking. Jakub wishes he had known more about how the Australian health system worked so he could have accessed treatment earlier.
At the time of the interview, Jakub was enjoying hobbies again, including spending time playing tennis with his wife’s son. He likes skiing and a variety of outdoor activities, including swimming, and says they help take his mind off drinking.
Jakub [mid 70s, Polish, retired, drinking less] explains that although he had managed to moderate his daily drinking he was still concerned about the potential to lose ‘control’ and start drinking heavily again.
I think I will have a problem with alcohol even if I [do not] drink and, like now, it’s not affecting my life, but I still have to be aware about this [issue] because of what I was told [about my health condition]. I believe addiction is when you start to drink and after that, it is very easy to drink again and more often, more often, more often, and I know if I don’t drink, it’s okay, but if I will be in a situation where other people want to drink heavily, for sure, if I start to drink one beer, maybe I will drink two beers. After that, losing control.
Jakub [early 70s, Polish, retired, drinking less] has had periods without drinking followed by periods of regular drinking. Now he has decided to try a different approach: to reduce the amount he drinks rather than stop altogether.
Yes, [I’ve drunk] more, but also [there have been] periods when I didn’t drink at all, you know […] But in that time, I think I built up some thinking inside me, you know, to stop drinking. First I was thinking I will stop completely, but let’s say four years back, I sat with my counsellor [and said], ‘No, it’s too hard for me because when I stop drinking and after I relapse, I experience, you know, depression. I would think, ‘No, I can’t do anything.’ Sometimes I felt hopeless, you know. So, we organised [to do it] like this. She said, ‘Just try to reduce how much you drink.’
Jakub [mid 70s, Polish, retired, drinking less] was referred by his GP to hospital, where he discovered he had stomach polyps and fatty liver disease.
I was bleeding from my stomach, you know. So I went to my GP and he sent me to [a gastroenterology clinic at the hospital] to check my stomach. They found out I have polyps in my stomach, which [is] when you drink beer too much. [There] is too much liquid in your stomach […] But my stomach expanded, [and the polyps broke] and after that, I was bleeding. So, I was told I should diet, you know, and not only what I [should eat but… ] another thing, don’t drink too much liquid […] My doctor [asked], ‘How much [do you drink]?’ I said, ‘Oh, two longnecks, not much.’ No. He told me it’s too much. Too much because [the] amount of liquid makes my stomach bigger. Two things, one because my stomach is bigger than normal, which is not good. My liver is bigger than normal. They call it ‘fatty liver’.
NOTE: Heavy drinking can sometimes lead to what Jakub calls ‘polyps’, growths, usually benign, protruding from a mucous membrane in the body such as the stomach and the colon.
Jakub [mid 70s, Polish, retired, drinking less] explains that he takes the medication his doctor prescribes for diabetes and tries to look after his diet.
Like I said, I’m on medication [for] my liver. I am on medication to, let’s say, reduce [the] chance for diabetes. Because [the] doctor didn’t say exactly if I have got diabetes or not, but sometimes my sugar level is too high, sometimes [it’s] not bad. To help my liver, I am on special medication. I don’t remember now which one. I have to use medication and, of course, [my] doctor asks me, he wants to know what did I do in the past, you know. Eat too much or drinking? And [when] I told them I was a heavy drinker, they immediately knew my liver was harmed by alcohol. So far, it’s okay, you know, but I have to now be aware and, like I said, take medication, don’t eat too much fat.
Jakub [mid 70s, Polish, retired, drinking less] explains that he was taken to the hospital after drinking and experiencing heart problems.
I lost consciousness. It was connected to my heart and I ended up [at the hospital] […] after drinking, and I was taken to [the hospital]. I wasn’t too drunk, so the ambulance which arrived and people working in ambulance [only] realised I had a problem with my heart. So, despite [that] I was a little bit drunk, they had to look after me. So, they took me to Emergency Department […. and it was the first time I realised] I have a problem with my heart, which means heavy consumption affected my heart. It was the first time. [It] was not really [a] heart attack, but it was like my heart was working too fast […] alcohol drinking can cause your veins or other things to be narrow, you understand that, because something is deposited inside, not only because you’re drinking, also because of fat, but they find out drinking makes the heart work overtime, let’s say like this. This is why they found out I have got problem with delivering to my heart enough blood and enough oxygen, and like I said, partly it was because of disease which [is] connected to cholesterol, but also because of using too much … drinking too much alcohol which they explained to me makes my heart working too much. At work and after work, you sit to relax, alcohol makes the heart beating faster. After this first episode, after treatment, someone from […] the Department of Drug and Alcohol Abuse or something, had seen me and he explained to me what is availability to do something with my alcohol.