By Bejay Browne
AS A LOCAL ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS group warn of a burgeoning drinking culture in Cyprus, a three day AA International convention is being held at a Paphos hotel this weekend.
Secretary of the Paphos branch of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and recovering addict, Nigel Radcliffe, 61, says he believes there is an acceptance of excessive drinking in Cyprus; in particular amongst the British expat community.
“There are big drinkers in the UK – there’s no doubt – but here it seems to be quite acceptable, there is a lot of habitual drinking,” said Radcliffe. “People are retired, like me, so they have fewer responsibilities; they don’t have to get up for work.”
Radcliffe, who forfeited his driving licence twice in the UK due to drink driving, says that the stigma attached to the act isn’t the same in Cyprus.
“Drink driving is more lax here and it’s not seen as anti social as it is in Britain,” he said.
Radcliffe had his last drink on August 2, 1987 when he managed to turn his life around and stresses that help is out there to enable others to do the same. Describing himself as a recovering alcohol and drug addict, he now spends his life helping others to cope with the disease.
“Addiction is a disease; physical, spiritual and mental, but help is here for anyone who needs it.”
The trained drug and alcohol counsellor was a manager of a treatment centre in London for over 20 years before retiring to Paphos in 2012, where he now heads an AA home group.
This weekend’s AA event is one of many held annually around the world and sees the participation of Al-Anon, which provides support for families of alcoholics.
Radcliffe first experimented with drugs at the age of 14.This led to serious drug and alcohol abuse
“In the 1960s so many drugs were easily available, although it was illegal. My drug of choice was amphetamines, such as purple hearts. They were everywhere.”
In his early 20s, he found himself homeless on the streets of London before he entered a rehab centre which he says taught him a number of important life skills.
“Rehab in the early 1980s was harsh, not like now, and there was nothing available for alcohol uses, only drug addicts. It helped me as it taught me about self discipline.”
In terms of alcohol abuse, he said that although some UK health authorities had ‘drying out units’, chronic alcoholics often ended up in psychiatric hospitals as there were no treatment resources as such. Addiction was seen as a psychological flaw and behaviour that could be unlearned.
Radcliffe says that after leaving the facility, although he didn’t touch drugs again, he instead replaced one addiction for another, this time alcohol.
“My drinking became progressively worse and slipped away from me. I became increasingly crippled by my drinking and my underlying problems hadn’t been dealt with.”
In a bid to try and introduce a level of normality in his life, Radcliffe joined a jogging club, where a chance encounter with a member who was attending AA meetings led him to join.
“I lived crippled with fear and couldn’t imagine how I would cope without a drink. I was frightened of how I felt. It didn’t cross my mind I could live a life without it.”
With the help of a sponsor and the AA twelve step programme, Radcliffe had his last drink in August 1987. From then on, he became involved with AA and NA – going on to train as a drug and alcohol counsellor. He still attends meetings, stressing their importance, no matter how long addicts remain ‘clean’.
“When recovering addicts are planning a holiday they need to find meetings they can attend whilst on holiday, we have many holiday makers who attend the Paphos meetings,” he said.
Paphos meetings are held on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and average between 12-20 in a group, which consists of people of all ages and backgrounds ranging from their early 20s to 80 years of age.
“There is no judgement only unconditional support and acceptance,” he said of the meetings. “I continue to be in recovery and help others but I also have my life. I run marathons now and have just completed the Cyprus marathon.”
The International AA convention is being held between April 4-6 at the Avanti hotel in Paphos.
Paphos AA confidential helpline 99399240 (English).