Living With Brain Damage After Starting Drinking At 13
She was an attractive young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who probably never could have dreamed her long-term alcohol problem could have such a devastating impact on her health. However, 24-year-old student Aoife Bell started drinking at 13. She is now afflicted with memory loss and living with permanent brain damage, amongst other conditions, due to the fact she has been battling alcohol addiction since she was 13 years old.
It may seem staggering, tragic even, but Miss Bell, from Walthamstow in East London, first began drinking at such a tender age to deal with chronic shyness. She felt the shyness disappeared and she could become the fun, confident character she always wanted to be, or so she thought. The shy girl liked that feeling and wished to experience it again and again, but it wasn’t too long before alcohol took over her life.
It is recommended adult men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week. However, at her lowest point, she would consume over ten times that amount. Miss Bell would imbibe in the area of 200 units in a week, which would add up to over 60 pints of lager, 20 bottles of wine or finishing a full bottle of vodka every day.
Blackouts and All-Day Drinking
The girl would drink until she blacked out, waking up the next morning with no memory of what she had done. She would often begin drinking at around 11.00 in the morning and continue non-stop until about 7.00pm at night. Aoife would also often head off on a night out after drinking all day, only having a couple of hours sleep before starting all over again.
Despite the fact she has always felt alcohol has had an adverse effect on her, she keep drinking. Like millions of other people in the UK, the grip of addiction was too strong.
Aoife said: “I honestly think I was addicted from the first time I had a drink. I would always be the one who got blackout drunk, I was drinking to numb myself and that continued for a couple of years.
“It was because I was quite shy until I started drinking. I felt that I could never do what normal 13-year-olds do until I had a drink.
“Something in me made me just want to be a rebel. It made me a terrible, terrible teenager.
“My friendship group was the same. Alcohol was so easily accessible, it was never an issue getting it.
From Drinking at 13 to continuing into uni life
Aoife continued drinking while studying for her A-levels. However, when she started university in Brighton, she experienced a change. She was still going out a lot and consuming alcohol to excess. However, because it was not as much as before, she considered herself a functional alcoholic. The girl was much happier, learning about textiles while holding down a job and a relationship. Unfortunately, it all fell off the rails during her third year of university. She returned to London from Brighton to spend 12 months working in fashion. However, it turned out to be a difficult time in her life. Her relationship came to an end, and other circumstances, saw Aoife drinking to excess again. She succumbed to depression, leaving her bedridden. She also continued to drink heavily while taking antidepressants, a dangerous combination.
When Aoife was drinking heavily, it left her vulnerable to sexual harassment. She would often wake up with no idea where she was. And also felt the physical effects of overindulging on alcohol. For months at a time, she would never suffer a hangover. Shd would not eat, causing her to lose over two stones in weight. It got so bad that her family were worried her drinking would eventually cost her her life, so they sent her to a private doctor.
Fortunately, though, this year Aoife finally stopped drinking, undergoing a medical detox under close supervision to ensure she safely made it through withdrawal. She may have finally gotten sober and made it through the other side of addiction, but she still carries the scars, both physical and psychological, from years of heavy drinking.
While she was using, she noticed her memory was affected. Unfortunately, she is now living with brain damage caused by longterm alcohol misuse. She had visible bloating of her face as a youngster due to stress on the liver. Now she has corroded the lining of the bladder brought on by dehydration and continual internal infections. Drinking too much alcohol as a young person has robbed her of her memories and caused her to live day-to-day with health problems she may face for the rest of her life.
She has spoken out about the availability of cheap alcohol and how easy it was to procure from a supermarket or off-license when she was young. Miss Bell has also taken issue with how alcohol is advertised, especially considering how potentially dangerous undergoing withdrawal can be. Are young people fully aware of the possible risks they may be taking when drinking too much too soon, and how it may affect their life in the long run?
Recovery From Alcohol & Mental Ill Health
However, Aoife Bell is now using her experiences to help others in similar situations who may have started drinking at 13. She has established her own advocacy support group, the Mental Health Liberation group. It is dedicated to assisting and improving services for those suffering mental health problems resulting from alcohol addiction. She would like share to everything she has been through, so people can learn from her experiences. The hope is, they can avoid making her mistakes stemming from drinking too much as a youngster.
She said “In the grand scheme of life I’m better but I do still experience mania; real highs and lows. However, I’m not as concerned anymore.
“Every day is a struggle and I am not under any illusion that my journey will be easy. I have had to accept that I will spend the rest of my life in recovery.”