Advice to alcoholics after Seamus O'Regan sets example

A Newfoundland actor who fought her own battle with booze says she is proud of MP Seamus O'Regan for getting sober, but Mary Walsh says she is still worried for him.
Mary Walsh has been an advocate on mental health issues and describes addiction as a disease. (CBC)

A Newfoundland actor who fought her own battle with booze says she is proud of MP Seamus O'Regan for getting sober, but Mary Walsh says she is still worried for him.

"Because it's only 40 days," said Walsh. "One part of me is really proud of Seamus. It's really wonderful that he did that, that he came out and another part of me is just a little bit worried because it's such a short period of time."

Walsh, who also struggled with addiction and alcohol abuse, said being in the public eye can make things more difficult.

"You don't need the pressure of anyone looking at you and thinking you're the spokesperson for clean and sober living," said Walsh. "He needs to be very gentle with himself and take care of himself."

Being an are in denial constantly.- Mary Walsh

Walsh told CBC Radio's Crosstalk that drinking was always part of her social scene, and was always to excess.

"My drinking was very off the rails right from the beginning. The very first time I ever drank I blacked out. I was still on my feet but I could remember nothing of it, and my drinking went on like that all the time.

Walsh, who has been an advocate for better mental health care, said she tried counselling and therapy, but continued to drink.

"Alcohol is the most common drug used by Canadians right, but one of the things about being an addict is you don't look at yourself very clearly. You are in denial constantly about the facts of your life, about life itself."

Mary Walsh said it took two years for her to stop feeling deprived without alcohol, even though she felt better for giving it up.

Her motivation to quit was her son, but she said giving up the bottle was very difficult.

"It made me very sad. I must have cried for about two years — that I was going to have to quit drinking, my pal, my friend — which was of course killing me and making my life unlivable," said Walsh.

"Alcohol is a depressant, It makes life quite gloomy and dark and as soon as you stop you kind of notice that things are much cheerier...after you get over the initial crying."

Walsh said addiction is a disease, and talking about it can help others as well as the addict.  

"If you say 'Do I have a problem, am I drinking too much?' that might be an indication [that you need help]," she said.

Treatment options

"It takes a lot of courage to come forward, to reach out for help," said therapist Agatha Corcoran, who operates Atlantic Counselling Services in Paradise.

She said people need more information on where to get treatment.

Agatha Corcoran is with Atlantic Counselling Services, a private therapy clinic in Paradise. (CBC)

"Timing is everything.  A person may feel motivated to get some help, get some support, but that may quickly pass," Corcoran told CBC TV's Here and Now.

She advised people to check their insurance coverage and determine if employee assistance programs will pay for addiction treatment.

Services are also offered through Eastern Health, which has a 24-hour mental health crisis centre, and she said family doctors should screen their patients for mental health problems..

"It's the first point of contact, a family doctor, and we always encourage people to reach out to their family doctor,," said Corcoran. 

She said addiction problems often go hand-in-hand with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or trauma so the first step would be to assess the root cause.

"It's very hard for us to stop something if it's really negative, if we don't know why we're doing it in the first place."

The waiting list for a 21-day program at the provincially-run residential treatment program at Humberwood Centre in Corner Brook is also an issue.

"Typically... it's around eight to 10 weeks," said Corcoran. "Being able to avail of that program sooner rather than later would make all the difference, I believe."

When things move along quickly, she said, people feel hope.

"If they relapse while waiting for treatment, it's difficult for that person to get motivated again."

Corcoran said follow up is important as well, and most people will stay sober if they have support from Alcoholics Anonymous and family, or get individual counselling.