John’s story

John Nelson

John Nelson volunteers at Drink Wise, Age Well (DWAW) to encourage over 50s to lead fulfilling lives away from the ‘generational culture of daily drinking’. The former civil servant has himself overcome alcohol dependency and is now passionate about supporting Drink Wise, Age Well to help people make healthier choices about alcohol as they age.

Here is his story…

John, aged 56, says he had always been a big drinker, but that the sudden death of his wife had a ‘catastrophic impact’.

John said: “I came back from work one day and was helping her up the stairs to bed because she had been feeling very poorly.

“She collapsed and I tried to revive her and did CPR while waiting for the paramedics, but it was too late.

“It was like an out of body experience. My whole world collapsed, the sheer shock was cataclysmic.

“I was 49 and my wife was 59. We were already thinking about our retirement together. I’d hoped to go part time in my mid 50s so we could spend more time together and now that life could never happen. It had a catastrophic impact on me.

“I had always been quite a big drinker at weekends, but I started drinking very heavily and every day. I was trying to self-medicate and avoid the pain.

“I was off work sick for nine months. When I went back I tried not to drink on working days and most of the time I managed, but I was suffering from very severe anxiety and wasn’t functioning very well it was a bit like with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was mentally poorly.

“My work colleagues were very supportive and kind to me, but I was just not up to it. I only lasted nine months and then took voluntary early retirement.

“Life back then all seems a bit like a dream, I got by, but only just. In truth I was barely functioning. I was drinking four bottles of wine a day and in a terrible state.

“Eventually I realised I wanted to do something about it. I tried to self detox, which is very dangerous without any support or help. I became quite poorly so rang NHS Direct and was told to go to A&E. There I was given something to see me through the night, then I was told to drink alcohol again and go and see the local NHS alcohol support service, who arranged for me to have a safe, supervised week long detox in hospital. That took place Dec 20th 2012 and I haven’t drunk any alcohol since that date.

“When I came out, I had counselling for about five months which was excellent, really helpful.
Then I carried on my life and left behind everything to do with alcohol services. I had a good network of friends and family and got involved with the local bowling club. I filled my time being active.

“Then in February last year I decided I’d like to give something back and do something to help other people in similar situations to mine. I found out about Drink Wise, Age Well and I was really interested because I fitted the profile completely – I’m over 50, I have been bereaved and no longer work.

“I’m now doing a one year volunteer placement with Drink Wise, Age Well and do all sorts of things. I hope to help facilitate workshops about alcohol awareness. I sit on the Community Engagement Group. I have also helped out in the community shop and am going to sit on interview panels.

“The concept of Drink Wise, Age Well is spot on. There is a lot of isolation when big life events take place and there isn’t always enough out there to give people purpose. The DWAW project isn’t so much about alcohol consumption as about having focus in life away from alcohol. The whole concept is very much needed.

“As a former civil servant I’ve worked on policy initiatives at national level – what I’d like to do now is get involved with support at a community level. I feel strongly it is the way to go, so I am keen to engage community groups and encourage more community-based activities.

“I think it is generational. Older people have a different attitude and drinking every day is more common. Young people might binge drink now and again but they don’t seem to be drinking daily. There is a culture and it’s a lot to do with anxiety about life changes, financial worries that come with redundancy, stress on changing relationships. People can turn to drink because they feel isolated and lonely.

“I had a moment of clarity when I realised that whatever happened, I could visualise a good life that was better than how I was living. Drink Wise, Age Well can support other people to see that better life and show them the steps to getting there.”

If you’re over 50 and would like more information about the way alcohol affects your health and life and support with making positive changes around alcohol, visit or call 0800 032 3723.