“Knowing that I was not the only pharmacist to be suffering in the way that I was came as a relief as well as a surprise.”

My experience with Pharmacist Support has been lifesaving and life changing. I have a young family who are as grateful as I am for the help that I have been afforded by the charity throughout the course of the difficulties that I am finally able to face. 

My name is Ben* and I am a registered pharmacist with over 20 years’ experience in the profession. I’ve enjoyed a varied career in both patient-facing and non-patient facing capacities, and am proud to call myself a pharmacist.

Three years ago, I was being investigated by the GPhC for alcohol misuse. Though I did not know it at the time, the issues I was facing with the GPhC should have been the least of my worries. I was at the point of losing my young family and, more importantly, I was pretty much at death’s door. Most regrettably of all, I really didn’t care if I lived or died.

Due to complications with my drinking and my abrupt cessation of drinking, I had been in and out of hospital more times than I can remember. Despite having a couple of brief stints in a residential rehab, I hadn’t been able to achieve more than a couple of months sobriety. Even though I was in contact with healthcare professionals, in truth I was only paying lip service to the help that I was being offered.

It was then that I got in touch with Pharmacist Support’s Addiction Support telephone line which was always freely available, with friendly and helpful guidance. What’s more, I never felt that the service was pressed upon me. I was then supported by an anonymous pharmacist via the charity’s ‘Listening Friends’ telephone service. While alcoholism is not limited by age, sex, ethnic background or religion etc; I believe pharmacists feel uniquely stigmatised when they succumb to a physical, psychological or progressive addiction to any substance. I always felt like a bit of an odd-one-out at D&A group therapy meetings, so knowing that I was not the only pharmacist to be suffering in the way that I was came as a relief as well as a surprise. It is a stressful job, after all.

With financial, logistical and emotional support, Pharmacist Support helped me to get into Clouds House Addiction Rehabilitation Centre. With the charity’s assistance, I was fast-tracked into Clouds a couple of weeks after getting out of hospital for what would be the last time.

I was still very shaky and extremely apprehensive when I arrived at Clouds but was in need of a month-long pressing of the reset button. During my time at Clouds, my state of mind and mental wellbeing were scaffolded by the daily psychosocial interventions and group therapy. Pharmacist Support also arranged one-to-one sessions with a highly experienced D&A counsellor, Paul Sunderland, who was invaluable before, during and after my stay at Clouds. My physical health improved too. Previously, I had been very malnourished but I put on about 10kg in the house. The psychiatrist at Clouds was excellent and a low-dose antidepressant greatly improved my mental wellbeing (though this may have been more to do with letting the medication take effect in the absence of alcohol).

After leaving Clouds, I was better able to deal with the frequent drinking thoughts and stimuli that are unavoidable after years of addiction. I kept up AA meetings three times a week for the first 6 months; I met (and still meet) with my sponsor frequently and have completed my 12 steps. Today, I help newcomers the same way I was so selflessly helped. I participate in online peer support group sessions organised by Pharmacist Support. The service is anonymous and frequent enough to be helpful but doesn’t get in the way of everyday life. Hopefully, I am now in a position to give as well as take support from the rest of the group.

While the issues with the GPhC were not top of my priority list, they have thankfully been resolved. The GPhC have an important job safeguarding the general public from pharmacist malpractice. They were empathetic to my situation once I started to demonstrate acceptance of my condition, as well as showing honesty and willingness to deal with it. I believe the GPhC were more receptive when they knew that I was working with Pharmacist Support and in this regard, Paul Sunderland’s advocacy was also very helpful.

Looking back on the last 3 years of my life, it has been tough, but I have come out on the other side of an extremely grave situation with a newfound optimism and sense of self-worth. Now, the most important thing to me is my family and I am extremely grateful to be able to fulfil my responsibilities as a husband and dad. Being able to help others through my work as a practicing pharmacist, and my work with newcomers in the peer support groups is extremely rewarding and life-affirming.

I have a huge amount to be grateful to Pharmacist Support for. If you are reading my story, maybe you are struggling with the decision to call the charity or not. My advice would be take courage and pick up the phone or email them – you have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

*We have used a pseudonym to protect Ben’s identity. This article first appeared on our Wardley Wellbeing Hub, as part of Your Stories – a collection of personal and professional stories from across our pharmacy family.

Pharmacist Support’s Addiction Support exists to support people experiencing problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders or other types of dependency. This service provides access to fully qualified addiction specialists, and all calls to the helpline are entirely confidential. If you have a dependency issue, or if you know of a friend or colleague with a problem, you can contact the Addiction Support Programme direct for advice on 0808 168 5132 or by emailing info@pharmacistsupport.org