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Don't let drink be the great unmentionable

Any 30-something parent will tell you that hangovers and children don't mix.

You have enough of a hangover from the sleep deprivation without dehydrating yourself voluntarily. But at a time when drink is cheaper than bottled water in some instances, the phone lines to Alcoholics Anonymous will be buzzing.

Drink. It's very nice. What I don't like is my dependency on it from time to time. The correlation between the rise in my stress levels and the filling of my wine glass has caused me to stop every now and again. Like every Irish family, there are alcoholics in mine. There's no doubt that I have the capacity to be one.

My close friends had their first dry Christmas and New Year and it was their best ever. She stayed sober to support him and he said, sadly: "It's the first time I didn't feel like drinking before the presents were even opened."

I've seen the effect this has had on them. Things he couldn't handle, family gatherings and children's sports and social activities, are on the agenda now. "I didn't just begin to recover from alcoholism," he told me, "I recovered from missing out on my life."

During the boom times he had an excuse, being a successful businessman whose work required long hours. Now he's working harder but getting it done in less time. "I'm just more effective all round. I'm in the traffic I used to use as an excuse for not getting home before seven."

Their eldest child is seven. It breaks his heart he can't get those years back, but he is putting their family back together. January is a hard month for all of us to face, but December is far darker to an alcoholic. "I couldn't wait to turn the calendar," he told me. "It meant I stayed sober."

Yesterday, I came home from lunch at my close friend's home all smiles. The tension, the eggshells you feared to tread on, gone, instead a couple struggling through life's stresses together, their priorities right. She still has the dark edge of worry based on some very painful memories. Life is difficult. Drink does act as a panacea. But it is not an antidepressant. It makes things worse in that regard.

I talked to them a lot about this, since I am sensitive to alcohol. I suffer from its effects and one of those is a rise in the anxiety I sometimes am trying to alleviate by drinking. "Could you do without drink if you knew your life depended on it?" My friend asked me.

"Absolutely," I replied.

"I couldn't," he explained. "It felt like the only friend I had."

The saddest thing I heard about celebrity life is A-listers like Lindsay Lohan paying someone to help them to stay sober. How lonely that must feel. The evidence in the family I visited is the love my friend's wife gives him, despite years of rows and disappointment.

Everyone deserves someone to love them enough to help, but a lot of alcoholics push that level of concern away.

That's where AA comes in. If you want to stop they will help. I think AA's sponsor service, where you're mentored by someone a long time sober, is preferable because they do it by choice. My friend is benefiting from this and from the love his wife chose to feel, despite the little she was getting back.

If you're finding life's stresses hard to cope with and drinking to cope, consider why and get help.

Today, a lot of 30-something men and women are heading to a place where their only companion is alcohol. Don't let that happen to you. Let the sound of your children's voices and your lover sleeping beside you accompany you, not the ring of loneliness and lost chances.