GIVING people hope while offering love, care, compassion and respect can stop the cycle of alcohol deaths in the Wee County.

Many have managed to turn their lives around following a problematic relationship with alcohol and indeed, many have become dedicated to helping others achieve the same.

One such person within the Forth Valley Recovery Community is Tom Bennett, who this week opened up to the Advertiser in a bid to raise awareness.

Tom, a recovery development team leader at Addictions and Support Counselling Forth Valley, admits he was in “a place of great misery” more than 10 years ago.

His horizons were rapidly closing in on him while he lost countless jobs and relationships.

And while he was lucky to receive the support he needed then, he was keen to stress that a wide network of help is available in Clacks and the wider area nowadays.

He told the Advertiser: “There's a huge amount of fear involved when you become dependent on a substance, not just physically but psychologically, you become very fearful of being separated from that substance.

“Because it's become a crutch, in some respect like your best friend – but at the same time the best friend that bullies you and abuses you.

“It took a long time for me to become motivated to have the belief that I could change something about my life and gather the courage to actually go ahead and do it.”

Since Tom set out on his path of recovery, the network of support has expanded significantly across the wider Forth Valley.

He said: “There's a very fortunate situation that we have in Clackmannanshire and Forth Valley more widely at the moment – we've got this really well established recovery community, that would normally be running recovery cafés.

“We are not really recovery cafés any more [due to coronavirus], but we are running seven days a week of online support groups with yoga classes, Tai Chi, quizzes, music groups and all sorts of really diverse and exciting things.”

As reported last week, fresh figures from the National Records of Scotland show that there were 15 alcohol-specific deaths across Clackmannanshire in 2019.

And Tom echoed fears that the coronavirus pandemic could be having a negative impact in 2020.

He pointed to a recent survey commissioned by Alcohol Focus Scotland, showing that more than a quarter of Scots have reported drinking more than usual during the coronavirus lockdown.

According to the survey, stress is a key factor.

“What people with lived experience are able to pinpoint very quickly is what helped us in our journey in recovery, and what helps to us maintain and sustain a healthy recovery, is that we treat our community members with love, care, compassion and respect” he explained.

“We treat people in the way you would want your loved one to be treated.”

However, a stigma still exists in wider society to this day with a “huge misconception around people who have a problem with alcohol”.

Tom is urging people to just think about how difficult it can be to give up the simple treats such as biscuits or crisps many indulge in.

He said: “Take that as an analogy and you transfer that to a situation where somebody, who has been using alcohol due to potentially an undiagnosed or diagnosed anxiety disorder they've lived their life with – a mental health problem they realised alcohol could help with.

“Over the years people can dangerously slip into a place where they feel like they just cannot not drink; that's a slippery slope.”

A key thing for Tom, who now has more than a decade of experience helping others, is to give hope when somebody decides to make the change.

He said: “I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people move into recovery, rebuild their lives and become some of the most responsible, honest contributing members of society that I know.”

People looking to get on the path to recovery from addictions can check out the Forth Valley Recovery Community on Facebook, call Addictions Support and Counselling on 01324 874 969 or check out the Forth Valley Recovers App for smartphones.