I had implant to stop me boozing
By DULCIE PEARCE in Riga, Latvia
In a dingy hospital room in the Baltic city of Riga, Catriona Gourlay grimaces at the fresh stitches in her stomach.
The 27-year-old from Camden, North London, has just had an implant - known as The Code - put in her body.
It means a sip of alcohol could potentially kill her.
She is so desperate to stop herself binge drinking she has resorted to seeking help outside the UK.
An alcoholic, she is not alone in taking such extreme measures.
Hundreds of desperate, boozy Brits now travel overseas to get a quick fix for their addiction.
A Sunderland-based company is sending alcoholics to Latvia for The Code - a five-day last-ditch treatment which can have deadly consequences.
[Photo: Extreme measures ... Catriona Gourlay shows her stitches after implant op]
Catriona says: "I have tried to get off alcohol on my own, I simply can't do it.
"I have had kidney stones due to alcohol abuse and even have holes in my teeth from vomiting so much when I'm drunk.
"I have woken up covered in my own blood with no memory of how it happened.
"My room was smashed to pieces and I assume that's how I got the cuts to my arms and hands. I couldn't remember the last three days."
Catriona's drinking was acceptable in her job as a recruitment consultant which involved lots of boozy lunches.
But Catriona would go home and drink alone - though always managed to get up in the morning for work.
She says: "I drank around four bottles of wine a day and simply could not see a way of changing it."
She went to her GP and Alcoholics Anonymous but they suggested keeping a diary or rehab, which she had neither time nor money for.
"After searching for months in the UK for somewhere to help me I still couldn't get off the booze. This is why I had to take such a drastic step as having The Code.
"I know drink will ruin my life, and I definitely need a clean break from it for ever."
The Code, which costs ?2,800, includes three days of sedated detox to remove all alcohol from the patient's system.
Then an implant of disulfiram - a drug that reacts violently to alcohol - is inserted in the body under local anaesthetic.
This implant will release the disulfiram around the body for over a year.
In that time drinking just a tiny amount of alcohol will cause extreme reactions. Reported side-effects have included palpitations, convulsions, heart failure, breathing difficulties - and even death.
Patients have to be so careful after having the implant, they cannot even eat chocolate liqueurs or use mouthwash that contains alcohol without risks. Providing The Code to desperate Brits was the idea of former alcoholics Russell Hughes, 45, and Darya Dyagel, 33.
The pair, then heavy drinkers, met five years ago and decided to have the implant after it was suggested to them by Darya's mother - who is from the Ukraine where the treatment is regularly performed.
Since they both had the implant two years ago, neither has touched alcohol.
They now help fellow alcoholics seeking an instant fix.
Russell, who runs Aluston Health Ltd with Darya, says: "As a desperate alcoholic, I know how hard it was to get any decent help in the UK.
"I remember going to my GP and telling him my life was in tatters because of my addiction to drink. I was drinking around 12 pints of beer and a litre of vodka a day.
"After 20 years of living with a drink problem, my business was suffering, my marriage had failed, my mates were abandoning me, my kidneys were failing and I had lost my licence because of drink-driving.
"My doctor listened to all of this and then told me to keep a diary of what I was drinking. I couldn't keep a diary - I was completely drunk!
"It was heartbreaking, and even when I looked for help privately, it was totally out of my reach.
"Most private clinics want patients to stay for at least four weeks, which costs between ?5,000 and ?10,000.
"Not many alcoholics have the time, money or willpower to put themselves through that.
"So when Darya's mother told us about the implant available in Eastern Europe, I knew it was just what we, and other alcoholics in the UK, needed." The couple have now been running Aluston Health for six months, and claim they have major national companies interested in making the treatment available for their staff.
"We have had interest from the large banks and law firms - who find a lot of their staff suffer with alcohol problems - and even the MoD," says Russell.
"Companies don't want to lose their staff to rehab for months, so the implant is the perfect way of dealing with the problem in a quick and efficient way."
Russell's partner Darya admits to having consumed up to seven pints of snakebite (cider and lager mixed), two bottles of wine, half a bottle of vodka and four double whiskys in a day.
She says: "I know from nearly 20 years of alcohol abuse that the binge drinking problem in the UK is colossal and the NHS cannot cope with it.
"Drastic steps need to be taken, but the Government does not seem to have grasped what an epidemic alcoholism is for several generations in Britain."
In recent years millions has been spent by government agencies on marketing and education campaigns about the dangers of alcohol.
Tactics include labelling the number of units of alcohol that bottles contain and teaching young people and families about the danger of drink. Yet estimates put the annual cost of dealing with alcohol-related issues in Britain at a minimum ?20billion.
Russell says: "Alcoholics need more than a leaflet on how bad binge drinking is. They need help to change, and fast. Getting completely inebriated every night has become socially acceptable, and it's not right."
The Code's latest patient, Catriona, admits to getting drunk on the flight to Latvia to start her treatment.
She says: "When I arrived here, I was completely out of it.
"It hit me at the airport that I would never be able to drink again, and that made me want to drink more.
"If I didn't have this implant, that is how I think the rest of my life would have continued - as though every drink was my last.
"Knowing I can't drink again makes me feel like I have a new shot at life."
Three weeks after having The Code, Catriona is now back in the UK, and says: "My skin already looks better, my mind is clearer and my eyes are brighter.
"Already I can see how much alcohol was destroying my life, and I never want that vision to be blurred by booze again."
"When I first returned to the UK, I felt a little down.
"It was quite daunting having to change my life so dramatically and pick up the pieces of my life with sober eyes.
"But after a few days I could already see how much better my life is without alcohol.
"I've had no sickness or side-effects to the implant, and am now looking forward to a great future that does not involve alcohol.
"When you are drunk you don't realise how much of a mess your life is. The longer you are sober the more you realise how bad things are and gradually you can start to mend your life. That's what I'm doing now."
My View - By CAROL COOPER, Sun Doctor
DISULFIRAM blocks an enzyme that breaks down alcohol, so if you drink you suffer a truly awful reaction.
The implants aren't used in the UK partly due to concern that they release too little of the drug to be effective.
But treating alcoholism is also about dealing with withdrawal symptoms.
Support and counselling are an important part of the rehab package too.
Source: The Sun