Chris Packham health: 'I was scared of it' – why the star quit drinking alcohol


The 61-year-old, who has also spoken in the past about living with Asperger’s syndrome, which he was diagnosed with in his 20s, revealed that after becoming too dependent on drinking alcohol he “instantaneously stopped,” preventing himself from becoming addicted. Not only thinking about the toll an addiction would have on him physically, Packham was also worried about the mental effects, as in the past he has struggled with his mental health.

As part of the recent Mental Health Awareness Week, Packham urged that the NHS receive more funding in order to cope with the number of people who are suffering mentally.

Using his own battle with depression as an example, he shared: “I was drinking too much, and too often, and I thought, ‘you’re getting addicted to this,’ and I really don’t like the idea of ­addiction. I was scared of it, I just instantaneously stopped.

“I got to a point, as you know, where I thought very seriously, and right to the last moment, about taking my life because I was depressed.

“I thought to myself, on the back of that, I mustn’t ever allow myself to get to this point again.

READ MORE: David Niven: ‘It was a relief when he died’ – star’s long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease

“I have got to do something where I’ll be able to stop before I get to that point, otherwise I’ll end up killing myself.”

Taking control of his mental health, Packham spent three years on an “intensive course of therapy,” which has allowed him to avoid “danger” ever since.

He added: “I think that gave me a framework to understand being in that frame of mind and therefore, to some extent, you are able to manage it, and that so far has kept me out of danger.”

However, with NHS waiting lists only getting longer and longer, Packham remains on a mission to help others receive professional help, which most recently includes his personal friend.


“Someone I know at the moment is going through a mental health crisis, it’s taken me a while but I have managed to get them to go and seek professional help,” the star added.

“Now they’ve had their first ­interaction and they’ve got to wait three months.”

Bupa, a medical care company explains that although a lot of people take to alcohol when they feel stressed, it is a “quick but deceptive fix”.

Alcohol not only affects the chemicals in the brain but hoe the brain and central nervous system function. The part of the brain that controls inhibition also becomes affected, meaning that restraining your impulses or certain behaviours becoming harder to resist or only happen when drunk.

Although feeling more relaxed, individuals may use it as a way to avoid their anxieties or depression, instead of dealing with the cause.

For some people, drinking alcohol can make negative feelings become even worse. This is because alcohol affects the chemicals that send messages from one nerve in your brain to another – neurotransmitters.

Those who become dependent on alcohol may also suffer from a “permanent hangover,” where they feel the symptoms of a hangover for long-periods of time without realising. This can cause people to feel:

  • Dehydrated
  • Nauseous
  • Suffer from severe headaches
  • Suffer from indigestion.

As one of the most common mental health problems in the UK, depression affects around one in 10 people a year. Research from Alcohol Change found that depression and heavy drinking have a mutually reinforcing relationship – meaning that either condition increases a person’s chances of experiencing the other.

For that reason, managing alcohol intake is one way of reducing an individual’s risk of developing depression. If you do experience depression, reducing the amount you drink may help to manage symptoms.

Long-term heavy drinking can also cause physical changes to the brain, leading to difficulties reasoning, remembering and understanding. These changes are sometimes referred to as alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD), which is often mistaken for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, recovery is possible and the outcomes for people who stop drinking and who receive high-dose vitamin B1 treatment can be very good, with much of the damage to the brain being reversed.

As well as affecting mental health, long-term drinking of alcohol can put an individual at risk of a whole host of serious health conditions including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Some cancers.

In order to minimise the risk of harm to both physical and mental wellbeing, the NHS recommends adults should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. Cutting it out completely will have a greater health benefit.

For help and support, Al-Anon is an organisation affiliated with AA. Contact the confidential helpline on 020 7403 0888 (10am to 10pm, 365 days a year).


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