"You can beat it": One firefighter's battle with alcohol

For the best part of 20 years, Wimbledon green watch firefighter Christian Crabb, 44, believed he was just a heavy drinker. He was fond of a beer now and then but he always had an element of control over it.

Then everything came crashing down. In the midst of a disciplinary at work, he broke up with his long-term girlfriend and was forced to move back home with his parents. It was all down to the drink. “You’re always the last one to realise you have a problem,” he says.

Christian now describes himself during those years as having been a functioning alcoholic. “There’s a lot of misdiagnosis when it comes to alcoholism,” he says.

“When I first realised I might have a problem and I opened up to my employers, they sent me to counselling. I was told I was depressed and that’s why I was drinking.”

His drinking was seen as the result of depression rather than the cause. Christian was prescribed anti-depressants but the drugs made no difference.


The situation only began to change in 2015. A close friend reached out to Christian and told him that if he did not stop drinking, he feared he would be dead by the end of that summer.

It was the mental picture of his mum and dad burying their son that hit home – he needed help quickly.

The government’s austerity squeeze has hit NHS alcohol services – as it has hit other crucial public services– very badly. Addiction charity Blenheim estimates that funding for alcohol services in London has been cut by 50% over the past five years, meaning waiting times for treatment are longer.

With friends worried for his life, the three-month wait for treatment on the NHS was just far too long for Christian. With no other options available, he took out a £10,000 loan to pay for a six-week private rehab programme in Southampton that helped to kickstart his recovery.

Now, nearly two years later, Christian is sober, healthy and has a renewed outlook on life. “I can do anything I want in the world; the only thing I can’t do is drink. That’s what I have to remember.”

But what of the job? Firefighting is a highly pressurised, stressful and, at times, tragic job. Could that have contributed to his drinking? “I’m unsure about that,” says Christian.

He says he has an on/ off switch and can generally cope with the traumatic scenes he attends. He is more concerned about the impact of the shift system on his propensity to drink.


He explained: “If you’re off work during the week, you don’t see your mates because they’re working, so your days can become unstructured. You easily find yourself watching TV and opening a can.

“Then suddenly one drink becomes two and so on. By the end, you’ve had 10 beers in one night.”

Fortunately those days are now behind him and Christian is free to live his life without the debilitating effects of alcohol addiction.

He says he is happier than he has ever been and concludes: “I want anyone suffering from the disease of alcoholism to know that they are not alone.

“If you are reading this and you are in the hellish near-death place I was approaching two years ago, please know that help is out there. You can beat it.”

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