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Councillor and Olympic boxer Kenneth Egan has been open about his fight with alcohol addiction Sinead Baker/
tackling addiction

'I'm seven years sober last week. That, for me, beats any Olympic medal' - Kenneth Egan on his recovery

Minister Simon Harris and Olympic boxer Kenneth Egan helped launch the Rutland Centre’s second annual recovery month.

FORMER OLYMPIC BOXER Kenneth Egan has described how he overcame alcoholism, with the message that recovery is possible for everyone.

Egan, an Olympic silver medalist and Fine Gael councillor for Clondalkin, has been open about his own struggles with alcohol addiction.

During the 2008 Olympics, Egan thought he was “invincible”. Then came life after sport, when he retired in 2013. “I wasn’t prepared for it.”

“For me to step up and look for recovery and walk into AA, being the person that I was, the silver medalist, it was hard, because there was a lot of shame there, a lot of guilt.”

“I wanted to get well and have a happy life,” Egan said yesterday. Things that are happening for him now, such as the existence of his two-year-old daughter, would not have happened unless he recovered, he said.

For Egan, successful recovery meant the support of family and friends, but he also described how he can now see a friend stuck on a similar path to the one he was on. Having been friends since they were six, “I really worry for him. I just don’t know where it’s going to end and there’s a lot of people like that out there.”

What’s needed, he said, is the abolition of the stigma that can come with admitting that you have a problem: “It’s OK to be in recovery.”

Egan was speaking alongside Minister for Health Simon Harris at the launch of the Rutland Centre’s recovery month yesterday. Running from 1 – 30 of September, the month aims to highlight the supports available for those seeking to recover from addiction and their families and communities, and to celebrate those who have engaged with the process.

A series of events, including those centered around recovery for members of the LGBT community and the sporting community, are open to the public, those affected by addiction and their families.

Breaking a stigma

Some present at the launch who had used the Rutland Centre’s services said that they had put off seeking treatment for fear of stigma. Egan said that telling the nation about his addiction on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show in 2011 was “a monkey off my back”.

“I’m seven years sober last week. That, for me, beats any Olympic medal.”

Alcohol remains the leading addiction in Ireland, according to the centre, with 91% of people attending the centre doing so for alcohol addiction.

“Alcohol is too often the elephant in the room,” Simon Harris said.

The idea that “recovery from addiction is possible for anyone” needs to be at the core of the national policy and services, Harris said. The new national drugs strategy entitled Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, which will determine the direction of the government’s policy on drug and alcohol use until 2025, is a health-led response to addiction – the way we need to look at addiction in Ireland, he said.

The government spent €244 million on addiction last year, with €120 million of this spent in the area of healthcare, an area Harris committed to increasing expenditure on in the coming years as part of the strategy.

National policy, Harris said, “needs to make sure we don’t write anybody off”.

2DF44887-63FB-4F25-913A-9E1C7EA7BF6E Breaking the stigma around addiction is key to helping people, minister SImon Harris and Olympic boxer Kenneth Egan said yesterday SInead Baker / SInead Baker / /

Delayed bills

Two bills being pushed forward by the government aim to strengthen national policy, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and the Gambling Control Bill, with Harris calling for cross-party support of the drugs and alcohol bill.

The controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which would introduce a minimum unit price and require labeling including calorie and health warnings to be on all alcohol, has faced pressure from the alcohol industry and small businesses.

Harris, calling for action on the bill, pledged to address the issue with small businesses, who have criticised the bill’s requirement for alcohol to be kept apart from other produce.

Meabh Leahy, CEO of the Rutland Centre, was critical of delays to the gambling bill, which Harris stated had his “full support”.

The bill, which would create a new agency that would act as both the licensing authority and regulator for the sector, was first introduced in 2013.

Leahy told that the delay is “disappointing”,

For those already with an addiction, enacting the legislation “will not make any difference”, she said.

“The key to that legislation is the future, and future generations. And if we don’t regulate that market and regulate that space then the problems will keep growing.”

The Rutland Centre says it has seen an increase of those with a gambling addiction, particularly men.

Read: ‘Danny Healy Rae’s drink-driving comments are callous, I won’t accommodate his fantasies’ >

Read: Last call for Good Friday drinking ban as bill passes in the Seanad >

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