WALTHAM Forest hosts around 20 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every week. Ahead of National Alcohol Awareness Week (November 19-25), reporter DANIEL BINNS finds out more about the organisation's work in the borough.

Earlier this year the London Ambulance Service released a report which revealed  a staggering 70 per cent rise in its staff being called to alcohol-related injuries and illnesses in Waltham Forest - the highest in London.

Concern has been growing about the problem in the borough over the last decade, recognised by such initiatives as the council's alcohol-free zones to tackle street drinkers.

But working away quietly, behind closed doors, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups across Waltham Forest have also been trying to confront the issue.

The worldwide organisation was established in 1935 and is based on the confidentiality between members, who offer each other help and support by discussing their problems.

Like many members 'Nina', from Walthamstow, joined after her problems began alienating her from the important people in her life.

She said: "While others seemed to be able to drink socially, I did not have the ability to stop, always wanting more. 

"Towards the end of my drinking, I was in a very dark place, often getting myself into very dangerous situations. 

"Attempts to stop drinking and promises to family that I would not drink were always broken.

"Hospital visits, suicide attempts, the unacceptable became the acceptable.

"I became completely isolated".

Nina said she felt ashamed to attend her first AA meeting, but says it helped turned her life around.

"[It] allows me to face my fears, talk openly about the things that would previously have led me to a drink. 

"Earlier this month I celebrated a year’s sobriety".

Sue, 55, from Chingford, said her battle with booze had also brought her close to suicide.

She said: "I wrote a suicide note to my family, asking forgiveness for robbing them of their childhoods: 'Do good in your lives, don’t end up a drunken bum like me'. "

But she survived and knew then she needed to seek help.

"Detox, and then a Day programme helped me start my journey into recovery.  

"But it was Alcoholics Anonymous that helped me to stay on track.  To stay away from that first drink, one day at a time," she said.

Alex, from South Woodford, is another local member.

He said that his drinking evolved from social occasions with friends to full-on dependency.

"By the time I reached my 50s my wife had left me, my children and my brother had given up on me, I was living with my mother, in my childhood bedroom going mad," he said.

But after going to his GP for help, Alex discovered AA and began his journey to recovery.

He said: "I now have the life I dreamed of during those euphoric moments before the mists of alcoholic blackout took over."

Visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk or call its London helpline 020 7833 0022, which is open 10am until 10pm every day, for more information.