MS sufferer tired of being labelled a drunk

MISUNDERSTOOD: Former America’s Cup sailor Rick Dodson, 54, has multiple sclerosis and says he is often mistaken for being drunk.
MISUNDERSTOOD: Former America’s Cup sailor Rick Dodson, 54, has multiple sclerosis and says he is often mistaken for being drunk.

A former America's Cup sailor is fed up with being refused alcohol because his illness makes him appear drunk.

Mairangi Bay father of two Rick Dodson, 54, says bar and liquor shop staff need to understand the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) before making snap judgments.

"I went to a wine shop in Parnell the other week and asked for a six pack of beers because I was going to a friend's place for dinner.

"The guy behind the counter said, ‘no I can't serve you because you're drunk'."

Dodson says the staff member continued to refuse him a sale even after he explained that his slurred speech and unsteadiness on his feet were symptoms of MS.

"I showed him my MS card, but he said, ‘no I can't, I still think you're drunk'."

MS Auckland, a support organisation for those with the condition, provides members with wallet-sized cards explaining the symptoms.

Slurred speech, shaky hands and affected balance are symptoms that have been causing problems when people with MS attempt to drive or purchase alcohol.

Others may experience fatigue, numbness, spasticity and bladder problems.

"Everyone with MS has this story. It's happened to me in bars as well," Dodson says.

MS Auckland general manager Therese Russel says no two people exhibit the same symptoms which makes it difficult for people to recognise the disease.

"To other people they are all signs that someone is drunk."

She says another member had her keys taken off her in the car park as she went to drive home.

Dodson says he is frustrated with uneducated people denying him the freedoms he is entitled to.

"I respect them for doing the right thing and saying, ‘look no you're drunk', but as soon as I pull out the card that should be the end of it."

MS Auckland is now looking to produce a new identification card to prevent any further disputes.

"The issue we have is how do we make it more recognisable? Maybe something with a photo on it, our website, symptoms and a phone number to call?"

Dodson says his team mate David Barnes, who also suffers from MS, does not drink but has still had to contend with ignorance from retail workers.

"Dave got stopped outside the supermarket, the police showed up in the car park after the checkout girl said

something. "His daughter was with him at the time and said, ‘no it's OK Dad's got MS'."

Both are members of the Kiwi Gold Sailing crew vying for a spot in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics.

Dodson was the Team NZ on-board strategist during both the 1995 and 2000 America's Cup victories.

He was diagnosed about 15 years ago but continued to sail with Team NZ in the early stages of the disease.

He has since undergone speech therapy and continues to live a full and active life.

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and unpredictable disease of the central nervous system with no known cure.

Researchers believe it may be linked to a lack of vitamin D.

Canada and Scotland have the highest incidences of MS in the world and it is five times more common in women.

About one in every 1000 New Zealanders has the disease.

Go to for more information.

Fairfax Media