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“I was in a downhill destructive spiral”: Dominic McGregor on sobriety and Hollyoaks IRL

James Sutton and Dominic McGregor

Social Chain co-founder Dominic McGregor has opened up about his sobriety after a “journey of self-sabotage” on a brand new episode of Hollyoaks IRL (In Real Life).

The short-form series, re-commissioned by Channel 4 and produced by Lime Digital, delves into the real-life experiences and social issues that surface from storylines in the show.

Episode two of the new series sees Dominic McGregor talk about his battle with alcohol addiction with Hollyoaks actor James Sutton, who plays John Paul McQueen. Producers behind the show approached McGregor as his story has parallels to that of John Paul’s.

Rising to the top as a young co-founder of fast-growing social media agency Social Chain in Manchester, McGregor told Prolific North he soon found how alcohol dominated the glitzy award ceremonies and brunches across the creative industry. 

“When you’re 19 to 20 years old, you don’t really know yourself. You’re trying to figure out yourself, you’re trying to figure out the world, you’re trying to figure out this thing called business at the same time. The first two are hard enough in themselves, so when you layer in a supercharged fast growth company, of course at some point something’s going to give.

“I completely embraced that culture. I was the one leading that attitude in our office because I thought it was the only option. I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in business.”

As well as navigating an intense workplace environment, he discovered how “normalised” drinking was and that a lot of the time “people in the industry take it too far”.

“Especially with some founders, when it comes to events planning or team building exercises, everyone straightaway goes: ‘oh let’s get drunk together’ or ‘let’s have our events centred around alcohol’.”

As Social Chain continued its exponential growth, he felt his personal and work life began to crumble and his mental health decline through his turbulent relationship with alcohol.

“I was in a downhill destructive spiral where drinking, and things I was doing when I was drunk, was starting to have a real influence on me and in my life. 

“I went on this journey of self sabotage of destroying myself, my life, my relationships, for alcohol. There was no mindset at 22 years old that alcohol was a problem because it’s so ingrained in society. It’s a very normalised thing for people to do, to go out there and have big blowouts. For me, it was the last thing I considered. It wasn’t until someone told me that I should stop drinking and that I could change my life that I even thought about it.

“I talk a lot about it in the episode about that last time you drink, everyone’s got that situation where they wake up and think: ‘What did I do last night? I’ve done some unforgivable things, I’ve upset people and I should never drink again’. But for me, those feelings of what I did were true. I had done so much damage to myself, my friends and my family that I had to make a change.”

Turning to a therapist at the time to address his issues, he is now six and a half years sober. By the time he left Social Chain in 2020 along with fellow co-founder Steven Bartlett, he said the company had “evolved”.

“Age and time are two beautiful things because you get a much wider perspective. When we were at Social Chain, our culture changed massively over the time we were there. At the start, it was all about having free drinks in the bar but by the end of it, it was about opt-in mental health therapy.”

Now as founding partner of investment platform Fearless Adventures, he believes there has been a shift across the industry.

“There’s definitely some changes that have been made over the last 10 years or so. We’re seeing less of a ‘laddy’ culture in business, which is great. We’ve seen the rise of female leaders who have much more empathy and understanding of what introverts in the company want to do. It’s not all about lads, lads, lads anymore. There’s a huge cultural change when it comes to people in the workplace and what they see as forced fun versus actually valuable for them.

“You have to make something where people love coming in every single day and aren’t going to get burnout.”

You can watch the full episode via Hollyoaks’ Youtube, Facebook, and TikTok channels now.

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