Alcohol

It’s not always easy to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking. But if you consume alcohol to cope with difficulties or to avoid feeling bad, you’re in potentially dangerous territory.

Facts
In 2015, there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 14.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
For the UK as a whole, alcohol-related death rates have not changed in recent years, but the rate in 2015 is still higher than that observed in 1994.
The majority of alcohol-related deaths (65%) in the UK in 2015 were among males.
For both males and females, rates of alcohol-related death were highest in those aged 55 to 64 years in 2015.
Scotland remains the UK constituent country with the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in 2015; yet, Scotland has also seen the largest decrease in its rates since they peaked in the early 2000s.There is no singular cause of alcoholism, and it can affect anyone.(1)

Alcohol addiction can be difficult to recognise. Unlike cocaine or heroin, alcohol is widely available and accepted in many cultures. 

Some symptoms of alcohol addiction are:

  • increased quantity or frequency of use
  • high tolerance for alcohol
  • drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or at work
  • wanting to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
  • changes in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink heavily
  • avoiding contact with loved ones
  • hiding alcohol, or hiding while drinking
  • dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
  • increased lethargy, depression, or other emotional issues

For most people who are worried they have a problem with alcohol it is not an easy decision to reach out for help to transform our drinking habits. Recovery is usually a gradual process. In the early stages of change, denial is often our biggest obstacle.

 

Usually several different factors contribute to someone becoming alcohol dependent.

Alcohol dependence can run in families. It’s partly down to your genes, but is also influenced by your family’s attitudes to alcohol and the environment you grow up in. Stressful events, such as bereavement or losing a job, can also trigger heavy drinking, which can then lead to alcohol dependence.

People who are alcohol dependent have higher rates of other psychiatric disorders than people in the general population – particularly depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis and drug misuse. Often, people drink to try and reduce the symptoms (sometimes known as ‘self-medicating’), but in the long term alcohol makes these disorders worse because it interferes with the chemical balance in our brains. Some people believe that there’s such thing as an ‘addictive personality’ which leads to alcohol dependence. But there’s not much strong evidence to support this view.

 

Getting help

If you’re ready to admit you have a drinking problem, you’ve already taken the first step. It takes tremendous strength and courage to face alcohol abuse and alcoholism head on. Reaching out for support is the second step.

Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Without support, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when things get tough.

Your continued recovery depends on continuing mental health treatment, learning healthier coping strategies, and making better decisions when dealing with life’s challenges. In order to stay alcohol-free for the long term, you’ll also have to face the underlying problems that led to your alcoholism or alcohol abuse in the first place.

Those problems could be depression, an inability to manage stress, an unresolved trauma from your childhood, or any number of mental health issues. Such problems may become more prominent when you’re no longer using alcohol to cover them up. But you will be in a healthier position to finally address them and seek the help you need.

There are several helplines where you can pick up the phone and discuss your situation with someone who has been where you are.  There are also a number of helplines where you can speak to counselors below.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Open 24 Hours a day.  Its “12-step”  programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.

Al-Anon Family Groups offer support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they’re still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person’s drinking, usually a parent.

Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can call this free helpline, in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am – 8pm, weekends 11am – 4pm).

Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. Adfam operates an online message board and database of local support groups.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned with their welfare. Call 0800 358 3456 for the Nacoa helpline.

SMART Recovery groups help participants decide whether they have a problem, build up their motivation to change and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery.

 

Alcohol dependence can lead to a whole range of serious health problems

If you’re dependent on alcohol, you increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, stroke, coronary alcohol-related heart disease and alcohol-related liver disease.

Prolonged heavy drinking damages your liver. An estimated 7 out of 10 people with alcoholic liver disease (when the liver is damaged by alcohol misuse) have an alcohol dependency problem2.

Please seek help.

 

Refs

1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity

2. NHS Choices website, Alcohol-related liver disease – treatment. The Information Standard member organisation. Last reviewed: last reviewed: 24/09/2015. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Liver_disease_%28alcoholic%29/Pages/Treatmentpg.aspx

 

Funded by an educational grant from Indivior