There are many people who are able to drink moderately, enjoying the odd pint of beer or glass of wine without overdoing it. Others binge drink or regularly drink unsafe amounts of alcohol – the low-risk drinking guidelines for both men and women say it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.1 Alcohol abuse, also known as alcohol misuse, is when you drink in a way that is harmful. This can also lead to alcohol addiction, which occurs when you develop a physical and psychological alcohol dependence. The fact that you abuse alcohol does not necessarily mean that you are an alcoholic, but alcohol misuse can all too easily lead to dependency.
What is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse is any kind of drinking that is harmful to yourself or others. That may include regularly drinking more than the low-risk drinking guidelines or binge drinking, which the NHS defines as drinking more than 8 units of alcohol for men and 6 for women in a single session.2 Drinking too much in a single session or deliberately drinking to get drunk can lead to a number of short-term risks, including nausea and vomiting, raised blood pressure and irregular heartbeat and even death due to alcohol poisoning. You are also more likely to be involved in risky or criminal behaviour, including violence, drunk driving and unsafe sex.
There are also long-term harmful effects. Your drinking can affect your family, relationships and work, as well affecting your physical and mental health. Alcohol is a causal factor in dozens of medical conditions, including several types of cancer, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and depression. Alcohol misuse is identified as the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49-year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages.3 If you or someone you know has problems with alcohol, contact us today to find out how we can help.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism refers to an addiction or dependency on alcohol and is generally considered to be the most extreme of a number of alcohol use disorders.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse says: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.” 4
Who is at risk of alcohol abuse and addiction?
Put simply, anyone who drinks alcohol can be at risk of alcohol abuse and addiction. There may be some genetic and demographic factors that make some people more prone to developing problems with alcohol, but alcohol abuse and addiction can creep up on anyone. 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines, and 27% of drinkers in the UK binge drink. Interestingly, the more people earn, the more likely they are to drink, with around 90% of people living in the least deprived areas drinking compared to 71% in the most deprived areas.5 Whatever your background, alcohol rehab might provide your best chance of overcoming your drinking problems and making a full and long-lasting recovery.
What are the symptoms of alcohol abuse and alcoholism?
There are a number of symptoms and signs of alcohol misuse to consider. The most important, in line with the definition of addiction provided above, is a compulsive desire to drink and continuing to drink despite harmful or negative consequences. You don’t have to drink every day or from early in the morning to have an alcohol problem – although some people do. If you do, we can offer support and advice on what to do next.
How are alcohol abuse and alcoholism diagnosed?
Diagnosis can be tricky as it often relies on the person answering honest questions about their drinking. Clinicians will use a number of assessment tools to assess the severity of alcohol misuse and dependence. These can include:
- Asking questions about your drinking habits
- A physical examination
- Psychological evaluation
- In certain cases, blood tests may be carried out to assess any liver or kidney damage .6
Side-effects of alcoholism
As well as all the short and long-term risks of drinking as highlighted above, alcohol addiction and chronic heavy drinking can give rise to other side effects. Prolonged heavy drinking changes the way your brain and central nervous system operates and can lead to an increased tolerance to alcohol, meaning you need to drink more and more for the same effects. It can also give rise to alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking. Going through alcohol detox is a challenging and potentially dangerous process, which is why it is always best to undergo it in a supervised rehab or detox clinic.
How are alcohol abuse and alcoholism treated?
Due to the ways in which sustained heavy drinking affect your system, quitting and even cutting down on your own can be very difficult. There are a number of treatment options available. Outpatient treatments such as those available through the NHS may be suitable for less severe cases of alcohol misuse and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be very valuable.
For serious cases of alcohol addiction, though, residential rehab is the most effective approach. This puts you in a secure and comfortable environment away from your usual triggers and temptations, allowing you to really focus on your recovery. You will be able to undergo a supervised detox as you go through alcohol withdrawal and will also be given the opportunity to participate in a number of treatments and therapies. These will aim to help you explore the root causes of your alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism, as well as providing you with techniques and strategies to avoid relapsing and stay sober and healthy moving forward.