People drink for many reasons, to be more sociable, to reduce stress, to cope with difficult feelings, or sometimes just out of habit. Some people are able to drink safely in moderation, while for others almost any alcohol can cause a problem.
Whatever your difficulty with alcohol, talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist with experience in the field can help. The following are some of the reasons people give for seeking help with their drinking:
I regularly drink a lot of alcohol every day, do I have an alcohol problem?
First check your weekly consumption of alcohol units using the information given in this article or an online alcohol calculator. If you are drinking more than 21 units/week (men) or 14 units/week (women) your alcohol consumption could be harmful to your health. One simple way of checking if you are dependent on alcohol is to try abstaining for a fortnight. Other questions to ask are whether your drinking is causing problems in other areas of your life, such as at work, with friends or family? Perhaps you are putting yourself at risk while driving, and the loss of a driving license might cause you severe problems.
I'm not a regular drinker, but every so often I go on a binge and feel unable to stop.
Binge drinking causes different problems to long term heavy drinking. It is more likely to lead to impulsive risky behaviours, accidents, and the medical effects of alcohol poisoning such as damage to the brain, digestive system and heart. Alcohol causes a progressive loss of control - the more you drink, the less control you have and the harder it is to stop.
I do things I regret when I've had a drink. Sometimes I can't even remember what I was doing.
The use of alcohol reduces inhibitions - in small amounts this can make you more sociable, but taken in quantity it is linked to various social problems such as aggressive behaviour and violence. It might also lead you to take more risks than usual, leaving you helpless in a potentially dangerous situation.
Alcohol interferes with the brain's ability to form new memories, and consuming large amounts can cause partial or complete blackouts. This doesn't mean you were unconscious - you might have been actively engaged in a conscious behaviour such as walking, talking, driving or even having sex.
Alcohol misuse: I think I can handle my alcohol but my friends and family are worried about me.
Drinking can have consequences for your health, mood and relationships that sometimes are more obvious to those around you. Health consequences can include mood changes (depression, irritability and anxiety), fertility problems and long-term medical conditions. Often children can be badly affected when a parent is absent, irritable, unpredictable or distracted due to alcohol.
My drinking is causing me problems at work.
Some of the work-related consequences of alcohol include lateness and absenteeism, reduced performance, accidents due to reduced concentration and impaired judgment, damaged relationships with colleagues, superiors and customers.
In some safety-critical jobs (for example driving or flying) it can be a dismissable offence to report for work while impaired by alcohol.
A doctor has advised me to cut down.
Alcohol can contribute to various health problems when used long term. These include liver disease, osteoporosis, ulcers in the stomach, damage to the pancreas, loss of fertility, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, dementia and even brain damage. If you are pregnant you should be aware that alcohol can have an effect on your unborn baby.
Some prescribed medications can interact with alcohol, which might either reduce their effectiveness or cause unpleasant side effects.
I have tried to stop using alcohol but the withdrawal symptoms are too bad.
If you have been a heavy drinker it is better to cut down gradually, rather than stopping all at once. If you drink a lot it can actually be dangerous to stop too quickly, as this can cause seizures - medical advice is to reduce your drinking by 2 units per day rather than to quit suddenly.
An alcohol counsellor can provide you with the professional support and guidance to enable you to withdraw slowly and safely. Your doctor or a detox unit can also provide you with medication to reduce the impact of the withdrawal symptoms and enable you to reduce safely.
There's nothing else in my life, and alcohol fills the void.
You may have the feeling that life has passed you by and you have lost your sense of self. Perhaps you were busy bringing up children or working and your lifestyle left no space for finding out who you are and what makes you happy. Alcohol can sometimes make life feel more bearable and make the problems temporarily go away. Unfortunately it doesn't solve the root causes, such as lack of meaning and purpose - instead it can bring additional problems of its own. Although alcohol can provide a temporary lift, over the long term it is a drug which is both addictive and a depressant.
If alcohol is acting as a support in this way it is important to tackle these issues as part of the process of bringing your drinking under control. Merely giving up alcohol without addressing why you drink is likely to lead to relapse.
I'm worried about the consequences of drinking to excess.
Regularly drinking over the recommended limits doesn’t make you an alcoholic. However, it can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, liver problems, reduced fertility and depression. Not to mention relationship difficulties.