Most of us don’t think twice about treating ourselves to that bottle of wine after a hard day’s work. But what we might not realise is that our seemingly harmless moment of indulgence roughly makes up our entire weekly recommended intake of alcohol.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) now advises that both men and women drink no more than 14 units over the course of 3 days or more - with a standard glass of wine equating to just over 2 units (175ml).
We all know excessive drinking is bad for us, yet many of us feel comfortable turning a blind eye anyway. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because drinking has become so firmly entrenched into our culture that it’s hard to consider a moment of relaxation or a weekend’s activities without it... Simply looking at the number of phrases in the English language for our favourite ‘sauce’, ‘tipple’ or post hangover ‘hair of the dog’ is enough to illustrate our love of getting ‘on the wagon’.
We’ve long been informed of the health benefits of the occasional glass of red wine. And it’s true - indulging in the odd glass here and there should never be cause for concern. But when that occasional glass turns into a bottle, or you find yourself drinking more days than not, or you’ve become reliant on alcohol for a boost of confidence… Then it might be worth taking a closer look.
Contrary to what many of us think, alcohol abuse doesn’t always look the same. We tend to bracket ourselves into two basic categories: the slurring alcoholic roaming the streets or a social drinker with everything perfectly under control... But there are varying stages to alcoholism and it’s not always as clear-cut as we might think. Here’s a look at three of these stages:
You abuse alcohol. The abuse of alcohol can take many forms... But it might include binge-drinking, feeling like you behave differently when you’ve had ‘one too many’, drinking because it’s the only way you can feel comfortable around new people, driving under the influence, or drinking despite knowing that it is causing you harm.
You’re addicted to alcohol. This can be defined as the inability to stop drinking even though it comes with negative consequences. Alcohol addiction might entail cravings or preoccupation with drinking (getting through the day only for the reward of a drink at the end of it). Setting yourself limits to how much you drink but consistently failing e.g. saying you’re not going to drink this week but lapsing come 6pm. And finally, the recognition that your drinking habits are causing you physical, psychological and social harm but continuing all the same.
You’re dependent on alcohol. Alcohol dependency can cause something called Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. This happens when a chronic drinker attempts to stop drinking. The symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe. Mild might involve feeling anxious, tired or sick. Severe symptoms can be as extreme as suffering seizures or hallucinations.
It’s thought that around 15% of people who drink will end up developing a dependency to alcohol.
Everyone who drinks has a relationship with alcohol. The main difference lies in how or why we drink rather than alcohol itself. There’s obviously nothing wrong with sharing the odd glass of wine when we catch up with friends, or slightly over-doing it on the champagne at our best friend’s wedding... People who develop a dependency on alcohol usually do so because alcohol has enabled them to hide from something else. One example might be a person with social anxiety who drinks to keep up the pretence of confidence. Or someone who drinks to stuff down overwhelming emotions or memories.
What causes someone to turn to drink is rarely about alcohol alone. Alcoholism typically co-exists alongside other conditions; a means of disguising painful memories and emotions. This means that recovery often involves tackling the root of the issue.
It’s difficult to change ingrained habits without the right level of support. And if you think you’re drinking too much, it’s important to remember that you are not expected to go through this alone. A qualified alcohol counsellor can support you in your recovery in a number of ways:
Only you know yourself best. If you think your drinking habits might have become a problem, try asking yourself the following questions:
If you think you’re drinking too much, it is never too late or too early to get help. The earlier dependency is caught the easier it is to make amends. If you're concerned about your drinking habits or the drinking habits of a loved one, we have a range of accredited alcohol counsellors that can help. Speak to one of our team to get help to find a therapist.