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Alcohol addiction is categorised as both a mental and physical disorder. If you are experiencing alcohol addiction, you will continue to consume alcohol even though you are well aware of the negative consequences for doing so.

In short, alcohol addiction is not a moral failing but a disease. Alcohol addiction isn’t curable, but it may be arrested using modern evidence-based treatments. This treatment begins with a detox that forms part of an overall rehabilitation programme.

The vast majority of people are able to consume alcohol safely and moderately. For the fortunate majority, alcohol does not disrupt their lives. However, for some, alcohol consumption will cause many legitimate problems.

In the UK, the Government recommends you do no drink more than fourteen units of alcohol over the course of a week. This amount is the same for both men and women. The Government guidance also recommends that you should spread your drinking over several days. If you consume large amounts of alcohol once or twice a week, you will be considered a binge drinker. This is typically believed to be a form of alcohol abuse.

Since alcoholism is a spectrum disorder, it’s possible to suffer from this illness without drinking every day of the week. One sign that alcoholism has arisen is that you crave alcohol when its effects begin to wear off. However, you may be able to abstain from drinking on certain days of the week whilst still exhibiting signs of alcohol addiction.

Acute alcohol addiction is characterised by a physical and psychological need to drink alcohol each day of the week. If you are experiencing acute alcoholism, then you will begin to experience discomforting withdrawal symptoms when your blood alcohol concentration begins to fall.

Because of these symptoms, medical experts classify alcoholism as an illness. Sufferers simply lack the will to abstain from drinking because to do so could cause serious consequences for their health due to potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Key effects of alcoholism

Of the estimated 65 million people living in the UK, it’s estimated that around 7.5 million of those people exhibit signs of alcohol addiction. This is more than 10% of the UK’s population and a totally unacceptable statistic. Simply put, not enough is being done to prevent the occurrence of excessive drinking amongst the UK’s population.

Alcoholism hurts both sufferers and society in many ways. Lost productivity due to alcohol addiction costs the UK economy billions of pounds each year. For sufferers, alcohol addiction leads to many short term and long term mental and physical health problems. These people will put on excessive weight which increases their odds of developing diabetes.

Sufferers may experience insomnia, depression and anxiety as a result of their drinking. People affected by alcohol addiction are unlikely to consume enough nutrients that are required for healthy living. In short, excessive drinking drags down sufferers’ health and quality of life.

Alcohol addiction affects sufferers’ mental health in many ways. These people will become utterly preoccupied with drinking, meaning they do not have time for anything else. It’s no wonder that alcoholism is often accompanied by job loss and the break down in families affected by this blight.

The early signs of alcoholism

If you suspect you are suffering with an alcohol addiction, it’s best to reach out for help. The easiest way to reach out for help is to contact our free helpline on 0800 140 4690. It’s easy to deny the existence of your addiction. Mere willpower is seldom enough to overcome alcohol addiction.

For loved ones, it’s often difficult to enact lasting change by issuing ultimatums and the like. Often, it’s best to simply admit that you are simply not qualified to help your loved one overcome this terrible illness.

It’s important to realise that alcohol addiction is not a moral failing. Alcohol addiction is caused by chemical changes in the brain. These changes are caused when alcohol interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain known as GABA-A and dopamine receptors.

In this manner, alcohol effectively hijacks the brain (and thus your behaviour) so that you cannot consciously defeat the urge to seek out ever greater quantities of alcohol. This phenomenon has caused some experts to term alcoholism as a bio-behavioural disorder.

Determining whether you have a drinking problem

Whilst it is difficult to offer a solid framework in helping you to self-diagnose alcoholism, we are nevertheless able to offer guidance in helping you come to this conclusion.

Below, we list a number of signs that could mean you are experiencing alcoholism:

  • You frequently blackout after drinking sessions
  • You drink large amounts of alcohol and continue drinking when everybody else has stopped
  • You drink at times when it may be socially or professionally disapproved upon
  • You drink alcohol to treat a negative psychological state such as depression or anxiety
  • Your tolerance for alcohol has dramatically increased

The dangers of social drinking

If you have a history of excessive drinking, then returning to social drinking is not advised. Alcoholism is a progressive disorder, meaning the severity of your condition will successively get worse.

Moderate drinking is when you drink within the recommended fourteen unit limit we mention above. This translates to around six glasses of wine or six pints of beer per week. If you feel you are able to drink within this limit, then it is important that you spread your drinking across at least a three-day period. Drinking within this limit over 1-2 days could be considered binge drinking.

Key risk factors for developing alcoholism

Alcoholism is a progressive disorder. In fact, it may take many years for the full effects of alcoholism to emerge. Since alcoholism develops slowly over many years, it’s thus not difficult to appreciate why so many people affected by alcoholism experience denial.

It’s important to recognise the risk factors associated with alcoholism so you are better able to recognise them before it is too late.

The most common risk factors that increase your chances of developing alcoholism include:

  • Genetics: it’s often said that alcoholism ‘runs in the family.’ It’s believed that children of alcohol-dependent parents are four times more like likely to develop alcoholism themselves. Scientists have discovered a variety of genes that increase the risks of developing alcoholism. This means there isn’t a single genetic factor to blame when it comes to your pre-disposition to developing alcoholism.
  • Environmental factors: It’s believed that genetic factors will not increase the odds of developing alcoholism if you are not exposed to an environment where this illness is allowed to be cultivated. If your parents abuse alcohol, it’s likely you will mimic their behaviour in later life. Environmental factors promoting alcoholism include peer pressure from colleagues, friends or your partner.
  • Lifestyle and stress: If you experience prolonged stress or a traumatic event, you are much more likely to abuse alcohol. This is because you may discover that alcohol provides a temporary release from stress. However, when the effects of alcohol wear off, the rebound symptoms of stress will intensify, meaning you need to drink more alcohol for yet more temporary reprieve
  • Psychological illnesses: it’s no secret that there’s a causal link between alcohol addiction and mental health. Common mental health issues thought to be a risk factor when it comes to alcoholism include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and psychosis. These conditions are undoubtedly aggravated by alcohol abuse.

The stages of developing alcoholism

In most situations, those affected by alcohol began to drink moderately and responsibly. However, moderate drinking develops into binge drinking. Often, this is triggered by living a stressful lifestyle or experiencing a traumatic event. During the early stages of alcohol abuse, it’s likely you are able to control your drinking or even stop completely.

Binge drinking may develop into alcohol abuse for many different reasons. Alcohol abuse arises when you begin to drink more than 14 units of alcohol over many consecutive days. You may notice the reasons why you drink alcohol begin to change. Whilst before you drank for social reasons, you begin to find yourself drinking merely because it improves your mood. Drinking to feel better is a definite sign that you are beginning to abuse alcohol.

If left unchecked, there is a good chance that alcohol abuse could develop into a physical dependency on alcohol. Here, you will drink alcohol to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that arise when your blood alcohol levels begin to drop.

These symptoms typically include tremors, nausea, sweating and a heightened heartbeat. Alcohol dependency is characterised by an increased tolerance to alcohol. You will require ever greater volumes of alcohol in order to attain the desired effects.

When an alcohol dependency arises, you will drink alcohol not for pleasure. Instead, your cravings for alcohol and the consequential drinking will negatively interfere with each and every aspect of your life.

You will likely lose friends, family members and jobs as a result of your drinking. The only way you can repair this damage is to attend an alcohol rehab clinic where you will receive the necessary treatment that’s needed to make a full recovery.

When you begin to recognise the symptoms of alcoholism, it’s likely your initial reaction will be to deny the existence of the problem. Denial is a defence mechanism and one that often arises from the misconception that alcohol addiction is caused by a moral failing. Denial is insidious because it prevents you from seeking out a solution to your alcohol addiction.

Female alcohol addiction

For many years, alcoholism was believed to be an illness that only inflicted men. Whilst it is true that more men are affected by alcoholism than women, it’s also true that a significant number of women are developing alcoholism in the twenty-first century. Some studies have even gone as far as saying that alcoholism is equally prevalent in women as it is for men.

The elderly and alcohol addiction

When you begin to age, your ability to process alcohol diminishes. This means the same amount of alcohol will have greater effects on a person who is sixty-five compared to a person who is twenty-five. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends that the Government’s guidelines of non-more than fourteen units of alcohol per week should be lowered for the elderly.

The vast majority of elderly people who experience alcoholism developed this illness in later life. The elderly are considered vulnerable and ‘at risk’ when it comes to developing alcoholism. Many of these people begin to drink due to the social isolation that’s all too common in old age.

Other factors contributing to the development of alcoholism amongst our elderly citizens include boredom, poor health and bereavement. Some elderly people may consume alcohol as a way of managing pain caused by an age-related illness or injury.

Mental disorders and alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind because it alters the chemical makeup of the brain. These chemical changes contribute to an alteration in behaviours, thoughts and emotions. It’s thus not surprising to learn that alcoholism is linked to a range of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Drinking alcohol often provides temporary relief from these mental health problems. This is often known as ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol.

Alcoholism is also linked to a number of more serious mental health issues including psychosis and self-harm. It’s also estimated that more than 70% of suicides were committed whilst under the influence of alcohol. Sufferers are believed to be put themselves at a heightened risk of suicide if they undergo a detox without medical supervision.

Sadly, some choose to take their own life rather than having to face the pain of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This is an utterly tragic affair because medications designed to significantly reduce these symptoms are cheaply available.

The costs of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction gives rise to significant personal and public costs. Your alcohol addiction could cost you your job, your friends, your family and even your life. For the economy, it’s estimated that treating people for alcohol-related illnesses and injuries accounts for around 10% of the NHS’s budget.

Alcoholism and alcohol consumption also cost the taxpayer in terms of policing. It’s estimated that alcoholism and alcohol abuse could be costing the UK economy around £21 billion each year.

Is abstinence really necessary?

Giving up alcohol entirely is never a bad idea. This applies to people who may be able to drink within the Government’s fourteen unit a week guideline. If you have a history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, then giving up entirely is really a goal you should be setting for yourself. Complete abstinence is the only guaranteed way to ensure that your drinking will not spiral out of control.

It’s important to realise that alcoholism cannot be cured. Abstinence is the only possible way to arrest your alcoholism. Even if you have not drunk alcohol for many years, having ‘just one drink’ could rollback all of the good work you have made in your recovery.

What are my treatment options?

It’s best to seek out treatment as soon as you recognise the symptoms of alcoholism. Delaying your treatment could be fatal. Many people die from alcoholism unexpectedly. You underestimate the dangers of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at your peril. Many people inflicted with alcoholism delay treatment until they have hit rock-bottom. This practice is positively dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.

Instead, seek out addiction treatment before it is too late. If you feel you cannot control your drinking, then now is the time to seek out treatment. You can discover your drinking options by contacting our free helpline today on 0800 140 4690.

Your treatment needs are best served at an inpatient alcohol rehab clinic. You will be able to continue your treatment over a longer period of time via an outpatient programme. The amount of time you require in a residential clinic is dictated by the severity of your addiction and any possible dual-diagnosis issues you are experiencing.