Alcohol addiction

Alcohol is a socially acceptable and legal substance that can be found in almost every corner of the world. From celebrations to commiserations, alcohol is often present. However, for some people, what starts as social drinking can quickly spiral into a destructive addiction that takes over every aspect of their lives. Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that affects millions of people worldwide and it’s time we shed some light on this often-overlooked problem.

Alcohol addiction - alcoholic man

Alcohol abuse in the UK

Despite its popularity, it is important to keep in mind that excessive drinking can lead to addiction and carries significant health risks with long-term use. According to a study done by the NHS:

  • 280 thousand estimated admissions to hospital in 2019/20 where the main reason was attributable to alcohol
  • 65% of the patients admitted for alcohol-related issues were male
  • 167 thousand prescription items were dispensed in 2020/21 to treat alcohol dependence

What is alcohol addiction?

Alcohol addiction is defined as a chronic and progressive disease that is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to drink, a lack of control over the amount consumed, physical dependence on alcohol and tolerance

The term alcoholism has been a common term for ages but there has been an increased effort towards embracing more modern and less offensive terminology such as alcohol use disorder (AUD) – which encompasses any form of drinking that contributes to long-term struggles in life.

Common characteristics of alcohol addiction include when a person:

  • Consumes large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time
  • Has difficulty reducing consumption
  • Acquiring and drinking alcohol takes up a great deal of time
  • The uncontrollable desire for alcohol
  • Usage results in not fulfilling responsibilities
  • Social issues, health problems,
  • Usage results in taking high risks,
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur when stopping

What is a functional alcoholic?

A functioning alcoholic is someone who can function as normal, such as doing their job and looking after their children, while addicted to alcohol. This often puts people in denial about their drinking, as they think they don’t have an issue if they haven’t been fired or divorced. However, the individual will still experience mental, emotional and physical stress such as interrupted sleep patterns or fatigue.

This type of problematic drinking can have serious effects on personal safety and those close to the person. It is important to recognise when you or a loved one has become a functional alcoholic and take effective measures to mitigate any harm caused by their consumption patterns.

How does alcohol addiction /alcohol use disorder develop?

Alcohol addiction, more accurately referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a complex and debilitating condition that develops over time, through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Environmental factors can range from peer influences to stress or anxiety, poverty or family dynamics – highlighting its multifaceted nature.

Affected individuals have difficulty controlling their drinking, leading to negative consequences in many areas of health, life experience and well-being. These difficulties may occur despite the negative consequences being clear and understood.

Alcohol addiction - person drinking in the park

What are the side effects of alcohol addiction?

Alcohol addiction can have numerous short-term and long-term effects that can lead to serious consequences, both physical and emotional. Common short-term side effects of alcohol consumption may include:

  • Memory lapses
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slowed breathing
  • Vision impairment
  • Extreme shifts in mood
  • Risky behaviour
  • Drink driving
  • Passing out and vomiting

Common long-term side effects of alcohol addiction may include:

  • Nerve Damage
  • Alcoholic liver cirrhosis
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Heart, pancreas and brain disease
  • Respiratory infections
  • Ulcers and stomach breakdown

Do I have alcohol addiction (AUD)?

When evaluating your own/loved one’s alcohol intoxication levels it is important to exclude emotions and answer honestly and without hesitation. Answer the following questions:

  • After the first drink do you find it difficult to say no to another?
  • Do you drink secretly before meeting with people who are drinking to ease anxiety or double drinks when friends/family are not watching
  • Do you often plan to cut down on drinking but it never happens or you can only manage to do so temporarily?
  • Do you regularly cancel or have to re-arrange appointments due to being hungover? Or do you suffer through the event and/or drink more to get through it…
  • Is drinking affecting your relationships, work or social life?
  • Do you spend less time pursuing hobbies, activities, pastimes or being with family and friends in a non-drinking capacity?
  • Does your alcohol consumption result in fights, fallouts and arguments?
  • Has over-drinking resulted in injuries to you or others?
  • Do you drink to start your day or experience withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink every day?
  • Do you feel it becoming difficult to live life without alcohol?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions you should seek professional help immediately.

Is there a difference between alcohol abuse and addiction?

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse is the consumption of alcohol in a manner that puts a person’s health, well-being, or safety at risk. It is often characterised by excessive drinking, high-risk behaviour such as driving while intoxicated, legal issues associated with drinking alcohol and certain social problems linked to drinking. It is important to distinguish that alcohol abuse does not necessarily mean addiction.

Alcohol addiction

Addiction is a complex mental health condition where physical and psychological dependence on substances like alcohol can take hold of an individual’s life. Those affected often report difficulty controlling their intake and experience intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to cut down or stop use altogether.

While awareness around alcohol addiction has increased significantly in recent decades due to better education initiatives and ongoing research within the field of psychology, it is important to recognize there are distinct differences between alcohol abuse and addiction.

What are some common defence mechanisms used by someone with alcohol addiction?

Defence mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect oneself from unpleasant emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Alcohol addiction is a complex condition that can be influenced by various factors, such as genetics, environment and psychological factors. Individuals with alcohol addiction often use defence mechanisms to cope with their addiction.

A defence mechanism used by individuals with alcohol addiction to protect themselves from the reality of their addiction. They may refuse to admit that they have a problem with alcohol or downplay the severity of their addiction. They may also make excuses for their drinking or blame others for their problems. For example, they may say things like “I can quit anytime I want to,” or “I only drink because of my stressful job.”
A defence mechanism used by individuals with alcohol addiction. They may try to justify their drinking by coming up with reasons why it is necessary or acceptable. They may say things like “I only drink to help me relax,” or “I deserve to have a few drinks after a hard day at work.” This helps them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and the impact of their addiction on their lives.
A defence mechanism in which individuals with alcohol addiction may attribute their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to others. They may see other people as having a problem with alcohol or as being judgmental about their drinking. This allows them to avoid acknowledging their own addiction and the negative consequences that it has on their life.

Alcohol addiction - man with excess alcohol

Are you enabling alcohol addiction?

If your loved one is experiencing alcohol addiction, obviously you want to help them in any way possible… but are you enabling their behaviour without realising it?

Signs that you could be enabling someone with alcohol addiction include:

  • Giving them money and supporting them financially
  • Making excuses for their behaviour
  • Ignoring the issue and pretending everything is fine
  • Lying on their behalf to protect them from consequences
  • Taking on their responsibilities or commitments yourself
  • Not following through with set boundaries
  • Putting their needs before your own

As good as your intentions may be, these actions only sustain your loved one’s addiction and delay recovery. Breaking the habit of enabling is not easy and it is important to take care of yourself, find your own support group and seek professional help.

How to get help with alcohol addiction

The path to sobriety from alcohol addiction for you or a loved one is not easy but there is treatment available. Typically the path starts with a medically assisted alcohol detox and is followed by alcohol rehab, which may make use of behavioural therapy to help you comprehensively recover from alcohol addiction.

If you are ready to achieve lasting sobriety, contact Banbury Lodge today to get on your route to a healthy and happy life.

Frequently asked questions

Why do people turn to alcohol?
There are various reasons why people turn to alcohol, including:

  • Socialising: Alcohol is often associated with social gatherings, and people may drink to feel more comfortable or outgoing in social situations.
  • Stress relief: Some people turn to alcohol as a way to cope with stress or to relax after a long day.
  • Emotional numbness: Alcohol can provide a temporary escape from difficult emotions or painful experiences.
  • Peer pressure: In some cases, people may drink because of pressure from friends or family members who drink.
  • Addiction: Over time, some people may develop an addiction to alcohol and continue to drink despite negative consequences.
  • Curiosity: Some people may try alcohol out of curiosity or experimentation.

Excessive alcohol consumption can have negative health effects and can lead to addiction and other problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use, it’s important to seek professional help.

How to stop an alcohol addiction?
Stopping an alcohol addiction involves several steps, often starting with acknowledging the problem and seeking professional help. Treatment typically includes detox, therapy and aftercare. Long-term recovery requires ongoing commitment, lifestyle changes, and support from friends, family, or counsellors.
How to help an alcoholic in denial?
Helping an alcoholic in denial requires a compassionate and non-confrontational approach. Begin by educating yourself about alcoholism to understand the condition better. Express your concerns in a caring and supportive manner, focusing on specific behaviours and their impact. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to assist in finding resources or attending appointments. Patience and persistence are key, as denial can be a significant barrier to seeking help.
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