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Dr Radu Iosub 360X246

Blog reviewed by Dr Radu Iosub (MBBS, MRCPsych, CCT in General Adult and Addiction Psychiatry), Visiting Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Bristol, in June 2022.

It isn’t always easy to recognise when you, or someone you know, is drinking too much. Unhealthy habits can build up gradually, meaning you don’t recognise the impact they are having on your mind and body until later on down the line.

If someone has raised concerns over your drinking, or if you’ve started to worry that alcohol abuse might be a problem for you, there are changes in your behaviour that you can look out for which might indicate you’re drinking too much.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

Alcohol adversely affects health in a range of ways and there is no definitively ‘safe’ lower limit – no level of regular alcohol consumption improves health. The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that both men and women don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. One UK unit is equivalent to 10ml (8g) of pure alcohol, which is the amount that an average healthy adult can break down in around one hour.

These are examples of what one unit of alcohol looks like:

  • Half a pint of lager at 3.6% ABV
  • One single (25ml) measure of spirit at 40% ABV
  • One half of a standard medium (175ml) glass of wine, at 12% ABV

For anyone consuming the maximum weekly amount, guidelines advise that these units are spread over three or more days. If you want to cut down on the amount you’re drinking, it’s healthier to have a few? non-drinking days per week.

Recent studies, like this one in the Lancet, highlighted the fact that no amount of alcohol consumption can be deemed as entirely ‘safe’.

Signs You’re Drinking Too Much Alcohol

These behavioural changes might be considered warning signs that you have a drinking problem.

Signs you're drinking too much

1. People close to you have expressed concern

Do you find people are commenting on how much alcohol you consume? If family, friends and other people close to you are expressing concern about your intake, it could be a warning sign you’re developing a drinking problem.

Or is it that you’ve noticed someone else is drinking too much? If so, there is plenty you can to help and support a friend who has a drinking problem.

2. You self-medicate using alcohol

People are often tempted to reach for alcohol to de-stress or when they need cheering up, but in the long-term it can make you feel worse. Alcohol is a depressant, which can make your mood worse when the initial effects of the alcohol have worn off. If you find yourself reaching for alcohol whenever you feel low, treat it as a potential warning sign.

3. You’ve become secretive about your drinking

Secrecy is a major warning sign of over drinking. If you’ve ever found yourself lying or covering up your alcohol intake when you’re around friends and family, you probably know yourself that you’ve been drinking too much. This could be in words but also actions. For example, you may hide bottle and cans of alcohol in the hope your loved ones don’t discover them.

4. Your work and home life is being affected  

Heavy drinking can bring problems to your professional life and damage relationships with friends and family. Is your drinking causing you to be late for work or row with your partner? If it is but you are continuing to drink, it could be a danger sign of problem drinking.

5. You’ve tried to cut down but couldn’t

If you think you’re drinking too much, you may have tried to cut down at some point. While there are many ways you can reduce your alcohol intake, it might an indicator of how big your drinking problem is if you’ve tried to cut down and not managed to.

“If you’re starting to put in rules and conditions, that in itself is a warning sign that something is going on there, attempts to control. Also when you start to justify it to yourself by saying ‘well that was a bad day’, or ‘it’s getting close to the weekend’.

Pamela Roberts, Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Woking

6. You’re regularly drinking heavily alone

Drinking can be a great addition to a social event, and even drinking alone can be a nice way to relax in small quantities. When it potentially becomes an issue is when you find yourself drinking heavily alone or not as  part of a social event.

7. Everything you do seems to revolve around drinking

Do you find yourself always suggesting social activities that involve alcohol? Do you need a drink as soon as you wake up? If you find it difficult to function in the morning, or socialise with friends, without drinking, it can be a signal that you have a problem that needs addressing.

8. Screening tools suggest you’ve got a drinking problem

These behavioural changes can be tough to spot in ourselves, so an alternative method of assessing your relationship with alcohol would be with a screening test.

One example is CAGE. If you answer “yes” to two or more of the four questions, this can indicate that you may have a drinking problem and need  professional support:

  1. Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had an Eye-opener, such as a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?

Other screening tools you could look at include  the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT). AUDIT is a 10-question screening tool for harmful drinking, developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and outlined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in their guidance for assessing and diagnosing harmful drinking.

H3: 9. You’re experiencing the symptoms of alcohol addiction

These situational or behavioural symptoms aren’t the only warning signs of problem drinking. You might also be experiencing some physical and psychological symptoms of alcohol addiction. Examples include:

Physical

  • Regular headaches
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Excessive sweating in the absence of physical exertion

Psychological 

  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Confusion

These symptoms can occur either during or immediately after drinking heavily, or as part of alcohol withdrawal if you haven’t had a drink in a while.  

The Dangers of Drinking Too much

If you continue to drink high levels of alcohol, there are various side effects and risks that can affect your physical health, mental health and lifestyle, both in the short-term and long-term.

Short-term risks of alcohol addiction

Alcohol affects us very quickly, however much we drink. When it comes to heavy drinking, you’re exposing yourself to some or all of these short-term risks:

  • Vomiting
  • Impaired vision
  • Passing out
  • Alcohol poisoning

Long-term risks of alcohol addiction

There are also the longer-term risks, which can seriously threaten your health and life:

  • Liver damage
  • Cancer
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Nerve damage
  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Increased cardio-vascular risk

The effects of alcohol go beyond the physical. Many people struggling with alcohol addiction find that their drinking damages their relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues, and has a detrimental impact on their mental health.

How To Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

If some of the signs above ring true when it comes to your relationship with alcohol, know that help and support is available in the following ways.

Speak to someone

Acknowledging that you may have a problem with alcohol is a big step, so you should be proud of that. If you want to reduce the amount you drink, a crucial first step is that you talk to someone. This could be a family member, friend, or someone else you trust. Enlisting emotional support will help you recognise that you’re not alone, and will ensure that you have someone by your side as you take your first steps towards recovery.

If you’re not yet ready to speak to a loved one, you could approach your GP for a confidential chat about the issues you’ve been facing. Alternatively, you could speak to an addiction helpline or support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). 

Get some treatment

Today many effective, evidence-led treatments for addiction allow people to become abstinent and regain control of their lives. Treatments include:

  • Alcohol detoxification – a medically assisted detoxification from alcohol that takes place in an inpatient environment where your withdrawal symptoms can be carefully managed
  • Residential alcohol addiction treatment – after detoxing, many people stay within residential inpatient care to focus on recovery in rehab. During rehab, you’ll engage in therapy, support groups and other treatments aimed at securing long-term recovery from addiction
  • Therapy – identify and address the underlying causes of your addiction, and develop coping strategies for dealing with triggers in the future

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction with Priory

Led by a world class team of consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other medical professionals at a network of hospital sites around the UK, Priory’s alcohol rehab care can help you to get your life back on track. 

Priory offers a range of addiction treatment programmes that can be tailored to your individual needs. Whether you need inpatient or residential care, our expert team will be there to support you around the clock. Treatments are also available on an outpatient or day care basis at some of Priory’s hospital sites. These options will allow you to recover from addiction around your other responsibilities.

We also offer a free, no-obligation addiction assessment, where we can speak directly to you about the difficulties you’ve been experiencing and how we can help you regain control of your life. You don’t have to struggle with addiction alone – reach out to Priory today for the support you deserve.

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World-class treatment for addictions makes recovery possible with Priory. Book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT or call us on 0800 840 3219 to speak to one of our compassionate team today.

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