Alcohol abuse is drinking to the level where it damages your health, becoming dependent on alcohol. You could have been drinking to excess for years or just for a few months; either way, this is still classed as alcohol abuse. You’ll likely know that drinking too much harms your help, but you can’t stop.

The NHS recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. That’s 6 pints of 4% beer or 6 medium glasses of wine. If you drink more than this, you could be abusing alcohol.

Signs Of Alcohol Abuse And Dependence

You could be reading this if you’re concerned about a loved one or friend and want to help. Or you may be seeking guidance yourself as you’re fed up with abusing alcohol and want to kick the habit.

Some people go to great lengths to hide a drinking problem as they feel embarrassed and ashamed. Others don’t think they have a problem and get cross if people interfere.

Here are some signs to look out for:  

  • Increased tolerance to drinking. You have to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol.
  • You’re drinking to excess and your drinking sessions are lasting longer.
  • You drink alcohol to stop the effects of a hangover. It’s become routine for you to drink. You’re becoming used to the feeling that alcohol gives you and don’t like to feel sober.
  • When you stop drinking, you get withdrawal symptoms such as shaky hands, sweating, mood swings and feeling sick.
  • Drinking in secret, hiding alcohol at home or work.
  • You’re thinking about alcohol all the time —where to buy it from and when you can have another drink.
  • Work, family life and relationships are going downhill. You’re not doing well at work, you’ve lost your job and you’re arguing with friends and family.
  • You’re borrowing, stealing or selling things to get money for alcohol.
  • Spending time with groups of heavy drinkers rather than your usual social group.

What Are The Short Term Risks to My Health?

People who drink large amounts of alcohol put themselves in immediate danger as their judgment becomes impaired. They often take risks or act irresponsibly. If you’ve found yourself in any of these situations, it’s likely you have a drinking problem and should seek help:

  • You’ve become violent or have been a victim of violence.
  • Involvement in risky sexual activity such as unprotected sex.
  • Caused injuries to yourself that have needed hospital treatment.
  • Had short-term alcohol poisoning that required a hospital stay.

What Are The Long Term Health Risks?

Everyone knows that large and regular amounts of alcohol isn’t good for their health. After drinking, you may feel shaky, have a headache and feel sick. These are often short-term symptoms, and you may brush them off, thinking they are temporary. But did you know that alcohol creates lasting damage to the body? You often can’t see the damage that alcohol is causing, but here’s a list of conditions and diseases:

  • Increased mental health problems. Alcohol intensifies pre-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. If you’re already struggling to manage your mental health, excess alcohol can make it worse.
  • Alcohol poisoning. If you drink too much, you could collapse, be sick and have a seizure due to excess alcohol in your blood.
  • Alcohol makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood around your body, causing heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure.
  • Liver disease and liver failure. Excess alcohol prevents your liver from producing new cells to filter toxins such as alcohol from your blood.
  • Breast, bowel and mouth cancer. Alcohol contains chemicals that damage DNA contained in cells — excess alcohol often leads to cancer.

I Want To Stop Abusing Alcohol – Where Can I Get Help?

It’s fantastic that you’ve recognised that you have a drinking problem —this is the first step to your recovery.

Speak to your doctor about your problem. Don’t hold back from telling them about your drinking levels, routines and how it’s affecting your life. Your doctor will advise ways to cut back on your drinking, refer you to a support service or signpost you to organisations that offer general advice, such as Drinkaware.

If you or your doctor think you need intensive support from an alcohol treatment centre, they will recommend local centres that specialise in helping people beat alcohol abuse. You can receive treatment as an inpatient or as an outpatient at home; it all depends on the level of your alcohol abuse.

Alcohol support groups such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) can also help, advising on support groups near you or local treatment centres.

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What Are My Treatment Options?

The type of treatment you receive depends on how long you’ve been abusing alcohol and how much you drink. Whether you’ve been drinking heavily for years or a few months, both are damaging to your health, and you’ll need treatment to help you kick the habit.

  • Staying at an alcohol rehabilitation centre – These specialist units provide a package of support that focuses on helping people get off and stay off alcohol. You’ll complete a supervised alcohol detox, assisted by medical staff who monitor any withdrawal effects. They sometimes prescribe medicines to help you stop drinking.

After your detox, you’ll receive individual counselling such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help you get to the roots of your alcohol abuse. CBT also gives you strategies to change your feelings, thoughts and actions. Group counselling is encouraged, as you’ll find inspiration and support from others in the same situation.

  • Medicines – Your doctor can prescribe medication that stops alcohol withdrawal symptoms and helps curb urges to drink alcohol. These medicines have proven to be very effective in assisting people in staying away from alcohol.
  • Counselling – individual, as part of a group or with your family. Alcohol abuse can damage relationships and cause massive family rifts. Family therapy brings together members of your family that have been affected, helping each other heal and understand each other better.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 22, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.

Dr Adel Ghaly

    Dr Adel Ghaly - Clinical Reviewer - Last reviewed: December 14, 2023

    MB BCh, Psychological Medicine (Substance Misuse Psychiatry) from 2002

    Dr Adel Ghaly is a registered Doctor who is a specialist psychiatrist. Dr Ghaly gained an MB BCh in 1982 from Assiut University and has since become a substance misuse specialist and psychiatrist. After gaining his qualification in Psychological Medicine (Substance Misuse Psychiatry) in 2002, Dr Ghaly has worked in hospitals and as a specialist trainer recognised by the GMC.