Alcohol abuse

Alcohol is a big part of our society. We drink to celebrate successes, to wish others congratulations, and even to support or commiserate friends. When you’re having a tough day, colleagues joke about deserving that G&T after work. When catching up with friends, they may share plans to unwind and relax with a glass (or bottle) or wine.

While in moderation, drinking isn’t considered a serious issue - it’s when our drinking becomes excessive or something we rely on, it can be a cause for concern. If you or someone you care about has begun turning to alcohol to help them cope with day-to-day life, big stressful events, or difficult emotions, it can be a sign that they have a problem.

Alcohol dependency (also known as alcoholism, alcohol addiction, or being an alcoholic) is the uncontrollable desire for alcohol. Like any other addiction, alcohol dependence can be incredibly hard to break. It can affect your life in many different ways, harming your mind, body and relationships. Over time, it can affect those around you too.

Problem drinking isn’t always easy to identify. You may not notice when alcohol goes from being part of your social life, to shaping your whole life and the choices you make. Please know: support is available. With the help of professional advice and guidance, treatment options such as counselling, hypnotherapy, and support groups can help you to overcome addiction.

What is alcohol addiction?

Being dependent on alcohol means you feel like you’re unable to relax or enjoy yourself without a drink. You may feel like you’re unable to function at all without drinking, and that it has become an important, or the most important, factor in your life. 

Alcohol dependency doesn’t have to mean you drink a lot at all times, or that you binge-drink on certain days of the week. If you are drinking alcoholic drinks regularly - be that as a way to unwind, or cope with particularly stressful situations - you are likely to have at least a degree of alcohol dependency.

According to the NHS Statistics on Alcohol, England 2020 report, we have seen a 6% year on year increase in the number of hospital admissions where the main cause for concern was drinking alcohol. Over the space of 10 years, figures have risen by 19%, with 358,000 people being admitted between 2018/19 alone. In 2018, 5,698 deaths were attributed to alcohol. Men (38%) and women (19%) aged 55 to 64 were found to be drinking the most, usually drinking 14 or more units per week - higher than the recommended guidelines.

An estimated 9% of men and 3% of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence. This can happen at any age, to anyone, no matter what their background. 

What causes alcohol dependency?

The causes of alcohol dependency can vary. There are a number of factors thought to contribute to an individual developing alcohol dependence. It can stem from using drink as a way to cope with big stressful life events, such as bereavement or redundancy, or as a way to numb day-to-day stresses, anxiety or worries. Drinking alcohol may seem like nothing - a normal part of your life - and you may not think it’s a problem at first, but over time, relying on alcohol as a way of emotional support will become second-nature to you. When you immediately turn to drink instead of other ways of dealing with a situation, it is a cause for concern.

Your environment and past experiences can also contribute to developing a dependency on alcohol. For example, if you saw members of your family using alcohol as a way to unwind and cope, you may develop similar coping mechanisms. Whether we realise it or not, those around us - family, friends, even media depictions of people we look up to - can all have an impact on our behaviour, how we approach problems, and what we do to try and manage our own issues.

What health problems can be caused by alcohol addiction?

Misusing alcohol, or drinking in a way that is harmful such as binge-drinking, regularly exceeding the number of recommended units in a week, or drinking your total number of weekly units over fewer than three days can have both short and long term health impacts.

These include:

  • An increased likelihood of experiencing an accident or injury that needs treatment at a hospital.
  • Increased chance of being the victim of violence, or of showing violent behaviours yourself.
  • A higher chance of undertaking risky behaviours that may put yourself or others at risk (eg. unprotected sex or reduced inhibition leading to taking unnecessary risks with your safety).
  • Alcohol poisoning (which can lead to seizures, unconsciousness, or vomiting).
  • Mental health issues, including insomnia, depression or anxiety.
  • A suppressed immune system.
  • Birth defects (if you continue to drink whilst pregnant).
  • A negative impact on your sex life, including loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, or trouble climaxing.

Over time, drinking too much alcohol can increase your chance of experiencing serious health conditions including heart or liver disease, stroke, pancreatitis, or multiple forms of cancer (liver, mouth, breast, bowel). On a social level, prolonged alcohol abuse can affect your job, romantic and family relationships, and can even lead to homelessness.  

What are the signs of a drinking problem?

Like many other drugs, alcohol can be both physically and psychologically addictive. If you’re worried about your own drinking habits, or someone else’s, here are some of the signs to look out for.

  • Worrying about when your next drink will be and planning social, family and work events around alcohol.
  • Your mood seems to swing from one extreme to another, or you feel extremely irritable for no good reason.
  • You no longer feel you have the ability to stop drinking, even if you want to.
  • Making excuses to drink (for example to deal with stress, to relax and unwind, or to ‘feel normal’), hiding your drinking or drinking alone.
  • Drinking early in the day, or feeling the need to drink in the morning.
  • Feeling the need to drink when under pressure or during stressful situations.
  • When you don’t drink, you experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking and nausea, and these stop when you do drink.  
  • Becoming distant or isolated from friends and family members.
  • Being unable to remember things or having gaps in your memory (these can be signs of short-term memory loss or temporary blackouts).
  • Choosing to drink rather than take care of other responsibilities or obligations.

If you recognise any of the above signs in yourself or are worried about a friend, know that there is help available. If you’re worried about your own drinking but don’t feel comfortable speaking to friends, you can talk to your GP or a professional - like a counsellor. There are also support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where you can seek support from those who know what you’re going through.

If you’re worried about a friend, approaching the subject may be difficult, but letting them know you are concerned and are there if they need you can help. It’s important you speak to them calmly and without judgement. Share your concern without being accusatory, and let them know that you are there to support them through their journey.

If they’re not ready to talk right now, that’s OK, don’t push them. Addiction can take over a person’s life, and they may feel like they have no control, so support them as much as you can while they work things out.

How can hypnotherapy help with alcohol addiction?

Hypnotherapy is an approach that many people find to be incredibly effective, especially when combined with other forms of treatment.

The thing with addiction is that, often, there are a number of underlying issues that have led to the problem. Whether it be a traumatic event, a past experience or a number of stressors, if you have turned to alcohol or another substance as a way of self-medicating, the issue hasn’t been dealt with. Somewhere deep down, the effects are still there, quietly fuelling your addiction.

Hypnotherapy looks to change the way you think and behave in certain situations. Hypnosis for drinking aims to access your unconscious (the part of your mind that runs without you knowing), and using suggestion techniques, help you change the negative thoughts and behaviours associated with the addiction.

”The power and effectiveness of hypnosis in helping people overcome their addictions is such that it has garnered a considerable amount of attention in recent years thanks to its overall effectiveness at reaching the subconscious mind and changing the mental attitude of patients so that they were more likely to overcome their drug or alcohol addiction.”

- Hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi discusses hypnosis for drug and alcohol addictions.

How does hypnotherapy work?

The hypnotherapist will encourage you to enter a state of deep relaxation. It is in this trance-like state that it’s believed that your unconscious is more open to suggestion. Using suggestion techniques, the hypnotherapist will look to change the way you react to certain things. In hypnotherapy for alcohol addiction, for example, the suggestions would be tailored to your triggers, changing the way you react and help you not crave alcohol. Suggestions may include not needing to drink anymore, or associating alcohol with an unpleasant taste or smell.

Some hypnotherapists may also teach you self-hypnosis techniques, to help you continue your work and cope with any potential triggers, long after sessions are over. Find out more about hypnotherapy and hypnosis, how they work, and what you can expect from a session. 

How can I manage my drinking problem?

Reducing your alcohol intake has many benefits -  mentally, physically, and financially. Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially if you are in some way alcohol dependent.

While counselling and hypnotherapy can help you understand and overcome any underlying issues, there are some steps you can practise to help yourself.

  • Try and reduce the amount you drink in the week, like alcohol-free days or weekend only-drinking.
  • Limit your exposure to alcohol. It’s OK to say no to social events if you’re not ready.
  • Try alternatives. Consider mocktails or alcohol-free occasions with friends.
  • Ask your partner to join you in cutting down. Having support can make things feel much easier.
  • Try and find alternative forms of stress relief. Replace drinking with going on a walk or doing something you previously enjoyed that you may not have done in a while.
  • Talk about how you feel. Instead of keeping your concerns to yourself and drinking as a way of a solution, talk about your worries. You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be.
  • Track your progress. Drinkaware has a great online portal where you can track your progress, find support and celebrate achievements.

Addiction can be incredibly isolating. You may feel like you’re stuck with no control, but know that support is available and you can get better.

If you’re not ready to speak to a professional, there are a number of charities and support groups across the UK that may be helpful, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Drinkline, a free confidential helpline (0300 123 1110). You can also use the NHS website to find local alcohol addiction services in your area. 

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