Do I have a drinking problem?
Friday night beers. Cocktails with the girls. A cheeky glass of wine after a tough day. Something a bit stronger following a hard week. Meeting mates down the pub. Catching up over brunch and a sneaky drink (or two or three…) – there are so many different ways in which alcohol and drinking culture have become ingrained in our way of life, it can be tough to spot when having a drink to relax starts feeling like needing a drink to relax.
But that’s the problem – many of us have become reliant on alcohol. Whether that’s to help us get through the week as a way to try and ‘manage’ our stress levels or other big, scary things, or if it’s a habit that has started to spiral out of control, more and more of us are struggling with alcohol dependence.
According to the latest figures, an estimated 9% of men and 3% of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence. The NHS Statistics on Alcohol in England 2020 report revealed a 6% year-on-year increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital because of alcohol. Over the space of just 10 years, that number has risen by nearly a fifth (19%). Let’s just take a moment for that to sink in.
Another important factor to remember is that problem drinking doesn’t have a specific ‘look’. It’s easy to make assumptions about what someone with alcohol addiction (an alcoholic) or someone who problem drinks must look like. We see it enough in the headlines – teens and 20-somethings partying, binge-drinking, even assumptions that you can’t have a drinking problem as you only drink a specific kind of alcohol.
The thing is, addiction doesn’t discriminate. Developing an addiction can happen to anyone, no matter what age, gender, or socio-economic background. In fact, according to NHS figures, men (38%) and women (19%) aged 55-64 were found to be drinking the most, with many drinking the recommended maximum of 14 units (or more) each week.
So how can we spot the signs of an unhealthy habit becoming something far more concerning? Is there a way we can spot our own problem drinking and find help before things escalate?
How to spot problem drinking
We’ve all heard it before: if alcohol were a modern invention, it would be treated like any other restricted drug. We might try to dismiss it, but there’s a lot of truth to it. We know alcohol is bad for us; too much can give us a hangover, make us feel tired or have trouble sleeping. It can negatively affect how we look, increase our risks of long-term health conditions, and damage our mental health. But those are just some of the big things – what about all those little things we might not even know to be looking out for?
Learn more about the signs and symptoms
Just as with any addiction, there are many physical, psychological, emotional, and social signs you can keep an eye out for if you are worried about your drinking. The NHS share some of the signs you can look out for – as do we on our problem drinking page. It can be worth asking yourself:
- Do you find yourself thinking or worrying about when your next drink will be?
- Do you try and plan family, work, or social events around alcohol, or arrange get-togethers in places where drinking is considered more expected or normal?
- Have you been experiencing extreme changes in your mood, or feeling irritable without a clear reason why?
- Do you feel like you are in control? Or does your drinking control you?
- Could you stop drinking if you wanted to?
- Have you made excuses – to yourself or others – when you are drinking? Eg, ‘I’m just having a couple of glasses to relax and unwind’, ‘I’ve had a stressful week. I’ve earned this.’
- Do you hide when or how much you are drinking from your friends, family, or loved ones? Do you drink alone frequently?
- Do you start drinking early in the day, or feel like you want or need to drink in the morning?
- Do you find yourself drinking when things feel like ‘too much’, eg when you are under pressure or going through a stressful time?
- Have you experienced any physical symptoms when you don’t drink? This could include sweating, shaking, or nausea.
- Are there any gaps in your memory after you have been drinking?
- Have you prioritised drinking over other responsibilities, obligations, or relationships?
Try a credible self-assessment tool
If you’re unsure of whether you need help and support, there are some reliable online self-assessment tools out there. While we’d like to emphasise that you can always speak up and reach out for help, if you’re worried or unsure about whether or not you can or should speak with a professional, these self-assessment tools can provide you with a little more peace of mind.
DrinkAware have a free, World Health Organisation (WHO) certified self-assessment on their website. Helping you to identify if your relationship with alcohol is about right, or if you may be putting your health at risk, this self-assessment tool is used internationally by medical professionals to help check if people are dependent on alcohol.
Additional free tools to help you track your drinking are also available through DrinkAware, including a calculator which helps you see how much you are drinking compared to the rest of the UK, a unit and calorie calculator, questionnaires to help you better understand what drinking means for you, and ways to help you track and reduce your alcohol intake.
Speak with your GP
No matter how big or small you think your problem drinking may be, your GP is there to help. If you are concerned about your (or a loved one’s) drinking, your GP will be able to discuss what services and treatments are available in your area.
Your GP may assess your alcohol intake using different, widely used screening tests to see whether you need to change your drinking habits and if your drinking has reached a dangerous level. They may also recommend charities that offer judgement-free listening and advice, such as Alcohol Change UK, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Al-Anon Family Groups.
What are my options? When, where, and how to get help for problem drinking
The treatment options available to you can vary depending on how much alcohol you drink, as well as what services are available in your area. Common treatments offered can include:
- Counselling. Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are often recommended, as these forms of counselling look to tackle and change negative thinking patterns and behaviours in order to change emotional or psychological reactions tied to our habits. With therapy, the aim is to understand your underlying feelings and thought processes that may be causing addiction, helping you to gradually learn to control and overcome impulses to drink. Sessions may be recommended one-to-one, as group therapy, or you may be recommended to try a support group. Find out more about the differences between group therapy and support groups, and how they can help you.
- Medication. Typically medication-based treatments last six to 12 months, and involve two different kinds of medication; one to stop symptoms of withdrawal, and another to reduce the urge to drink. This kind of treatment is often recommended in conjunction with talking therapy, as medication alone doesn’t help to identify and address the underlying reasons why your problem drinking has developed.
- Detox. A nurse or doctor may help support you in gradually cutting down how much you are drinking over time, or by giving you medicine to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
It’s important to speak with a medical professional before you stop drinking. If you think you may have a serious drinking problem and experience any symptoms of alcohol dependence, going ‘cold turkey’ (suddenly stopping drinking all alcohol) can cause serious withdrawal symptoms including hallucinations, vomiting, palpitations, convulsions, and a fever. If in doubt, speak with your GP before reducing your alcohol intake.
Can hypnotherapy help with alcohol addiction?
When combined with other forms of treatment and support, many people find hypnotherapy can be an incredibly effective method to help them overcome addictions. Alcohol dependence, as with many other addictions, can have a wide number of different underlying issues that may have lead to your current problem over time. Recognising what these are, how they affect you, and what your triggers are can be one of the first steps towards breaking negative automatic thoughts, altering harmful habits, and retraining your unconscious mind.
Working with a qualified hypnotherapist allows suggestion techniques to be used to help change the ways you react to your triggers – eg, high levels of stress, trouble relaxing, as a way to cope with unexpected change. These suggestions can help you to unconsciously change the way you react to these triggers, helping you to reduce or eliminate cravings.
Many hypnotherapists can also help to teach you self-hypnosis techniques. These can help to reinforce positive suggestions made during your sessions.
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