In the United Kingdom, alcohol is deeply ingrained in our culture, with many people enjoying a pint at the pub or a glass of wine at home in the evening. For most people, low-level, infrequent alcohol consumption is a social activity that does not lead to significant issues and in some cases may be an effective way to reduce stress and let off a little steam.
However, for others, alcohol use can spiral out of control, leading to alcohol addiction, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Recognising the signs of alcoholism and understanding the risks, symptoms and effects, are critical for those who are struggling to get the help they need.
What is alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, is a chronic, progressive illness characterised by:
- A strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
- Inability to control or reduce alcohol consumption
- Development of tolerance (needing more alcohol to achieve the desired effect)
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Continued alcohol use despite negative consequences to physical, mental or social wellbeing
Am I addicted to alcohol?
Recognising the signs of alcohol addiction as soon as possible is crucial for seeking appropriate help. Because alcohol consumption is socially accepted and common, however, it can be difficult to identify when your drinking habits have crossed the line into alcohol addiction.
To assess your relationship with alcohol, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I frequently think about when I can have my next drink?
- Have I ever lied to others about how much I drink?
- Do I drink to cope with stress, anxiety or other negative emotions?
- Have I experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, sweating or nausea when I haven’t had a drink?
- Do I need to drink more than I used to in order to achieve the desired effect?
- Have my relationships or work performance suffered because of my drinking?
- Have I tried and failed to cut back or quit drinking?
- Do I continue to drink despite the negative consequences?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to seek help for alcohol addiction.
How does alcohol addiction develop?
There are various routes to alcohol addiction with many people not realising they have become addicted to alcohol before it is too late. To illustrate a few different routes, consider the stories of three fictional characters: Alice, Bob and Claire.
Alice – alcohol addiction through early exposure and stress
Alice was exposed to alcohol at an early age, as her parents often drank at home. As she grew older, she began drinking more frequently to cope with stress and anxiety. Over time, Alice’s tolerance to alcohol increased, and she needed more of it to feel relaxed. Eventually, her alcohol consumption became impossible for her to control and began interfering with her daily life, job and relationships.
Bob – alcohol addiction to soothe unpleasant emotions
Bob had a successful career and was well-respected in his community but after a series of personal setbacks, he began drinking more heavily to numb his emotions. Although Bob was able to maintain a semblance of normalcy in his life, his drinking started affecting his performance at work and his relationships with family and friends. Bob’s reliance on drinking grew stronger, and he found it increasingly difficult to quit, eventually realising he was addicted to alcohol.
Claire – alcohol addiction due to trauma
Claire was a social drinker who rarely drank alone. However, after a traumatic event, she turned to alcohol as a way to escape her feelings. As Claire became more dependent on alcohol, she started drinking more frequently, even when alone. Eventually, she realised that she needed alcohol just to function and was unable to stop drinking, even though she wanted to.
While these three characters are fictional, their stories are very typical of the people we meet at Oasis Runcorn who are seeking help for alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction is always a symptom of deeper issues as drinking is used as a coping mechanism.
Why is alcohol addiction more common than other addictions?
Alcohol addiction is more prevalent than other forms of addiction due to several factors which contribute to the widespread nature of alcohol use and abuse:
Compared to many other addictive substances, alcohol is relatively inexpensive. This lower cost makes it more accessible to a broader range of people, increasing the likelihood of developing an addiction. In contrast, most illicit drugs, while carrying a huge potential for addiction, tend to be more expensive and so while the rate of addiction among users is high, the total number of people addicted is lower.
Alcohol is legally available for purchase in most countries, making it more accessible than many other addictive substances and contributing to its increased use and the higher likelihood of addiction.
Alcohol consumption is widely accepted and even celebrated in many cultures. This social acceptance “normalises” alcohol use, making it more likely for people to consume alcohol without considering the potential risks associated with addiction. In contrast, the use of other addictive substances is often stigmatised and less socially acceptable, which may deter some people from experimenting with them.
Accessibility for young people…
Although there are age restrictions on purchasing alcohol, it is often relatively easy for young people to obtain it through friends, family members or other means. This early exposure to alcohol can greatly increase the likelihood of developing an addiction, as young people’s brains are still developing and may be more susceptible to the addictive properties of alcohol.
Given the widespread availability and social acceptance of alcohol, most people are exposed to alcohol use or positive alcohol messaging at some point in their lives. This exposure can contribute to a higher likelihood of developing an addiction, as people are more inclined to experiment with alcohol and potentially develop an addiction.
Who is most at risk of developing an addiction to alcohol?
Although anyone can develop an alcohol addiction, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of addiction. These include:
- Genetic predisposition: A family history of alcoholism can greatly increase the risk of developing alcohol addiction.
- Early exposure to alcohol: People who begin drinking at a young age are also more likely to develop an alcohol addiction later in life.
- Trauma and mental health disorders: Anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders can increase the risk of alcohol addiction as people drink to soothe or escape symptoms.
- Peer pressure: Spending time with friends who drink heavily can influence your drinking habits and ultimately lead to addiction.
- Stress: High levels of stress can lead to increased alcohol consumption and, subsequently, addiction.
What are the health symptoms of alcoholism?
Alcohol addiction can have numerous negative health consequences, including:
- Liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver failure
- Heart problems, such as high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat
- Pancreatitis and other digestive issues
- Weakened immune system
- Brain damage, including memory loss and impaired cognitive function
- Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
- Increased risk of certain cancers
What are the effects of alcohol addiction on your life?
The impact of alcohol addiction extends beyond health, affecting various aspects of your life, including:
- Strained relationships with family and friends
- Poor job performance or job loss
- Difficulty concentrating and learning new information
- Legal issues, such as DUIs or alcohol-related offences
- Financial problems resulting from excessive spending on alcohol or inability to maintain employment
- Social isolation as a result of prioritising alcohol over other aspects of life
What is functioning alcoholism?
Functioning alcoholism, sometimes referred to as high-functioning alcoholism, is a term used to describe individuals who maintain a relatively “normal” life while struggling with alcohol addiction. These people may have successful careers, maintain relationships and appear healthy on the surface, but they are still addicted to alcohol. Some signs of functioning alcoholism include:
- Drinking alone or in secret
- Rationalising or justifying alcohol consumption
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Neglecting personal responsibilities due to alcohol use
It is important to note that functioning alcoholism is not a sustainable state. Over time, the negative effects of alcohol addiction will likely become more apparent and the person’s ability to maintain a facade of normalcy will diminish.
How is alcohol addiction treated?
Alcohol addiction is typically treated through a combination of:
- Alcohol detox: This involves the safe and gradual removal of alcohol from the body. This process should always be supervised by medical professionals as withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening in severe cases.
- Alcohol rehab: This focuses on addressing the underlying causes of alcohol addiction and teaching coping strategies for long-term recovery. It may involve individual and group therapy, family therapy and other evidence-based treatments tailored to individual needs.
How to get help for alcohol addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, it’s essential to seek help as soon as possible. Oasis Runcorn offers professional alcohol addiction help to help you beat your addiction and maintain lasting recovery.
Our team of experienced professionals is dedicated to helping individuals overcome addiction and reclaim their lives. Contact Oasis Runcorn today to begin the journey toward a healthier, alcohol-free future.