According to Alcohol Concern there have been approximately 2,961 alcohol-related deaths in the UK this year.
Over half of UK adults drink on a daily basis. For some it may be a small bonus or reward at the end of the day, but for others this could be a ritual which controls their life. There are an estimated 7.5 million people in the UK who show signs of alcohol dependency. These statistics are a major concern for healthcare specialists as alcohol-related harm costs England around £21 billion a year.
Consultant Psychiatrist and Group Medical advisor for UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT) Dr Mateen Durrani, based at Sanctuary Lodge, Halstead in Essex explains how alcohol dependency can be identified.
Dr Durrani explains, “Alcohol dependency affects people differently. For example, a person could drink excessively until they pass out each weekend but rarely touches a drop during week days. Another person may drink red wine steadily throughout each day but never becomes “drunk”. Both individuals would judge each other’s habits differently. This makes it difficult for people to identify themselves as alcohol dependent, even if drinking is having a damaging effect on their relationships, health and enjoyment of life.
“The new alcohol limit guidelines issues in 2016 by the UK Chief Medical Officers for both men and women states that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This is equivalent to seven pints of beer a week. If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. There is no safe level of drinking for either sex, and there is a lot of clinical evidence that the risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
“Alcohol dependency comes in a variety of forms but the chemistry is the same for everyone. When problematic drinking habits continue over a period of time, it leads to long-lasting electrical changes in the brain. These changes cause compulsive attitudes towards alcohol. The attention of the mind is now focused on finding and consuming more alcohol.
“In the past people saw alcohol dependency as a failure of will or lack of strength of character, this is no longer true. Research in the last few decades has shown that alcoholism is a “bio-behavioural disorder”. Biology and behaviour are two sides of the same coin and alcohol dependency cannot be treated by just focusing on one side alone.
“Physical dependence can follow too. This is when the body adjusts itself to alcohol to the extent that stopping drinking causes withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, feeling sick to your stomach and feeling tired without reason. Even before this point, heavy and prolonged drinking can cause a number of physical symptoms, due to the effect of large amounts of alcohol on the body.
“Alcoholism can work its way into people’s lives unnoticed and there are many factors to take into consideration. Genetics is one of the key contributors, children who have alcohol-addicted parents are four times more likely to develop alcohol addiction. There are environmental factors as well, this could be the influence from family, friends, colleagues and partners. Those who are suffering from stress or difficult life events may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism.”
Drinking causes harm to the body long before the effects can be seen. Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are common results of alcohol dependency. This is because prolonged heavy drinking affects the dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. These are responsible for creating positive feelings that are vital for a healthy mind. The alternation of these levels can lead to deteriorating mental health and negative alcohol use.
Dr Durrani continues, “The first stage of recovery is often a difficult process. Due to alcohol’s addictive properties, completely stopping instantly can be extremely dangerous. The recovery process usually begins with a medically managed detoxification programme to safely remove toxins and physical withdrawal symptoms.
“Alcohol addiction is more than physical, a change has to be made mentally as well. Twelve Step Recovery, Group Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) have consistently proven to be the most effective forms of treatment. Effective recovery is best taken up in a controlled environment with the help of specialists.”
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