Alcohol is relatively safe in moderation, but serious health and interpersonal issues can arise when a person drinks excessively. Alcohol use is commonplace in society, especially at celebrations – from birthdays to weddings to funerals and is normalised across many cultures.
Yet, even though it is not harmful in moderation, it can also be problematic when used in excess.
Here Dr Farrukh Alam, lead consultant psychiatrist and medical director of Addcounsel and Orchestrate Health looks at the different types of drinking habits and how to spot when alcohol consumption is a problem.
If you’re worried about your drinking habits, ask yourself if:
- You feel you should cut down on your drinking
- Other people have been criticising your drinking
- You feel guilty or bad about your drinking
- You need to drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover
Someone who drinks in social situations has control of their alcohol intake and doesn’t allow their alcohol consumption to disrupt their personal life or cause any mental health concerns.
Alcohol misuse is alcohol consumption deemed excessive; it is the inability to stop drinking despite negatively impacting a person’s life. Alcohol misuse means that you drink alcohol outside of societal norms and use the substance as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Alcohol use disorder
Alcohol dependence is the most serious type of high-risk drinking and means that you are drinking at a level that can cause harm to your health. Alcohol dependence means that a person cannot function normally without drinking alcohol; at times, it can become the most important factor in someone’s life.
Alcohol use disorder is characterised by a loss of control over one’s alcohol consumption, which can quickly develop into a range of related problems. Consistent excessive use of alcohol can result in impaired judgement, extreme mood swings, severe hangovers, partaking in dangerous behaviour and a need to drink to feel ‘normal’.
Potential physical health problems of alcohol misuse
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart and liver disease
- Cancer of the breast, colon, liver, throat, and mouth
- Weakened immune system.
Potential mental health problems
- Learning and memory problems
- Mood swing
- Increased irritability
Signs to look out for
Excessive alcohol use can have dire effects on the affected individual, whether their level of alcohol use is mild, moderate, or severe. If you believe someone you love may have an alcohol use disorder, some common signs can help you figure it out.
If you wish to help yourself or someone you know who may be affected, speak to a professional as soon as you can.
Approaching a person about their alcohol use can be a touchy subject. The individual may feel attacked or confronted without a careful and informed approach, meaning a positive response is unlikely.
Speak to an addiction professional, like a counsellor or an interventionist. They can guide you on approaching the situation best and help you maintain balance and security.
Dr Farrukh Alam BSc, MBChB, MRCPsych comments: “The factors that can lead to misuse are too many to name – psychological, social, lifestyle and genetic components all have a part to play. Extremely successful and capable individuals can nonetheless find themselves using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the stresses of a difficult professional or personal life.”
“But this merely masks the underlying issues. Anyone from any background can develop a compulsive relationship with alcohol. But with the right help and guidance, it is possible to recover from alcohol addiction and build a healthy, fulfilling future.”
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