The facts about alcohol abuse in the UK

There is a proliferation of media articles concerning horror stories or studies on how much alcohol people should consume, but do we really have reason to be concerned or is it just media sensationalising?

It’s time to separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to alcohol abuse and its effects.

Alcohol – the facts

• Alcohol shrinks the brain, and it is this that causes dehydration and that pounding headache the morning after a heavy night

• 33,000 people in the UK die from alcohol-related causes every year. This is ten times higher than the number of people who die in road accidents

• Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a number of serious health conditions. Stomach disorders, cancer, liver damage, brain damage, high blood pressure and problems with the nervous system are just a few of the issues encountered when drinking too much alcohol

• Alcohol-induced liver disease accounts for over half of all liver disease in the UK

• After smoking, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for cancers of the mouth and throat

• Regular heavy drinking amongst men can lead to a number of undesirable side-effects including lower sperm count, genital shrinking and loss of body hair

• Women who drink heavily on a regular basis can increase their risk of breast cancer, become less fertile and experience irregular periods. The risk of breast cancer increases by about 7% for each additional drink women have per day

• Another side effect of excessive alcohol consumption is weight gain. Alcohol is notoriously calorific and high in sugar and just five beers contain a minimum of 900 calories. A standard glass of wine can contain up to 160 calories and a single Long Island Ice Tea cocktail contains 300 calories

• Approximately two in five men and one in seven women drink alcohol to hazardous levels

• The UK has one of the highest rates of binge-drinking in the whole of Europe

• Alcohol abuse isn’t just taking a toll on our bodies, it’s also putting a huge amount of stress on the NHS. Every year, the cost of dealing with the effects of alcohol is a staggering £110 million and this doesn’t include the work of the emergency services

• Many people drink to cheer themselves up after a bad day or to help loosen up in social situations, but alcohol is actually a depressant

• It’s recommended that women consume no more than two to three units of alcohol per day, and for men this is three to four units. It’s also highly advised to practice a couple of alcohol-free days every week as well. Despite this, approximately 11 million people in the UK regularly drink more than the recommended guidelines.

Myths about alcohol consumption

You can sober yourself up quickly – many people wrongly believe that drinking lots of water, eating a large meal or drinking coffee will sober them up quicker. However, nothing can speed up the process and caffeine can actually do more harm than good. The added danger of these practices is that they can give people a false degree of confidence that they’re not impaired when they actually are.

Alcohol can help send you to sleep – a lot of people who suffer from sleep disorders turn to alcohol because it can make you fall asleep very quickly, but booze-fuelled sleep is not quality sleep. This can mean disrupted sleep, waking up earlier than usual the next day and not entering the all-important REM cycle, meaning you’re unlikely to wake up feeling refreshed.

I’m only an alcoholic if I drink all day, every day – one of the dangers of alcohol abuse is incorrectly assuming that someone only has a problem if they’re drinking from the minute they wake up until they go to bed. Many alcoholics have the ability to show self-control over their drinking, may only drink at certain times of the day, and can have dry days.

By doing this, the addict can fool themselves and their loved ones into believing that there’s not a problem. It is an indication of an issue with alcohol if a person has to try hard to avoid drinking.

Getting sober is impossible – when dependent upon something it’s difficult to imagine getting through life without it. Although relapses are a common part of recovery, sobriety is possible and many alcoholics have achieved it.

It’s unlikely that willpower alone is enough to recover from an addiction so it’s important to enlist the help and support of friends and family. Entering a rehab facility and/or speaking to a counsellor greatly improves the chances of successfully overcoming an addiction.

If you think that you or someone you know could have an alcohol addiction, please feel free to visit our Alcohol Addiction Treatment and Rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2016