Alcohol is our favourite drug. Most of us use it for enjoyment, but for some of us, drinking can become a serious problem. Most people don’t realise that alcohol causes much more harm than illegal drugs like heroin and cannabis. It is a tranquilliser, it is addictive and it helps to cause many hospital admissions for physical illnesses and accidents.
Problems with alcohol
Many of these problems are caused by having too much to drink at the wrong place or time. They include: fights, arguments, money troubles, family upsets, spur-of-the-moment casual sex. Alcohol can make you do things you would not normally do. Drinking alcohol can help cause accidents at home, on the roads, in the water and on playing fields.
Problems with alcohol – physical health
Being very drunk can lead to severe hangovers, stomach pains (this is called gastritis), vomiting blood, unconsciousness and even death. Drinking too much over a long period of time can cause liver disease and increases the risk of some kinds of cancer. But there is good news for men over 40 and women of menopausal age – for them very moderate drinking may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Problems with alcohol – mental health
Although we tend to think of alcohol as something we use to make us feel good, heavy drinking can make you badly depressed. Many of the people who commit suicide have drinking problems. Alcohol can stop your memory from working properly and in extreme cases cause brain damage. In some people alcohol can cause them to hear imaginary voices. This is usually a very unpleasant experience and can be hard to get rid of.
Alcohol is addictive. It is a bad sign if you find you are able to hold a lot of drink without getting drunk. You know you are hooked if you do not feel right without a drink or need a drink to start the day.
Dealing with alcohol problems
If you are worried about your drinking or a friend’s drinking, then you should take steps to make changes as early as possible. It is much easier to cut back before drinking problems damage your health than it is once they are out of hand.
It may be enough to keep a diary of your drinking and then to cut down if you find you have been drinking too much. It helps if you can talk your plans over with a friend or relative. Do not be ashamed to own up to the problem. Most real friends will be pleased to help and you may find they have been worried about you for some time.
If you find it hard to change your drinking habits then try talking to your GP or go for advice to a council on alcohol. If you feel you cannot stop because you get too shaky or restless and jumpy, then your doctor can often help with some medication for a short time. If you still find it very difficult to change then you may need specialist help.
We all find it hard to change a habit, particularly one that plays such a large part in our lives. There are three steps to dealing with the problem:
- Realising and accepting that there is a problem.
- Getting help to break the habit.
- Keeping going once you have begun to make changes.
It is at this stage that you may find that you have been using alcohol as a way of handling stress and worries. A psychiatrist or a psychologist may be able to help you find ways of overcoming these worries that does not involve relying on drink.
Groups where you meet other people with similar problems can often be very helpful. Groups may be on self-help like Alcoholics Anonymous or arranged by an alcohol treatment unit.
Most people dealing with their drink problems do not need to go into hospital. Some people will need to get away from the places where they drink and the people they drink with. For them, a short time in an alcohol treatment unit may be necessary. Drugs are not used very often except at first for “drying out” (also known as “detoxification”). It is important to avoid relying on tranquillisers as an alternative.
Most people with drinking problems are just like the rest of us, but there are some who are going to need extra help, such as the homeless. They may need a place to stay while they kick the habit and make a new start in their lives.
Although beating a drink problem may be hard at first, most people manage it in the end and are able to lead a normal life.