Alcohol Misuse – The Hidden Facts on Addiction

Alcohol abuse and dependence are significant problems for millions of Britons. We know from our experience of working with those in need how devastating abuse and dependence can be. We also know that every case of alcohol abuse and dependence begins with alcohol misuse. If we can get a handle on alcohol misuse within our culture, we can do a better job of reducing the number of people who become abusers or alcoholics.

According to statistics from the Alcohol Concern charity, more than 9 million people in England drink more than they should. Approximately 7.5 million are completely unaware of the harm alcohol is causing them. If you are among those who don’t really understand what alcohol does to the mind and body, the information on alcohol misuse found in this article should be very helpful to you. We urge you to take alcohol misuse seriously.

Alcohol Misuse Defined

The government defines alcohol misuse as “drinking excessively – more than the lower-risk limits of alcohol consumption.” This new definition was adopted in 2016 as a result of the government issuing new alcohol guidelines. The previous guidelines were implemented in 1995, but they are now outdated given all of the scientific knowledge we have gained since then.

Under the old guidelines, it was generally considered safe for men to consume two or three units of alcohol per day, up to 21 total units per week. Women were cautioned to stay at one or two units per day, up to 14 per week. The new guidelines establish lower consumption volumes and apply equally to both men and women. The new guidelines also establish three new categories to measure drinking as follows:

  1. Lower-Risk Drinking – Lower-risk drinking is considered consuming no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. To keep risks as low as possible, the guidelines suggested alcohol consumption be spread across the entire week rather than drinking all 14 units in one or two days.
  1. Increased-Risk Drinking – Increased-risk drinking is considered consuming 15 to 35 units of alcohol per week. The guidelines also call this ‘hazardous drinking’. People who routinely binge on the weekends are likely to be at increased risk of harm under this definition.
  1. Higher-Risk Drinking – The higher-risk drinker is someone who consumes more than 35 units of alcohol per week. The NHS classifies this as ‘harmful drinking’ in that people who consume this much alcohol are likely to experience measurable health-related problems as a direct result of alcohol consumption.

It is important to note that a unit of alcohol is not necessarily equal to one drink. Technically speaking, one unit of alcohol is 10 mL, just about the amount an average adult body can process in one hour. A half-pint of normal strength beer and a single 25 mL serving of spirits both contain about one unit of alcohol. A small glass of wine is equal to about 1.5 units of alcohol, according to the NHS.

Dangers of Alcohol Misuse

The person who consumes more than 14 units of alcohol per week on a regular basis would likely be diagnosed by a health professional as engaging in alcohol misuse. If this sounds like you, you need to know that there are dangers associated with the practice. It is important that you understand that alcohol in any amount is not harmless. Alcohol is a drug that has a very measurable impact on the body and mind.

There are short-term risks associated with alcohol misuse, including:

  • accidents and injuries as a result of careless drinking-related behaviour
  • property loss (mobile phones, keys, wallets and purses, etc.)
  • increased potential for violent behaviour, or being a victim of violence
  • a higher tendency to engage in unprotected sex that could lead to STIs
  • alcohol poisoning that could result in serious injury or death.

There are long-term risks as well. They include an increased risk of:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • liver disease, including liver cancer
  • bowel and oral cancer

Lastly, alcohol misuse can lead to some mental and emotional problems that have the potential of destroying one’s quality of life. It’s not uncommon among those who misuse alcohol to also have trouble with personal relationships (spouses and children), friendships, maintaining steady employment, and getting along with friends and neighbours.

From Misuse to Dependence

The greatest danger of alcohol misuse is its potential to lead to abuse and dependence. As stated at the start of this article, every case of alcohol abuse and dependence begins as alcohol misuse. What many people do not understand is how easily misuse can become abuse and dependence without the drinker ever knowing what is happening. The road from misuse to dependence is a slow and gradual road.

How can you tell if your alcohol misuse has led you to abuse or dependence? By looking for the tell-tale warning signs. For example, alcohol abusers and addicts commonly experience withdrawal symptoms between episodes of drinking. Those symptoms include things like tremors in the hands, excessive sweating, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and hallucinations. Someone who is dependent on alcohol is likely to turn to drinking to relieve the symptoms. This creates an ongoing cycle of drinking, starting withdrawal, and then relief drinking to stop withdrawal from happening.

Alcohol misuse that goes unaddressed can easily create a tolerance-dependence cycle that ultimately leads to alcoholism. When a person reaches that state, he or she is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol for daily survival. It is not a good place to be in.

We urge you to seriously take stock of your own drinking habits while the topic is fresh in your mind. If you routinely exceed the guidelines for lower-risk drinking, you may already be misusing alcohol. Do something now before it becomes alcohol abuse or dependence. We can help by pointing you to an appropriate treatment, or you can contact your GP to set up an office visit. Either way, take action now before your problem gets any worse.

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