For most people, alcohol is a substance to be enjoyed in moderation with friends or family members. They would never consider drinking alone and view alcohol as something to partake in socially. However, for others, alcohol is a substance that they have come to depend on. It is something that has taken over their lives to the point where it is having negative consequences on them and the rest of their family members. They have developed an alcohol addiction.
It is very easy to forget that alcohol is a highly addictive chemical substance as it is legally available and, for the most part, encouraged. It regularly appears on television and in movies and is generally associated with people having fun or relaxing. It is, therefore, easy to see why so many individuals are oblivious to the fact that it can cause so much harm. Recent studies have shown that many middle-aged men continue to drink more than the recommended weekly alcohol amount and still believe that drinking heavily will not do them any harm. Some even think that drinking in moderation is good for health.
Abuse of alcohol constitutes drinking more than the government’s weekly guidelines, which are currently set at fourteen units for both men and women. The guidelines for men were lowered to fourteen in January 2016, having previously been set at twenty-one per week until that time. Shockingly, statistics show that many men were actually drinking more than the previous guidelines, with some admitting to drinking over fifty units per week.
Recent studies have also shown that many people in the UK are regularly drinking their fourteen units of alcohol in one session. The government guidelines recommend that the fourteen units be spread across the entire week, with a number of days kept alcohol-free.
Most people do not drink enough alcohol to get drunk, but here in the UK, there is a culture of binge drinking where people go out with the intention of getting intoxicated. Regular binge drinking sessions can be as harmful to health as drinking heavily every day.
Abuse of alcohol often leads a person to develop an addiction. Addiction is classed as a pattern of behaviour that causes an adverse impact on an individual’s life. Alcohol addiction is recognised as an illness of the brain that changes its function and structure.
The brain consists of billions of neurons that direct every action and thought. It is a complicated organ that carries out remarkable work within the body. Messages are transmitted from the brain to other parts of the body in the form of electrical impulses that pass from one neuron to another. In order for these electrical impulses to move across the gap from one neuron to the next, the brain uses chemicals known as neurotransmitters.
When a person drinks alcohol, dopamine is released. Dopamine is also known as the body’s ‘feel-good’ chemical, and this is what gives the person drinking alcohol that surge of pleasure or feeling of wellbeing. The feel-good chemical is not just released by the intake of alcohol and it ‘teaches’ the body to seek out pleasurable things such as good food or sex. Nevertheless, in some individuals, alcohol begins to take over and overstimulates the body’s reward system causing large quantities of these chemicals to be released. This means that these people feel very good when they have a drink, and they quickly develop a strong desire to have another drink. Over time, as the person continues to drink alcohol, he or she may begin to find that his/her control over their use starts to diminish. The repeated use of alcohol changes the way the brain functions; some neurons are altered, and some are damaged. A part of the brain that tends to be most affected by alcohol abuse is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for decision-making and judgement.
As the function of the brain changes, the person’s behaviour begins to change too. The individual may start to exhibit stronger urges for alcohol, and this urge can start to take over their life to the point where other important things take second place. Pretty soon, the affected individual finds it almost impossible to resist the urge to drink, even though he or she knows that doing so will lead to negative consequences. This is when the person has become addicted and no longer has the ability to stop drinking.
Alcohol abuse is detrimental to health and a person’s wellbeing. Those who are affected by alcohol addiction are at risk of developing a host of physical and mental health problems including liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety disorder, dementia, and some forms of cancer.
Alcohol is linked to hundreds of illnesses, but it affects more than just a person’s health. This is an illness that can completely take over the lives of those affected and it can leave them with nothing. It is not uncommon for alcoholics to lose their jobs, their homes and their families because they cannot quit drinking.
Alcohol addiction is known as a family illness due to the fact that every single member of the family is affected by one person’s addiction. The effect of alcoholism on a family can be devastating, with members all reacting in different ways. Some become confused and distressed while others want to do everything they can to ‘fix’ their loved one.
Some family members will blame themselves while others will experience feelings of anger and resentment. All of these emotions will impact on the family dynamic and can have grave consequences for all involved.
Some family members may become obsessed with their addicted loved one to the point where they can be described as co-dependent. This means that they have become dependent on the addict to the detriment of their own happiness and wellbeing. Every aspect of their life revolves around the addicted individual, and they may start to cover up for their loved one, rationalise his/her behaviour, withdraw from their own social life, blame themselves, or try to control the addict.
Many family members are of the opinion that all their loved one has to do to get better is ‘stop drinking’. And while this may make sense, it is not always that easy. The inability to quit drinking is the reason the individual has developed an addiction in the first place.
Alcohol addiction is not about having no willpower; those affected by this terrible illness simply have no control over their actions. They may even be unable to recognise that they actually have a problem. Denial is common among addicts, and even though their illness is evident to those who love them, to themselves it is not a big deal. This can make it very difficult for family members to get their addicted loved one into recovery; difficult, but not impossible.
One of the best ways to encourage someone with an alcohol addiction to seek help is through an intervention. In an ideal world, your loved one will already know that he/she needs help, and then an intervention can be used to encourage him or her to take the next step towards recovery.
Nonetheless, in most instances, alcoholics are in denial about their problem. The intervention can then be used to force him or her to recognise how the illness is affecting those closest to them. Interventions are an effective method for helping those affected by addiction to accept their problem and to agree to get help.
An intervention can be described as a meeting with a group of people the addict respects and loves. It may be led by a professional facilitator or, where there is a strong family unit, it can be conducted without professional help. It is best used when all other attempts to get the addicted individual to seek help have failed.
If you or someone you love has been affected by an alcohol addiction, do not despair. Although alcoholism is a destructive illness, it can be treated. Many people with very severe addictions have been able to overcome their problems with the right help and support; here at Recovery.org.uk, we believe that you can too.
We are here to make sure that as many people as possible can access treatment and support for alcohol addiction, and we do this by offering a free referral service. We work with organisations all over the UK and overseas and will ensure that any treatment provider we recommend will be right for your circumstances. Call us today for more information on how we can help you.