When it comes to alcohol, where do you draw the line between treat and habit? Do you ever find yourself drinking to make yourself feel better? And do you know when to stop?

Considering the year we’ve all had, it’s no wonder that many of us are feeling a little more stressed or anxious than usual. But these feelings can cause our drinking to creep up more than we might like it to.

Research from Alcohol Change UK found that over half of UK drinkers have turned to alcohol for mental health reasons during the pandemic, but of that figure, four in ten drinkers said turning to drink actually worsened their mental health. Their research also found that almost one in three people have been drinking at increasing or high-risk levels over the past six months.

Alcohol is a depressant. It may make you feel better at first, ultimately it will exacerbate any existing mental health concerns, particularly anxiety and depression.

Would you consider yourself to have dangerous alcohol habits?

There are messages we tell ourselves to normalise our drinking, which we need to watch out for. These include any of the following reasons:

  • It helps me relax
  • I deserve it, I’ve had a hard day
  • I don’t feel good and alcohol cheers me up
  • My mates drink way more than me, my drinking must be okay
  • Everyone I know drinks
  • I can’t stop drinking yet, I’ve got a big event coming up and don’t want to be anti-social
  • My drinking can’t be that bad, I am still functioning and going to work

Knowing how much is too much can be confusing when it comes to alcohol. Most of us know when we have overdone it (usually the following morning) but it’s the cumulative, long-term effect that can creep up on us. Before we know it, we may have developed a drinking habit without even realising it, and we may be drinking more than we like or should.

As well as the impact on mental health, alcohol overuse is linked to liver disease and seven forms of cancer, as well as other significant health impacts.

Also, alcohol can prevent the absorption of some prescribed medication and may interfere with how effective they can be. Always read the label or speak to a pharmacist.

Alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a disease that affects people of all walks of life. The severity of the disease, how often someone drinks, and the alcohol they consume varies from person to person. Some people drink heavily all day, while others binge drink and then stay sober for a while.

It has no single cause; psychological, genetic, and behavioural factors can all contribute to having the disease, and factors like genetics, sex, race, or socioeconomic group may predispose someone to alcohol addiction.

Addiction can show itself in a variety of ways, depending on the severity of the disease and how often someone drinks. But regardless of how the addiction looks, we typically say someone has an alcohol addiction if they heavily rely on drinking and can’t stay sober for an extended period of time.

Some symptoms of alcohol addiction are:

  • increased quantity or frequency of use of alcohol
  • high tolerance for alcohol, or lack of “hangover” symptoms
  • drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or in places like church or work
  • wanting to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
  • changes in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink heavily
  • avoiding contact with loved ones
  • hiding alcohol, or hiding while drinking
  • dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
  • increased lethargy, depression, or other emotional issues
  • legal or professional problems such as an arrest or loss of a job

As an addiction tends to get worse over time, it’s important to look for early warning signs. If identified and treated early, someone with an alcohol addiction may be able to avoid major consequences of the disease.

It’s important to note that alcoholism is a real disease, therefore it has serious effects on the body and your wellbeing.

Although alcohol initially makes you feel more relaxed, the more you drink can lead to inhibition and it distorts your judgement. It can cause increased anxiety, depression and aggression, which can lead to coordination issues and blackouts. This in turn results in confusion, stupor and even coma.  At this point it can affect your heart rate and breathing.

There is also a link between alcohol consumption, some cancers, dementia and Liver disease, not to mention being extremely high in calories.

If you’re worried about your drinking habits, or you’re just curious about how your drinking might be affecting your overall health, Alcohol Change UK has produced an interactive quiz.

Where can I turn for support?

Sometimes we all need a bit of help, and there’s no shame in asking for support to help you get on top of your drinking habits.

More information can be found on the Alcohol Change UK website and also on the NHS website.

Mental health support forum Togetherall (previously Big White Wall) has a self-help course on cutting down your drinking.

SMART Recovery have online meetings, which you can find details of on their website. In response to the current crisis, they are providing a call-back service bgetween 9am and 5pm. You can request a call by emailing support@smarttrecovery.org.uk and giving your name and phone number.

Alcoholics Anonymous have also moved their peer-support meetings online to be able to continue to provide support during the pandemic. You can ring their helpline any time day or night on 0800 917 7650 or email help@aamail.org

Or if you’re worried about someone else’s drinking, Al-Anon UK provide support for families and friends of alcoholics.

And don’t forget, if you’d like to talk to someone about the reasons you turn to alcohol, you can talk to us. We can offer a course of telephone or online counselling with a member of our psychological team. So get in touch with us. Call us on 0800 389 8820 or make an enquiry online.