Drinking alcohol every now and then after a hard day at work isn’t necessarily a sign of alcohol dependence, however it is possible for these kinds of routine drinking habits to turn into a problem.
While fewer people seem to be drinking alcohol - with younger people being particularly keen to cut down - there are still a number of people aged 45 and over who drink large amounts regularly, according to new ONS statistics.
The NHS estimates that just under one in 10 men in the UK and one in 20 women show signs of alcohol dependence, where they aren’t able to function properly without booze.
So what are the telltale signs of drinking getting out of hand?
“There are various questions you should ask yourself – or perhaps a loved one - if you think you or they have an alcohol problem,” Dr Paul McLaren, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory’s Fenchurch Street Wellbeing Centre in London, tells HuffPost UK.
“A good starting point is to understand your relationship with alcohol. Try to get away from thinking about it in black and white terms such as ‘Am I a problem drinker or not?’, ‘Am I an alcoholic?’ or ‘Am I physically dependent?’
“Alcohol has the potential to be toxic for anyone who drinks it and it can be toxic for different individuals in different ways. Understanding how your personality, your strategies for coping with stress and your physiology interact with alcohol is as important as knowing how many units are recommended as safe.”
He said there are a few questions you should ask yourself to improve awareness of your relationship with alcohol. These include:
:: How important is drinking to you?
:: Do you give it priority over other activities?
:: Does getting a drink influence what else you do in the day?
:: Does it determine how you travel?
:: Does it influence how you spend your leisure time and who you spend it with?
:: Does it influence how you spend your holidays?
:: Do you prioritise spending on alcohol?
:: Do you plan for hangovers?
“If the answers to these questions – either by yourself or a loved one - are positive, then alcohol is important to you and it is worth taking the time to think about your strategy,” he adds.
Here are some warning signs that might mean you, or a loved one, is dependent on alcohol:
1. You find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink.
2. You’re regularly drinking more than 14 units per week. That’s one-and-a-half bottles of low-alcohol wine (11% ABV), one-and-a-third bottles of high-alcohol wine (14% ABV) and six to eight cans of lager (depending on alcohol strength).
3. You worry about where your next drink is coming from and plan social, family and work events around alcohol.
4. You have a compulsive need to drink and find it hard to stop once you start.
5. You wake up and feel the need to have a drink in the morning.
6. You regularly wake up and can’t remember what happened the night before due to heavy drinking.
7. You experience feelings of anxiety, alcohol-related depression and suicidal feelings.
8. You suffer from physical withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.
9. Other people have expressed concern about your drinking.
10. You hide your drinking from people who care about you.
11. You take risks such as driving over or near the limit.
12. You drink at lunchtime and go back to work.
13. You use gum or breath freshener to hide the smell of alcohol.
Claire Rimmer, lead addictions therapist at the Priory Hospital in Altrincham, Cheshire, says people who still manage their day-to-day lives and seem to be functioning as normal can suffer from alcoholism.
“You might want to consider whether you are finding your finances or abilities to do everyday tasks becoming affected by the amount that you drink,” she adds.
“Do you or a loved one try to ‘self-medicate’ with drink because of problems in your home, social or work life? Have you lied about the amount that you drink or become secretive about your drinking, for example by hiding bottles or cans?”
How to get help
There are several tips for dealing with the initial stages of alcohol addiction.
Firstly, Rimmer urges people to admit they have a problem and be honest with their friends and family about it.
Next, make a commitment to either reducing drinking habits or stopping completely. “Set daily goals for yourself,” she advises, “decide how many drinks you will limit yourself to and stick to it.
“If your goal is to completely stop drinking alcohol, set yourself a realistic date when you will stop drinking alcohol completely.”
It’s also important to avoid temptations and negative influences, and “accept that it will be difficult and prepare yourself for change”.
If you don’t believe you have a drink problem but would like to cut down on booze, Drink Aware recommends doing more activities that don’t involve drinking or trying other ways to unwind or relax.
If you still want to go out and drink: choose lower-strength drinks or low-alcohol-drinks, opt for smaller measures, avoid drinks rounds at social gatherings and alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water.
For more information about getting help for alcohol addiction, visit Alcohol Concern or Drink Aware. Additionally, The Priory Group runs a chain of hospitals and clinics which specialise in alcohol addiction and rehabilitation.