Society is dominated by drinking –  yet there is a difference between drinking which is not yet too serious but may be negatively changing the drinker’s behaviour (drink dependency); and that which dominates their thinking, behaviour and how they feel over a long period of time (chronic alcoholism).

Spotting signs of drink dependency is the first test.  The drinker may get  more angry with other people than they used to; perhaps they feel resentment because their friends can say ‘no’ to drink.   Perhaps they keep letting people down.  Not showing up.  Or when they do, they are late, hopelessly hungover or the joker in the pack.

Developing a drink dependency is no laughing matter.   We may find ourselves increasingly on our own. Drink becomes our own only ‘friend’.  We may find we prefer to be on our own. We focus on where the next drink is coming from, or go to places where it is easily accessible.  Perhaps we have a place where we keep it hidden. It becomes our secret.    It’s an end in itself.

We often hear about the high functioning alcoholic who can drink like a fish and be successful in all areas of life.  Yet research shows and my own work confirms no one can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities over long periods of time.  Drink becomes a crutch.

We may find there are all kinds of reasons why we drink:

  • To relax
  • To feel confident
  • To fulfil a compulsive need (if it’s not drink, it may be something else)
  • Waking up and wanting a drink
  • To combat feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts

Heavy drinking can interfere with the neurotransmitters in our brains which are needed for good mental health.  The result?  Poor memory, impaired judgement and concentration.

Warnings to young people about the risk of binge drinking are important particularly because their brains are still developing and the drinking habits they establish will likely continue into older age.  Even so, we should not forget about older drinkers.  Research suggests that the biggest opportunity for reducing the deaths caused by alcohol poisoning is to help older drinkers realise what qualifies as excessive drinking and the very real consequences it can have.  As we get older, the physical health risks associated with drinking mount and the deterioration of bodily systems and organs from alcohol consumption gets progressively worse over a lifetime of excess, and risk of death increases. 

Whilst there is no safe level when it comes to alcohol, there are government guidelines concerning the recommended maximum for drinking (currently 14 units for both male and female). If we find we drink at a dangerous or abusive level,  one-to-one counselling can be an effective way to get us to moderate our alcohol consumption and eliminate harmful drinking patterns such as binge drinking. 

Research shows that such an intervention is most effective when it’s performed by an authority figure, someone the client feels they can trust, and with whom they feel comfortable.  Short term counselling is also effective when it is delivered during a ‘teachable moment’ – i.e. when the person is in crisis and suffering loss - such as bereavement, divorce, employment, health.

We all need to make an effort to identify people we know who may be drinking too much and help them either moderate their drinking or get them the help they need to regain control. 

What to do?

  • Seek advice from your GP
  • Refer yourself to AA
  • If you want to know what kind of drinker you are  has  helpful on-line assessment tools and apps
  • Seek professional help from a counsellor
  • Keep a drink diary
  • Try stopping drinking for a couple of days.  If you find this hard it may be a signal you need to seek help

All the above can be a start in preparing you to change your drinking behaviour. Use this as the point where you stop denying you have a problem with drink and promise yourself that you will do something about it.