Alcohol: Our Favourite Drug
Problems with alcohol
Many of these problems are caused by having
too much to drink at the wrong place or time. Alcohol affects your
judgment, so you do things you wouldn't normally think of. It makes
you less aware of risks and so more vulnerable. You are more likely
to have fights, arguments, money troubles, family upsets, or
spur-of-the-moment casual sex. Alcohol helps to cause
accidents at home, on the roads, in the water and on playing
Problems with alcohol - physical health
Being very drunk can lead to severe
hangovers, stomach pains (gastritis), vomiting blood,
unconsciousness and even death. Drinking too much over a long
period of time can cause liver disease and increases the risk of
some kinds of cancer. It can reduce the risk of heart disease for
men over 40 and women of menopausal age - but only if their
drinking is very moderate.
Problems with alcohol - mental health
Although we tend to think of alcohol as
something we use to make us feel good, heavy drinking can bring on
depression. Many people who kill themselves have had drinking
problems. Alcohol can stop your memory from working properly and
can cause brain damage. It can even make you hear noises and voices
- a very unpleasant experience which can be hard to get rid of.
Alcohol is addictive. Some warning signs
- you do not feel right without a drink, or
need a drink to start the day
- you get very shaky, sweaty, and
anxious/tense a few hours after your last drink
- you can drink a lot without becoming
- you need to drink more and more to get the
- you try to stop, but find you can't
- you carry on drinking even though you can
see it is interfering with your work, family and relationships
- you get "memory blanks" where you
can't remember what happened for a period of hours or days.
Dealing with alcohol problems
If you are worried about your drinking or a
friend's drinking, tell them - they need to make changes as soon as
possible. It is much easier to cut back before drinking problems
damage your health than it is once they are out of hand.
Keep a diary of your drinking - you may be
surprised by how much you really do drink, and this can give you
the motivation to cut down. It helps if you can talk your plans
over with a friend or relative. Do not be ashamed to tell someone.
Most real friends will be pleased to help - you may find they have
been worried about you for some time.
If you find it hard to change your drinking
habits then try talking to your GP or go for advice to a local
alcohol organisation (see below for contact details). If you
feel you cannot stop because you get too shaky or restless and
jumpy when you try to cut down; your doctor can often help with
some medication for a short time. If you still find it very
difficult to change then you may need specialist help.
We all find it hard to change a habit,
particularly one that plays such a large part in our lives. There
are three steps to dealing with the problem:
- Realising and accepting that there is a
- Getting help to break the habit.
- Keeping going once you have begun to make
You may find that you have been using
alcohol as a way of handling stress and worries. A psychiatrist or
a psychologist may be able to help you find ways of overcoming
these worries that do not involve relying on drink.
Groups where you meet other people with
similar problems can often be very helpful. There are self-help
groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, or those run by professionals at
an alcohol treatment unit.
Most people dealing with their drink
problems do not need to go into hospital. Some people will need to
get away from the places where they drink and the people they drink
with. For them, a short time in an alcohol treatment unit may be
necessary. Medications are mainly used for "drying out" if you get
withdrawal symptoms. It is important to avoid relying on
tranquillisers as an alternative.
Anyone who drinks can develop an alcohol
problem - and some people lose everything - alcohol is a major
cause of homelessness. Although some people may just
need support and to talk, others may need longer-term help so
that they can get somewhere to live, start to make relationships
again and get back to work.
Tackling your alcohol problem can be hard
work, but it pays off in the end by making a difference across
all aspects of your life.
How much alcohol is too much?
Some drinks are stronger than others. The easiest way to work
out how much we are drinking is to count "units" of alcohol. 1 unit
is 10 mls of alcohol - the amount in a standard pub measure of
spirits, a half pint of normal strength beer or lager, or a small
glass of wine.
If a man and woman of the same weight drink the same amount of
alcohol, the woman will have a much higher amount in her bodily
organs than the man. So, unfair as it may seem, the safe limit is
lower for women (14 units per week) than for men (21 units per
information on 'what is an alcohol unit?'
How much you drink at one time is also important. These "safe
limits" assume that our drinking is spread out through the
In any one day, it is best for a man to drink no more than 4
units and for a woman to drink no more than 3 units. Drinking over
8 units in a day for men, or 6 units for women is known as 'binge
You can drink above the safe limit on one night, but still
remain within your "safe" limit for the week. There is some
evidence that, even a couple of days of binge drinking, may start
to kill off brain cells. This was previously thought only to happen
with people who drank continuously for long periods of time. Binge
drinking also seems to be connected with an increased risk of early
death in middle aged men.
Guide to units of alcohol
These tables give a rough guide to the amount of alcohol found
in different drinks.
These guidelines are approximate and may vary depending on the
brand chosen and the size of measure. All alcohol sold in the UK
above 1.2% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) should state how strong it is in
The higher the percentage, the more alcohol it has in it. Pub
measures are generally rather smaller than the amount we pour
ourselves at home.
Cider & Alcopops
Ordinary strength beer,
lager or cider eg.
Draught beer, Woodpecker
“Export” strength beer,
lager or cider eg.
Stella, Budweiser, Heinekin, Kronenbourg, Strongbow
Extra strong beer, lager or
Special Brew, Diamond White, Tennents Extra
Bacardi Breezer, Smirnoff Ice, Reef, Archers, Hooch
| Wines & Spirits
|| 1.5 - 2.5
| Fortified wine
(sherry, martini, port)
(whisky, vodka, gin)
Helpline: 0800 024
1488 / 0203 131 6354
OR TEXT "HELP" to 66777.
Free help for anyone affected by addiction with advice on both
NHS & private Drug & Alcohol Treatment Options
Helpline: 0845 769 7555; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact details for all English AA meetings. There is a quiz to
determine whether AA is the right type of organisation for an
individual, and a frequently asked question section about AA and
Support group for friends and families of alcoholics. Includes
a frequently asked questions section, pamphlets and other
literature, and information on group meetings in the UK.
Tel: 0141 572 6700; email: email@example.com
If you are concerned about your own or someone else's drinking and
would like to speak to someone now, call Drinkline on
0800 7 314 314.
The national volunteer organisation
for alcohol issues in Scotland. Provides information about alcohol,
including legal matters, frequently asked questions, and tips for
Based at University College London Medical School, and managed
by the charity Alcohol Concern, this site is designed to help you
work out whether you're drinking too much, and if so, what you can
do about it.
Worried about your drinking? Call the
national drink helpline - Drinkline: 0300 123 1110
Allen Carr's easy way to control alcohol
by Allen Carr (Arcturus Foulsham).
The effective way to stop drinking by
Beauchamp Colclough (Penguin Health Care & Fitness).
This leaflet was produced by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists' Public Education Editorial Board.
This leaflet reflects the best available evidence available at
the time of writing.
Series editor: Dr Philip Timms.
© August 2013. Due for review: August 2015. Royal
College of Psychiatrists. This leaflet may be downloaded,
printed out, photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as
the Royal College of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no
profit gained from its use. Permission to reproduce it in any other
way must be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org.
The College does not allow reposting of its leaflets on other
sites, but allows them to be linked directly.
a catalogue of public education materials or copies of our leaflets
Department, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 21
Prescot Street, London E1 8BB. Telephone: 020
7235 2351 x 2552
Charity registration number (England and Wales) 228636
and in Scotland SC038369.