Alcohol is a drug that has the immediate effect of altering a person’s mood. Some people find it can help them to be at ease, more talkative and active. For others it can help them to unwind at the end of stressful day.
However, for some people this is not where the experience stops. Their drinking habits can lead to problems. Their use of alcohol may be accompanied by unpleasant consequences and affect their work, relationships with family, friends and employers.
Some people use alcohol to cope with problematic life experiences such as stress, trauma, difficult relationships, depression or unwanted emotions such as guilt, shame or anxiety.
Alcohol and depression
We know that there is a connection between alcohol and depression. Self-harm and suicide are much more common among people with alcohol problems.
Alcohol and depression are linked in two main ways:
- You regularly drink too much including (including ‘binge drinking’) which makes you feel depressed; or
- You drink to relieve anxiety or depression
- Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression
- Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty
- Life gets depressing. You may encounter arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory and sexual problems
Alcohol and trauma
It is common for people who have had traumatic experiences to turn to alcohol in the attempt to deal with their symptoms of:
- Emotional pain
- Bad memories
- Poor sleep
- Anxiety or terror
However alcohol reduces the ability to cope with trauma memories and stress. While alcohol may provide a feeling of distraction and temporary relief, repeated use may create other problems or lead to dependence.
Alcohol and medicines
The concurrent use of alcohol and medicines can be dangerous. The effectiveness of some medicines can in fact be increased or reduced by alcohol. Medicines can also increase the effects of alcohol in the body. It is important to always follow medical advice about using alcohol if you are taking medicines.
How alcohol affects you and your ministry
When someone continues to use alcohol after their drinking behaviour reaches a level that causes them recurrent problems, it is generally considered to be problematic. Nevertheless, many individuals with alcohol problems continue to function in their jobs long after their alcohol use has begun to take its toll on family and social functioning.
Alcohol use can contribute to:
- Accidents and injuries
- Interpersonal conflict
- Poor judgements and high risk behaviour
- Reduced performance
- Relationship difficulties
- Physical and psychological health problems
- Decrease reaction times when driving or operating machinery
- Preventable death
In the long term, alcohol can lead to psychosis (losing touch with reality or hearing voices when no-one is there) or dementia (memory loss, rather like Alzheimer’s dementia).
If you are experiencing difficult thoughts or feelings, it is better to seek appropriate, professional support rather than self-medicating with alcohol. Alcohol works by temporarily providing relief and distraction in the short term however it reduces the ability to cope
If the underlying problem is not dealt with it is likely you will continue to turn to something to relieve your feelings. This stacks up problems into the future.
If you give up drinking without addressing your underlying problem it is possible to replace one addiction with another, for example, gambling, pornography, over work.
If you think you may be dependent on alcohol we strongly recommend you seek appropriate support.
Recognising and overcoming alcohol issues
If you think you may have a dependency on alcohol, or just want to check that you are operating within sensible limits, consider working through the steps below:
- Monitor your drinking habits
- Know the warning signs
- Talk to someone about your drinking
- Decide to change your habits
- Get professional support
1. Monitor your drinking habits
Alcohol units have been devised to help people monitor their drinking. In the UK: 1 unit is 8 grams of pure alcohol. 1 drink does not equal 1 unit!
The UK Government recommends:
- No more than 2 to 3 units a day for women
- No more than 3 to 4 units for men
Note that guidelines are daily not weekly. You should not ‘save up’ units and drink heavily at the weekends. Also note that ‘binge drinking’ is drinking double the daily recommended unit guidelines.
Drink Check offers a quick survey to help you decide if you are drinking too much and what to do about it.
2. Know the Warning Signs
Alcohol may be a problem for you if:
- You regularly use alcohol to cope with anger, frustration, anxiety or depression
- You regularly use alcohol to feel confident
- You get hangovers regularly
- Your drinking affects your relationships with other people
- Your drinking makes you feel disgusted, angry, or suicidal
- You hide the amount you drink from friends and family
- Other people tell you that, when you drink, you become gloomy, embittered or aggressive
- You stop doing other things to spend more time drinking
- You start to feel shaky and anxious the morning after drinking the night before
- You drink to stop these feelings
- You start drinking earlier in the day
- People around/with you look embarrassed or uncomfortable
- Instead of choosing to have a drink, you feel you have to have it
- Your work starts to suffer
- You carry on drinking in spite of the problems it causes
- You find you have to drink more and more to get the same effect (increased tolerance)
- You start to ‘binge drink’ regularly
3. Tell someone
It is important to be open about your concerns and habits with alcohol. Talk it over with your GP. For many people this simple step helps them to cut down their drinking. Enlist the support of those close to you or a trusted friend to help you change your drinking habits.
4. Change your drinking habits
To change your drinking habits, consider the following:
- Set yourself a target to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink
- Avoid high-risk drinking situations (check out your diary)
- Drink lower-strength, though full-taste drinks, like 4% beers or 10% wines
- Work out other things you can do instead of drinking
- Involve your partner or a friend. They can help to agree a goal and keep track of your progress
5. Get appropriate support
If you find it extremely difficult to reduce or control your alcohol consumption on your own, you may need to seek professional advice and guidance. With professional treatment and good support, many individuals are able to stop or control their drinking.
- Royal College of Psychiatrists website provides extensive information about alcohol, its effects and what will help.
- Alcoholics Anonymous run 12 step programmes at numerous venues.
Tel: 0845 769 7555. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
These 12 questions from AA will help you decide if you have a drink problem.
- Drinkline – National Alcohol Helpline Tel: 0800 917 8282
Offers help to callers worried about their drinking and support to the family and friends of people who are drinking. Advice to callers on where to get help
- 50 Ways To Leave Your Lager
If you believe you’re drinking too much, or you know alcohol is having a detrimental effect on your life, this website can help.
- Drink Smarter offers information and support for managing healthy drinking.
- AlAnon supports families and friends of problem drinkers.