Coping with alcohol

The realm of alcohol is festooned and adorned with a multitude of colourful words and terms: wort, lees, Old Peculiar, Bull's Blood, firkin, Jeroboam, Goldings, Fuggles, oak casked, Appelation Controlee, pub, wine bar, a jar, a finger, a swift half, a nightcap, squiffy, pallatic. Various popular terms are also current regarding a person's unhealthy use of alcohol, such as: alcoholic, alcohol problem, alcohol abuse, binge drinking. The meanings of each of these terms both overlap and differ, and each point to an intention, with or without awareness, to use alcohol for psychological/emtional support, the consequence of which is to accredit alcohol with a set of meanings that have the potential to become central to the life and identity of a person. This centrality may be instigated by some underlying personal tensions.

Drinking alcohol in small quantities is usually presented as beneficial, both in that it is frequently a social activity, and there is much popular press coverage of what are presented as long-term medical benefits. Western culture encourages drinking alcohol as a means of social integration. As a result of this 'acceptance', it is sometimes difficult to recognise when drinking has become a problem. A person who drinks nothing at all in the week and then binges at the weekend may be at greater risk than the person who drinks small amounts more regularly.

In the short term, alcohol abuse can lead to accidents/personal injury as well as to liver damage, which can occur in relatively young individuals if they have been consistently using alcohol. In the longer term, excessive drinking can result in a range of physical and psychological complications and, ultimately, in death.

The Department of Health advise that the sensible drinking limits for men and women are as follows:

  • 3 or 4 units a day or 28 units a week for men
  • 2 or 3 units a day or 21 units a week for women.

1 unit is equivalent to half a pint of standard lager or beer or one standard glass of wine. 1 bottle of alcopop is roughly equivalent to 2 units of alcohol.

Helping yourself

The symptoms of alcohol abuse vary from individual to individual. Ask yourself whether your drinking regularly (or even sometimes) results in the following:

  • getting into fights or arguments
  • finding it difficult to get up in the morning
  • feeling depressed (see Coping with Depression)
  • suffering from financial worries
  • concern from friends and family members about your drinking habits
  • ensuring that you keep alcohol readily available
  • accidental injury
  • finding it hard to cope with stressful situations
  • being arrested
  • blackouts
  • drinking and driving (even if "it wasn't really my fault").

If you recognise in yourself symptoms listed above and believe that you may have a drinking problem, then you have already taken the first step towards helping yourself.

Some changes to your drinking you can make immediately include:

  • Set yourself an upper limit, tell people (friends/family) about it, and ask them to help you to stick to it .
  • Alternate drinking alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or water (use the same glass for water and wine in a restaurant so that you can monitor how much of each you are drinking).
  • Eat well before you drink anything alcoholic, this has the effect of slowing down your body's rate of alcohol absorption.
  • Avoid situations in which you might feel obliged to drink alcohol.
  • Designate particular days of the week as days when you never drink anything alcoholic.
  • Avoid drinking spirits.
  • Choose low alcohol drinks in preference.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks when you feel stressed - it might make you feel better for a while, but you will inevitably feel worse later.

However, if you recognise that you have a problem, you should also seek professional help. There are many qualified and experienced individuals and groups throughout the North East who will be happy to help you. They are easy to contact, and will be able to talk with you in depth. Contact details for some of these can be found below.

Some of these services, such as the University's Councelling service, concentrate specifically on the underlying problems that may lead to excessive drinking, whilst others, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, concentrate on the drinking problem itself.

Helping others

If you think that a friend or member of your family has a drinking problem, confronting them about it can be difficult and may result in resentment and denial. It is important to avoid trying to bring the subject up in a confrontational way or while your friend is drunk. Your friend needs to come to terms with their problem themselves, but you can help by providing them with information and support in a non-confrontational way.

If they recognise that they have a problem, you can help by:

  • signposting (i.e. giving them the contact details shown at the end of this leaflet, or passing them this leaflet itself)
  • talking about the various support services and what type of help each provides
  • trying to help them understand any underlying problems which is causing them to drink excessively
  • talking about aspects of their behaviour that you think have changed.

You can also assist by helping them to set themselves targets or schedules and establish new routines to help them break out of the destructive cycle of drinking.

If they don't or won't recognise their problem and only if it is safe to do so let them know how their drinking is affecting themselves and others and let them have a copy of this leaflet.

Remember that if you are suffering as a result of a friend or family member's drinking problem, then you may need support yourself. Some of the support services listed at the end of this leaflet are intended specifically for friends and family members of people with drinking problems.

This page was published on 1 September 2015