Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol will not do you any physical or psychological harm. However, for some people, social drinking can lead to heavier drinking, which can cause serious health problems. It is estimated that one in 13 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol (an alcoholic) and several million people drink excessively, this can pose serious health risks.
Drinking heavily has been linked to suicide, murder, fatal accidents and many fatal diseases. It can increase your chances of developing cirrhosis of the liver, and it is associated with many different types of cancer, including cancer of the breast, mouth, larynx (voice box) and liver. Excessive drinking can also lead to poor sexual performance, can harm an unborn baby and lead to weight gain.
If you have an alcohol-related problem, there are many ways in which you can get help to reduce your drinking or give up alcohol altogether. Please see the getting help section below.
Alcoholic drinks are very high in calories and drinking can increase your appetite. Just one gin and tonic contains as many calories as a large ice cream, so if you want to lose weight, youíll need to consider reducing the amount you drink.
Realising you have a problem is the first step to getting better but it is often the hardest one. You may have a problem with alcohol if:
If you think that you may have a problem with alcohol, a good place to start is your GP, but be honest about how much you drink. If your body has become dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking overnight can be life threatening so you should get advice about cutting down gradually.
Your GP may refer you to a local community alcohol service. Ask about free local support groups, day-centre counselling and one-to-one counselling. You may also be prescribed medication such as chlordiazepoxide, a sedative, to help deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms including: loss of sleep, agitation, anxiety, sweating and tremors, right through to vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations and seizures.
Cutting down and stopping drinking is often just the beginning and most people will need some degree of help to stay alcohol-free in the long-term. Getting support is crucial to understanding and overcoming the issues that make you drink. Ask your GP or alcohol support group about one-to-one counselling or group support in your area or you could attend NHS and voluntary agency day centres for up to a year, as well as groups where ex-alcoholics help each other stay sober.
If you are worried about your drinking, or a family member of friendís drinking, you can contact Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline for free and in complete confidence 24 hours a day on 0800 917 8282.
For more information about alcohol, log onto the NHS Choices website at http://www.nhs.uk/.
This page was produced by Bedford Hospital NHS Trust with thanks to NHS Choices.