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  • Writer's pictureDominique du Pré

How is 'Dry January' going?

Many people choose to give up alcohol in January. Some because they are still recovering from a rather 'wet' December. Some take part in Dry January to raise money for charity. Some do it for the health benefits (weight loss, better sleep, fewer headaches) and some give up alcohol to save money.

But when do you know if your drinking is a problem? If the thought of going 'dry' for a month fills you with horror or seems impossible, or you find all sorts of excuses why this is not a good time to give up, then maybe you need to reassess your relationship with alcohol.

There can be such a stigma still attached to the term 'alcoholic'. What images pop up in your mind when you think of a 'typical' alcoholic? You are probably imagining a man, someone scruffy, maybe a vagrant? Is your imagined 'alcoholic' aggressive, maybe violent? Does he drink vast quantities of spirits, or bottles of cheap cider? The danger with stereotypes is it can let us justify our own behaviours - 'I can't be an alcoholic because I only drink wine, I only drink in the evening, I have a good job.' We can hide behind the fact that these stereotypes don't apply to us. Adrian Chiles recently shared his "horror" at how much he was drinking in a BBC documentary, "Drinkers Like Me". He was a good example of how constant heavy drinkers, who may seem to be functioning well, are still causing damage to their bodies.

Another factor contributing to the denial of alcohol misuse is the wording. It doesn't really matter if you use the term heavy drinker, problem drinker, binge drinker or alcoholic - if it is causing problems in your life it is probably an addiction.

Here are some facts. In England there are an estimated 589,101 dependent drinkers. Less than 20% are receiving the treatment. Last year 31% of men and 16% of women drank at a level indicating increased or higher risk of harm every week. 2.1% of all hospital admissions were alcohol related (that's 337 thousand admissions). 39% of patients were aged between 45 and 64. There were 9,214 alcohol-related deaths. Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages. One in five children are negatively affected by their parent's drinking. These psychological effects are often long-term.

The facts are sobering. So what are some of the warning signs that you may be an alcoholic/alcohol dependent/a problem drinker (choose the term you find acceptable)?

  • You repeatedly drink more than you intend or want to, or you get into trouble when you drink

  • You have a compulsive need to drink and find it hard to stop once you have started

  • You worry about when you can have your next drink; you plan your social, family and work events around drinking

  • You become a different person when you drink

  • You carry on drinking despite health, financial, family problems

  • You worry about your drinking and have tried to give up - you feel guilty abut your drinking

  • You have physical withdrawal symptoms like shaking, nausea and sweating which stop once you have a drink

  • You lie about, or hide your alcohol intake

  • You need alcohol to feel confident

  • You have blackouts (where you cannot remember what happened while you were drinking)

The good news is there is plenty of help available but, like any big change, you have to first recognise it is a problem and want to live life differently. Your GP can help, there are apps such as 'Drink Less' and there is a lot of guidance on line. For many of us, drinking a bit less is probably a good idea. If you think your drinking is a problem, a twelve step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people recover from alcoholism. Many high profile people are testament to the fact that a sober life can be a happy, productive and enjoyable life - Russell Brand, Rob Lowe, Eric Clapton, Christina Ricci for example. Alongside this counselling can also help with the issues arising as a result of alcoholism or heavy drinking. There is a different way to lead your life. It's ultimately your choice.

If you think you might be able to lead a happier life with counselling, please get in touch.

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