Am I Drinking Too Much Alcohol?

Alcohol is a monumental part of British Culture. Whether it’s the iconic image of the pub or enjoying a heat-wave Pimms, drinking seems to be embedded in the national psyche: informing the majority of social scenarios and celebrations.

Such a ubiquitous presence leads many people to ask the question “am I drinking too much alcohol?”. While this may sound like a simple question, it can be difficult to gauge whether the amount you’re drinking is problematic when others around you are engaging in similar habits.

However, one thing that has been made clear by statistical reports is that a high percentage of the UK population is drinking too much alcohol and suffering the consequences.

Recent government statistics have revealed that in 2021, hospitals recorded 318, 596 admissions for alcohol-specific conditions.

These include alcohol poisoning, the health effects of binge drinking, and alcoholic liver disease. The Local Alcohol Profiles for England and Wales discovered that, tragically, 5,284 people lost their lives to alcoholic liver disease in 2020.

In the same year, NHS statistics disclosed that 167,000 prescription items were dispensed to treat alcoholism, marking a 1% increase from the previous year.

This reveals a worrying situation among the UK population whereby more people are drinking at levels hazardous to their long-term health.

What Do The Drinking Guidelines Say?

woman drinking from bottle at party

Drinking guidelines such as those provided by the NHS give the most up-to-date scientific information: allowing people to make informed decisions about their drinking.

The recommendations published after 2016 point out that these guidelines are not for “safe” drinking, but rather to minimise the risk of developing an illness.

The NHS states that to keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low, men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. To put these figures into context: 1 unit of pure alcohol is 8g or 10 ml of pure alcohol.

This is about half a pint of low to regular-strength lager, beer, or cider (ABV 3.6%). This also equates to a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (ABV 40%).

However, it should be noted that a small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of pure alcohol.

If you regularly drink as many as 14 units per week, it’s optimal to spread your consumption over 3 or more days. This is to protect organs such as the liver from daily alcohol exposure and sustain harm from its toxins.

These recommendations are solidified by The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for both men and women. In 2016, these reports stated that even if you have one or two heavy drinking episodes per week, you increase the risk of injury or death from long-term illnesses, and alcohol-related accidents.

Why Have The Guidelines Changed?

teens drinking, sat on sofa

Before 2016, the last time drinking guidelines in the UK have revisited was in 1995. Since then, a vast amount of research has been carried out to gain more information about the risks associated with alcohol. In light of this, there have been 2 major changes to guidelines such as those provided by the NHS.

The first of these is a shift from daily drinking advice to weekly guidelines: accommodating the fact that not everyone drinks every day. You might only drink on certain evenings of the week, or exclusively on the weekend, yet still consume enough alcohol to be problematic.

Therefore, weekly guidelines provide an easier benchmark for people to follow and provide accurate information for a range of drinking habits.

Secondly, drinking guidelines now recommend the same low-risk consumption level for women and men. This decision was made because, while long-term alcohol risks are higher for women in general, men face much higher risks of sustaining immediate harm, such as injuries.

Signs You Could Be Drinking Too Much

group of three drinking

If you’re worried that you might have a problem with drinking, or that you’re drinking too much alcohol, it’s important to note the key signs of hazardous consumption.

While every case of problematic drinking is different, many behavioural signs remain similar across the board.

1. You use alcohol to self-medicate

woman drinking

When faced with a group event, dinner party, or any situation that may benefit from a bit of “dutch courage“, many people’s first instinct is to reach for an alcoholic drink.

However, there’s an important distinction between drinking occasionally to feel at ease socially and using alcohol to quell negative emotions.

Whether it’s underlying anxiety, depression, or other adverse mental health symptoms, many people who drink too much are doing so in response to these feelings.

However, though drinking alcohol may provide fleeting relief from daily anxiety or low mood, it leads to more problems in the long run.

Perhaps alcohol’s cruellest trait is the more of it we drink, the less relaxed or euphoric we feel. This is because the brain and body quickly become accustomed to the effects of alcohol: meaning we must consume more to feel the same effects.

As a result, drinkers must consume more and more to feel better: leading to increased tolerance. For example, someone has returned home from work after an anxiety-inducing day and reaches for a glass of wine to reduce stress.

However, before they know it they’ve consumed an entire bottle to reach the level of intoxication needed to forget their day.

2. You conceal how much you drink from others

girl stood in an underpaths

If you’re someone who drinks too much, you might also find yourself lying about the amount of alcohol you consume or concealing the true figure. This is often to make the amount you drink seem like less of a concern to those around you, especially if you’re surrounded by light drinkers at a social event.

In these cases, someone who needs to drink a lot to feel the same as those around them may turn to a process called “secretive drinking”: an increasingly common phenomenon.

They might have to drink a few beverages on the sly before turning up to an event: creating the illusion that they’ve had the same amount to drink as their friends.

Another cause for concern is if you feel compelled to underestimate the number of drinks you have each week: especially to a doctor or nurse.

When asked to disclose their drinking habits to their GP, many people quote a lower amount out of guilt or a fear of being judged. As such, many doctors in the UK now double the figure that someone gives them to gauge a more realistic picture.

In the home environment, someone drinking excessively might attempt to physically hide their addiction from those they live with. This includes hiding empty cans or bottles of booze at the bottom of the bin, or behind/underneath furniture.

3. People close to you have expressed concern

Woman supporting another woman

If family members, friends, co-workers, or your partner have expressed concern about your alcohol intake, it could be a warning sign that your drinking habits are getting out of hand.

In many cases, Concerned Significant Others (CSOs) will pick up on subtle indicators of their loved one’s growing alcohol dependence, even if the problem is concealed.

It might be that you’ve been spending more time than usual at the pub, frequently calling in sick to work, or neglecting responsibilities at home. You might find people commenting on how much alcohol you consume, or directly asking how much alcohol you’ve had in one sitting.

Some individuals will even receive intervention from their nearest and dearest to alert them of their behaviour. This could be in the form of a family meeting aiming to address the drinking problem or a formal intervention with a clinician present.

4. Your home and work life are being affected

Person looking sad

If you’re drinking too much alcohol, you’re likely spending large amounts of time procuring, consuming, or recovering from this level of consumption.

As a result, other areas in your life may begin to suffer as you neglect responsibilities without meaning to, or make self-destructive decisions when under the influence.

Heavy drinking can bring a variety of problems into your life at home and/or work: damaging relationships with colleagues, friends, family members and significant others.

Oftentimes, problem drinkers will either be late for work or their productivity will begin to diminish.

This can cause tensions to arise at home between an excessive drinker and their partner or spouse. A partner might feel that they take second place in their loved one’s drinking, or that their needs aren’t being met romantically.

This can all lead to increased confrontation between members of a familial unit. If you’re having frequent arguments about your own or your family member this is a telltale sign that alcohol consumption has become a significant factor in your relationship with them.

What To Do If You’re Worried About Drinking Too much Alcohol

man holding beer bottle

If any of the aforementioned signs of excessive drinking ring true, it’s time to reach out for help or consider making some key changes to your lifestyle.

These can be as small as confiding in a friend, or as monumental as deciding to cut down your alcohol intake.

1. Start keeping track of how much you drink

Close up of a calculator on a mobile phone. Behind on a table are some documents

Whether your alcohol consumption takes place at home or a bar, it’s a good idea to monitor the amount you’re drinking regularly.

This starts with understanding the correct serving size for alcoholic beverages: particularly important for those who drink at home.

For instance, if wine is your beverage of choice, take a measuring cup and fill it with water to the five-ounce point, then pour that into a wine glass. This gives you a better idea of what a serving looks like, allowing you to effectively keep track of your consumption.

Once you’ve noted the proper serving sizes, you can track your drinking habits by writing them down or using apps like DrinkControl or AlcoDroid Alcohol Tracker. These apps track your alcohol intake in glasses, bottles, or cans, and then convert them into standard units of alcohol.

2. Consider how drinking impacts your life, health, and relationships

Woman under a blanket, lounging on the sofa

Part of gauging the impact that alcohol is having on different areas of your life is asking the question: “What is my drinking preventing me from doing?”.

If you’re drinking too much, alcohol is likely interfering with elements of your daily life: including the time spent with your family, your hobbies, as well as your mental and physical health.

Alcohol might be stopping you from enjoying weekend mornings with family as your nurse has a hangover, or it may stop you from focusing on a creative project.

It might be that you’ve noticed a worsening in your mental health, but haven’t linked it to your alcohol use before.

To pin down specific examples of how alcohol is affecting your life, it can be useful to think about the things you want to do and put them in order of importance alongside alcohol use.

Oftentimes, this will reveal that you’re placing more importance on drinking at the expense of your relationships, hobbies you want to try, or activities you normally enjoy.

3. Find someone to confide in

two people holding hands

Drinking too much can be an isolating behaviour to partake in: and it can seem like your friends are either heavy drinkers themselves, or that they simply won’t understand.

However, finding supportive friends is of the utmost importance when facing potential struggles with alcohol.

Moreover, finding a confidante isn’t as difficult as you might think, and many people are more understanding than you give them credit for.

A friend or family member can be there for you if taking a break from drinking proves more challenging than anticipated. They can also offer insight into your unique situation, and provide plenty of encouragement

Questioning your relationship with alcohol can be challenging, but it isn’t something you need to go through alone.

By voicing your concerns and goals with others, the prospect of quitting alcohol, cutting down, or seeking professional help suddenly seems far less daunting.

Getting Help For Yourself

Couple sat on sofa

Whether it’s confiding in a loved one or seeking direct help from a healthcare provider, you shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed when it comes to seeking support. It’s also important to note that you aren’t alone.

In 2018, 76,000 adults in the UK sought treatment for problematic drinking, according to NHS statistics.

The first step you can take if you’re worried about your relationship with alcohol is to seek a professional assessment. Here at Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we offer free phone consultations carried out by our trained and compassionate team, many of whom have been through recovery themselves.

Chatting with a member of our expert team will help you get a better idea of just how much of a problem your drinking is. After gauging your severity, they’ll refer you to several community support programmes, or help you begin your recovery process by entering rehab for alcohol.

Getting Help For A Loved One

Men talking

It’s never easy to bring up a potential drinking issue with a loved one, but it may be time to broach the subject if you’re concerned for someone close to you.

While it’s impossible to force someone to get professional help for a drinking problem, offering emotional support is a crucial first step.

This conversation should take place during a time when the person is not drinking, and instigators must remember to tread carefully even though they come from a place of support.

It’s advisable to explain your concerns about your loved one’s health and well-being while referencing specific behaviours and sticking to undeniable facts.

However, if you’ve already expressed concern to your loved one and they’ve refused to acknowledge their drinking problem, it may be time to seek professional assistance.

Here at Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we offer free expert guidance for concerned loved ones and can help you arrange treatment, or even stage a formal intervention.

In an intervention, a group of family members of Concerned Significant Others (CSOs) will sit down with the problematic drinker and guide them towards seeking treatment.

This process is usually conducted by an interventionist: a professional counsellor who can pre-arrange treatment and facilitate meaningful discussions.

Don’t Hesitate To Reach Out

Support Group

If you or someone you love wants to change their habits around alcohol consumption, there’s no better time to start the process than today. Rehab 4 Alcoholism is a free helpline for anyone in the community affected by hazardous drinking or alcoholism.

To access your free telephone assessment, reach out to a member of our team at 0800 111 4108.

We’re available 24 hours per day to provide expert advice and uphold a strict confidentiality policy.


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