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Alcoholic drinks are some of the most commonly consumed beverages across the UK.
Recent statistics show that 57% of adults regularly drink up to 14 units of alcohol per week – which is around 5 pints of beers.
Many people believe that they know about the risks that come with the overconsumption of alcohol: the negative impact it has on physical health, mental health, its relationship with serious illnesses and health conditions, and the risk of developing an addiction.
Knowing this, many people consume alcohol in a generally moderate, and educated way.
However, one aspect of alcohol that is not well understood by the general population, and is rarely discussed, is the link between alcohol and financial debt.
Financial debt is when you owe money to a person or corporation.
A loan which you pay off in monthly instalments is debt. Money used from a credit card or overdraft is debt. A mortgage on a house is debt.
Mortgages, student loans, and other loans for things like a car or investment are all common forms of debt.
Most forms of debt come with an interest rate, which means that you have to pay back an agreed percentage more than you borrow. This can make getting out of debt hard, especially if you are struggling with your finances more generally, or have a backlog of debt.
Financial worries are one of the leading causes of stress in the UK, with over a third of people claiming that it is the biggest cause of stress in their life. Debt, and the worries about repaying debt, are key factors in that.
Alcohol and debt have an unusual relationship. At first glance, they aren’t directly related.
However, a lot of people find that some of their financial concerns, and even issues with debt, are linked to their consumption of alcohol.
Alcohol is an expensive drink, and a standard bottle of wine can cost around £10, while a pack of four cans of beer can cost around the £5 mark. I
f a household of two adults, who both drink the recommended limit of 14 units a week, buy three bottles of wine a week that money can quickly add up.
It can come to £120 a month, which equates to almost £1,500 a year. This is without taking into account buying extra alcohol for events like parties, or celebrations, or the purchasing of spirits which can be triple the cost.
People generally recognise that smoking is an expensive habit, but alcohol can quickly incur similar costs. This becomes an especially serious issue when someone develops an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
An unhealthy relationship with alcohol can turn into a dependence on the substance, when it is used to deal with stressful situations, and gradually this can become a reflexive habit where the consumption of alcohol just becomes part of the daily routine.
This can develop into an addiction to alcohol, and this can cause you to prioritise alcohol over other things.
Prioritising the purchasing of alcohol, if you are struggling with money, can mean that you have less to spend on the essentials. It might even leave you needing to take out a loan, or use money from a credit card or overdraft, to pay for bills and other essential needs.
If this starts to happen regularly, the impact of interest rates can start to kick in, making it increasingly hard to pay back borrowed money, and can trigger a debt spiral.
Addiction more generally has a complicated relationship with debt. People who are addicted to substances, be that alcohol or an illegal drug like heroin can make irrational decisions in order to access the substance that they’re addicted to.
This is compounded by the fact that addictive substances are often very expensive.
For example, someone who is addicted to cocaine – a highly addictive substance – will use their savings, or spend the money which is set aside for bills, in order to access the drug. This can lead to debt and bankruptcy, but it can also lead to trouble with drug dealers if you owe them money that you can’t pay back.
In summary, people will take irrational steps, and even put themselves in danger, in order to access an addictive substance. Debt is a common side-effect here, which explains the relationship between addiction and debt.
Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. It is defined by severe cravings for the substance, which can be hard or impossible to control. It is also defined by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the substance isn’t being used.
Alcohol is known to have negative effects on health, and while the worst of these are thought to be managed by staying under the recommended limit of 14 units a week, the more alcohol you drink the worse the impact of the substance is going to be on your short-term and long-term health outcomes.
It is also connected to mental health conditions like clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. People with alcoholism are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and ideations.
For these reasons, it is important that alcoholism is recognised as an incredibly serious health issue. As such, it is strongly recommended that someone living with alcoholism seeks out professional medical support.
Alcoholism is known to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors.
If you have family connections to alcoholism, and especially if either of your parents has had experience with the condition, you are more likely to develop alcoholism than other people.
To counter this, if you have this genetic vulnerability to alcoholism and addictive behaviour, you should be very careful about your use of alcohol and you should always have an accurate monitor on your alcohol consumption.
One of the main ways that your environment can make your relationship with alcohol riskier is through stress. If you work a stressful job, or if you have a stressful home life, you might find yourself looking for ways to relax, block out your worries, and destress.
Alcohol is a depressant drug, and this means that it generally elicits a relaxant response in people who drink it in moderate amounts.
If you then find that the consumption of alcohol is relieving your stress, this can become a learned response, and you can become dependent on the substance to relax and get through stressful situations.
Unfortunately, this dependence is often a key step towards alcoholism, as it begins to turn to cravings.
Therefore, if you are concerned about alcohol use and the development of alcoholism, you should ensure that you have ways of relaxing that does not involve the consumption of alcohol.
This means you won’t lean on it in stressful situations, and it sets the foundations for a much healthier relationship with the substance.
The way in which alcoholism can develop as a means of combatting stress is directly linked to debt, and sometimes alcoholism and debt can feed into each other and create a destructive vicious cycle.
It’s clear that stress is one of the factors influencing the development of alcoholism. If you’re struggling to cope with the stress in your life it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. It’s also clear the cost of alcohol has a negative impact on your finances, and financial pressure is a leading cause of stress.
As you get more stressed out about your finances (in part related to the cost of alcohol) you might drink more, as you drink more you might get more stressed about the cost of alcohol and its impact on your financial stability, as you get stressed about that this can lead you to drink more.
You can see how these two factors feed into each other, making each other worse and creating a vicious cycle.
It is really hard to break a negative cycle like this, but it’s important to do your best to break it before your relationship with alcohol turns into an addiction. You could either seek medical, or professional support, or you could ask for an intervention from family or friends. The first step is recognising that there is a problem.
One key indicator that you are drinking too much is increased pressure on your finances, and watching the price of your weekly shop go up because you are spending more on alcohol is a sign that there could be an issue.
It is highly advisable that you stick to the recommended limit of 14 units a week, spread over three days or more, in order to keep a cap on what you are spending on alcohol.
If the amount you’re spending on the substance is going up, it could be a sign that you are exceeding this and you should note down how much you are drinking and how much you are spending and try to bring it down to healthier, more financially sustainable levels.
Learning to budget is a great life skill, and it can help you to avoid getting into debt in the first place.
However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also useful for people who are in debt. In fact, learning to budget can be even more important for people who are in debt.
This is because if you are in debt, it suggests that you might be having issues with how you’re managing your finances.
Budgeting is a tool that helps you to prioritise your spending, section it off, and see exactly what you need to spend and when. It can also help you to curb excess spending, and that can instead be used to pay off debt.
Budgeting can also help you to see if you are bringing in enough money each month to cover all your costs. If this isn’t the case, you may need to consider what options are available to you, such as taking out a short-term 0% interest loan from family and taking on more work.
One of the main ways in which budgeting helps people with their finances is that it forces you to distinguish between needs and wants, and prioritise your spending accordingly.
Needs include things like:
Wants include things like:
If you find that you are struggling with money, calculate how much you need to cover your needs, and how much you are spending on your wants. Then, deduct money from your wants and see if it begins to help to cover the costs of your needs.
This can buy you time to reconsider your financial situation, and you may find that you need to downsize or increase your salary in order to cover both your needs and wants.
This stress can derail your recovery, and therefore it is important to try your best to deal with the source of the stress. Paying off your debts, and giving yourself more financial freedom can be hard, and it will have its own emotional and logistical challenges.
However, once you do gain that financial freedom, you will discover that lots of the things you previously found stressful are easier to deal with. You will be in a better position to deal with the challenges without turning to alcohol.
Getting yourself out of debt, and improving your financial outlook can be easier said than done. However, it is clear that it is an important step on the road to recovery from alcoholism.
It is also good for your stress levels and quality of life more generally.
One option is to speak to a debt adviser about your situation. They have lots of experience and can help you to figure out what your best way forward is.
Some websites like MoneyHelper can offer you access to a free debt adviser, and you can speak to them online or over the phone while being committed to keeping everything you’ve told them confidential.
There are also charities that are designed to help people with issues with their debt. StepChange, for example, can provide you with non-judgemental advice about your situation, and give you a different perspective on the challenges that you’re facing.
Getting help with alcohol use is an important step if you believe that your financial problems are connected to your alcohol use, but you’re struggling to change your alcohol consumption habits.
You can access professional, medically sound advice and treatment about your situation, and you might find that the best way forward for you would be to undergo a period in a rehab clinic to deal with your relationship with alcohol.
You will also be offered therapy to help you understand and deal with the causes that surround your alcohol use. Finally, you will be told how to access alcohol support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, which can help you to keep sober.
For more information and advice, please contact our dedicated helpline on 0800 111 4108.
 Associations Between Socioeconomic Factors and Alcohol Outcomes
 The Risks Associated With Alcohol Use and Alcoholism