Addiction to alcohol

Addiction to alcohol is no different to addiction to any other drug... except that alcohol is legal, widely available, and used as the drug of recreation, both in this country and many others.

In the year 2016/17, it is estimated that there were 589,100 dependent drinkers in the UK. Fewer than twenty percent of these people were receiving treatment for their addiction. In 2015, there were 7,006 deaths directly related to alcohol use. In the same year, 2,474 people died from using all the illegal drugs combined in the UK (source - NHS Digital).

Alcohol addiction

Over a third of the victims of violence identified alcohol as playing a part in that violence. The link between excessive alcohol consumption and depression is well established. Liver damage, erectile dysfunction, heart problems, throat and mouth cancers, and obesity can all be caused or exacerbated by too much alcohol. So how much is too much?

Government guidelines, involving units-per-day, will provide a scientific answer to this question. Sticking to guidelines may prove difficult however, particularly if you have already had something alcoholic to drink.

If drinking is a problem for you, you will know about it. Perhaps you binge sometimes, turning one too many into many too many. Perhaps you nip out each lunchtime, for a couple of beers in a city centre bar. Perhaps you drink wine nearly every day after work. Perhaps you always pick up a four-pack on your way home. Perhaps you find relaxing difficult without alcohol. Or, you use it to combat anxiety, loneliness, social phobia, or insomnia.

All of the above indicate problematic use - but don't feel guilty. Instead, sit yourself down and write out an honest inventory: On what occasions am I drinking? How much am I drinking? How frequently am I drinking? What am I drinking? Then, if you can, move on to: How is my drinking making me feel? To repeat, if alcohol is a problem for you, you will know about it already - even if this knowledge is normally submerged beneath the surface of your everyday reality.

So, you have identified a problem in your life: "I drink too much, too frequently, or when I'm feeling stressed, anxious, or angry". Again, try not to be too hard on yourself at this point, for you are already beginning to address your problem. And remember, you need not be alone in this. Help and support is out there, not least in the form of therapy.

Perhaps excessive drinking feels like a part of a lifestyle, something that 'everyone' does. Perhaps it's your habit, just something that you find yourself doing again and again. Maybe it really does feel like an addiction now: a substance misuse issue that is getting out of control. In any case, if you can't do without a drink - on whatever occasion - you have a form of dependency. Dependency comes in degrees, but whether your dependency feels severe or mild, it will cause you problems. Unaddressed, it is highly likely that these problems will grow more severe with time.

How can therapy help?

Well, if you are a dependent drinker, it is likely that you have been keeping the extent of your dependency a secret from others (perhaps also from yourself). Most of us find it hard to admit that we have such issues. They feel embarrassing. Additionally, alcohol is a chemical depressant - hence those painful feelings 'the morning after the night before'.

Combine elements of secrecy and embarrassment with a chemical depressant and the result is likely to be plenty of guilt and shame, with a side-order of anger, plus the resolution to drink less 'next time'.

Therapy for alcohol addiction

Perhaps you will discover that simply admitting your alcohol problem supports this resolution so that you really can drink less (or not at all) next time, and the next time, and the next time and the next... if so, well done and good luck for the future. If you are alcohol dependent however, it is likely that you will need more support.

The right therapist will support you in discovering the reasons behind your alcohol problem. Not "what am I drinking?", or even "how much?", though these questions are relevant, but "what am I drinking on?".

It is almost certain that behind the habit - the bottle of wine, pint, shot, or four-pack – lies pain; painful feelings, linked to painful thoughts and painful memories. Successful therapy will help to expose this pain to the cold light of day. As it sounds, this is likely to be a painful process. It is also definitely a worthwhile one.

Once you recognise and acknowledge the pain behind your drinking, the drinking itself should begin to feel more like a behaviour once more rather than a lifestyle or something that you 'just do'. Behaviours have been learned. They can be changed, or left behind. Remember this. This knowledge is empowering.

The right therapist will support you as much as he or she is able. When you understand the issues behind your drinking - what you have been drinking on - you will feel empowered to make the choice - "do I want to continue this behaviour, or am I done with it for good?".

If you really are ready to address your alcohol dependency head-on, locating the right therapist could be the best thing that you ever did.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Tom Bailey (MA; Dip CP; Dip Hyp CS)

Tom Bailey is an integrative counsellor working in Chorlton, Manchester. In 2018, he appeared on Radio City Talk (Liverpool) to promote Stoptober and Stopping Smoking For Good. He has worked with people with substance misuse issues for some years.… Read more

Written by Tom Bailey (MA; Dip CP; Dip Hyp CS)

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