Problem drinking

For most people, alcohol is used within the context of normal social behaviour.

But some people have diffculty controlling their drinking and the harmful effects are more serious than a hangover.

It can be diffcult to tell when normal social drinking becomes problem drinking, especially as the drinker may deny that they have a problem.

The following points offer a few suggestions for defining when alcohol might be a problem.

. Becoming angry/defensive when someone discusses drinking.

. Trying to hide or minimise drinking.

. Money problems because of drinking.

. Family and relationships affected.

. Having a drink in the morning to get going.

. Having accidents or arguments because of drinking.

. Being sick or irritable without a drink.

. Doing badly or missing days at work because of drink.

. Getting into trouble with the police because of drink.

. Being unable to socialise without a drink.

. Having to drink progressively more to get the same effect.

. Life seems to revolve around drinking.

Unfortunately the effects of problem drinking are not restricted to the individual.

Few of us live in isolation. We form social groupings, or families, and problem drinking can affect the whole family.

Some common issues for families

. Money problems which can result from the cost of buying alcohol and the impact problem drinking has on job security and employability.

. Physical abuse which may follow a drinking binge.

. Psychological abuse as problem drinkers may become unpredictable, irritable or verbally abusive.

. Resentment as the problem drinker appears to prioritise drinking over other activities. This may put pressure on other family members who feel as though they are always left to pick up the pieces.

. Feelings of anger are also common as families, especially children, struggle to understand why the drinker isn't doing something about the problem.

. Families may feel ashamed or embarrassed and may withdraw from social contact or try to cover up the problem. Children may feel they can't bring friends home and may become isolated or bullied.

. Family members may feel as if they have caused the problem. Often the problem drinker will seek to blame others as a way of rationalising or excusing their behaviour.

You may have experienced some, none or all of these. You may have other feelings or issues to add to this list.

It is important to acknowledge your feelings and try to fnd someone you can talk to.

Adults are advised to stick to the following sensible limits:

Men: No more than 3-4 units a day and no more than 21 units in one week.

Women: No more than 2-3 units a day and no more than 14 units a week.

We all need at least 2 days a week without alcohol.

A unit equals 10ml of pure alcohol. That's the amount the body can safely get rid of in an hour.

How many units in a drink?

330ml bottle standard lager/beer:    1.7 units

700ml bottle whisky:   28 units

275ml bottle alcopop:  1.5 units

1 pint standard lager/beer:  2.3 units

175ml glass standard wine:  2.1 units

1 pint strong cider:  3.4 units

35ml measure gin/rum/vodka/whisky:  1.4 units

1 pint medium strength lager/beer:  2.8 units

The units above are average levels - the strength of drinks varies by brand. Many display their unit content on the label to help you drink at a sensible level.

We all need at least 2 days a week without alcohol.

Something to remember

Remember that you're an important person, you're entitled to your feelings, whatever they are! Try to
remember also that no matter what is said to you, you're not the cause of the drinking, nor can you stop the problem.

The drinker is responsible for their drinking and only they can decide to do something about it.

However, there are some things you can do to help.

What can you do?

. Face up to the problem as a family. Most children are aware that something is wrong and in the absence of information, can become anxious and fearful. Talk together!

. Access information, support and help for yourself and your children.

. Refuse to let the drinker blame you or others for the problem.

. Encourage the problem drinker to seek help and support them to do this.

. Decide on your own limits and boundaries and put the needs of you and your children frst. If the problem drinker refuses to change, you may need to make some hard decisions about whether or not to let them remain in your life.

. Don't isolate yourself from friends and family - you may need their help and support.

. Don't drink along with the problem drinker. This only supports their behaviour and may result in you developing a problem.

. Whenever possible, don't cover up for the drinker. By doing this you make it easy for the drinker to neglect their responsibilities and to carry on drinking.

Useful contacts

Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are people out there who understand what you're going through.

Contact your local alcohol counselling agency - look under 'alcohol' in the phone book or contact Alcohol
Focus Scotland for your nearest agency.

Talk to your doctor.

Contact the national alcohol helpline, Drinkline on 800 7 314 314.
Contact Al-Anon, which offers understanding and support for families and friends of problem drinkers,
on 0141 339 8884.

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