Alcohol – our favourite drug? – Dr Richard Bowskill

Millions are spent every year persuading us to consume our favourite drug. Positive advertising images are all around us, however alcohol also has its darker side. 75% of all children in care are placed there due to their parents’ alcohol problems, it is a major factor in most road traffic accident deaths and it increases the risk of cancers, heart disease and strokes. How to spot when alcohol is becoming a problem and how to access help is a challenge.

Alcohol creates a feeling of wellbeing, warmth and relaxation so there is a major draw to consume more. However, repeated exposure of the brain to recurrent doses of ethanol produces progressive changes in brain functioning. Safe drinking guidelines have been reduced to 14 units per week for both men and women, but drinking above these limits doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. It usually takes many years of heavy bouts of drinking to develop a serious alcohol problem and 40% of an individual’s risk is determined by genes, so those with a strong family history of addictions need to take special care.

Early warning signs can be subtle, thinking more frequently about drinking alcohol or changes in behaviour so that drinking becomes a preferred pastime, can be early signs. Increasing tolerance or frequently using alcohol to relax can precede more serious dependency. If your drinking has led to accidents or you are simply spending increasing amounts of time either drinking or recovering from the after effects of drinking, this can indicate that it is time to make changes. It often takes several years of problem drinking before a more serious dependency develops. The dependent drinker usually develops some degree of denial of the problem, kidding themselves that they can stop if they wish, whilst those around them know that this may not be true. Memory blackouts or continuing drinking despite negative consequences (arguments, days off work etc.) are worrying signs.

It is important to spot problem drinking early to make changes or seek appropriate advice. There are specialised therapeutic interventions (motivational interviewing) that can help the early problem drinker make changes, and underlying mental health problems may need additional treatment. There are new medications available for the dependent drinker and specialised treatment can restore health and wellbeing.

If you are suffering from an addiction and feel that you would benefit from our addictions programme at Brighton and Hove Clinic, click here for further information. We offer a free confidential assessment with an addictions therapist – if you would like to speak to one of our experts, please call 01273 747464.