For most people, it is hard to see alcohol as anything more than a substance to be enjoyed with family members and friends. It is a legal substance that is widely available and positively encouraged in modern society, so to think of it as harmful can be a stretch for many. However, to those whose lives have been destroyed by a crippling addiction to alcohol, the idea of it being harmful is something they are all too familiar with. With that in mind, many individuals who have heard stories of alcoholism and the damage it can cause worry that they could be in danger of developing it too. They may ponder what is alcohol addiction like, or if they are indeed at risk.
Anyone who drinks alcohol is at risk for addiction if this person allows their use to get out of control. Staying within the Government’s low-risk guidelines of fourteen units per week will certainly help, but when it comes to the harm that alcohol can cause, it is generally agreed by health experts that there is no safe level of consumption.
In 2016, only twenty-one per cent of the UK population said that they did not drink alcohol, but seven per cent of drinkers in England alone admitted to regularly drinking more than the Government guideline amounts for safe consumption. Moreover, two-and-a-half million people admitted to drinking more than their full weekly allowance of fourteen units on a heavy day of drinking.
With these statistics in mind, it becomes easier to see how alcohol addiction affects the lives of some individuals. Misuse of this substance is one of the biggest risk factors for premature death, poor health, and disability in the UK across all age brackets. In the 15-49 age bracket, it is the largest.
How Does Alcohol Addiction Begin?
As with any other type of addiction, alcohol addiction begins with experimentation. There are many reasons people choose to drink alcohol for the first time; the main reason is curiosity. Younger people who drink alcohol often cite peer pressure, boredom, and mental health problems as the reason they turned to alcohol.
Nevertheless, with alcohol playing such a huge part of Western culture, most individuals drink alcohol because it is the norm. Celebrations are often not seen as such unless people are drinking alcohol, and it is often presented as a gift for birthdays, anniversaries, or other special events.
After experimentation comes regular or social use; for most people, this is where it ends. Most individuals in the UK drink alcohol in moderation and would never allow their drinking to get out of hand. Nonetheless, there are many others who progress from regular use to habitual use without even realising.
When they begin drinking out of habit, they are no longer choosing to drink – they just do it automatically. Habitual drinking often leads to an increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol; when this happens, there is a strong temptation to drink more to achieve the desired ‘buzz’. However, increasing the level of alcohol consumption will often mean the body adapts to its presence to the point where it expects its regular arrival. If for whatever reason the alcohol does not come, the body will react and the individual may experience various withdrawal symptoms that could include headaches, sweating, shaking, and nausea. It is at this point that a physical dependence has occurred.
When the person no longer has any control over his or her alcohol consumption and continues to drink even though doing so is having a negative impact on their life and the lives of those around them, he or she is said to be addicted.
The Impact of Alcohol Addiction
The impact that alcohol addiction has on the individual can be devastating. When it comes to the question of ‘what is alcohol addiction like?’, it is important to consider the effect that it has on the brain of the drinker. In the early days, he or she will have had control over how much alcohol they drank and could stop whenever.
As time went by and he or she upped their level of alcohol consumption, the ability to stop diminished. Over time, the person learned that once he/she started drinking, he/she could not stop and even when noticeable changes where occurring that were having a negative impact on their life, their need for alcohol could still not be resisted. The reason for these changes is that the body has learned to expect alcohol and the function of the brain has been altered over time.
It is often said that the personality of the alcoholic is completely different to the personality of the person before alcohol became a problem. This chemical substance can lead to dramatic behavioural changes and, more often than not, these changes are not very pleasant.
Alcohol addiction is a destructive illness that affects every aspect of the affected person’s life. It leads to poor mental and physical health, unemployment, poverty, relationship struggles, homelessness, crime, and premature death. Unless it is treated, those struggling with this type of illness are in danger of losing everything including their health, families, jobs, homes, and wealth.
As you might imagine, alcoholism affects more than just the drinker. Entire families can be torn apart by this illness as everyone struggles in their own way to adapt to the behaviour of the alcoholic. Some will try to ‘fix’ their loved one and will even become so obsessed by doing so that they can be classed as co-dependent. This means that they too have developed a dependency, although they have become dependent on the alcoholic. Their lives will revolve around their addicted loved one and they may even change their behaviour accordingly.
Other family members, particularly children may become upset or confused by the erratic and unpredictable behaviour of their alcoholic loved one. Children are often deeply affected by a parent’s addiction. Young children do not know why their parent acts in this manner and struggle with various emotions such as fear, sadness, loneliness, and confusion as a result.
Older children who do understand might become isolated and withdrawn. Their parent’s addiction can influence their ability to develop healthy relationships with their peers. They are embarrassed or ashamed by their alcoholic parent and avoid making friends for fear that they will be judged or discriminated against should their secret be revealed.
The emotional and psychological impact on children of alcoholics can be profound and lasting. Many will never be able to develop healthy relationships while others will turn to alcohol or drugs themselves when they are older.
The Wider Impact of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction is often referred to as a family illness because of the impact it has on the family unit, but the effects are much farther reaching than that. The cost to the economy for substance abuse is in the billions every year, and alcohol misuse is said to cost the NHS alone around £3 billion annually.
Alcohol is responsible for poor health and leads to physical violence and accidental injury. The cost of treating such illnesses and injuries places a massive strain on an already struggling NHS. In 2014/2015, there were 1.1 million hospital admissions where alcohol was either the primary or secondary reason for the need of treatment. The sad fact is that vital resources are being drained treating conditions that could have been avoided.
With alcohol a factor in many violent crimes, there is another cost to communities and the economy. Burglaries, muggings, and domestic abuse are often committed by those under the influence of alcohol, and the cost of policing and prosecuting such crimes is another cost to the taxpayer.
Drink driving is a huge problem in the UK as well, with more than 8,000 casualties in 2015 because of it, despite drink driving being against the law. The problem is that alcohol affects the ability to think clearly and logically. Those under the influence of alcohol often take unnecessary risks as they are unable to make good judgements. The effects of drink driving are massive. As well as the lives that are destroyed by the injuries or fatalities, those found guilty of such crimes will almost certainly find themselves behind bars for a long time. Again, these are completely avoidable crimes.
Treating Alcohol Addiction
It is important to remember that while there is currently no cure for an alcohol addiction, it can be treated. The biggest obstacle to treatment, however, is denial and the alcoholic’s inability to see the seriousness of his or her situation.
It is often the case that those affected by alcoholism cannot see the extent of their problems. They may become angry or defensive if confronted with the suggestion that they may be drinking too much. They will usually believe that they can stop drinking whenever they want to but this is often because these individuals have never tried to quit.
It is only when attempting to cut back or quit alcohol that they notice withdrawal symptoms or a fervent desire to drink. In many cases, the person will deny the problem because he or she is not ready for a life without alcohol.
Alcohol addiction is an illness that will not go away if it is ignored. There are some people in this world who have managed to quit on their own, but to say they are in the minority is an understatement. Most individuals who want to say goodbye to a life of alcohol abuse will need some form of professional help.
Recovery starts with a physical detox and must then be followed by a programme of rehabilitation. This is the best way to ensure a strong recovery going forward. Here at Oasis Bradford, we offer both detox and rehabilitation for those who want to overcome their alcohol addiction once and for all.
Our excellent record of success makes us one of the leading addiction services in the UK, and our team of dedicated and professional staff work tirelessly to ensure the safety and comfort of patients at all times. For more information on what we do and how we can help you, please get in touch with us today.