Alcohol becomes a problem when an individual feels unable to cope without it, or when it prevents them from living a normal life. When the uncontrollable desire for alcohol overrides an individual’s ability to stop drinking, they are often referred to as being alcohol dependent. Like any other addiction, alcohol dependence can be extremely hard to break and it can be very difficult for an individual to even acknowledge the existence of their problem.
Alcohol abuse can cause problems in relationships, careers and finances and individuals often need to seek help from professionals to control the habit. Many people not suffering from alcohol dependence can’t understand why the individual can’t simply stop, however addictions can seem as strong as the need for food or water. Those suffering from alcohol dependence often experience feelings of guilt, shame and remorse but despite efforts to control the habit, many individuals find this difficult on their own.
Drinking in moderation does not indicate a dependence on alcohol, and many people consume alcohol now and then without becoming dependent on it. Government guidelines recommend that women should drink no more than two to three units of alcohol each day, and men no more than three to four units per day. One unit is equal to a 25ml measure of spirit, a 125ml glass of 8% ABV wine or a half pint of average strength (4%) beer. However some medical experts believe these guidelines are even too high, and have highlighted the dangers of ‘saving’ units up to binge drink at the weekend.
Many health problems are associated with excess alcohol consumption, including liver cirrhosis, heart failure, depression, anxiety and damage to the brain and nervous system. Research suggests that approximately a quarter of men and one in six women drink enough to put their health at risk in the UK. The fact that alcohol is so easily available and socially acceptable may account for this to some extent.