Alcohol misuse means drinking excessively
Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
Risks of alcohol misuse
The short-term risks of alcohol misuse include:
- accidents and injuries requiring hospital treatment, such as a head injury
- violent behaviour and being a victim of violence
- unprotected sex that could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- loss of personal possessions, such as wallets, keys or mobile phones
- alcohol poisoning – this may lead to vomiting, seizures (fits) and falling unconscious
People who binge drink (drink heavily over a short period of time) are more likely to behave recklessly and are at greater risk of being in an accident.
Persistent alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:
- heart disease
- liver disease
- liver cancer
- bowel cancer
- mouth cancer
- breast cancer
As well as causing serious health problems, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to social problems, such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness.
If someone loses control over their drinking and has an excessive desire to drink, it's known as dependent drinking (alcoholism).
Dependent drinking usually affects a person's quality of life and relationships, but they may not always find it easy to see or accept this.
Severely dependent drinkers are often able to tolerate very high levels of alcohol in amounts that would dangerously affect or even kill some people.
A dependent drinker usually experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly cut down or stop drinking, including:
- hand tremors – "the shakes"
- seeing things that aren't real (visual hallucinations)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
This often leads to "relief drinking" to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Am I drinking too much alcohol?
You could be misusing alcohol if:
- you feel you should cut down on your drinking
- other people have been criticising your drinking
- you feel guilty or bad about your drinking
- you need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover
Someone you know may be misusing alcohol if:
- they regularly exceed the lower-risk daily limit for alcohol
- they're sometimes unable to remember what happened the night before because of their drinking
- they fail to do what was expected of them as a result of their drinking – for example, missing an appointment or work because of being drunk or hungover
If you're concerned about your drinking or someone else's, a good first step is to visit your GP. They'll be able to discuss the services and treatments available.
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