Alcohol misuse is when a person drinks alcohol excessively.
One unit of alcohol equates to:
- Half a pint of normal-strength lager
- A single measure (25ml) of spirits (gin, vodka, whisky, rum)
- A small glass (125ml) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol
The NHS recommends:
- not regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
- if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread this evenly over three or more days
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 leading 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.
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)
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 hung-over
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.
As well as the NHS, there are a number of charities and support groups across the UK that provide support and advice for people with an alcohol misuse problem, such as Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555