When does it change from “I just fancy a beer” to “I’m addicted to alcohol”? The short answer is, the transition can be slow and progressive and sometimes not even obvious to the individual. Often those around us detect the problem before we are aware of it. Alcohol, unlike most other drugs, is interesting. Firstly, it is legal! It is also easily accessible, promoted in society as normal, engrained in our culture and advertised in mainstream media. It is associated with having a good time, relaxing, socialising and managing stress. The one fact that often gets missed amongst these messages is that it is a drug of addiction with potentially harmful effects. Addiction to alcohol, like addiction in general, does not always occur with the individual intending for it end that way. People may drink responsibly for many years but the onset of a major life stressor could change the relationship to alcohol from enjoying a drink with friends to using it to manage stress. Others may have used alcohol for many years to cope or manage other problems such as anxiety or depression. In fact, for many, the thought that they may have an alcohol addiction is met with “no, not me! I’m just social drinker” or “I’m not addicted, I just enjoy a few beers at the end of the day” or “I could give it up anytime, I just don’t want to”.
There are some factors that indicate alcohol might be a problem. Do you recognise any of these in yourself or others; does alcohol affect your work? Does alcohol affect your relationships? Has alcohol started effecting your mood, mental health or sleep? Has alcohol intake increased over time? Does alcohol use cause financial strain? These are just a few questions to consider. Alcohol addiction can result in many long-term problems. There are now several proven physical health problems associated long-term alcohol misuse along with many other mental health issues. The social cost of alcohol addiction can also be great. It can cause family discord and even family separation. The problem of addiction is not one dimensional and so seeking support can be very important.
We are experiencing an extremely challenging time with COVID-19 and perhaps our usual coping strategies are not available to us. Many of us have resorted to increased alcohol use as a way of coping and managing and its use feels justified at the moment. If alcohol use is starting to feel out of control or problematic, it is important to take a step back and think about the issue more broadly. Understanding what underlies addiction and consequently, what maintains the problems are both crucial to recovery. Working together with professionals and loved ones will always give the best outcomes. Whilst it can be daunting to take the first step…the grass will be greener on the other side.
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