Better Living - Drinking and Alcoholism
Some people are more vulnerable to the immediate effects of alcohol depending on their:
- Body size - because there is more blood in a large person than in a small person, the concentration of alcohol in the big person will rise more slowly, and reach a lower level, than in a small person, even if they both drink the same amount.
- Gender - women's bodies have more fat and less fluid than men's; so even if they are a similar size and weight to a man, and drinking the same amount, the concentration of alcohol in the blood will be higher in the women. Women are more sensitive to the immediate effects of drinking during ovulation (about 2 weeks before a period) and in the 2 or 3 days before a period. They are likely to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly at these times than they would normally. Women using the contraceptive pill do not experience this effect, but alcohol may take longer to process.
- Age - it appears that both young people and older people may process alcohol more slowly, and so they will have alcohol in their systems for longer.
- Genetics - there may be variations in how alcohol affects people of different races. For instance, many people of East Asian origin have an enzyme, which causes a strong allergy like reaction to alcohol.
Other factors, which can vary the effects of alcohol, are:
- Eating before drinking - alcohol is absorbed more quickly on an empty stomach - hence the expression 'that drink's gone straight to my head'.
- The type of drink - some drinks are absorbed faster than others, and so their effects are felt more quickly. Wines and sherries are absorbed more quickly than neat spirits or beers; the chemicals in sparkling wines, in lagers and in fizzy mixers speed up alcohol absorption; the sugar in sweet drinks slows it down.
- Although these effects are short term, being 'under the influence' puts you at a higher risk of accidents and can cause tension in relationships with colleagues, family and friends.
How long do the effects last?
Long-term effects and alcohol related illnesses
Excessive drinking can damage most organs and body systems:
Blood and heart
Advice on sensible drinking
A unit of alcohol is equivalent to:
- Half a pint of average strength beer (approx. 250ML)
- a glass of wine (125ML)
- a standard pub measure of spirits/ fortified wine such as sherry or port (25ML)
These are measures of alcohol as might be bought in a restaurant or pub. Many drinks poured at home will be more generous and so contain more units of alcohol.
Do I have an alcohol problem?
If you are worried that drinking may be becoming a problem for you, warning signs can be:
- Being drunk more often, particularly when needing to be on good form the next day.
- Taking the day off because of a hangover.
- Having accidents, domestic arguments or injuries because of drink.
- Getting into trouble because of drinking - fights, drinking and driving.
- Doing something you would not otherwise have done after drinking and regretting it.
- Drinking more than you planned to in an evening.
If these are only isolated incidents you may just need to think more carefully about reducing the number of drinks you have and when you decide to have them. However if many of the other signs given below apply, you may be getting into a pattern of problem drinking.
- Thinking a lot about when you can next have a drink
- Gulping your first drink quickly.
- Being conscious of how often you are the first person to finish a drink.
- Having more than the occasional hangover.
- Needing to have a drink before doing things or facing certain situations.
- Feeling sick, having the shakes, sweating in the morning or middle of the night.
- Spending more than you can afford on alcohol.
- Ordering doubles when it's your round.
- Often feeling that you need a drink.
- Increase in arguments and rows at home over drink.
- Being annoyed if others mention your drinking or your behaviour when you were drunk.
- Other people telling you that they are worried about your drinking.
- Feeling secretly uncomfortable about your drinking.
- Drinking when alone.
- Deliberately hiding the evidence of your drinking (lying about money, hiding drink and empty alcohol containers).
- Starting to drink at times when you didn't before and earlier in the day.
You are likely to have a definite problem with alcohol or have become addicted if you:
- Have to increase the amount you drink to maintain the same effect.
- Always wake up with the shakes and feeling sweaty.
- Need a drink to start the day.
- Drink large quantities over the course of the day without it making you drunk.
- Feel uncomfortable if you don't have a drink at hand.
- Lie about your drinking.
- Are covering up your drinking and the costs of it.
Tips for cutting down
Some things that others have found useful for cutting down include:
- Going out a bit later or just having your first drink later
- Replacing some of your drinks with non-alcoholic or low alcohol drinks.
- Switching your usual drink to one with less alcohol in it.
- Avoiding the quick drink situation - missing out the one at lunchtime or after work can make a huge difference over the week.
- Having at least two alcohol free days - taking up a new interest, sport or just going to the cinema if you find most of your social life is involved around the pub.
- Drinking longer drinks - beer rather than spirits and drinking more slowly.
- If you drink at home, buying beers and wines with lower alcohol content could make a great difference.
- Decide a limit of no more than, say, 5 units on any one occasion.
- Buy smaller glasses for the home or buy a drinks measure.
- Keep a supply of non-alcoholic alternatives for drinking at home and entertaining.
- Tell others you are cutting down and avoid rounds.
- Finding other ways of relaxing - exercise or relaxation techniques for example.
- If you anticipate a heavy evening, avoid drinking on an empty stomach and make sure someone else is driving.
Worried about someone else?
How to tell if someone else has a problem with alcohol
The problem is that most people with a drinking problem will deny it. The question is usually paramount in the minds of those concerned because finding out by other means is difficult. The person (who is unlikely to appear completely drunk) will be resistant to any enquiries, is likely to lie about their drinking and will take a lot of trouble to cover it up. You know something is wrong and suspect alcohol, but because of the stigma attached to alcohol problems which contributes to denial (often aggressive), it is hard to find out from the person directly. In fact the question itself is rarely very useful, unless the person is willing to talk about their drinking, and when thinking about what action needs to be taken. It is likely that if you are concerned about someone and think drink is involved then it probably is. It is more useful to focus on what has changed rather than whether or not someone is `alcoholic'.
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that
they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
- The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; they are self-supporting through their own contributions.
- AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
- AA'ss primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
A Simple 12-question quiz designed to help you decide
|1||Do you drink because you have problems? To face up to stressful situations?|
|2||Do you drink when you get mad at other people, your friends or parents?|
|3||Do you often prefer to drink alone, rather than with others?|
|4||Are you starting to get low marks? Are you skiving off work?|
|5||Do you ever try to stop or drink less - and fail?|
|6||Have you begun to drink in the morning, before school or work?|
|7||Do you gulp your drinks as if to satisfy a great thirst|
|8||Do you ever have loss of memory due to your drinking?|
|9||Do you avoid being honest with others about your drinking|
|10||Do you ever get into trouble when you are drinking?|
|11||Do you often get drunk when you drink, even when you do not mean to?|
|12||Do you think you're big to be able to hold your drink?|
Check your local phone book under Alcohol. Drinkline, can offer information on local agencies, telephone 0800 917 82 82 (Freephone). For self help groups in your area contact Al-Anon on 020 7403 0888. If you are worried about you're drinking, are finding it hard to cut down or stop, there are many agencies that offer a confidential service and will be happy to help you.