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When Does Social Drinking Become Alcoholism?

Posted on November 17, 2014

When Does Social Drinking Become Alcoholism?

Alcohol-related health problems amongst the “baby boomer” generation are again on the rise, with daily drinking patterns often starting as a social event but turning gradually into dependency. But when does social drinking evolve into alcoholism?

During the festive season, there are plenty of opportunities for social drinking at parties, Christmas events, New Year events and more, making this season a common target for alcoholism prevention and education programmes.

The consumption of alcohol in the UK has increased steadily since the 1950s and the NHS now spends more on alcohol-related illness amongst the older generation than any other age group – £825 million on 55-74-year-olds in 2010-11 compared with just £64m spent on the same problems in under-24s.

Many conservative estimates also suggest that somewhere in the region of nine per cent of men and three per cent of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence, but it is the vast majority of “functioning alcoholics” who slip under the radar before their health issues are severe enough to start needing treatment.

Dr John Marsden, an expert on alcohol and drug dependency from King’s College London, says that a typical functioning alcoholic can often manage to hold down a job and still give every appearance of a stable and successful life despite possessing a “very severe drinking problem that they have been incubating over a long period.”

“Alcohol problems are difficult to understand because they do not occur overnight. They are hidden from view which makes functioning alcoholics a group we cannot easily help.”

In the last decade, there has been an astonishing 63% rise in prescriptions for alcohol-related illness treatment in England, as well as a 20% rise in deaths from liver diseases. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, a liver specialist and chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, says that he believes the number of people dying from liver disease will keep rising.

He says that the majority of people with alcohol-related health problems are middle-aged as a consequence of many years of frequent heavy drinking. He adds that although there is an overlap, it is critical to remember that not all heavy social drinkers are dependent on alcohol.

“Some people can control their drinking after work, others can’t. If people are frequently drinking harmful levels of alcohol – over 50 units a week for men, 35 for women – most will end up suffering some form of physical, mental or social harm.”

Alcohol Concern is running a campaign called Dry January in an effort to get people to stop and think about the amount they drink. Dr Marsden also suggests that there is one clear indication of the line which slips social drinking into dependency, and says that the first question which needs to be asked by clinicians and family members is “Has anyone ever expressed concern to you about your drinking?”

In an age where youth is commonly seen as a license to “do whatever” and “YOLO” (short for “you only live once” has become a common catchphrase for young people, there is an important lesson to be learned from this older generation. People of all ages suffer from the health problems that alcohol abuse causes and those who do not experience side effects now will only see problems develop later.

In fact, many of the health problems associated with alcohol abuse can develop long after someone has cut down on their drinking – but it is never too late to stop, and help is at hand for anyone who is feeling trapped by alcohol.

Give Rehab Recovery a call today to dodge the NHS waiting lists and get real alcohol help to save the life of someone you care about.

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