Alcohol misuse
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What is alcohol abuse?
Alcohol misuse means drinking excessively, which would be drinking more than the lower risk limits of alcohol consumption on a regular basis. Alcohol consumption is measured in units

A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
  • half a pint of normal strength lager
  • a single measure (25ml) of spirits
  • a small glass (125ml) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol
Lower risk limits
To keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low, 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 these evenly over three or more days
  • if you're trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it's a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week
  • 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.

Short-term 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 which could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • loss of personal belongings, 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.
Long-term risks of alcohol misuse
Persistent alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:
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 which 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')
  • sweating
  • seeing things that aren't real (visual hallucinations)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping – insomnia
This often leads to relief drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Read more about the risks of alcohol misuse.
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
How can we help you?
If you feel you have an alcohol problem, visit your GP who will be able to help you and refer you on to local services for support.

Further information
Watch our short alcohol awareness animation below:

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