Alcohol misuse is when you drink in a way that's harmful, or when you're dependent on alcohol. To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
- half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
- a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)
A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol (NHS.uk website).
What is alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a disease that affects people of all walks of life. Psychological, genetic, and behavioural factors can all contribute to having the disease.
It is important to note that alcoholism is a real disease. It can cause changes to the brain and neurochemistry, so a person with an alcohol addiction may not be able to control their actions.
Alcohol addiction can show itself in a variety of ways. The severity of the disease, how often someone drinks, and the alcohol they consume varies from person to person. Some people drink heavily all day, while others binge drink and then stay sober for a while.
Regardless of how the addiction looks, someone typically has an alcohol addiction if they heavily rely on drinking and cannot stay sober for an extended period of time (Healthline.com website).
Risks of alcohol misuse
The short-term risks of alcohol misuse (as detailed on the NHS.org website) 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 – this may lead to vomiting, fits (seizures) 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.
According to the NHS.org website, persistent alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:
- heart disease
- liver disease
- liver cancer
- bowel cancer
- mouth cancer
- breast cancer
Long-term alcohol misuse can also lead to social problems, such as unemployment, divorce,
relationship abuse and homelessness.
Drug abuse is something that can affect people from all backgrounds. Anyone can be affected, regardless of gender, age, race, education, wealth, and religion. While taking drugs for the first time is generally down to choice, nobody does so with the intent of becoming addicted. Most are of the opinion that they will just ‘try it once’ to see what all the fuss is about. Some people are able to experiment out of curiosity and then never touch drugs again, but others like the feelings they get and become hooked after their very first try.
Unlike other types of addiction such as gambling or sex addiction, there are some very obvious signs of drug abuse that are typically noticeable to those closest to the individual (Recovery.org.uk website).
Recognising the signs of drug abuse
Because drug abuse tends to lead to addiction, which is classed as an illness of the brain, there are usually behavioural symptoms that lead others to believe something is not quite right with the affected individual. After a while, certain physical symptoms may become more apparent.
Although the signs of drug abuse vary depending on the drug being abused, there are some common symptoms that indicate a problem may exist. These can include:
- Severe mood swings where the person is depressed one minute and then suddenly becomes happy and carefree
- Becoming increasingly isolated and withdrawn and spending more and more time alone
- Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies that he or she previously enjoyed
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Glassy or watery eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose.
Dispelling myths about drug abuse and addiction
Helpguide.org website provides some examples of common myths and facts about drug abuse and addiction (as shown below).
Myth: Overcoming addiction is simply a matter of willpower. You can stop using drugs if you really want.
Fact: Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.
Myth: Using drugs like opioid painkillers are safe since they’re so commonly prescribed by doctors.
Fact: Short-term medical use of opioid painkillers can help to manage severe pain after an accident or surgery, for example. However, regular or longer-term use of opioids can lead to addiction. Misuse of these drugs or taking someone else’s medication can have dangerous—even deadly—consequences.
Myth: Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing that can be done about it.
Fact: Most experts agree that addiction is a disease that affects the brain, but that doesn’t mean anyone is helpless. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments.
Myth: Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better.
Fact: Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better. The longer drug abuse continues, the stronger the addiction becomes and the harder it is to treat. Don’t wait to intervene until the addict has lost everything.
Myth: You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help.
Fact: Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.
Myth: Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again.
Fact: Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that sobriety is a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.