By Richard Hereward, Counsellor at The Eaves
Next week is Alcohol Awareness Week and for many people this raises a number of difficult questions. How much is too much? Is alcohol costing me more than money? Is alcohol changing me as a person?
It may surprise you that the NHS drinking guidelines indicate a limit of no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. That’s around 6 medium glasses of wine or 6 pints of 4% beer. To give some context, the total social cost of consuming alcohol to excess to society – the NHS, the emergency services, police and workplace – is estimated at £21 billion per annum. The personal costs are much starker with alcohol-related death rates since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic increasing to 20,970 per annum, the highest rate since records began. Between 2021 and 2022 there were 948,312 alcohol related hospital admissions, equal to roughly 1.7% of that year’s UK population . The harm caused by alcohol affects millions of people in terms of worsened mental and physical health, financial worries, relationship breakdowns and family difficulties. The cost of living crisis has increased the stress of trying to make ends meet and people often use alcohol more than they would like to cope with the anxiety of everyday living.
Much research has been carried out over the years to look at the underlying causes of problem drinking and alcoholism; it remains undecided as to whether it could be nature or nurture, or both, that sits at the root cause. One of the few things that can be said for certain is that our relationship with alcohol, and its effects on us, is extremely personal and unique to each one of us. Our motivation for consuming to excess is also highly personal and varies hugely. For some it just feels good, a sense of ease and comfort, conviviality, the sense of alcohol offering a temporary (albeit chemically induced) relief, an easier connection to oneself and to others, and a way to make worries fade away for a while. Sometimes people use alcohol for its anaesthetising characteristics, to cover up feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness or other difficult emotions. For others, it is a way to cover up shyness, shame or self-hatred, feelings of low self-esteem. Or perhaps they simply want to feel better about themselves, or they want to feel more confident.
Alcohol is seductive because it can work reasonably well temporarily, to help us cover up or cope with difficult emotions, but it also enables the avoidance of dealing with these difficult feelings, and it paves the road to increasing dependence on alcohol in order to feel secure and ok within ourselves, and to be able to engage in life.
For some people, seeking out that relief turns into a compulsive and uncontrollable desire even if continuing to drink brings increasingly negative and harmful consequences. It can mean lying and hiding things from loved ones and of course lying to ourselves. It can mean losing our reliability and trustworthiness. Then there are the physical side effects to manage such as general exhaustion, sleep issues and often getting ill. It becomes more and more difficult to keep up appearances, and over time the way we feel about ourselves deteriorates.
An often-used term these days is self-medicating. I have heard drinking to excess described as “an attempt at self-repair”. When we feel under pressure, overwhelmed or that something is not right in ourselves or our lives, that causes pain and distress, and it is only human to reach for something to ease our discomfort. Your conscious mind may very much want to change your alcohol related behaviour, but your unconscious mind might have very different ideas. Left unaddressed this conflict can easily worsen and escalate over time.
Therapeutic intervention may help you to empower your conscious mind and enable you to expose and process underlying difficulties. Therapy for alcohol addiction helps you to uncover and examine the underlying causes that created the addictive cycle that you may be caught in. Often the hardest step to take is that of admitting you have a problem with alcohol and asking for help with it. If you feel that way, please be assured that you are not alone and that many people are asking for help. Having your issues heard in a non-judgmental, confidential environment is often vital for initiating the process of change.
I would also like to say that it can take a lot of courage to overcome feelings of shame around what you are experiencing in order to reach out. If you would like to discuss your problems in absolute confidence please enquire.
I will be only too pleased to see you to discuss any questions you may have and to explore with you whether therapy might be of use to you.
The Eaves has highly trained Counsellors, Psychologists and Psychotherapists available across Surrey in Guildford, Godalming, Haslemere, Farnham and online. Support is available to individuals of all ages, Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm.
To read more about Richard Hereward, or to enquire about his lastest availability, please see his full profile here
NHS Drinking Guidelines; www.nhs.uk
Total social cost of £21 Billion; www.alcoholchange.org.uk
Alcohol death rate and hospital admissions;