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Alcoholism: How Do You Know?

Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a very common problem that can affect anyone, from any social background. There were 8758 deaths related to alcohol use in the United Kingdom in 2015, with sixty-five per cent of these being male. This level has been relatively constant in recent years, giving an indication of the number of people who are misusing alcohol.

What Is Alcoholism?

Simply put, alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. It is also referred to as alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence. Sufferers of alcoholism will experience uncontrollable cravings for alcoholic drinks, and their everyday lives will suffer because they will neglect the responsibilities of their life, friends, family, work commitments, in favour of drinking. Many sufferers of alcoholism will not believe that they have a problem, even when confronted by those who care about them. Many who do accept they have problems will find it almost impossible to change.

The reasons behind alcoholism are complex and can be very different for each person. Some people turn to alcohol to try and escape from problems in their lives or a traumatic event. Others may have a predisposition to addiction, or have ‘learned’ alcoholism from a parent with alcohol addiction.

How Do You Know If Someone Is Suffering from Alcoholism?

Several signs could indicate a person is suffering from alcoholism. If you are concerned about a loved one, then consider the following questions. If the answer to all, or the majority, of them is yes, then there is a strong possibility that the person is suffering from alcoholism:

  • Are they showing little interest in activities they used to enjoy?
  • Do they appear to be drunk more often?
  • Have you noticed that they seem to need to drink more?
  • Are they appearing more tired than normal, or more irritable?
  • Are they unable to refuse an alcoholic drink?
  • Have they started to suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues?
  • Has their behaviour changed, becoming more secretive, or lying about what they have been doing?

If you are concerned about your own relationship with alcohol, then there are several self-assessment tests available on the internet; of course, these are only accurate if you are completely honest in your answers.

Is Binge Drinking the Same as Alcoholism?

The answer to that is yes and no. Binge drinking is defined as, for men, having more than four units of alcohol in a day, or more than fifteen units of alcohol in a week. For women, it is defined as having more than three units in one day, or eight units in a week. This is surprisingly easy to do; for example, having half an average bottle of wine with dinner would mean you were drinking around four units. When we talk about binge drinking, we think of groups of young people out on pub crawls, knocking back drink after drink and, by the end of the night, probably behaving very badly. The clinical definition, however, involves much lower amounts of alcohol than most people would expect.

So binge drinking is different from alcoholism, and most binge drinkers are not alcoholics, but the converse is true; almost all alcoholics will fit the definition of binge drinking.

How Can I Help a Loved One with Alcoholism?

Helping someone with alcoholism can be very challenging, particularly if he or she does not realise, or does not accept, that there is a problem with alcohol. The first thing to do in that situation is to explain to the affected person that you are worried about them. Involving other family members or close friends might be helpful. This is known as an intervention and can be very useful in helping someone struggling with alcoholism to begin to see they have a problem. It must be handled carefully, however, as it is important not to antagonise the person, which would make it less likely that they will accept help. It is a very good idea to get some professional advice before staging an intervention.

If your loved one has already accepted that he or she has a problem, then the best thing that you can do for the individual is to support them through their treatment. The process of going through treatment for alcoholism can be frightening and upsetting, and people are much more likely to make a full recovery and remain sober if they have the support and love of close friends and family. Many treatment centres will have family counselling sessions to help the family to understand what their loved one is going through and how best to support them.

Where Can I Get Help with Alcoholism?

At Addiction Helpline, we have a twenty-four-hour helpline offering free and confidential advice. We will help you to decide what form of treatment is best for you and can help you to find a rehab centre that will meet your needs. Please call us today and let us help you begin your recovery.


  1. (Drink Aware) What is alcoholism?
  2. (ONS) Drug use, alcohol and smoking
  3. (Soberlink) Is chronic binge drinking the same as alcoholism?

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