Getting help and support with alcohol

Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help.

You may need help if:
you often feel the need to have a drink
you get into trouble because of your drinking
other people warn you about how much you're drinking
you think your drinking is causing you problems

Try to be accurate and honest about how much you drink and any problems it may be causing you. If you have become dependent on alcohol, you will have found it difficult to fully control your drinking in some way.

So you'll probably need some help either to cut down and control your drinking or stop completely, and also some plans to maintain the improvement after that. Getting the right support can be crucial to maintaining control in the future. For more information visit the NHS website.

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol or substance misuse there is a lot of help available. We have a dedicated substance misuse practitioner available to talk to. Get in touch

How does alcohol affect me?
After just one medium glass of wine (just after 2 units), you will start to feel relaxed, you feel more confident and you become more talkative. At this point, your driving ability is already impaired, which is why it’s best to drink no alcohol if you’re driving.

After your second glass of wine (just over 4 units), your blood flow increases, you start dehydrating and your attention span is shorter.

After your third glass of wine (just over 6 units), your reaction time is slower, your liver is pushing harder and your sex drive may increase, whilst your judgement may decrease.

And after four glasses of wine (just over 9 units), you’re noticeably emotional and may become easily confused.

Now think about a time you have been out with work colleagues or friends and had some alcohol, how much of your time out can you actually remember?

Am I a binge drinker?

This part of the article is available in audio recording - listen here

Even if you don’t drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you:
Regularly drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines in a single session
Tend to drink quickly
Sometimes drink to get drunk

If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence. As everybody is different, it is not easy to say exactly how many units in one session count as binge drinking, but in the UK, it is considered you are binge drinking if you consume more than:
8 units of alcohol in a single session for men (e.g. 2 pints of 5% beer)
6 units of alcohol in a single session for women (e.g. 5 small (125ml) glasses of 13% wine)

The impact of the binge drinking on your physical and mental health will depend on your tolerance to alcohol and the speed you consume it at.

Binge drinking can lead to:
Accidents resulting in injury, which means you may have to take time off work.
Misjudging risky situations – again, thinking about safety of yourselves and the people around you.
Losing self-control and taking part in risky behaviours like having unprotected sex.

How can I reduce my risk from binge drinking?
Next time you’re drinking, remember the following key points:
Limit how much you drink on any single occasion
Try to eat when you are drinking
Alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks such as water or juice
Make sure you have planned ahead and are not working or driving soon after a heavy drinking session

You can be at risk from others and can easily lose control of what you do or say and may make risky decisions. Keeping track of your drinking, especially when in unfamiliar circumstances is so important.

If you are unsure if you drinking alcohol has become problematic, please take this self-screening test which will give you an indication of whether you benefit from further support.

So you have a hangover, now what?

This part of the article is available on audio recording - listen here

Splitting headaches, sickness, dizziness, dehydration: anyone who's ever drunk too much knows the consequences. Alcohol makes you pee more, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.

Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover, but there are things you can do to avoid one and, if you do have one, ease the discomfort.

Tips to avoid a hangover
Do not drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.
Do not drink on an empty stomach. Before you start drinking, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help to slow down your body's absorption of alcohol.
Do not drink dark coloured drinks if you've found you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners, which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Fizzy drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your body.
Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by your bed to sip if you wake up during the night.

Things to avoid
Drinking more alcohol, or "hair of the dog", does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the extra alcohol wears off.
If you've been drinking heavily, doctors advise that you wait at least 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol (even if you don't have a hangover), to give your body time to recover.

Alcohol and weight management

This part of the article is available in audio recording - listen here

Big pint or Big Mac?
Drinking 4 bottles of wine a month adds up to approx. 27,000 calories which is equivalent to eating 48 Big Macs per year. Drinking 5 pints of lager each week adds up to 44,200 calories which is equivalent to 221 Krispy Kreme chocolate coated doughnuts each year, so if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not only about what you eat but also about what you drink!

How does alcohol cause weight gain?
Alcohol contains a lot of calories, 7 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram and fats have 9 calories per gram, making alcohol almost as many calories as a gram of fat. Plus, don’t forget about the calories in your mixers such as tonic, juices and fizzy drinks such as Cola.

Majority of alcoholic drinks are made from natural starch and sugar, hence having hardly any nutritional value yet still so high in calories.

A couple of drinks on occasions may not be noticeable on your waistline but regularly drinking more than the NHS recommends can have a noticeable impact on your waistline and cause less obvious, but more serious health problems.

Tips to avoid weight gain
Do not drink on an empty stomach and if you do decide to snack whilst drinking, choose healthier options
Drink at your own pace, buying rounds for one another can mean you end up drinking more than you may have initially intended
Alternate an alcoholic drink with a glass of water as this will help prevent you from becoming dehydrated
Stick to the recommended guidelines and do not drink more than 14 units in a week
If you are planning to cut down, do it with a friend or partner as you’ll be more likely to stick to it with an accountability partner
Eat a healthy meal before you start drinking so you’re less likely to be tempted to go for a less healthy option following a few drinks such as fast food or crisps
If you’re drinking white wine, try adding a splash of soda water to help the same number of units last longer

A is for Alcohol webinar
Stefani, our Substance Misuse Practitioner talks through a webinar with the focus of alcohol and the affects it has on wellbeing.

Further resources
Substance misuse guide for NHS staff and managers
Building new habits worksheet
NHS self-help guide: Alcohol and You (Northumberland, Tyne and Wear)
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