Is alcohol a problem in the UK?

Why do people drink to excess in the UK? And what can be done about it? A look at the underlying reasons for problem drinking here.
What are alcohol related problems?

minute read

What do you know about the underlying reasons and additional issues around problem drinking?

Alcohol-related problems are…?

Problem drinking does not exist in a vacuum; alcohol addiction is often accompanied by other problems such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Family problems
  • Social problems
  • Work problems

Alcohol addiction impacts family, friends, co-workers, and children. So, why do people drink in the UK (and around the world)? Here, we review common reasons for alcohol problems and their solutions. Then, we invite your questions and comments about problem drinking at the end.

Alcohol addiction: Co-occurring conditions and collateral damage

Alcohol addiction can often occur alongside common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, these are referred to as ‘comorbid conditions’ or ‘dual diagnosis’.

At Priory, around 25% of people treated for an addiction are also diagnosed with one of these common mental health issues. We have specialists on-site to provide effective treatment and therapies for a range of problems. It is best to treat both conditions at the same time so a person can begin to manage the symptoms.

Alongside the issues a person with addiction experiences, there are other people who are effectively collateral damage because of the destructive behaviors an addict can exhibit. This can include friends, family, work colleagues and children.

Underlying reasons

There are a host of common reasons behind the development of addiction, such as:

  1. Life stresses such as working long hours, the rising cost of living and relationship problems
  2. Childhood adversity or traumatic events
  3. Financial difficulties (money is often stated as people’s most pressing concern)
  4. Genetic influence and childhood environment, e.g. a parent dependent on alcohol
  5. Influence of peers and frequency of exposure to alcohol

One or more of these causes is capable of triggering dependence on a substance, for example alcohol, to ease the individual’s situation. Yet some of the above may also be cited as causes for conditions such as depression and anxiety. Research indicates a genetic influence in the development of depression, just as is indicated with addiction; and stressful events can trigger a person’s drinking, but they can also trigger other mental health conditions.
It may be unclear which occurs first, and everyone’s experience of addiction and mental health issues is different, but there is some overlap here.

Self-medicating with alcohol

For many dependent on alcohol, it is used to self-medicate. This may be to ease stress or to combat existing depression or anxiety.

In a situation of co-morbid conditions you can see one condition exacerbate the other, worsening a person’s situation to an unbearable level. This may appear to work the first few times but it is likely to create a habitual pattern of reliance on the alcohol. This might lead to developing cravings or withdrawal symptoms and a higher tolerance of alcohol, signs that a person is becoming physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol, and can make the depression harder to treat.
With the ease with which one condition can lead to another, it’s no surprise we see such a significant portion of addicts diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

Social disruption

Alcohol dependence can also affect a person’s interpersonal relations and cause significant damage to their life. The damage to these relationships can cause people to spiral out of control and can even lead to:

  • Divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Unemployment
  • In some cases, homelessness.

This can stem from actions undertaken whilst drinking, such as driving offences or violence, which can result in legal problems for the individual. It is, however, worth remembering the considerable turmoil the family of an addict goes through in trying to support them.

Children of alcoholics

As is evident in the social ramifications of addiction, there are victims of addiction outside of the person suffering with it.

There a none more so than children.

Currently, the National Association for the Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) states around 1 in 5 children in the UK are living with a parent who drinks too much. Children undergo a complex mixture of feelings when witness to an alcoholic parent. They may suffer neglect or violence, and go on to blame themselves for what is happening.

Research has also found children of alcoholics are more likely to then repeat these behaviors in adulthood and fall to addiction themselves due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. They may also suffer a range of emotional issues going into adulthood such as:

  • Behavioral problems
  • Lack of empathy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor achievement in education

Getting help for alcohol problems is critical

It is imperative those dependent on alcohol seek treatment for many reasons. As noted here, there is the increased vulnerability to common mental health problems it brings, and the ripple effects their behaviour has. Without appropriate treatment and support, relationships with loved ones, children, friends, family, can all be damaged, sometimes irreparably, because of the destructive nature of addiction.

Dr Laurence Church, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woking comments:

“This article highlights the importance of several issues in the treatment of addiction. Firstly, the need for expert assessment in order to recognise and treat co-morbid mental health problems. At Priory a consultant psychiatrist who is ideally placed to perform this role will be involved in your care. Secondly we are reminded of the widespread social harm that addictions so often cause; in particular the needs of children involved must be considered at assessment and throughout recovery.”

Your alcohol questions

Are you or a loved one facing alcohol problems? Please leave us a question or comment below and we’ll try to respond to you personally and promptly.

About the author
Priory is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK including mental healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and older people’s care. As the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, Priory provides professional, specialist treatment programmes for a wide range of addictive substances and behaviours.
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