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Alcohol abuse in adults

Updated: Jan 11

Alcohol abuse

The public body in England NHS England, (2022) states:


- Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse is when you drink in a way that is harmful or when you are dependent on alcohol. To keep the health risks of alcohol low, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week.

One unit of alcohol is 8 g or 10 ml of pure alcohol, i.e. approximately:

Half pint of lower to regular strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)

one small shot (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)

A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains approximately 1.5 units of alcohol.

To keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low:

Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week on a regular basis

if you drink up to 14 units per week, it is best to spread it evenly over 3 or more days

if you are trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it is a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink any alcohol at all to minimize the risks to your baby.

Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most days and weeks.

Your health risk increases if you drink any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.

Dangers of alcohol abuse.

Short term.

Short-term risks of alcohol abuse include:

accidents and injuries requiring hospital treatment, such as a head injury,

violent behavior and being a victim of violence,

unprotected sex that could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections,

loss of personal items such as wallets, keys or mobile phones

alcohol poisoning – this can lead to vomiting, seizures (convulsions) and loss of consciousness.

People who binge drink (drink a lot in a short period of time) are more likely to behave recklessly and are at greater risk of getting into an accident.

Long term:

Persistent alcohol abuse increases the risk of serious health conditions, such as:

heart disease


liver disease

liver cancer

bowel cancer

mouth cancer

breast cancer


damage to the brain, which can lead to problems with thinking and memory.

In addition to causing serious health problems, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to social problems for some people, such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness.

If someone loses control of their drinking and has an excessive desire to drink, it is known as dependent drinking (alcoholism).

Dependent drinking usually affects a person's quality of life and relationships, but it may not always be easy to see or accept.

Severely dependent drinkers are often able to tolerate very high levels of alcohol in amounts that could dangerously affect or even kill some people who do not consume the same amounts of alcohol frequently.

A dependent drinker usually experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they stop or stop drinking suddenly, such as:

hand tremors – "the shakes


seeing things that are not real (visual hallucinations)



difficulty sleeping (insomnia)

This often leads to 'relief' to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Do I drink too much alcohol?

You may abuse alcohol if:

feel like you need to cut back on your drinking,

other people criticize your drinking,

feel guilty or bad about your drinking,

need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover.

Someone you know may be abusing alcohol if:

regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week,

sometimes they can't remember what happened the night before because of their drinking,

fail to do what is expected of them as a result of their drinking (for example, miss an appointment or work because they are drunk or hungry).

Treatment of alcohol abuse:

How alcohol abuse is treated depends on how much alcohol a person drinks.

Treatment options include:

Counselling – including self-help groups and talking therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),


detoxification - involves a nurse or doctor supporting you to stop drinking safely. This can be done by helping you taper off slowly over time or by giving you medication to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

There are 2 main types of medication that help people stop drinking.

The first is to help stop withdrawal symptoms and is given in reduced doses over a short period of time. The most common of these drugs is chlordiazapoxide (Librium).

The second is a medicine to reduce the desire you may have to drink. The most common drugs used for this are acamprosate and naltrexone.

Both are given in a fixed dose and you will usually take them for 6 to 12 months.

Alcohol and pregnancy:

The Department of Health and Social Care recommends that pregnant women and women trying to conceive avoid drinking alcohol.

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, and the risk increases the more you drink.

The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink any alcohol at all to minimize the risk to your baby.

If you are worried about using alcohol during pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife.

If you are trying to conceive, your partner should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, which should be spread evenly over 3 days or more.

Drinking too much alcohol can affect the quality of his sperm.

“Contains information from NHS England, licensed under the current version of the Open Government Licence”.


NHS England (2022). Available at -misuse/ (accessed 10/01/2024).

NHS England

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

If you think you drink a lot of alcohol, then you can get help from a health professional and the following services:

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