Hazardous drinking is defined as when a person drinks over the recommended weekly limit of alcohol (14 units for both men and women).
It is also possible to drink hazardously by binge drinking, even if you are within your weekly limit. Binge drinking involves drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short space of time – eight units in a day for men and six units in a day for women.
If you are drinking hazardously, you may not yet have any health problems related to alcohol, but you are increasing your risk of experiencing problems in the future.
Harmful drinking is defined as when a person drinks over the recommended weekly amount of alcohol and experiences health problems that are directly related to alcohol.
In some cases, there may be obvious problems such as:
- an alcohol-related accident, such as a head injury
- acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
Many of the health problems that occur as a result of harmful drinking do not cause any symptoms until they reach their most serious stages. These include:
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- some types of cancer, such as mouth cancer and bowel cancer
- heart disease
This means it can be easy to underestimate the levels of physical damage that is caused by harmful drinking. Harmful drinking can also cause related social problems, such as difficulties with your partner or spouse, family and friends or at work or college.
Alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive. It is possible to become dependent on it.
Being dependent on alcohol means that a person feels that they are unable to function without alcohol, and the consumption of alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life.
Depending on the level of dependence, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop drinking alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
Physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- hand tremors (“the shakes”)
- visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not actually real)
- seizures (fits) in the most serious cases
Psychological withdrawal symptoms include:
- insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
Severely dependent drinkers usually experience severe withdrawal symptoms. They often fall into a pattern of “relief drinking”, where they drink to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Severely dependent drinkers are often able to tolerate very high levels of alcohol, and they are able to drink amounts that would incapacitate, or even kill, most other people.
Units and the risks of alcohol misuse
Alcohol is a powerful chemical that can have a wide range of effects on almost every part of your body, including your brain, bones and heart.
Alcohol and its associated risks can have both short-term and long-term effects. In 2009-10, there were around 1 million hospital admissions due to an alcohol-related injury or condition.
Short-term effects of alcohol
The short-term effects of alcohol are described below. This information is based on the assumption that you have a normal tolerance to alcohol. Dependent drinkers with a higher tolerance to alcohol can often drink much more without experiencing any noticeable effects.
Advice to safely reduce your alcohol intake
Our Alcohol Liaison Service or Inspiring Recovery Service can help you safely reduce your alcohol intake. Here is some simple advice which may help.
The rate you reduce your drinking is up to you as you are in control. It’s important to try to strike a balance between not cutting down so quickly that you get severe withdrawal symptoms and not so slowly that you never actually stop!
- Work out how many units you normally drink a day. This is your staring point.
- From your starting point, a sensible approach is to try to reduce by 2-5 units per day.
- Remember, you are drinking to control withdrawal symptoms, not to get intoxicated.
- Do not assume you have to have a drink straight away after waking up. Try drinking nothing until you notice withdrawal symptoms.
- Try to drink only when you start to feel yourself withdraw and then drink approximately 2 units at a time. Wait 20-30 minutes for the alcohol to take effect and repeat this process each time you get withdrawal symptoms.
- If you experience disturbed or disrupted sleep due to withdrawal symptoms, you could try a double dose before bed.
- Remember, as you successfully reduce your daily alcohol intake, you should find your withdrawal symptoms become less severe.
- Keep a daily record of what and when you drink and what withdrawal symptoms you get. This will help you keep track of your progress and give you a guide to how much you should reduce the next day.
- If you are having withdrawal symptoms which are making you feel unwell, you may have cut down too quickly. If this is the case, you should discuss this with a health professional as soon as possible.
Where to get help
We provide services in:
- The Wakefield District. Visit our Inspiring Recovery service pages for more information or call free on 0300 123 1912;
- At Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. We have an Alcohol Liaison Service team on site at the hospital. For more information, visit our ALS page.
- North Yorkshire. Visit our North Yorkshire Horizons pages for more information, or call 01723 330730, or visit the dedicated North Yorkshire Horizons website.
Need a little more help?
We understand that the circumstances that people are in can be very difficult. In the Wakefield District, under our West Yorkshire Finding Independence project (or WY-FI for short), we offer added assistance to help people who have at least three of the following four issues:
- Substance misuse issues (drugs or alcohol addiction)
- Mental health conditions
- Re-offending behaviour
For more information, visit our WY-FI page.
Other substance misuse services: A Community Alcohol Liaison Practitioner, Head & Neck Cancer Alcohol Liaison Nurses at Pinderfields and St James’ Hospitals, Pinderfields Alcohol Liaison Service.