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Is Your Socialising Becoming a Drinking Problem?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Let's say you are the kind of person who goes to the pub once or twice a week to enjoy a pint you’re your friends. You rarely get drunk, and you typically limit your alcohol consumption to just a few beers per week. You would be considered a casual, or social drinker. Truth be told, this is the way most of us in the UK drink. We have an occasional beer or glass of spirits as part of a social gathering with friends. Unfortunately, this doesn't hold true for everyone. Some people start out as social drinkers only to develop a serious drinking problem.

There are lots of different problems with alcohol that the average drinker knows nothing about. For example, few people realise that excessive drinking over long periods of time increases one's risk of cancer. Many do not understand that the damage alcohol does to the liver is irreversible. Yet the known health problems associated with alcohol are not even the worst part. The worst part is that people do not understand how social drinking can become problem drinking so easily.

From Social Drinker to Alcoholic

We are concerned that you might be visiting our website today because you suspect you might have a drinking problem. We hope you will contact us for help if that is the case. In the meantime, we want to take this opportunity to explain how a person goes from social drinking to alcoholism without even knowing it. The process starts in the brain.

We have known for a long time that the brain's exposure to alcohol results in the production of certain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are responsible for carrying signals from the brain to other parts of the body. Along with those neurotransmitters are chemicals known as endorphins. These chemicals produce the feelings of pleasure associated with drinking.

Recent scientific discoveries have shown that the brains of alcoholics respond more aggressively to endorphins. In other words, where the average person might enjoy a moderate amount of pleasure from drinking, the alcoholic experiences far more pleasure. Researchers believe that the increased pleasure is present from the very beginning. This would explain why future alcoholics develop cravings so early in the process.

With a better understanding of how the alcoholic's brain responds to alcohol, we can now lay out the four steps involved in going from social drinker to alcoholic:

  • Step #1: Pleasure Centre Activation – The first step is the activation of the pleasure centre of the brain, as we just discussed in the previous paragraph. The individual derives such pleasure during the early stages of drinking that he or she seeks to re-create that pleasure more often. Rather than limiting his or her drinking to once every few weeks, the drinker seeks to increase the pleasurable experience by drinking more often.
  • Step #2: Drinking to Relax/Fit in – A person who derives an unusual amount of pleasure from drinking may discover that alcohol consumption helps him or her to relax or better fit in with those around him/her. He/she then uses drinking as a way to be more socially adept. At this point, casual drinking has become problem drinking.
  • Step #3: Drinking for the Sake of It – Problem drinking that is not dealt with eventually leads to alcohol abuse – and the third step in the process: drinking for the sake of doing so. The alcohol abuser has long since passed the point where he or she is drinking for pleasure or to relax and fit in. He or she drinks just for the sake of drinking. He/she gets drunk more frequently and takes advantage of more opportunities to binge.
  • Step #4: Drinking out of Compulsion – The fourth and final step from social drinking to alcoholism is one of drinking out of compulsion. In other words, the drinker can no longer control either his/her cravings or his/her actions. He/she drinks because his/her body and mind are telling him/her that he/she has to. In a clinical sense, this is known as dependence or addiction. They are the same thing. They are the hallmark of alcoholism.

People who engage in careless social drinking can easily develop a drinking problem if something does not occur to interrupt the process. Social drinking becomes problem drinking; problem drinking becomes alcohol abuse, and alcohol abuse eventually leads to alcoholism. What we want you to know is that the process can be interrupted at any stage. It can be interrupted with proper treatment and support.

How to Identify a Drinking Problem

Perhaps, after reading the four steps from social drinking to alcoholism, you are concerned you may be on a road you do not want to be on. How can you know for sure that you have a problem? The only way to be absolutely sure is to undergo an alcohol assessment conducted by a trained professional. Our counsellors are trained to provide such assessments based on the latest standards. We utilise the same kind of screening tools that doctors and counsellors use to determine the severity of a drinking problem.

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In the absence of a professional assessment, there are certain signs and symptoms you can look for that would indicate you are either an alcoholic already or well on your way. Those signs and symptoms include:

  • regular cravings for alcohol
  • daily fear that you will not have enough alcohol
  • looking for new avenues to drink
  • drinking alone or first thing in the morning
  • experiencing a need to hide alcohol around the home
  • loss of interest in former hobbies and interests
  • loss of interest in your personal appearance
  • trouble performing up to standard at work or school
  • family members and friends regularly showing concern
  • a regular desire to increase the amount of alcohol you consume.

The existence of one or two of these symptoms may be a warning sign that you are on the road to being an alcoholic. If you exhibit three or more, your risk is even higher. We urge you to submit to an alcohol assessment in order to know, once and for all, where you stand. The existence of a verifiable drinking problem must be met with effective treatment and support if you want to get well.

Treatments in Your Local Area

As an independent provider of assessments, advice and treatment referrals, one of our primary functions is to help problem drinkers and their families take advantage of treatments in their local areas. To that end, we work with a full range of treatment providers including private rehab clinics, independent counsellors, NHS clinics, alcohol support groups, and charities. We can help you access the kind of treatment that is right for you.

As a problem drinker, you might be best served by some independent counselling and a prescription medication supplied by your doctor. If you have a more serious problem that could be considered alcohol abuse, you may need more intense counselling along with some sort of outpatient treatment programme that includes prescription medications to control alcohol cravings.

The most severe cases of alcoholism are most often referred to residential treatment at a private clinic. This sort of treatment offers the best chances of a full and complete recovery by including medically supervised detox, rehabilitative counselling, 12-step work, group support, and a range of aftercare services.

We cannot stress enough your need to contact us if you suspect that you or someone you love has a drinking problem. Please note that all of our services are free and confidential. You have nothing to lose by calling our 24-hour helpline or sending a message through our website.

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