The professional who goes to the pub after work every day. The family that have a bottle of wine with their dinner each night. The student who drinks daily with their friends.
Are those that are alcohol dependent merely functioning alcoholics?
I have many friends who wouldn’t think twice about having alcohol every day, this made me question the definition of what an alcoholic is and what society’s perception of an alcoholic is. Also, at what point does someone stop being alcoholic dependent and become an alcoholic or are those by definition, the exact same illness.
Andy, a 50-year-old and an ex-soldier, who has been an alcoholic for 30 years, drinking more than 25 pints a day.
After years of alcohol abuse, he ended up in hospital numerous times and was told by doctors he would die soon, they even suggested it may be too late to stop drinking at this late stage, the damage already done, the impact of drinking had already severely affected his heart and liver. He decided on New Year’s Day in 2017 that enough was enough, and he would stop drinking.
“Well it all started off quite innocently, going for a pint after work and then it turns into 2 pints, and so on. Before you know it its turned into 10 pints, and you can handle that volume of alcohol because your tolerance is built up, so way back then I realised that I had a problem, but the problem was there wasn’t enough help out there to help me, so I just carried on drinking. This turned the problem into a serious problem. It cost 2 marriages, lots and lots of money later, I was drinking far too much. Then I lost everything, and it wasn’t until nearly 11 months ago that I decided to try and do something on my own and touch wood, I haven’t had a drink in nearly 11 months.
“People think of an alcoholic as a bloke sat in a park but that couldn’t be further away from the truth. There are alcoholics that I know that are successful people, rich people, they know they’ve got a problem, but it’s such an easy thing to fall into. You do something completely innocent, and it will, and can, slowly just grab hold of you and before you know it you’re in a bit of trouble.”
“It’s as simple as that, who doesn’t like to go for a few drinks, which is fine, anybody can go for a few drinks but it so easy fall into that trap of those few drinks turning into a few more drinks and months later, it’ll be a few more on top of that and then before you know it, you start losing girlfriends, you let people down, you know what you are doing but it’s so easy to walk into a pub and have those drinks.”
“My experience of women is that most women that end up with a problem are the ones sat at home with a glass of wine, then that turns into 2 glasses and before you know it that becomes a bottle a night. It just creeps up on you and is a very slow process – a lot of people don’t even realise. I go to the pub all the time now and have soft drinks and I can see the signs of a drinker and somebody who’s got their name down to be an alcoholic, I can see the signs because I’ve been there and experienced it. It’s so easy to fall into that trap.”
“Also, earlier on, I was in the pub waiting for somebody and I ordered 2 bottles of Becks Blue and it was £6.60 which equates to a pint, so there’s not support out there for people like me, who are quite happy to go in a pub and still socialise but not drink. But the drinks I drink are horrendously overpriced so yet again the man or lady who wants to stop drinking yet you are just being ripped off, I could’ve had a pint of lager for £3.40 so there is no incentive or help for people like myself. We’ve still got a life, we’ve still got to go out, we’ve still got to enjoy ourselves just without the alcohol.”
“I hope government, pubs will look at this to stop this happening because it’s so easy to become something and people that want to stop, and not drink-drive and so on, it’s a very expensive hobby for that man who doesn’t want to drink alcohol but would still like to go out.”
Alcohol is estimated to cost the NHS over £3.5 billion a year, and an estimate of over 595,000 adults in the UK in need of specialist treatment due to alcohol dependency yet only approximately 100,000 people actually getting treatment surely there is dire need for more support for alcoholism. One could argue that these figures are so shocking due to people not realising they are alcohol dependent and therefore needing any form of treatment. Andy said the support he got from NHS was near non-existent. He said after he’d been released from hospital once, he’d had a call from the alcohol specialist who had promised to call back and follow up with some support, however Andy never heard back from them.
Talking about getting help, Andy said, “You can go and see your doctor about things but the NHS is so tight now moneywise, there are people you can go and see but there’s waiting lists and so on. You’ve got AA which is fantastic, where you can talk about it which is the most important thing and once you realise you’ve got a problem like any addiction you can then deal with it but there needs to be more help.”
I was fortunate enough to do it and give it up and I can’t see myself drinking again however there are a lot of people out there that are getting into trouble and if there was that support there it would be so much easier all round and that support should be there for all people – there’s lot of drug places now for drug addiction and there is lots of support for them which is fantastic but as for alcohol I really think there should be more, more places, more people to see and it would make giving up so much easier.
Harmful drinking is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability between 15 – 49-year-olds in the UK and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages therefore, surely we should be looking at more support whether that is raising the price of alcohol or making help and advice more accessible across the NHS or through charities.
As Andy mentioned numerous times his alcoholism sneaked up on him and was a slow and gradual process therefore maybe the majority of drinkers not even realise they are on that slippery slope.
The recommended weekly limit for alcohol consumption is 14 units, this equates to roughly 6 small glasses of wine or 6 pints of beer. The reason for this level is to keep health risks from drinking at a lower level. With these low units of alcohol, it’s likely that functioning alcoholics will be drinking too much than the recommended amounts and potentially at risk of alcoholism.
I spoke to taxi drivers and pub landlords across Cheltenham who said that sales have gone down, it is quieter, there is less income for them and most said they believed people were buying drinks in shops, then drinking at home.
Annette, a member of staff at a Spa Shop in Cheltenham says alcohol is one of their biggest incomes but she has concerns about some of her customers drinking habits, “Alcohol is a large part of our sales, people come in for magazines, cigarettes and alcohol mostly. You do get regulars who come in and ask for half a bottle of vodka on a regular basis, some come in every day. You get to know the people who come in and ask for more than half a bottle, they come in and have a whole bottle of whiskey, there aren’t that many, but because it is unusual you remember them.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t realise that they’re alcoholics and if you were to say to them “Don’t buy that bottle today”, they would say “It doesn’t matter, I’m not an alcoholic.” But the fact that they come in every day.. they also will not see the stereotype of an alcoholic, so the well-dressed lady that comes in on a regular basis will not consider herself an alcoholic. The young mum who comes in every day and buys a bottle of wine for the evening will not consider that she’s on the road to being an alcoholic, if she’s not already there. You don’t often get the typical stereotype, of an old gentleman who is shabbily dressed as the alcoholic.”
Charlotte Myerson, 27, a Catering Assistant said, “I think if you need that drink to feel ok in yourself, or if you need that at the very end of the day, despite whats happened in the day, I would say that’s a dependency but not necessarily alcoholism. I know plenty of people, myself included, that at the end of the day, you’ve had a rough time and you just want that glass of wine but it’s when it becomes a bottle every day and you must have it, then definitely I think I would class that as a dependency. “
Alcohol is a well-known depressant and is linked to a variety of health conditions including mental health. It is worrying and scary that something quite innocent can turn so incredibly sinister. The impact of drinking is also not just on that individual, it affects everyone around that person, with the worry and concern for them. As Andy previously mentioned it broke 2 of his marriages up and countless relationships. He lost everything – his business, home, even his family and friends.
Sebastian Harker, 18, a Customer Service Adviser, said, “Alcoholism affects a lot of people and affects them in different ways. I think you can drink a lot of alcohol and not be an alcoholic. If you can’t function without alcohol that’s when it’s very worrying, and I think some people literally can’t go a day without it, and that’s the worst when they have to be getting drunk all the time. I also think you don’t have to get drunk every day to be an alcoholic, I think if you’re drinking due to mental health problems or drinking because you just need one at the end of the day, those are all forms of alcoholism because you are becoming dependent on alcohol. The way that society views alcoholism is sometimes someone who is always drinking, someone who spends loads of money on drink, I don’t think that’s the only alcoholic. It’s an image that society needs to change. We need to understand there are lots of silent alcoholics among us who are functioning, so they aren’t getting drunk all the time or spending ridiculous amounts but they need alcohol to get through a day. “
With the announcement in the 2017 Budget that duties of alcohol will be frozen from 2019, this surely won’t help some alcohol dependents addiction. The positive news from the Budget is that lower-priced alcohol will not be included within that freeze as the government recognise and try to challenge problem drinking. The freeze is only on beer, wine and spirits.
The NHS are also getting an “emergency injection” of £2.8 billion which may help to support all kinds of health issues, hopefully including all kinds of alcoholism.