News reports over the last ten years have been very clear: excessive drinking is as big a problem in the UK as anywhere else in the world. We have a tendency to drink more than we should, more often than we should, as a matter of due course. Just think of your local pub. It probably starts filling up around five in the afternoon and reaches capacity within an hour or so.
Our experience as an alcohol addiction treatment referral service has taught us that no good can come from excessive drinking. Practising safe drinking habits by adhering to government guidelines for safe drinking is one thing, but routinely exceeding safe drinking levels is another thing entirely. And far too many people do so.
Definition of Excessive Drinking
One of the difficulties we have in addressing excessive drinking on a national scale is coming to agreement on the definition of excess. Some people consider excessive drinking only as consuming enough alcohol to get drunk. Others see excess as consuming more than one or two drinks in a single day. Even when people do agree on the definition, there is still disagreement as to whether excessive drinking is a bad thing or not.
The amount of disagreement in this area necessitates some sort of standard. From our perspective, that standard is the government guidelines for safe drinking. Prior to 2016, guidelines stated that men should consume no more than two or three units of alcohol per day, for a total of no more than 21 per week. Women were advised to restrict their consumption to one or two units per day for a maximum of 14 per week.
Guidelines were revised in 2016 to say that both men and women should limit alcohol consumption to no more than two units of alcohol per day and 14 per week. Just so you are aware, a unit of alcohol does not necessarily equal one drink. One unit of alcohol is equal to 10 ml of pure alcohol by volume. That means some drinks contain more alcohol by volume than others.
Using the government guidelines as an example, anyone who consumes more than two units of alcohol in a single day is drinking excessively. That means that abstaining from drinking all week only to drink the 14-unit limit on weekends still constitutes excess. In fact, such excess is even more dangerous because so much alcohol is being consumed in such a short amount of time.
Excessive Drinking and Binging
It turns out that binge drinking and excess go hand-in-hand. By definition, you cannot binge if you are not drinking excessively. Binge drinking is defined as consuming too much alcohol in too short a time, so part of what constitutes binging does depend on factors such as sex, weight and the strength of the drink being consumed.
Having said all of that, exceeding the safe levels of drinking in any 24-hour period can be considered binging. The more you drink during that 24 hours, the more serious your binging is. Unfortunately, the worst kind of binge drinking is observed in the drinking habits of most people who routinely binge.
Drinkers of this nature may consume one or two drinks during the week when they know they have to stay fresh and alert for work. But when the weekend comes, all inhibitions are abandoned. They hit the pub or club right after work on Friday, then continue to drink throughout the weekend. Monday morning comes with a hangover that makes life miserable.
Binge drinking is a dangerous activity for a number of reasons. First, it almost always causes drunkenness, which can lead to accidents and injuries. That drunkenness can be accompanied by alcohol poisoning, a potentially dangerous condition that sends people to hospitals all the time.
Second, binge drinking on a regular basis increases the chances that someone who misuses alcohol will eventually become dependent on the drug. Sustained binge drinking is a known precursor to alcoholism that should not be ignored.
Recognising Excessive Drinking
It is important to be able to recognise excessive drinking in its early stages in order to avoid more serious problems. If you believe someone in your family or circle of friends is drinking excessively, there are some things you can look for. For example, one of the most visible signs of excess is neglecting one’s responsibilities at home or work. The drinker will neglect chores, fail to get assigned tasks done, or simply attempt to shift responsibilities to someone else. Drinking becomes more important than individual responsibility.
Other signs of excessive drinking include:
- dangerous behaviour (e.g., drink driving or operating heavy machinery under the influence)
- mounting legal problems including traffic fines and penalties
- drinking in virtually every social situation, especially to relax and be more engaged
- defensiveness about one’s drinking habits
- an unreasonable obsession/expectation that alcohol is part of social activities.
Recognising the signs of excessive drinking early on make it possible to intervene and get help before too much damage is done. Of course, early intervention requires the active participation of the drinker in question. The person who refuses to admit his or her drinking is excessive is an individual who is not likely to voluntarily undergo counselling or treatment.
We Can Help
If you or a loved one is drinking excessively, we invite you to call our 24-hour helpline or contact us through this website. We can help. Our primary function is to assist our clients in locating and accessing alcohol treatment in their local areas. We maintain an up-to-date database of treatment options for that very purpose.
When you contact us, we will help you determine whether your drinking is excessive. If so, we can recommend counselling and other treatments for alcohol abuse. If our consultation determines that you are alcohol-dependent, we can recommend a number of treatment options, including residential treatment at a private clinic. We can even help you enrol in a treatment programme if you require that kind of assistance.