Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help. You may need help if:
- you often feel the need to have a drink
- you get into trouble because of your drinking
- other people warn you about how much you're drinking
- you think your drinking is causing you problems
Try to be accurate and honest about how much you drink and any problems it may be causing you. If you have become dependent on alcohol, you will have found it difficult to fully control your drinking in some way.
If you are unsure if your substance misuse has become problematic, please take this self-screening test which will give you an indication of whether you benefit from further support.
How does alcohol affect me?
- After just one medium glass of wine (just after 2 units) you will start to feel relaxed, you feel more confident and you become more talkative. At this point, your driving ability is already impaired, which is why it’s best to drink no alcohol if you’re driving.
- After your second glass of wine (just over 4 units) your blood flow increases, you start dehydrating and your attention span is shorter.
- After your third glass of wine (just over 6 units) your reaction time is slower, your liver is pushing harder and your sex drive may increase, whilst your judgement may decrease.
- And after four glasses of wine (just over 9 units) you’re noticeably emotional and may become easily confused.
Now think about a time you have been out with work colleagues or friends and had some alcohol, how much of your time out can you actually remember?
Alcohol contains a lot of calories, 7 calories per gram says the NHS. Carbohydrates and proteins have 4 calories per gram and fats have 9 calories per gram, making alcohol almost as many calories as a gram of fat. Plus, don’t forget about the calories in your mixers such as tonic, juices and fizzy drinks such as Cola.
The majority of alcoholic drinks are made from natural starch and sugar, so have hardly any nutritional value but are still high in calories.
A couple of drinks on occasion may not be noticeable on your waistline but regularly drinking more than the NHS recommends can have a noticeable impact on your weight and cause less obvious, but more serious health problems.
Big pint or Big Mac?
Drinking 4 bottles of wine a month adds up to 27,000 calories which is equivalent to eating 48 Big Macs per year. Drinking 5 pints of lager each week adds up to 44,200 calories which is equivalent to 221 Krispy Kreme chocolate coated doughnuts each year, so if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not only about what you eat but also about what you drink!
Tips to avoid weight gain
- Do not drink on an empty stomach, and if you do decide to snack while drinking choose healthier options.
- Drink at your own pace, buying rounds for one another can mean you end up drinking more than you may have initially intended.
- Alternate an alcoholic drink with a glass of water as this will help prevent you from becoming dehydrated.
- Stick to the recommended guidelines and do not drink more than 14 units in a week.
- If you are planning to cut down, do it with a friend or partner as you’ll be more likely to stick to it with an accountability partner.
- Eat a healthy meal before you start drinking so you’re less likely to be tempted to go for a less healthy option following a few drinks such as fast food or crisps.
- If you’re drinking white wine, try adding a splash of soda water to help the same number of units last longer.
Even if you don’t drink alcohol every day, you could be a binge drinker if you:
- Regularly drink more than the low risk drinking guidelines in a single session
- Tend to drink quickly
- Sometimes drink to get drunk
If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly alcohol dependence. As everybody is different, it is not easy to say exactly how many units in one session count as binge drinking, but in the UK, it is considered you are binge drinking if you consume more than:
- 8 units of alcohol in a single session for men (e.g. 2 pints of 5% beer)
- 6 units of alcohol in a single session for women (e.g. 5 small (125ml) glasses of 13% wine)
The impact of the binge drinking on your physical and mental health will depend on your tolerance to alcohol and the speed you consume it at.
Binge drinking can lead to:
- Accidents resulting in injury, which means you may have to take time off work.
- Misjudging risky situations – again, thinking about safety of yourselves and the people around you.
- Losing self-control and taking part in risky behaviours like having unprotected sex.
How can I reduce my risk from binge drinking?
Next time you’re drinking, remember the following key points:
- Limit how much you drink on any single occasion
- Try to eat when you are drinking
- Alternate your alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks such as water or juice
- Make sure you have planned ahead and are not working or driving soon after a heavy drinking session
You can be at risk from others and can easily lose control of what you do or say and may make risky decisions. Keeping track of your drinking, especially when in unfamiliar circumstances is so important.
Splitting headaches, sickness, dizziness, dehydration: anyone who's ever drunk too much knows the consequences. Alcohol makes you pee more, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.
Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover, but there are things you can do to avoid one and, if you do have one, ease the discomfort.
Tips to avoid a hangover
- Do not drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.
- Do not drink on an empty stomach. Before you start drinking, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help to slow down your body's absorption of alcohol.
- Do not drink dark coloured drinks if you've found you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners, which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
- Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Fizzy drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your body.
- Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by your bed to sip if you wake up during the night.
Dealing with a hangover involves rehydrating your body to help you deal with the painful symptoms. The best time to rehydrate is before going to sleep after a drinking session.
- Painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps.
- Sugary foods may help you feel less trembly. In some cases, an antacid may be needed to settle your stomach first.
- Bouillon soup (a thin, vegetable-based broth) is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top-up depleted resources. It's also easy for a fragile stomach to digest.
- You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are gentle on your digestive system, such as water, soda water and isotonic drinks.
Things to avoid
Drinking more alcohol, or "hair of the dog", does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the extra alcohol wears off.
If you've been drinking heavily, doctors advise that you wait at least 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol (even if you don't have a hangover), to give your body time to recover.
Whether you’ve decided to reduce your drinking or stop completely, there are lots of great tips to help you stay motivated.
If you regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, try these simple tips to help you cut down. 14 units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer or 6 medium glasses of wine.
Make a plan
Before you start drinking, set a limit on how much you're going to drink.
Set a budget
Only take a fixed amount of money to spend on alcohol.
Let them know
If you let your friends and family know you're cutting down and it's important to you, you could get support from them.
Take it a day at a time
Cut back a little each day. That way, every day you do is a success.
Make it a smaller one
You can still enjoy a drink, but go for smaller sizes. Try bottled beer instead of pints, or a small glass of wine instead of a large one.
Have a lower-strength drink
Cut down the alcohol by swapping strong beers or wines for ones with a lower strength (ABV in %). You'll find this information on the bottle.
Have a glass of water before you have alcohol and alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks.
Take a break
Have several drink-free days each week.
Cutting back on alcohol can have positive effects on the way you look and feel – often within just a few days. And at the same time, you’ll be reducing your longer term risk of serious illnesses such as cancer and liver and heart disease.
If you’ve decided to cut back, here are some benefits to look out for.
When you drink you spend less time in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. You’re also more likely to wake early and find it hard to drop off again. By cutting back on alcohol, the quality of your sleep should improve, which can also benefit your mood and help your ability to concentrate.
Alcohol can make stress and anxiety worse. This is because drinking too much interferes with the neurotransmitters in our brains, so alcohol can affect your mental health. Drinking less can mean that you feel happier, more of the time. Try keeping a mood diary to see if you notice the difference.
With its negative effects on your sleep and mood, drinking too much can make you feel tired, sluggish and generally a bit under the weather. Drink less and it shouldn’t take too long before you notice that you have more energy.
You don’t have to have a hangover for alcohol to start affecting you at work. Regularly drinking above the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines (no more than 14 units per week for men and women) affects your concentration and ability to work. Cutting down on alcohol can help you feel less stressed and enjoy more of a work-life balance.
Alcohol dehydrates your skin making it appear dull and grey. However, after just a couple of days of drinking less you might already notice your skin starting to look better.
Alcoholic drinks are high in calories. Cutting down on drinking is a great way to cut back on empty calories. And by reducing the amount of calories you’re consuming, you should start to notice that you’re losing weight.
A happier stomach
Alcohol can cause lots of problems for your stomach and digestive system including heartburn, IBS and gastritis. By cutting back you should notice a positive effect on your digestive system.
Cutting down on alcohol has lots of benefits - mentally, physically, socially, financially. Drink Aware have provided a set of alternatives to help you reduce your drinking.
Source: Drink Aware
Dry January is the UK's one-month alcohol-free challenge. It isn’t about giving anything up. It’s about getting something back. Get your fun back. Get your energy back. Get your calm back. Here are our Keeping Well tips for a successful Dry January
- Find a substitute non-alcoholic drink: Especially when in social situations or when you are craving that glass of red wine after a busy shift at work. Instead of your usual, try alcohol-free beverages such as sparkling water, soda, or non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks like a virgin mojito. Non-alcoholic beer or wine is also another option, but some brands still have 0.5% of alcohol by volume, so be sure to check the label. Another thing to be mindful of is that sugar is often added to these beverages to make them taste better, so try to chose ones which have lower sugar contents.
- Avoid temptations – out of sight means out of mind: Try to keep alcohol out of your house, and when going to visit a friend or family, bring your non-alcoholic drinks with you and tell them all about the amazing challenge that you are doing.
- Create a support group: Accountability is a great thing – the more family and friends you tell, the more encouragement you’ll get to keep going. If you can, do the challenge with a friend and go dry together!
- Use the Try Dry app: This free app is great!! It helps you track your drinking, set goals and offers motivational information like calories and money saved from not drinking. It is aimed at cutting back or cutting out alcohol all together, depending on your choices.
- Don’t give up! If you slip up, don’t feel guilty – just begin again the next day
Watch this short video from Stefani, our dedicated Drug and Alcohol Practitioner with a special Dry January message:
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem, there are people you can talk to. You can find some useful phone numbers and links here for free and confidential advice.
Free online chat service for anyone who is looking for information or advice about their own, or someone else’s, drinking. Our trained advisors are on hand to give you confidential advice. Drinkchat is available from 9am-2pm on weekdays.
Free, confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's. Helpline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm)
UK-wide treatment agency, helping individuals, families and communities to manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse. If you are over 50 and have concerns about your drinking, you can also call the helpline on 0808 801 0750.
AA supports the recovery and continued sobriety of individuals. Meetings are available online and in person. Helpline: 0800 917 7650 Email: email@example.com
Al-Anon in the UK and Republic of Ireland offers support to families and friends affected by someone else’s drinking. Helpline: 0800 008 6811
Information, advice and local support services for families affected by alcohol and drugs. Please note ADFAM do not operate a helpline but general queries can be made on 07442 137 421 or 07552 986 887.
Information, advice and support for children of alcohol-dependent parents and anyone concerned with the welfare of a child. Helpline: 0800 358 3456 Email helpline: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Confidential information, advice and support for anyone concerned about alcohol and illegal drugs. Helpline: 0300 123 6600 (24hrs a day, 7 days a week).
Confidential non-judgmental emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicide. Helpline: 116 123 (24hrs a day, 7 days a week) Email helpline: email@example.com (they try their hardest to get back to your email within 24 hours).
Information and advice about mental health and support services. Helpline: 0300 123 3393.
DAN is a free and confidential bilingual helpline for anyone seeking alcohol and drug support in Wales. It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Helpline: 0808 808 2234.
This section provides guidance for managers on how to approach the problem of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace.
The best way of dealing with the real or potential effects of drugs and alcohol at work is to make expert advice and help readily available.
Managers and supervisors should be encouraged to recognise and deal with substance use issues. CIPD have created a guide to help employers and line managers not only manage drug and alcohol misuse at work, but also support employees when dealing with disclosures.
Signs of drug and alcohol use in the workplace
While not everyone who uses drugs and/or alcohol will begin to misuse or become dependent on them, even infrequent use can impact on the workplace in many ways including:
- Increased absence
- Problems with punctuality
- Reduced work performance and productivity
- Safety risks to the individual and others
- Possibility of erratic workplace behaviour
- Adverse impact on company reputation and customer relations
- Negative impact on team morale
Remember: all the signs shown above may be caused by other factors and should be regarded only as indications that an employee may be under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Drug and alcohol policy in the workplace
Employers must ensure they have a clear policy on substance misuse which should outline:
- The purpose and scope of the policy
- The dangers of substance misuse for both the misuser and their colleagues
- Expectations of staff behaviour at work
- Any disciplinary consequences
- The importance of early identification and treatment
- Help which will be offered to the employee
- An assurance of confidentiality
How to suppport as a manager
You should encourage individuals to seek advice from their GP or pharmacist on any medicines they are taking. In consultation with the employee, their GP will take steps to arrange for counselling, treatment and rehabilitation, with periodic testing if appropriate. If appropriate, encourage them to discuss any problems with an occupational health service if they feel this would be helpful.
Staff can also confidentially self-refer to our team. As a manager, you can also refer on behalf of a colleague - you must have consent to do this.
The contact details of local organisations that can provide assistance to staff members, who may feel unable to consult their own occupational health service, should be prominently displayed and readily available to all staff.
Employers should not automatically invoke disciplinary action for voluntary referrals where the employee successfully undergoes a programme of treatment.
The role of occupational health services
Occupational health may be where the problem is acknowledged first. This may be through self-referral, management referral or when another issue has been raised. If employees acknowledge an alcohol or drug problem, they should be referred to the occupational health service. Non-compliance with the referral and action recommended by the occupational health service might lead to disciplinary action.
On referral to the occupational health service, an assessment should be made of the employee’s fitness for duty. This should be a specialist comprehensive medical assessment. Following assessment, the occupational health service should advise the line manager of the employee’s fitness for work on medical grounds.
However, not all occupational health services will have the appropriate experience and knowledge to enable them to deal with this problem. The occupational health service will normally liaise with the GP, who should arrange treatment, involving specialists in the management of alcohol or drug misuse.
The second role of occupational health is managing the employee’s return to work. Those treating substance misuse are not always aware of the occupational implications and there is a role for occupational physicians in ensuring a suitable and satisfactory return to work. In the majority of cases, the employee should be returning to the same work they were doing before the problem was recognised.