We hear a lot in the media about the harms of alcohol both socially and on the body (http://www.knowyourlimits.info/know…-effects-alcohol). These are worrying statistics and sadly fit with what I am seeing daily in my practice as a GP. When I qualified 16 years ago, it was unusual to see younger people (<40) dying from the effects of alcoholic cirrhosis. Now sadly it is becoming much more common.

This is not intended to be an anti-drinking themed blog. Alcohol in moderation can be very enjoyable. My aim with writing this short piece is to provide help to those students (and indeed to anyone reading this) who suspect that they may have a problem with alcohol.

Do I have a problem?

I like the question “Does drinking alcohol cost you more than money?” I ask this question of my patients all of the time. It’s quite a deep and telling question and if the answer is “yes” I would suggest a closer examination of your drinking patterns and the reasons why you drink.

For those of you that like online questionnaires there is this one: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/selfassessment which is based on the AUDIT-C questionnaire which is a validated tool designed to identify problematic drinking

I would suggest that if you have ever been in a vulnerable position after drinking (such as having unsafe sex, getting into fights or walking alone after dark in an urban area), you might also like to consider your drinking habits and what you can do to make yourself safer.

Why do we drink alcohol?
There are many reasons why we drink. Here are some of the most common ones I come across:

To relax.
Life is busy and at times stressful and alcohol provides a quick predictable way to relax the body and diminish racing thoughts. It provides a (temporary) respite from thinking about problems and worries. Many people feel it helps them to sleep although in reality it tends to decrease the quality of good sleep and can promote early morning wakening.

To fit in and lubricate our social encounters
Humans need other humans to thrive and we are social creatures. Alcohol can help us to relax and feel more comfortable in the presence of others.

Peer pressure
This is related to fitting in. If friends are drinking and we want to feel more connected to them, we may choose to copy their behaviour to be more like them.

As an anaesthetic
Drinking causes a numbing of unpleasant emotions and physical pain. These might be related to chronic pain from a medical condition or to difficult experiences from the past.

Where can I get help?
If you are concerned about your drinking, please don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to friends and family and seek professional advice.
There are many sources of support in our city. Here are a few:

Your GP.

Please talk to us confidentially in surgery. We can provide support and liaison with many of the services detailed below.

The A Team

http://www.alcoholservices-ateam.org.uk/contact_us.html

A healthy living service aiming to raise alcohol awareness. They also provide brief interventional help to those concerned about their drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk

A long standing support group based on the 12 steps of AA.

Al-Anon

http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk

A support group to help the family and friends of those affected by someone else’s drinking

For doctors, dentists and medical students
(I’m aware we have many patients registered with us who fall into these groups)

The Sick Doctors Trust

http://sick-doctors-trust.co.uk

A peer support group to help those who are concerned about their use of drugs or alcohol. 24 hour confidential helpline

The blog is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional, personalised advice from your doctor. Please, if you feel ill and are unsure or concerned, seek advice from a qualified health professional which could be your GP or Accident or Emergency if you have a life threatening medical problem. If you unsure, NHS 111 – http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/Emergencyandurgentcareservices/Pages/NHS-111.aspx can help you decide.