Alcohol is everywhere, social events, the supermarket, adverts and its perfectly acceptable to drink a bottle of beer of glass of wine at the end of the day. Unlike many other substances, alcohol is also a widely accepted and normal part of most peoples lives. So its not surprising that many people do not understand alcoholism symptoms and  the risks of drinking alcohol on a regular basis.

The NHS advise on alcohol consumption is that men and women should not consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week. It is also recommended to spread out alcohol consumption over three or more days. But its simple to feel unsure of how to keep track of many units you’re drinking. 

This is made even more confusing because there are so many different alcoholic beverages and drink sizes, from shots to pints, and of course cans and bottles. Subsequently alcoholism symptoms, and alcohol related deaths continue to be a huge problem in the UK, with many people still unaware of how many units they drink per week.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcoholism is a disease that generally occurs when an individual consumes more that 14 units of alcohol weekly, on a regular basis. However, it can happen due to binge drinking or by drinking alcohol everyday over a long period of time. This will almost always develop lead to alcohol addiction. Alcoholism also referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD) is just one type of addiction that is widely considered a chronic brain disease

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a wider term to cover both alcohol abuse, addiction and dependence, and they are frequently closely connected. In most people alcohol addiction manifests as a physical and mental addiction, characterised by the compulsive, uncontrollable desire drink alcohol, despite any negative consequences that might occur as a result.

When discussing alcohol addiction, it is important to understand that it’s not a choice. Individuals suffering with alcoholism have little or no control over their actions because, much like other chronic disorders, it’s an illness that requires alcohol addiction treatment.

How Addictive is Alcohol?

Alcohol has the potential to be extremely addictive so many people, however studies have found that other factors such as genetics can also come into play when determining how different people react to alcohol. Alcoholism symptoms and signs of  addiction occurs on two levels: physical and psychological.

Physical factors

Drinking alcohol encourages the brain to release of chemicals called dopamine and endorphins. These act as a natural painkiller and are responsible for producing feelings of pleasure, which is why so many of us choose to have a drink as a way of unwinding at the end of a long day, or while we’re out socialising with friends.

Psychological factors

Although alcohol is considered a simple chemical, it can bring about very complex changes in the brain. As mentioned above, a person’s predisposition to alcohol addiction can depend on a number of different factors such as social, biological and psychological causes. So, while there is potential to develop a serious addiction when consuming large amounts of alcohol, the severity ultimately depends on the individual.

How to Get Help With Alcohol Addiction

If you’re suffering with alcohol abuse or any alcoholism symptoms of alcohol addiction, the first thing you must do is reach out. Your GP will be able to advise you on the NHS addiction treatment options available, from detox, residential alcohol rehab, outpatient rehab and therapy and support groups. Alternatively, you can go to the FRANK website or call 0300 1236600 24/7, seven days a week, for advise about addiction and finding addiction treatment in the UK.

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Alcohol Rehab Treatment

While there are various options available when it comes to treating alcohol addiction, undergoing treatment in a residential rehab facility remains the most effective and presents a much higher chance of maintaining sobriety. Due to the potential risks posed by the cessation of alcohol, it is highly recommended that any alcohol rehab treatment takes place under the care of an experienced team of professionals. 

Step by Step Recovery offers fully residential private alcohol rehab in Essex and alcohol detox in London too. During rehab alcohol addiction treatment options include, medically supervised alcohol detox, counselling and therapy, plus recreational activities. However, it’s worth noting that not all residential rehab facilities provide each of these services during the course of your stay.

Alcohol Addiction Detox

If you’ve decided to opt for inpatient alcohol detox treatment you will need to complete a detox before proceeding with counselling and therapy. A detox is often necessary because of the potential risks associated with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and you should never attempt to quit without some form of medical supervision. 

Once you’ve been admitted to rehab, a doctor will assess you and prescribe the necessary medications to help alleviate some of the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Addiction Detox Medications

There are various medications prescribed to help you cope with the withdrawal stages of alcohol addiction treatment, including Librium and Diazepam. While some of these medications are prescribed to prevent drinking altogether, others are used to relieve unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and ensure your safety during the process. 

However, many of these medications can be obtained illegally and it must be understood that taking any addiction medication without the proper medical supervision is extremely dangerous and could lead to devastating consequences.

Alcohol Addiction Therapy

Alongside a medical detox, most rehabs also offer a period of intensive addiction therapy, in conjunction with other holistic treatments such as meditation, yoga and relapse prevention. While counselling and therapy are sometimes offered on an outpatient basis, it’s important to know that not all facilities provide this option.

If you’re suffering with alcohol dependence and severe addiction, it’s worth considering  inpatient rehab. One of the main benefits of attending a residential facility is that it provides you with a safe and comfortable environment, where you can solely focus on your recovery.

Alcoholic Signs

People suffering with alcohol addiction often go to great lengths to cover up the true nature of their alcohol use, and can become defensive when questioned about it. 

When someone initially suffers from alcohol use disorder (AUD) it can be difficult to spot sign and symptoms. 

But within a short time signs of alcohol abuse can manifest both behaviourally and physically. Below are some of the most common things to watch out for if you’re worried about yourself or someone you know. Generally you will notice a combination of different symptoms, many people are functioning alcoholics so it’s important to be vigilant when it comes to spotting the signs. Below are common signs of behavioural, physical and psychological signs of alcohol addiction.

Behavioural Signs 

Some of the most common behavioural symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • Drinking to excess at social events 
  • Drinking every evening 
  • Drinking during the day on a regular basis
  • Appearing intoxicated more frequently
  • Bring irritable or tired more than usual 
  • Lying about drinking

Physical Signs 

 A few of the common physical signs of alcohol addiction are:

  • Blood shot eyes
  • Burst blood capillaries (tiny red lines) on the face and nose
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating all of the time or for no reason
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Skin and the whites of the eyes becoming more yellow (jaundice)

Psychological Signs

Although it may be harder to notice psychological signs a few common ones include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Low mood and depression
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Mood swings

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Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Drinking above nine units per day means alcohol cannot be completely eliminated from your body overnight by your liver. If you do this regularly over a relatively short period of time this could lead to liver disease and alcohol addiction. 

There are a number of short and long term risks associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and how fast you develop an addiction, your physiology, and the amount you drink will all impact the effects of alcohol.

Below are a few of the most common risks to be aware of. Often long term effects will not manifest until much later into your addiction.

Short Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Short term effects of alcohol use disorder (AUD) can occur almost immediately. Depending on the person the below effects are normally a result of drinking between four and 12 units or more, at one time:

  • Impaired vision
  • Poor coordination.
  • Risky behaviour, such as unprotected sex
  • Lowered inhibitions, leading to inappropriate behaviour such as shouting for no reason, dancing on tables etc
  • Aggression and violent behaviour

Long Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including increased risk of:

  • Heart disease 
  • Stroke
  • Damage to vital organs including the brain, heart, liver and kidneys
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, and colon
  • Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
  • Social, financial and family problems

How to Measure Units of Alcohol

Alcohol and Measurement

Number of units

Small shot of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)


Large shot of spirits (35ml)


Alcopop (275ml, ABV 5.5%)


Bottle of lager/beer/cider (330ml, ABV 5%)


Can of lager/beer/cider (440ml, ABV 5.5%)


Pint of lager/beer/cider (ABV 5.2%)


Standard glass of wine (175ml, ABV 12%)


Large glass of wine (250ml, ABV 12%)


What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a result of an excessive amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. This level of toxicity causes the brain and its basic functions – such as heart rate and breathing – to shut down. 

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slurring words and difficulty communicating
  • Are unresponsive and do not react to your voice, being shaken, or pinched.
  • Skin looks blotchy, pale, bluish, clammy or feels cold
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Rigid muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Fast or shallow breathing
  • Shivering and drowsiness indicating a low body temperature

Alcohol poisoning could lead to permanent brain damage and can be fatal if not treated immediately, so spotting symptoms can be lifesaving. You can assist someone who has had too much alcohol by carefully moving them onto their side and into the Bacchus Manoeuvre posture if they are unresponsive or unconscious. This will help to prevent them from suffocating if they vomit. 

Call 111 immediately if you have concerns, particularly when you are unable to get a person to sit up so they can communicate with you. 

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol With Drugs

Combining alcohol with other illicit or even certain prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous and even fatal. In the body, alcohol frequently reacts with other drugs to create new, much more harmful compounds. These new substances can both amplify and mask alcohol’s negative effects. 

Additionally alcohol can help to reduce or increase the effects of certain drugs, such as cocaine. This can lead to people using more and overdosing. Another risk is that when alcohol is mixed with drugs it may increase the potential that person will participate in risky behaviour, thus putting themselves and others in danger.

Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Dependence

The terms abuse and dependence are often used interchangeably but they don’t necessarily describe the same type of behaviour. Alcohol abuse refers to any type of unhealthy drinking behaviours. Alcoholic signs due to alcohol abuse can include binge drinking, drinking to the stage of blacking out or drinking alcohol every day.

Alcohol dependence refers to the development of a physical and often psychological reliance on alcohol which occurs when you have been drinking high volumes of alcohol for a sufficient period of time. Eventually your body and brain get used to the presence of alcohol in your system and won’t be able to function properly without it. If you stop drinking suddenly – especially after years, or even months, of heavy alcohol abuse – this can trigger a series of withdrawal symptoms.

Binge Drinking

While you can binge drink occasionally and not have an alcohol dependence or addiction, regular binge drinking is likely to lead to this condition. Binge drinking is defined as drinking to excess, typically over nine units in one go, often within a short amount of time. 

For most people binge drinking is the most dangerous form of alcohol abuse and is often included in alcoholism symptoms. Due to the lack of inhibition and impaired decision making that is a result of binge drinking, it is highly likely to result in injuries, risky behaviour and alcohol poisoning, which could be fatal. It is also easier to conceal than regular drinking and often done either during social events where it is not viewed as a problem or in secret.

2023 Alcohol Statistics in the UK

Official statistics on alcohol use in the UK from state that in England between 2021 and 2022  there were: 

  • In 2021, there were 20,970 deaths that were related to alcohol in England Deaths from conditions which are wholly or partially caused by alcohol
  • In 2021, there were 7,556 alcohol-specific deaths in EnglandDeaths from conditions wholly caused by alcohol. This definition is also used by the ONS in their annual UK data release.
  • From 2021 to 2022, there were 342,795 alcohol-specific hospital admissions in England. 

At Step by Step Recovery, we want to help individuals live a life free from drug and alcohol addiction. Please complete our online assessment form or call our free phone number on 0800 170 1222 for free, confidential advice for yourself or a loved one or to discuss addiction treatment in London or at our residential rehab in Essex.


Drinking alcohol every day is likely to eventually lead to addiction and later dependence. With this comes a host of other physical and mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, cirrhosis of the liver and organ failure.

The early stages of liver disease don’t necessarily produce any noticeable symptoms, and it’s for this reason that many people are unaware of the potential damage they are causing by drinking excessively. When symptoms do eventually manifest, they may include swelling of the liver, which may lead to discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Alcohol dependency occurs when the body requires alcohol in order to function normally. If you’re unable to stop drinking without experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating or vomiting, then you have developed a physical dependency to alcohol.

Excessive drinking over a long period of time can cause irreversible damage on many of the body’s vital organs. Organs most affected by alcoholism include the brain, nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas. Regular or excessive drinking can also weaken your immune system, increasing your risk of infections and other illnesses.

There are many self assessments available online that can help you determine whether you may require treatment for alcoholism. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines alcohol use disorder (AUD) as “a problematic pattern of alcohol use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress,” and categorises it as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the total amount of symptoms (in a group of a potential 11), experienced over the course of the previous 12 months. 

Additionally, behavioural and health issues caused by drinking, are also an indication of a serious problem. The likelihood of a long term recovery increases with how quickly you seek treatment, and if you are concerned about your or someone else you care about, don’t wait 12 months to seek help. 

Due to the risk of harm associated with alcohol withdrawal, the best recovery option for alcohol addiction is residential rehab. This will generally start with a medically assisted detox to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. 


Alcohol withdrawal may be dangerous if not carried out under supervision with the correct medication, and attending intensive therapy is key to preventing relapse.

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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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