Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
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Updated on December 8, 2021
6 min read

Alcoholism in the United Kingdom (UK)

Alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism, is a growing problem in the United Kingdom (UK) and worldwide. Since the 1950s, alcohol abuse and alcoholism rates in the UK have more than doubled. There has also been an increase in alcohol-related deaths, mental health problems, and hospital admissions. 

Alcoholism can affect people of all ages. In the UK, people should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol in one week. One unit means 10ml of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to a half pint of normal strength beer, 25ml of hard liquor, or a small glass of wine. 

It is important to spread your drinking out over three or more days if you consume alcohol on a regular basis. Drinking more than the recommended standard drinks per day can lead to alcohol abuse over time.

Binge drinking is when a man drinks over 8 units of alcohol or a woman drinks over 6 units of alcohol in one session. This form of drinking also puts people at risk of becoming alcohol dependent. Heavy alcohol users are individuals who binge drink five or more times a month.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics in the UK

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are huge problems in the UK, both for legal-aged drinkers and underage drinkers:

  • In Wales, 18 percent of adults drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week (heavy alcohol consumption). The rate of alcohol-related hospitalizations is 3.3 times higher in Wales than in most other places in the UK. 
  • In England, 40 percent of adults drink more than 14 units per week (heavy alcohol consumption).
  • Twenty-seven percent of people in Great Britain were considered binge drinkers in 2017. 
  • People over 65 years of age are more likely to drink alcohol on five or more days in one week in Great Britain. 
  • Twenty-four percent of men in England drink at “hazardous levels.” This means they consume more than 15 units of alcohol per week. One unit of alcohol is equal to 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol.
  • In 2018, 82 percent of adults in England drank alcohol in the last 12 months. Forty-nine percent of them also drank at least once a week. 
  • People who live in Scotland are more likely to binge drink than those who live in England.

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Risks of Underage Drinking in the UK

The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 and over. According to the NHS, young people should not drink alcohol until the age of 15 to 17. If a pupil (child) does drink alcohol, they must be in a supervised environment. They also should not drink more than once a week before the age of 18.

Underage drinking is extremely dangerous. Some risk factors of underage drinking in the UK include:

  • Poor drinking habits, which can lead to alcohol misuse
  • Increased risk of developing alcoholism with age
  • More likely to participate in risky or illegal behaviors
  • Decreased performance in school or at work
  • Disrupted brain development
  • Higher chance of developing mental health disorders

In the UK, 21 percent of pupils (children under 18 years of age), drank more than 15 units of alcohol in the last week. Twenty-two percent of 15-year-olds reported being drunk in the last four weeks. Girls are also more likely to drink than boys. 

It is best to wait until an individual turns 18 to drink alcohol. This helps reduce the risk of alcohol-related health issues, alcoholism, and violent behaviors. 

Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism

Alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism are all forms of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The main difference between these three terms is how they affect an individual’s daily life. 

Common symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weight loss
  • Body shakes, tremors and/or seizures
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Binge drinking more than four times a month
  • Loss of interest in previous activities, hobbies, or work
  • Drinking alcohol instead of participating in normal activities
  • The inability to reduce or stop drinking alcohol 
  • Calling out of work or school often 
  • Mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, aggression/irritability, and panic attacks
  • Problems with money or stealing money to obtain more alcohol
  • Legal issues 

Drinking alcohol excessively can lead to an array of health, social, and legal problems. This includes violence, drunk driving accidents, mental health disorders, liver disease, certain cancers, and more. 

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UK Treatment Options/Resources for Alcoholism

There are many treatment options available for those struggling with alcoholism in the UK. Standard addiction treatment options include, but are not limited to:

Stage an Intervention

If your loved one is addicted to alcohol, the first step may be to stage an intervention. It is crucial to avoid confronting them about the problem without professional help. An intervention is a thoroughly planned meeting that includes the friends and family of the individual struggling with alcoholism. A doctor or professional addiction counselor is there to guide the meeting and address any problems. 

After the intervention, the individual will receive an offer to undergo addiction treatment. During rehab, they will go through a series of treatments that are carefully chosen for their needs. They will have the freedom to accept or reject the offer.  

Detoxification Treatment

Inpatient treatment is the most common rehab option for alcoholism in the UK. It takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These centers offer 24-hour all-inclusive, structured care. 

Detoxification is usually the first step in an inpatient treatment program. Programs generally last between 30, 60, and 90 days. If further treatment is necessary, extended stays are also available.

Meetings & Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most popular support group for those with alcoholism or alcohol-related issues.

Attending AA meetings can be a useful tool for many recovering alcohol abusers. You can attend AA meetings before, during, and after addiction treatment.  

During the meetings, people come together to discuss their trials with alcohol and their relapse and/or recovery stories. These meetings are also 100 percent confidential, which creates an open and honest environment for participants. 

Other ways to prevent relapse after treatment include:

  • Identify, recognize, and avoid alcohol cravings/triggers
  • Build a healthy support system with friends and family
  • Attend AA meetings regularly or other self-help programs
  • Create a consistent exercise schedule
  • Find an addiction therapist or go to counseling

Does the NHS Cover Alcohol Rehab in the UK?

The United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) is a government-funded organization that provides health care and medical information to the general public.

They also offer treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. However, treatment through the NHS for alcoholism is not the best option for everyone. Some people may require more structured, intensive care at an inpatient treatment center.

In addition to the NHS, there are charities and private alcohol organizations available to help you pay for some rehab costs. It is essential to talk with a professional addiction specialist or general practitioner (GP) to determine the best option.

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Updated on December 8, 2021
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Updated on December 8, 2021
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