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Alcohol misuse means drinking excessively – more than the lower-risk limits of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol consumption is measured in units. A unit of alcohol is 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:
A small glass (125ml) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.
To keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low, the NHS recommends:
Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.
The short-term risks of alcohol misuse include:
People who binge drink (drink heavily over a short period of time) are more likely to behave recklessly and are at greater risk of being in an accident.
Persistent alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:
As well as causing serious health problems, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to social problems, such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness.
If someone loses control over their drinking and has an excessive desire to drink, it's known as dependent drinking (alcoholism).
Dependent drinking usually affects a person's quality of life and relationships, but they may not always find it easy to see or accept this.
Severely dependent drinkers are often able to tolerate very high levels of alcohol in amounts that would dangerously affect or even kill some people.
A dependent drinker usually experiences physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly cut down or stop drinking, including:
This often leads to "relief drinking" to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Read more about the risks of alcohol misuse.
You could be misusing alcohol if:
Someone you know may be misusing alcohol if:
If you're concerned about your drinking or someone else's, a good first step is to visit your GP. They'll be able to discuss the services and treatments available.
Your alcohol intake may be assessed using tests, such as:
As well as the NHS, there are a number of charities and support groups across the UK that provide support and advice for people with an alcohol misuse problem.
For example, you may want to contact:
For a full list of charities and support groups, see our page on alcohol support.
How alcohol misuse is treated depends on how much alcohol a person is drinking. Treatment options include:
There are two main types of medicines to help people stop drinking. The first is to help stop withdrawal symptoms, and is given in reducing doses over a short period of time. The most common of these medicines is chlordiazapoxide (Librium).
The second is a medication to reduce any urge you may have to drink. The most common medications used for this are acamprosate and naltrexone. These are both given at a fixed dose, and you'll usually be on them for 6 to 12 months.
Read more about the treatment options for alcohol misuse.