Alcoholism & Binge Drinking

Updated: July 23, 2022

Drinking alcohol from time to time is normal but when used in excess (including bingeing), alcohol consumption places all organ systems at risk. Over consumption is especially damaging to the brain, heart, pancreas, liver, and immune system.  It can also impact sleep, mental health, and increases risk of cancer. But what exactly is alcoholism?

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What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, alcohol misuse, or alcohol addiction are all examples of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which is considered a drug or substance.  Alcohol is measured in units.  One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol, or 8g.  This is roughly half a pint of lower to normal-strength beer, lager, or cider, or equivalent to a 25ml shot of spirits.  A small glass (125ml) of wine is 1.5 units.


Both women and men are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week to keep health risks low.  Binge drinking is also a form of misuse so if you drink 14 units (or more) it is advisable to spread this over several days.  When individuals are no longer able to regulate their drinking and have an uncontrollable desire for alcohol, they begin to misuse it which is very damaging and indicates a dependency, otherwise known as alcoholism.

What Are The Symptoms?

Drinking Often

People who have a problem with alcohol will often drink in the morning and during the day at times others might judge inappropriate or strange.

High Tolerance

As our bodies become used to a substance, we begin to develop tolerance for the chemical.  This means we require more of the drug to feel its effects.

Low Mood & Depression

Because alcohol is a depressant it can be damaging for the brain, also causing low mood and depression.  Drinking too much also impacts impulse control and the ability to make good or reasoned judgement.  This is why some people act impulsively and make poor choices when drunk.

Memory Problems

Experts have identified many ways that alcohol impacts our brains and memory.  Whether from the night before, or years ago, alcohol can cause memory lapses.  This means you might forget the events of an entire night, or moments of the recent past.  There is also an increased risk of permanent memory loss, otherwise known as dementia.

Mental Health Decline

Heavy alcohol use impacts psychological function in many ways and can lead to serious decline in mental health.  For example, anxiety, low mood, sleep issues, low-libido, deliriousness, amnesia, and even psychosis and dementia due to the harmful effects.

Physical Problems

Long-term excessive alcohol use leads to serious physical health risks, including chronic problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, stroke, digestive problems, and many kinds of cancers, including mouth, breast, oesophagus, throat, voice box, colon, liver, and rectum cancers.

Relationship Problems

Often individuals will experience relationship problems because they find it difficult to get along with others.

Sleep Problems

Although alcohol has a soporific (that is, drowsy) effect, it actually disrupts sleep.  This means individuals may find it easy to fall asleep but will likely wake in the night, and be unable to enter into deep sleep, something we need to feel rested.

Social Problems

Some people may miss work due to intoxication, or because they’re hungover.  This can lead to unemployment, and even homelessness. Some will miss appointments and time with others, causing relationship problems, and divorce. And others may be unable to control anger which can lead to domestic abuse, and criminality.

Tension, Anxiety, & Panic

Alcohol’s chemical compound is ethanol.  This affects brain chemistry, making people feel panicked because of how it impacts the chemical GABA, which helps us relax. When people drink small amounts of alcohol, GABA can be stimulated, causing a relaxing effect.  But, heavy consumption depletes GABA, which results in feelings of tension and panic.

Withdrawal & Cravings

When people become used to a chemical, whether that’s in the form of a drug (including alcohol), or food, they can start to have cravings for it.  As our bodies get used to the drug, we develop tolerance, dependency, and addiction, resulting in physiological and psychological withdrawal symptoms if we attempt to reduce or stop consumption.

What Causes Alcoholism?

There are several reasons why an individual may become dependent on alcohol.  It may develop due to a ‘drinking culture’, feeling peer pressure, a way to de-stress from a busy and difficult working week, or a way to ‘self medicate’ and avoid difficult feelings. When children grow up around alcohol misuse, they are more at risk of developing a drinking problem.

There are internal and external factors that may predispose someone to alcohol misuse; internal factors include genetics, a psychological diagnosis or condition, personality characteristics, personal choice, and drinking history.

External factors could include the environment, religious and cultural norms, age, education, job status, and social circle, this may be family or friends.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

There are several ways that we can help reduce a dependency on alcohol or stop it altogether.  At Phinity, our therapists can assess your current alcohol consumption and help you determine if it has become problematic.

After a comprehensive assessment we can work with you to design a manageable treatment plan that will help you gradually and safely reduce alcohol consumption.

You may wish to explore the factors that underpin your relationship with alcohol for deeper understanding.

Together we can identify and develop awareness of your risk factors.

There are various ways we might work with alcoholism, for example by using the psycho-dynamic approach, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or a mixture (integrative), to suit your needs.

Your therapist can also help you to self-care.  It is important to focus on your own emotional needs, and how alcohol might be used as a way to avoid difficulties in life.

What Causes Alcoholism?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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