8.5 million people in the UK are now high risk drinkers - here are the warning signs

What you need to know about buying alcohol in Scotland (Photo: Shutterstock)What you need to know about buying alcohol in Scotland (Photo: Shutterstock)
What you need to know about buying alcohol in Scotland (Photo: Shutterstock)

Millions of UK residents have turned to alcohol during the pandemic, with the country reportedly facing a “looming addiction crisis.”

A new report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed the number of people drinking at “high risk” levels has doubled to almost 8.5 million since February. The college analysed data from Public Health England showing the frequency of people drinking at high risk jumped from 19 per cent in June to 10.8 per cent in February.

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Higher risk consumption is defined as drinking more alcohol than the recommended levels of no more than 14 units a week, for men and women.

The college also raised concerns that because addiction services have been “starved of funding” for years, they may be unable to treat the “high numbers” of high risk drinkers. The report called on ministers to reverse cuts to help local authorities work towards investing £374 million into adult services and address the need for investment.

Dr Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said, “Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.

“More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the Government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the Spending Review.

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“I urge the government to implement the recommendations in our report which would see mental health services expand to be the biggest in Europe, with a much-needed focus on tackling inequalities.”

How much is safe to drink?

The UK Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for both men and women state:

  • To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
  • If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of long-term illness and injury

Alcohol is measured in units with one unit meaning 10ml of pure alcohol. Fourteen units of alcohol is the equivalent to having six pints of beer a week, or six medium glasses of wine a week.

If you want to track your drinking and require advice on how to drink within the government recommended limits, Drinkaware has a ‘Track and Calculate Units’ app available to download via the Apple App Store, or Google Play.

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Signs that your relationship with alcohol may be unhealthy

The NHS estimates that around nine per cent of men in the UK and three per cent of women show signs of alcohol dependence. This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life. They feel unable to function without it.

There are varying degrees of alcohol dependence and they don’t always involve excessive levels of drinking.

If you’re concerned that you may be showing signs of becoming alcohol dependent or is concerned about someone else’s drinking, Drinkaware has put together these four warning signs and symptoms:

  • Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around alcohol
  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and finding it hard to stop once you start
  • Waking up and drinking - or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning
  • Suffering from withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol

Where to get help

If you are looking to get help or further information on alcohol dependency, check out these sources:

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Your local GP can help you figure out if you should make changes in your drinking, offering help and guidance along the way.

Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline if you’re concerned about your own or someone else drinking. Call 0300 123 1110

Alcoholics Anonymous: If you need help with a drinking problem you can phone the national helpline on 0800 9177650 or email [email protected]