Expert Insight With Stephanie Chivers - When Alcohol Becomes a Problem

Alcohol, aka the devil's poison, has been the root cause of just about every conceivable disaster amongst men and women since time begun. Week after week, we see alcohol-fuelled scandals in the media from drunken fights, criminal damage, abuse, and, in the most severe cases, death. The effects of alcohol-related crimes and incidents cost the government billions upon billions each year, through medical care, NHS services, and prevention, yet it's still considered part of our culture. 

But, it's not just binge drinking louts whose lives have been ruined by alcohol. There has been a rise of middle-class professionals who have succumb to the devastating effects alcohol can have, if abused and used for the wrong reason. We live in a culture where we drink for just about every situation we are faced with. 

Great day at work? Let's have a drink to celebrate. Bad day at work? Let's have a drink to relax. The wife had just had a baby, let's have a drink and wet the baby's head. A bereavement, yet again, let's reach for the bottle to toast their existence or drown our sorrows. 

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Alcohol is becoming an issue for many high flying professionals and successful businessman throughout the UK. A staggering 72% of attendees at our RESET event claimed to want to reduce their alcohol consumption. When investigated further, several reasons were presented as to why they wanted to reduce their alcohol intake - these included:

  • Lose weight and achieve fitness goals
  • Save money
  • Sleep better
  • Perform better at work
  • Improve overall health and wellbeing

Yet, many men still don't believe they have a problem when it comes to drinking. So we called in the expertise of addiction specialist, Stephanie Chivers, to answer some of your questions.

What does a typical client look like?

When it comes to my area of work, there really isn't a typical client. It can literally be anyone and everyone. Men who are working, unemployed, sporty, successful, struggling, single, married, a father, a grandfather, they are all susceptible.

Are men more prone to alcohol addiction than women?

Simply put, men are not more or less prone. If you look at the statistics, there are more male problem drinkers than females, but only just.  That's more because men have always drunk alcohol, so it's been part of their culture, their socialising, for a longer time. Whereas, for women, its a relatively new thing for women to drink as much as a man. In fact, if anything, men are more resilient physically and emotionally when it comes to alcohol.  Yet, it was men that accounted for approximately 65% of all alcohol-related deaths in the UK in 2014 - according to the latest statistics by Alcohol Concern.

Is there a difference between an alcoholic and someone who abuses alcohol?

I personally don't use the word alcoholic in my work. It's a very personal thing, and I find that whilst some people find it motivating to use a label for themselves, most don't.  

Most people would describe someone with alcohol issues as a heavy or hard drinker.  However, that is very subjective.  What is defined as heavy drinking to me, is potentially very different for another person. In my experience, it's not actually about the amount of alcohol (although obviously, this is a factor) it's more about what problems it is causing the person and their life. I prefer to say that alcohol is causing a problem, or use the term problematic drinking. 

We also need to address that because alcohol can also be physically addictive, as well as psychologically addictive, there will be people that have a physical addiction. 

What are the early signs of a problematic drinker?

There are a number of indicators for an issue. And, it's not an exact science. Any daily alcohol use is an issue, as you are building up a habit with a highly addictive substance. Therefore, alcohol-free days are a must.  

Ask yourself:

  • Can I go 7 days without drinking? 
  • Do I drink to cope with life? to escape? 
  • Can I remember what happened after a night out? 
  • Is anyone concerned about my drinking? 
  • Do I have health issues as a result of drinking? 
  • Do I take time off work as a result of drinking? 
  • Is alcohol causing a problem for me in my life?

If you’re concerned about a friend, is there a way to approach the conversation?

It can be hard to talk to someone about their drinking.  In my opinion, if you are concerned about someone's drinking, the best thing you can do is to be honest. Keep it short and to the point, maybe talk about an issue you have had, if that's relevant, to demonstrate some level of empathy. 

For instance, ask someone if everything is ok? And, give them a chance to open up.  If they don't say anything, explain that you are worried about them, then say why. You could say that you have noticed they are drinking a bit more than usual, or that they seem more stressed than normal, and ask if there is anything that you can help them with?  

The most important thing you can do is make it known that you are there when they are ready to talk. Then, if/when they come to you make sure you are present and listening. Importantly, do not judge. 

What is your approach to problematic drinking?

I work closely with the person to discuss what is happening with them in their life. Initially, I do a free consultation so I can see what the issues are, then make a recommendation based on the conversation we have had as it can be a different approach for different people.  For instance, it might be that they need to reduce their intake, or for others, it is better they take a break from drinking.

There will be people that I recommend stopping for a long period of time, due to serious physical or emotional issues and their own safety. But, essentially it's their choice. I can offer advice, but it's their life and they have to live it. It can be tough for people to get their head around stopping altogether. Too big of a challenge. So, I’ll often work on an initial break from drinking and then help them to introduce occasional drinking.

However, if there is the issue of physical addiction, I may recommend that they may need to see their own GP to consider a medical detox.  

How detrimental can alcohol be if someone is suffering with mental health issues, such as depression and stress? 

Alcohol is a depressant drug, so it can cause or exacerbate depression. One of the known side effects of drinking, and even afterwards, is anxiety.  Alcohol will no doubt contribute negatively to any mental health issue. 

If someone is struggling with their mental health, depression, anxiety, or stress, I highly recommend they reduce and take a break from drinking.  And, potentially seeking some professional help. People can get into a habit of drinking to deal with stress, with life, or just to unwind after a busy day.  

The key here is to have more solutions to tackle your stress problem, and not always rely on alcohol. A certain amount of stress in life is normal, but there are many ways you can handle it, alcohol is a temporary measure and won’t actually help in the long run.  

Often, we need to look at what is needed to address the situation. What’s the root cause of the stress? If you are drinking, it will be much harder to work through this than if you’re not. 

Stephanie Chivers is a habit and addiction specialist.  With a passion for teaching people how to stop drinking and start living. With over 12 years personal and professional experience, If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, you can contact Stephanie for an initial conversation. 

Head on over to Stephanie's website for further information or connect with her on LinkedIn

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