Understanding problem drinking

What do we mean by problem drinking?

People drink alcohol for a range of reasons and in varying amounts, primarily because they like the taste and the effects of alcohol, and because drinking is seen as a harmless and entertaining social activity. For most adults, drinking alcohol is a well established and acceptable part of their life. For a large minority, however, alcohol has the potential to ruin lives. In recent years, around 35,000 people annually have died in Britain as a result of alcohol-related problems.

If your drinking causes you or someone else problems, in any area of your life, then that drinking is problematic: it is problem drinking. Drinking may cause problems with health (both physical and mental), with finance, work and the law, and with friends and relationships.

The psychological telltale signs of problem drinking include:

  • a preoccupation with alcohol (“When will I have my first drink today? When the next? ...”);
  • guilt, prompted by damage to your car, the concern of a colleague, the desperation of your partner, or your own face in the bathroom mirror;
  • negative emotions, such as low mood or anxiety after, or even in some cases during, a drinking session.

The medical signs can vary from one individual to another, but could include:

  • dependence and withdrawal symptoms, often as soon as 5 hours after the last drink;
  • the results of alcohol poisoning, including anaemia, gastric ulcers, pancreatitis, liver failure (and eventually death).

The social signs include:

  • crime, particularly violent crime;
  • absenteeism from work;
  • increased risk of domestic accidents or accidents on the road.

How can I help myself?

There are several ways to combat problem drinking. Your GP's surgery may have details of group therapy sessions. You local Citizens Advice Bureau will help you find a local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous. As a first step, you could try working through a self-help course.


Overcoming Problem Drinking is a self-help guide that presents and uses many of the well established Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles, skills and techniques that have found clinical success in the treatment of alcohol related problems. However, tackling such problems may not be easy, and will require time and patience.  For more about the book >


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