Alcohol Use

What Is Alcohol?

What is alcohol exactly?

Alcohol itself is a colourless liquid; it can be made from almost anything that has sugar in it. For example, beer is made from barley, cider from apples, wine from grapes, whiskey from grain. Alcohol plays a part in many of our lives, yet it’s surprising how little people know about its contents.

Depending on what they are made from, and how they are made, different drinks have different amounts of alcohol in them. Percentages appear on bottles/cans with the letters ‘ABV’ which stands for ‘Alcohol by Volume’. The higher the percentage, the greater the alcohol content.

Alcohol is one of the world’s most widely used drugs. A glass of wine with dinner, a beer after work, a cocktail in the sunshine on holiday, alcohol makes an appearance in so many parts of our lives; it can be easy to forget that, like many drugs, it’s addictive, both physically and psychologically.

How Much Is Too Much?

The World Health Organisation has set guidelines in place to encourage us to keep our alcohol intake within safe levels, to prevent a negative impact on our health. To do this, we need to keep track of the number of units we are consuming.

Units of alcohol are the measure of the volume of pure alcohol in an alcoholic beverage. One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol.

Previously it was thought women and men differ in their ability to process alcohol in the body and therefore had different guideline amounts. However these have been made the same for both genders now. Both Men and Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than three units in any one day, and should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Advice from the Department of Health states that if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is when someone drinks too much alcohol in a short space of time. This can happen every so often, or regularly. Not only is binge drinking damaging to the individual’s health, but it can also prove to be a difficult experience for family members too.


Alcoholism is commonly used to describe being addicted to alcohol. Other words and phrases that may be used to describe this include, alcohol dependency, alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction.

No-one plans to become addicted. It can develop very slowly over time. See the Stages of Use in the Cycle below...

Although the stages of addiction are different for everyone, it is good to have a general idea of how addiction progresses. Before anyone tries any drug they begin at the ‘No Use Stage’. Experimental use is unsurprisingly about experimentation. This will likely be a choice you will be faced with at some stage in your life. Some people experiment, and their use stops there, while others never get that far. For others, this can be the first step in a struggle with substance abuse. Social use is where we commonly see more frequent use. You may begin to notice regular patterns of drinking, using or drug abuse, going out at the weekends or drinking after work for example. You may notice a compulsion that starts to become a more than regular occurrence.
Then see Daily or Regular Use, where the intake has increased yet again and may lead to interference with everyday life and avoiding responsibilities. Next comes Harmful Use which again shows more of a priority shift toward the use of alcohol/drugs. It may also involve actively pursuing people, places and things that involve the use. Despite the consequences of using, the risky behaviour continues. Dependent Use marks the final stage of use. This is where the addiction is at its fullest and will involve cravings and lead the person abusing alcohol or drugs to be unable to stop, despite the harm it is causing, without them actively seeking support.

Characteristics of addiction can include:

– Loss of control over the drug’s use
– Priority shift – The use of alcohol becomes the most important thing
– Compulsion to use – the person only sees the benefits and not the harm it is doing
– Withdrawal – the person’s body reacts to the drug leaving the body
– Continuing to use alcohol despite the consequences
However, someone does not have to be addicted or dependent on alcohol for it to be having a negative impact on them or their family.

Advice from the Department of Health states that if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.