Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Problem drinking and alcoholism

Sometimes it might be a friend or relative who notices there’s a drink problem before the person themselves. We spoke to a few people who realised themselves that they had a problem with alcohol and decided to stop drinking.
When does drinking become a problem?
Drinking is a problem when a person drinks so much or so often that:
  • They become unwell
  • They have problems at school/work or in their home life because of their drinking
  • They spend more than they can afford on alcohol
When he was a student, Daniel ‘s drink problems stopped him from even turning up at work. Like many students he didn’t have much money and was really pleased to find a responsible job in a local shop. But his heavy and uncontrollable drinking meant that he missed his first day.

Daniel got so drunk celebrating his new job that he overslept and woke up several hours after he was supposed to have turned up for work.

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Sex: Male
Well like I said I will always be an addict. I have this until my dying day. I have a methodology that I, [sigh] which if I use then I can live in god’s grace. I tend to live in god’s grace. There are some mornings because I am such an addict that I just don’t do that and I engage in these addictive behaviours. Now I can’t tell you why because if I told you why then I think that I’d have the solution to all of this stuff that we’re talking about.

I can’t tell you why but I think I can illustrate it with this story from my drinking days which kind of does it quite nicely. Was that I got a job in university in my second year. And I’d been searching around, money was tight and I finally got this job and I was very happy to get the job and I shouldn’t have got the job. It meant me starting at 7 o’clock in the morning and I talked to the guy and I kind of forced him into it. You know I was so forceful, I was so charming and persuading, most alcoholics are, that he gave me the keys and told me, ‘Look you’ve got to open up at 7.’ It was a little shop. You know open up at 7. I said, [smack] ‘Brilliant got the job’. Walked home, a nice sunny evening. Everything was right with the world. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. I’m going, I’m turning into my street. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. I get to my front door and the thought occurs in just, less than half a second, ‘Oh you’ve done so well today. You really deserve, you really deserve a drink.’ The next moment I’m waking up. I open the curtains. Bright light is streaming in. I look down at my mobile. It’s 11'00 am. I’m supposed to be there at 7'00. All of that hinged on that thought, that twisted alcoholic perception, that that single thought had been at the core of most of my problems in my life is because of that thought. 

People can also become physically dependent on alcohol and need it just to feel ‘normal’. Once at this stage, stopping drinking can cause them to experience withdrawal. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include sickness, sweating and other flu-like symptoms that last up to a week.
How does a drink problem start?
Some of the people we spoke to started to drink to excess because they were in a situation at work or college where drinking was expected or tolerated. Daniel was a student when he started to have problems with alcohol. His schedule meant that he was free to drink during the day.
Stefanie began to worry about how much she was drinking when she had a job in a pub. She worked there between the ages of 18 and 21 and got on really well with the owners.  She fell into a regular pattern of drinking with them to unwind after work.
Craig says that his problem drinking started when he spent three months working in a betting shop.

When Craig worked at a bookmakers, he and his colleague took it in turns to have regular breaks in the pub

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
When I changed it was, it would go from when I was working at the bookmakers, the bookies. I worked with a, with I wouldn’t say elderly gentleman but he was in his 60s and yeah he liked, he liked a pint. So his break was to go down have a pint, come back. So we would start drinking probably about. He would start drinking at 11'00. I would start drinking at 12'00. So he would have his lunch break at 11'00. I’d have mine at 12'00. He’d go down the pub. I’d go down the pub. A couple of hours later all we fancied was a 15 minute cigarette break which was go and have a pint. So he’d come back. I’d go and have a pint and it would keep going on all afternoon especially if we were doing the eleven/twelve/thirteen-hour shifts. And you know, over the course of a day we would have, at work probably about 8 or 9 pints and we, because it was spread out and we would have food with it, you know, it affected us a little bit but not to an extent that we were falling over. And then, you know, half past nine would come, we’d cash up and then go down the pub for the evening. And then next day start all over again. So, you know, it got the point where there was about 15/20 pints a day. Yeah. Yeah quite a bit.
And this was throughout a working day?
Yeah the non-working day was not brilliant. The non-working day you’re talking probably about between 20 and 30 pints of lager or beer which ever.
Ok for how long did you keep that up?
Three months.
Three months. You worked there for 3 months or?
No I left about 2 weeks before I ended the, before I ended it.
Why did you leave?
I got fed up[laugh]. It was very boring. It was a very quiet site in the middle of a tiny little town. You saw the same people every day and then by half past one it was dead until 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock and then you had about an hour’s rush and then you had to sit there for a couple of hours while people were playing on the roulette machines not talking to us, not placing any bets just popping the money in the machine but then off they’d go at half nine and that was our day. And, you know, it’s ok but if you work with the same person for 40 hours a week there’s only so much you can talk about. 
Peter told us that regular lunchtime drinking was part of his work’s culture. This had been his downfall on a number of occasions (see also Alcohol and risk to self and others). He drinks more alcohol than he wants to when the group he’s with take it in turns to buy rounds of drinks.  He would drink less if he were buying his own.

Peter had ’blackouts’ during lunchtime drinking sessions at work and couldn’t remember what he’d done once he’d sobered up.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
And I’d say as I got older my relationship with alcohol has deteriorated not improved. So I’m not a regular drinker because I don’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I’ve a tendency to perhaps if I have a few drinks I can end up having too many. I have blackouts.
Where I don’t remember what’s happened for the evening. I could have done some really uncharacteristic behaviour. So...
How much do you need to drink to?
I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell you. I really couldn’t tell you. There’s no hard and fast rules. Sometimes I’ve had a few drinks and then. It depends to be I think the speed at which the alcohol is drunk. If it’s something like shooting alcohol shots back rather than perhaps drinking a pint of lager that’s more likely to cause me to, to kind of have these blackouts but I’ve had some really uncharacteristic behaviour. I’ve been arrested. And yeah I’ve been into some trouble there. Been kicked out of various bars, nightclubs. The only reason I actually continued to drink is because social reasons, social purposes, particularly working in an office environment and things like that, you know. It’s not just what you do in your job that counts. There’s also the social aspect of it.
Ok so you need to?

So that’s, that’s probably the only reason I actually continued to actually drink alcohol because I do think I have an unhealthy relationship with it. So I generally don’t. I don’t go out drinking regularly. I just go for lunchtime drinks occasionally with people from work now. And maybe once every few months I might have an actual night out of drinking because I don’t trust myself on alcohol. I don’t like what it does to me. 

Getting help for problem drinking
After a drunken evening where Daniel had been violent, he realised that he was an alcoholic and needed to stop drinking (this happened 4 years before we talked to him).

Daniel realised he was an alcoholic and had his last drink on a Sunday morning in January 2006....

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Sex: Male

I’d done this thing which will remain nameless. I woke up on the morning of the 28th January and it was a beautiful winter’s morning. There was ice on the ground outside, clear blue skies, sun streaming in. My life had never been lower than it had been on that night. I was surrounded by empty cans of Strongbow in this shitty little room in [city area]. I came downstairs and I felt absolutely wonderful. I just felt wonderful. I didn’t know why I felt wonderful. I didn’t know what was going on for me. I just felt a huge sense of release. I looked out into the sky and I said to myself, ‘I’m an alcoholic’. And for the first time - I’d suspected for 3 years prior to that that I was - but for the first time there was no dissenting voice in the back of my mind. I went and sat down at the desk. There was some stranger sleeping on the sofa in the front room who I didn’t know and I said to him, ‘I think I’ve got to stop drinking.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah I think that sounds like a good idea.’ I took a sip from a can of Carlsberg that was lying on the desk and that’s the last drink of alcohol I’ve ever had. That was the 28th January 2006.

Daniel went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for about 18 months and now helps other people with addiction problems.
If you are worried about your drinking habits visit our resources section for links to organisations that can help.

Last reviewed July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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