Drinking Alcohol Everyday – When does it Become an Addiction?

Is it fair to answer this question before answering the question ‘what is an addiction?’ The Aarhus University Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research describes addiction as a ‘compulsive physiological need for and use of a habit-forming substance.’ But, what is addiction and how does it affect so many of us?

Addiction can also refer to the intentional and compulsive use of a substance despite the user being aware of its harmful psychological, physical, and social effects. A physical tolerance and the distinct psychological symptoms that result from alcohol withdrawal can certainly indicate alcohol addiction.[1]

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

To keep any health-related alcohol risks to a minimum, the UK Chief Medical Officer’s recommends limiting alcohol consumption to a maximum of 14 units per week regularly. Although the safest amount by their guidelines; their medical officers admit there is no current proof suggesting that the consumption of only small doses of alcohol often is without health implications.

For those habitually drinking 14 units weekly, it is recommended to spread this out over several days and have several alcohol-free days. [2]

When we feel worried about the alcohol consumption of a person close to us, it can be difficult to determine if they have a substance abuse problem.

This is because drinking alcohol daily does not immediately set precedence for someone having an alcohol addiction. For example, someone could consume their 14 units per week as per the UK Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines and not be considered in danger as they are within the recommended limits.

However, if you or someone you know finds themselves consistently consuming more than the recommended 14 units weekly, or are finding it difficult not to have any alcohol-free days; the alcohol consumption may have become an addiction.

Difficult Questions to Ask Yourself

There are ways to look out for the signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency. A helpful way to do this to ask yourself some admittedly difficult questions. The answers will be essential in determining if there is an alcohol addiction or problem that requires help to resolve.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I ever find myself drinking daily, or at inappropriate times such as during work?
  • Have I ever had an alcoholic drink first thing in the morning to steady my nerves or to help me face the day?
  • Have I noticed myself drinking more frequently or in larger quantities?
  • Have I noticed any changes in my mood or mental health since my alcohol consumption has increased?
  • Do I avoid situations where there is no alcohol or if it means I won’t be able to have a drink?
  • Do I ever hide my alcohol?
  • Is the amount I drink starting to have an impact on my job or family life?
  • Have I ever become angry or defensive when questioned about my drinking?
  • Do I ever drink because I am upset or cannot cope with my emotions?
  • Do I ever blackout from drinking and wake up with no memory of recent events?

Difficult as it may be to answer these questions honestly, doing so can help a person determine if they have an alcohol issue that they need to address. This will in turn allow the person to get the help they need to avoid the physical and psychological effects of daily alcohol consumption.

Risks of Alcohol Misuse

Only a small amount of research is needed to come across some staggering figures for alcohol abuse. The World Health Organization’s recent WHO Global Status Report (GSR) on Alcohol and Health 2018 reported that ‘alcohol consumption contributes to more than 3 million deaths globally every year.’

But why is this? What does alcohol abuse do to the body?

Regular alcohol abuse can lead to a major increased risk for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and communicable diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS.

Not surprisingly, alcohol consumption is now number 7 on the leading risk factor scale for premature death and disability across the globe. [3]

Unfortunately, alcohol does not only leave you at risk of physical health problems such as cirrhosis; but can also lead to the increased risk of traffic, violence, and other accidents.

The misuse of alcohol can also lead to mental disorders like alcohol dependence and social problems as coping with work, family and other commitments become difficult.

This does not only harm the user but those in their surrounding circle, such as family members. However, the amount of alcohol consumption pattern needs to be considered when contemplating the severity of the risk. [4]

How Problem Drinking Starts and Why

It could be fair to say that many of us will have drank alcohol previously despite not intending, or due to emotions, grief, or depression. The real problem is when a user continues to consume alcohol despite the negative effects on their mental health, physical health, work, and family life. Unfortunately, this will occur for several individuals.

There are many reasons that alcohol addiction can occur, but perhaps the biggest appeal is the way it can create a release from daily life or your problems. Trauma, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, money problems and even just everyday stresses are just some of the things that individuals may try to escape from.

When and How Should I Get Help?

Alcohol doesn’t only produce a psychological addiction, where people drink to make them feel better, but can also produce physical dependency in an alcoholic tolerance build-up that can leave the body needing more.

If you think any of this relates to you or a person you are close to, it’s essential to reach out for help now to reduce or stop drinking completely. You may feel isolated during COVID or because of a lack of family and friends, but there is help there for everyone.

Try to have several alcohol-free days (unless you are drinking excessively and are worried about any dangerous withdrawal symptoms).[5]

You must be cautious if you are a heavy or dependent drinker and will need to look out for signs of alcohol withdrawal, to protect yourself as you reduce your drinking.

Drinking at high levels can lead to a build-up of alcohol tolerance and a physical dependency, therefore giving up alcohol suddenly can be dangerous or even fatal. Your body is likely not to react positively if you stop drinking cold turkey due to the alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating, nausea, or headache after even only several hours without alcohol are warning signs that you may need help. The person suffering these symptoms may be physiologically dependent and could go into dangerous or even fatal alcohol withdrawal if they were to stop suddenly.

Alcohol withdrawal can result in serious and fatal complications if undertaken without medication, such as seizures (fits), confusion, hallucinations, problems with coordination and problems with balance. Please see medical help before stopping suddenly. [6]

Help is Available

If you are worried about your drinking or someone else’s, it is important to talk to anyone you feel comfortable with. Anyone who loves and cares for you will not judge you but will likely want to help. In addition, although some procedures may have changed due to Covid-19, there is still lots of professional help available for anyone struggling with alcohol consumption.

It’s best to contact your GP or health care provider in the first instance, especially if you drink enough to be concerned about withdrawal risks. Your GP can discuss your treatment options and the best path for you.

Another option is to contact your local alcohol treatment services if you’re not comfortable going to your GP to set up an initial appointment.

Charities and private drug and alcohol treatment organisations offer further options for help outside of the NHS and are always eager to help people. Visit the Adam website for a list of organisations. You might find that the treatment consists of counselling, medication, support groups and/or rehab, or a combination.


When considering whether you or some you know could fit into the definition of ‘alcoholic’, ‘alcohol abuse’ or ‘addiction’, it is essential not to get bogged down in the terms and how they are used. Only believing that problems with alcohol can occur in people who are ‘alcoholics’ can be a dangerous way to bypass any alcohol problems that may need addressing.

It is an inconvenient truth that anyone who drinks alcohol is at risk of causing problems for themselves and others at some point in their lives, and may need help to overcome those problems. Therefore, the label we use is irrelevant; it’s the warning signs we need to look for to help ourselves and those who need it.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190444/
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489795/summary.pdf
  3. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-09-2018-who-launches-safer-alcohol-control-initiative-to-prevent-and-reduce-alcohol-related-death-and-disability
  4. https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/global_status_report_2004_overview.pdf
  5. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/489795/summary.pdf
  6. https://www.publichealthdorset.org.uk/your-health/protecting-your-health/alcohol-harm-reduction.aspx