News and views on the latest health issues

Articles


Articles

Drugs and alcohol

Publish date: 19/08/2015

Tags: alcohol , children

new-drugs-and-alcohol

Alcohol

It’s simple when it comes to alcohol -- the more you drink the more you put yourself at risk of alcohol related health problems. Thanks to a lot of media attention, most people are now familiar what the levels of risk are, The revised government guidelines for alcohol consumption, introduced in January 2016, advise:

• You should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week

 
• Make two or more days a week ‘alcohol-free’ days

FYI one ‘unit’ is about half a pint of beer, or one small glass of wine. Many bars now serve large glasses of wine that contain 2-3 units of alcohol.

Between school and university years, young adults may experience peer pressure to consume alcohol; binge drinking is a common occurrence. It’s not uncommon to find that quantities can often exceed the recommended daily allowance, which can lead to long-term health implications such as alcohol dependence.

People who are addicted to drinking alcohol are unable to stop themselves from drinking – they might find that they aren’t confident enough to go to work or mix socially without a few drinks. This can progress to alcohol dependence, where they experience serious physical side effects, such as hallucinations and tremors, if they try to stop drinking. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms also include psychological effects such as depression and anxiety, sleep disturbance and restlessness.

These withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous and stopping alcohol suddenly can result in seizures. People with alcohol dependence have to continue drinking in order to avoid these unpleasant side effects.

In the long-term, excessive drinking can damage the liver, leading to a form of scarring called cirrhosis that prevents it from working properly. Binge drinking can also cause alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol also lowers inhibitions and reduces our reaction times, which can lead people to drink and drive as they wrongly believe that they aren’t impaired. They may also end up in dangerous circumstances because they aren’t able to judge their safety normally.

Drugs

Young people require different help with drug addiction than adults and so the services provided are tailored to their needs.   

Young people are rarely dependent in the same way as adults as they often haven’t had long enough for their drug use to become fully established. The other difference is that they are often introduced to drugs by their peers and feel a need to conform. Commonly abused drugs include cannabis, MDMA, heroin and cocaine.

All drugs have side effects and some are more dangerous than others. People who take drugs may find they feel paranoid, anxious and confused. They might have hallucinations and physical symptoms like sweating, racing heart, dizziness, vomiting, nausea, seizures and even heart attacks.

Long term drug use can lead to problems later on; for example, cannabis use has been linked to the development of psychosis in later life. There are other risks associated with drug use such as contracting blood-borne diseases from shared needles, and poisonous substances that might have been mixed with the drug. 

Drug use causes behaviour changes that parents can detect, such as:

  • dressing differently 
  • losing interest in personal hygiene
  • hanging out with new friends 
  • sudden changes in their interests 
  • moody and secretive behaviour
  • change in sleeping habits 
  • unwillingness to talk about why they’ve changed.

There are many groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and UK SMART recovery that people can join to seek support in maintaining abstinence from alcohol or drugs.

For people who’ve been highly dependent for a long period of time and suffer with significant withdrawal symptoms there are specific alcohol/drug rehabilitation programmes that can help tackle the symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal as well as address any underlying psychological issues associated with alcohol or drug taking. 

If necessary, people who experience severe symptoms of withdrawal may also need to comply with a medically assisted detoxification.

Useful Resources

The Priory

NHS

Drink Smarter

National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Drink Aware

Frank 

Alcoholics Anonymous

Drugs and your child

UK Smart recovery

Health risks from alcohol: new guidelines

 

Sign up to our monthly newsletter, Better Health, to receive our latest health and wellbeing updates.


Sign up for Better Health

Ask the expert

Got a question?
Our team of medical experts are ready to help.