You may need help if:
- you often feel the need to have a drink
- you get into trouble because of your drinking
- other people warn you about how much you’re drinking
- you think your drinking is causing you problems
A good place to start is with a GP. Try to be accurate and honest about how much you drink and any problems it may be causing you.
If you have become dependent on alcohol, you will have found it difficult to fully control your drinking in some way.
So you’ll probably need some help either to cut down and control your drinking or stop completely, and also some plans to maintain the improvement after that.
The GP may suggest different types of assessment and support options available to you, such as from local community alcohol services.
You can also ask about any free local support groups and other alcohol counselling that may suit you.
If you have become physically dependent and need to stop drinking completely, stopping overnight could be harmful.
You should get advice about this and about any medicine you may need to do this safely.
The sorts of withdrawal symptoms that suggest you may need medicine include:
- anxiety after waking
- sweating and tremors
- nausea or retching in the morning
- seizures or fits
Staying healthy and in control
Cutting down or stopping drinking is usually just the beginning, and most people will need some degree of help or a long-term plan to stay in control or completely alcohol free.
Getting the right support can be crucial to maintaining control in the future. Only relying on family, friends or carers for this often is not enough.
Ask a GP or alcohol service about what longer-term support is available in your area.
Self-help or mutual aid groups (groups such as AA or SMART Recovery groups) are accessible in most areas.
Useful contacts for alcohol problems
- Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its “12 step” programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
- Al-Anon Family Groups offers support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers, whether they’re still drinking or not. Alateen is part of Al-Anon and can be attended by 12- to 17-year-olds who are affected by another person’s drinking, usually a parent.
- We Are With You is a UK-wide treatment agency that helps individuals, families and communities manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.
- Adfam is a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol. Adfam operates an online message board and a database of local support groups.
- The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) provides a free, confidential telephone and email helpline for children of alcohol-dependent parents and others concerned about their welfare. Call 0800 358 3456 for the Nacoa helpline.
- SMART Recovery groups help people decide whether they have a problem, build up their motivation to change, and offer a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery.
Caring for an alcoholic? Find out where you can get support.
Most people receive support to stop drinking and recovery support in the community.
If you need medicine to help you stop drinking, it can often be taken at home or when attending a local service daily.
But some people will need a short stay in a 24-hour medically supported unit so they can receive safe treatment of their withdrawal symptoms or other problems.
This may be in an NHS inpatient unit or a medically supported residential service, depending on your situation and the assessed medical need.
Some people are assessed as needing intensive rehabilitation and recovery support for a period after they stop drinking completely, either through attending a programme of intensive support in their local community or by attending a residential rehabilitation service.
This type of intensive treatment is usually reserved for people with medium or high levels of alcohol dependence, and those who have received other forms of help previously that have not been successful.
Local authorities are responsible for alcohol treatment services. Intensive residential rehabilitation may require an additional assessment process to determine if there is funding for this.
It’s also possible to pay for residential rehabilitation privately. Medical insurance companies may fund this for a certain period.
Find out more about treatments for alcohol dependency.
Page last reviewed: 6 November 2019
Next review due: 6 November 2022
The risks of drinking too much
New evidence around the health harms from regular drinking have emerged in recent years.
There’s now a better understanding of the link between drinking and some illnesses, including a range of cancers.
The previously held position that some level of alcohol was good for the heart has been revised.
It’s now thought that the evidence on a protective effect from moderate drinking is less strong than previously thought.
Low-risk drinking advice
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level if you drink most weeks:
- men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis
- spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week
- if you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week
If you’re pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
No ‘safe’ drinking level
If you drink less than 14 units a week, this is considered low-risk drinking.
It’s called “low risk” rather than “safe” because there’s no safe drinking level.
The type of illnesses you can develop after 10 to 20 years of regularly drinking more than 14 units a week include:
- cancers of the mouth, throat and breast
- heart disease
- liver disease
- brain damage
- damage to the nervous system
There’s also evidence that regular drinking at high-risk levels can make your mental health worse.
Research has found strong links between alcohol misuse and self-harming, including suicide.
The effects of alcohol on your health will depend on how much you drink. The less you drink, the lower the health risks.
Read about alcohol units to work out how much alcohol there is in your drinks.
‘Single session’ drinking
Drinking too much too quickly on any single occasion can increase your risk of:
- accidents resulting in injury, causing death in some cases
- misjudging risky situations
- losing self-control, like having unprotected sex or getting involved in violence
To reduce your health risks on any single session:
- limit how much you drink
- drink more slowly
- drink with food
- alternate with water or non-alcoholic drinks
Find out more
Page last reviewed: 23 May 2019
Next review due: 23 May 2022