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The NHS has published some short-term and long-term risks of alcohol misuse.

Short-term risks could include:

  • Accidents and injuries requiring hospital treatment, such as a head injury
  • Violent behaviour and being a victim of violence
  • Unprotected sex that could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Loss of personal possessions, such as wallets, keys or mobile phones
  • Alcohol poisoning– this may lead to vomiting, seizures (fits) and falling unconscious


 Persistent alcohol misuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Liver cancer and bowel cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Pancreatitis

As well as causing serious health problems, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to social problems, such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness.

Alcohol and memory

Soon after drinking alcohol, your brain processes slow down and your memory can be impaired. After large quantities of alcohol, the brain can stop recording into the ‘memory store’.

That’s why you can wake up the next day with a ‘blank’ about what you said or did and even where you were. This short-term memory failure or ‘black out’ doesn’t mean that brain cells have been damaged, but frequent heavy sessions can damage the brain because of alcohol’s effect on brain chemistry and processes.

Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also have long-term effects on memory. Even on days when you don’t drink any alcohol, recalling what you did yesterday, or even where you have been earlier that day, become difficult.

Alcohol is an obvious depressive which can have health implications well beyond the spiritual hangover that many of us have experienced after a night on the bevy. Find out more about these issues and the impact of alcohol on mental health by clicking here.

Did you know that men and women shouldn’t drink more than 14 units per week?

Click here to check out Government guidelines

Mental health seems to be a hot topic in the media at the moment, but what role does alcohol have to play in this issue? This page tells you more.

The stats

In 2014/2015, one in ten (10%) adults exhibited two or more symptoms of depression, indicating moderate to high severity. This level is similar to that reported in the previous survey periods of 2008/2009 (8%), 2011/2012 (8%) and 2012/2013 (9%). The proportion of adults reporting one or more symptoms of depression in 2014/2015 (20%) was significantly higher than the proportion in both 2012/2013 (17%) and 2008/2009 (14%).

The proportion of those with two or more symptoms of depression rose significantly between 2008/2009 and 2014/2015 for men (7% to 10%) but not women (10% in both survey periods). Significant increases were seen in the proportion of both men and women with one or more symptoms (11% to 19% for men, 16% to 21% for women).

The cycle

Alcohol is linked to suicide, self-harm and psychosis.

Alcohol can actually increase anxiety and stress rather than reduce it.

The proportion of adults with at least one symptom of anxiety rose from 21% in 2012/2013 to 24% in 2014/2015.

The proportion of adults with two or more symptoms of anxiety, indicating moderate to severe levels of anxiety, showed an increase from 9% in 2008/2009 to 2012/2013 to 12% in 2014/2015. Women were significantly more likely than men to exhibit two or more signs of anxiety (15% compared to 9%).


In action

If you are concerned about someones mental health and displays of aggression click here.

Ever wondered why people can become aggressive? Because of the reduced levels of Serotonin our perception of a situation narrows, putting the spotlight on the threat in the environment that cuts out the neutral information.

For example, our partner talking to an attractive man at the bar. You may fail to see that it is actually the barman and that he is talking to others.

Does this give meaning to the word blind drunk?

Chicken before the egg

Some drink to relieve the pressures of anxiety and depression.

Others drink to relieve the anxiety and pressure caused from drinking.

Symptoms of depression in 2012-2015 (combined), by age and sex, and by area deprivation


Those in the most deprived areas were 4 times more likely than those in the least deprived areas to report two symptoms of depression (16% compared with 4%), using age-standardised data. Comparable patterns of prevalence of two or more symptoms of depression increasing with deprivation were seen for both men (18% in the most deprived quintile compared with 6% in the two least deprived quintiles) and women (15% in the most deprived compared with 3% in the least deprived).

Self harm

Alcohol can make people lose their inhibitions and behave impulsively, so it can lead to actions they might not otherwise have taken – including self-harm and suicide[4].

According to the NHS in Scotland, more than half of people who ended up in hospital because they’d deliberately injured themselves said they’ve drunk alcohol immediately before or while doing it.  27% of men and 19% of women gave alcohol as the reason for self-harming.

Extreme levels of drinking (such as more than 30 units per day for several weeks) can occasionally cause ‘psychosis’. It’s a severe mental illness where hallucinations and delusions of persecution develop. Psychotic symptoms can also occur when very heavy drinkers suddenly stop drinking and develop a condition known as ‘delirium tremens’ – symptoms include body tremors and confusion.


If you’d like more information on the effects of alcohol and mental health check out Drinkaware* & Royal College of Psychiatrists.


*DRiNKLiNK has no affiliation with Drinkaware

Some of the terms associated with alcoholism aren’t too complimentary – Like loser, thief, jaikie, lowlife, scrounger, tramp, liar. It can be a lot to take if you are the loved one of someone with an alcohol dependency.

We will go on to discuss the effect this can have on the family but meantime, check out our myth busters page here to pick up the facts that will help you to challenge some of these terms and educate those who are misinformed.

What is Stigma?

Stigma is defined in the Oxford dictionary as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

The impact on the family:

Families and friends often struggle when it comes to the stigma associated with alcohol dependency. A lot of this stigma stems from misunderstandings around and perceptions of the term alcoholic.

Alcohol dependency is long associated with mental heath, however someone branding themselves as having an alcohol problem will receive a very different response to someone saying they have a mental health problem.

“The impact of a person’s alcohol use can have a negative impact on the family member’s social life, leading to increasing isolation, which may be exacerbated by the feelings of guilt and shame that families often feel.”

This can lead to:

  • Isolation: Family members often avoid judgement, shame or embarrassment by avoiding people. They can often conceal their relatives situation for fear of a negative reaction.
  • Permanence: People often perceive that once labelled as an alcoholic, that the title will stick with them and those they care about.
  • Concealment: Often family members feel it important to help conceal the addiction, often putting unrealistic pressures and expectations on themselves.

Why is this an issue?

In its latest Annual Review of its 2010 Drug Strategy, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to challenging the stigma associated with dependence which it recognises as a barrier to an individual’s successful recovery.

If you can relate to this issue, you can find out more on the adfam website.


It is sometimes hard to tell if you are drinking more than is good for you. Many people drink more than they think, especially when drinking at home.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances have a strongly negative effect on the brain and the body, impairing judgement and concentration and often putting the abuser and everyone they come in contact at risk.


  • Before or during driving
  • Before using machinery, electrical equipment or ladders
  • Before working or in the workplace when appropriate functioning would be adversely affected by alcohol


  • FASD is the leading cause of developmental disability in the world, leaving affected children with lifelong physical, emotional and intellectual challenges.
  • It is completely avoidable by avoiding all alcohol during pregnancy
  • There is no cure, but early diagnosis makes it possible for children with FASD to get help with related problems
  • As little as one drink a day during pregnancy can cause behavioural problems in an unborn child
  • Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a week puts a pregnant at high risk of her child developing FASD 

How Many People Are Affected?

  • It’s estimated that at least 40% of women in the UK drink alcohol while pregnant.
  • 17% of children in the UK are born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
  • The UK is ranked number four in the world for cases of FASD

What Are The Symptoms of FASD?

  • Smaller than average head size
  • Slow growth and shorter than average stature
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Delayed thought processes and speech development
  • Problems with making friends and socialising
  • Attention disorders
  • Learning difficulties
  • Disorganisation
  • Poor concentration
  • Kidney, heart and liver problems
  • Visual impairment
  • Hearing loss
  • Unusual facial features, such as small eyes, a thin tlip, top lip and an underdeveloped philtrum (the area between the nose and upper lip)

 The Challenges

  • Drinking in pregnancy is not restricted to one socio economic group – women of all backgrounds, educational levels and salary groups have children with FASD
  • There is no specific treatment, but early diagnosis is essential to minimise long term effects
  • Health care professionals, education providers and support organisations play an important role, so comprehensive training is important
  • Children with FASD may have problems with education and social skills, so families should have access to early psycho-educational testing and support

Children Born with FASD Commonly Experience:

  • Behavioural problems, such as oppositional defiant disorder, aggression and problems with authority
  • Poor educational achievements
  • Mental health problems such as depression and psychosis
  • Problems with making friends and managing normal relationships
  • Anger issues
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Difficulty holding down a job


The only way to prevent FASD is to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.

Consult your doctor if you suspect you or someone you know may be affected.



Related links:

Pregnancy, breastfeeding and alcohol

FASD Information for parents

FASD Booklet

Alcohol is a drug

Alcohol is a legal drug when consumed according to law. In Scotland, the drug is seen as an integral part of Scottish life; used to celebrate, commiserate and socialise.

It’s also a toxic substance that can create dependence and causes serious health and social problems. Drinking too much, too often, increases the risk of cancer and liver disease, being involved in an accident, being a victim or perpetrator of crime, experiencing family breakdown, and losing employment.

Often, it’s people other than the drinker who feel the effects the most: children, family, friends, colleagues and those working in front line services like the NHS and police.

  • More than 1 in 25 adults are dependent on alcohol.
  • The UK has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in Europe.
  • Just under a third of men (32%) and one in six women (16%) drink more than the advised weekly limits of 4 units a week.

Trends from 2003 to 2015 in self-reported usual weekly alcohol consumption are presented in Table 4.1 by sex for adults aged 16 and over.

By Income

For both men and women, there was a clear association between household income and the propensity to exceed the recommended limit of 14 units per week and thus be classified as a hazardous / harmful drinker (revised guidelines). Among women the age-standardised prevalence of hazardous / harmful drinking declined gradually from 24% of those in the highest income quintile drinking at hazardous / harmful levels to 11% of those in the two lowest income quintiles.

For men, levels of hazardous / harmful drinking were similar among the three quintiles with the highest income (40-46%) with a significantly lower level among the two lowest income quintiles (25% and 26%).



The Cost

Alcohol related NHS Scotland, Social Work Services, Criminal Justice & Fire, Wider Economic Costs, Human/Social Costs to Scottish society in 2010 of alcohol misuse is estimated at approximately £3.6billion.

An estimated 17 million working days are lost each year by people missing work due to the effects of alcohol.

In 2018 there were a total of 1,136 alcohol related deaths in Scotland.


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