Alcoholic drinks have been prepared and drunk for thousands of years and the problems that can accompany excess alcohol intake have undoubtedly been around just as long.
High levels of alcohol consumption can lead to physical illness and psychological and social distress. Alcohol has therefore always had an ambivalent position in society.
In moderation, it can be the oil that makes a social occasion go with a bit more flow or helps a shy person overcome their inhibitions.
Certainly, small, regular amounts of alcohol do seem to have a positive effect on the heart and circulation. Yet, over-indulgence in alcohol is all too often a recipe for disaster.
The increasing use of alcohol, along with other drugs of abuse, is a serious public health problem across all age ranges, but especially so in young people.
Often alcohol dependence remains undetected for years. Both the availability of alcohol and the way it is used (the social patterns) appear to be major factors in influencing the likelihood of a person becoming alcohol dependent. There may also be a genetic component, because alcohol dependence clusters in some families. However, it is difficult to be sure that this is not because of learned behaviour.
Depression is a common cause of alcoholism as the depressed person seeks a way out of their problems or a relief from insomnia. Unfortunately, alcohol is itself a depressant, so the problem is only compounded. Anxiety can be temporarily relieved by alcohol, but this may lead to repeated intake and dependence.
Without adequate attention to the mental health needs of a person with alcohol dependence, little progress can be made. Often alcoholism remains unsuspected even by the doctor, and it may come to light only when medical tests are done for other reasons.
If you, or someone close to you, suffer from alcohol dependence and you want help, there are several organisations you can approach:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/ .
Al-Anon Family Groups offer support and understanding to the families and friends of problem drinkers: http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Call in complete confidence, 24 hours a day 0800 917 8282