Many people in the UK drink in a way that is harmful and a smaller number are dependent on alcohol. Alcohol problems are becoming more common in young people and even in children.
Drinking is considered harmful when it leads to physical or mental health problems such as alcohol related injury, inflammation of the liver or pancreas, or depression. In the longer term the person may develop high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, some types of cancer or brain damage because of their drinking. Heavy drinking can also lead to relationship problems, problems at work, college or school, or violence.
Alcohol dependence involves a range of symptoms that do not all necessarily happen at the same time. A person who is dependent on alcohol may feel a strong desire to drink and may have difficulty in controlling how much they drink. They may keep drinking despite knowing about or experiencing harmful effects (as described above). The body may become more tolerant to the effects of alcohol over time, which can lead to a person needing to drink more to feel an effect. If a person becomes dependent on alcohol they can develop withdrawal symptoms if they stop or reduce their drinking suddenly. Alcohol dependence can become more severe over time.
Taken from NICE guidelines at www.nice.org.uk
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