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Health

The Hidden Signs of Alcoholism

Over 50s increasingly at risk

Alcoholism is a disease which convinces those suffering they don't want to get help. An addict becomes adept at concealing it- often it is those you least expect who are struggling, with the over 50s increasingly at risk. To raise awareness of how easily alcohol addiction can go unnoticed, Priory has developed an interactive story.

Spotting a drinking problem

Would you notice the hidden signs of addiction in your own home?

Billy Henderson, Addiction Treatment Manager at The Priory Hospital Glasgow, shares what signs to look for:

"It can be a disease of isolation and of secrecy. The people around the drinker may not notice, and the actual drinker may also not know that they suffer from it. Alcoholism tells the individual that they don't have it; this is called denial."

An alcoholic may rationalise the amount they drink. They tell themselves it isn't uncommon, but the reality is starkly different. Despite this rationalisation, they may also employ deception to hide how much they are drinking from family members, friends, and work colleagues. This, again they may rationalise by saying they don't want to have their loved ones worrying unnecessarily about them.

However, the lies and half-truths contribute towards a different kind of pressure. Continuing the deception leads to more extreme measures to hide it from the people they know and love. this can involve travelling further afield to buy alcohol where they won't be recognised, or having favoured hiding places fir their alcohol around the house. Other methods, such as using a hip flask, hiding alcohol in soft drink containers, or mixing heavily into soft, drinks, are employed to hide the true level of their alcohol consumption.

Older people drinking at 'higher or increasing risk levels' 

The last decade or more has seen young "binge drinking" adults are tarred with the brush of being the worst generation of drinkers, drinking amongst the over 50's is actually on the rise- between 20002 and 2012 the number of older people admitted to hospital for alcohol-related mental and behavioural disorders increased by 150% (Alcohol Research UK). The office of National Statistics reported that while drinking across many age categories was down those aged 55-64 were now the most likely to be drinking at 'higher or increasing  risk levels'. This may be down to issues like boredom in retirement, or 'empty nest syndrome' where children leave home and move on with their lives, can lead to older people filling their time with drinking alcohol. The loss of meaning and focus in a person's life can leave a void that needs filling, and sometimes people turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication.

The effects of alcohol

Alcoholism creates a situation steeped in secrecy and isolation. The people around the drinker, loved ones such as grown-up children and grandchildren, may not notice. Couples with this, the addict may not know that they suffer from it because alcoholism tells the individual that they don't have it; this is the denial referred to bu Billy Henderson above. Someone could go on drinking for a long time, either rationalising their behaviour or not noticing it, without reaching what you might call a 'rock bottom moment'. The longer someone drinks at dangerous levels, the more susceptible to complications and illness they are in the future. In the case of older family members, it can result in things like falls due to impaired senses and judgement caused by alcohol.

The NHS estimated that 9% of men and 4% of  women in the UK are dependent on alcohol- however, most don't seek help. With alcohol identified as a casual factor in more than 60 serious medical conditions, including heart disease and liver disease, various concerns and mental health problems (Public Health England), it's vital to  be aware of the signs. It isn't just being aware though, it is also being prepared to intervene if you are sure your concerns are valid. As well as physical issues, alcohol also tends to exacerbate mental health problems. Many people suffering with depression, only to make the problem worse.

Alcohol is unpredictable, having different effects on different people. Knowing what questions to ask of yourself and being honest with yourself is important, as well as knowing and understanding how you deal with stress and how alcohol reacts with your mind and body.

There are a range of signs which could indicate someone has a drinking problem:

Lying about or conveying up how much their drinking

Drinking heavily on their own

Passing out from drinking too much

Missing special occasions through drinking

Drinking alcohol first thing in the morning

Cravings for a drink affecting mood or concentration levels

'Self-medicating' with drink because of pre-existing problems

Negative effects on your life at home, work or socially.

It is with this in mind, Priory Group has developed an interactive campaign http://www.priorygroup.com/the-addiction. By taking people though a narrative journey and allowing them to see how easily overlooked the signs of alcohol addiction are, they will increase their own awareness, pass it on, or even notice they have a loved one who is actually struggling with addiction. If you do recognise these signs in a loved one, Priory offers a free addiction assessment which can help them work toward the best possible solution

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