Am I an alcoholic?

The label alcoholic means many different things to different people. At Swanswell we believe it’s more useful to look at the effects of your drinking rather than giving yourself a label that doesn’t provide useful information or options.

You may find it helpful to write down the reasons you’ve asked this question, and think about what the answers mean for you. For example:

  • Are you worried about how much you drink?
  • Has someone else said they are?
  • Are you missing significant events or deadlines?
  • Are you spending more than you intend to?
  • Are you having a drink rather than eating a meal?
  • Have you felt you need alcohol and can’t manage without it?
  • Have you wanted to cut down or stop using alcohol but couldn’t?
  • Have you behaved in ways you wouldn’t have if you weren’t drinking?

Any of these issues should prompt you to seek advice from a service such as Swanswell.

What’s a unit?

The alcohol content of drinks can be counted in units. If you’d like to know more about units and the consequences of exceeding them, please read alcohol, your body and risks.

Sensible drinking limits: how much is too much?

The NHS recommends that people don't regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and that if you do drink this much in a week to spread your drinking over 3 days or more.

Fourteen units is equivalent to 6 pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses (125ml) of low strength wine.

They also advise that you don't save up all your units for one or two nights a week and ‘binge’ drink them all in one go. Remember, this isn't a target to drink up to. There are times and circumstances when it makes sense that you don’t drink at all. These guidelines don’t apply to young people who haven’t reached physical maturity.

What’s a binge?

When a male drinks eight or more units of alcohol, a female drinks six or more units in a session, or when someone drinks with the intention of getting drunk.

What’s a hazardous drinker?

Someone who drinks over the recommended limit, either on a regular basis or through infrequent binges. They’ll have so far avoided significant alcohol-related problems but may benefit from brief advice about their future alcohol use.

What’s a harmful drinker?

Someone who’s usually drinking above recommended limits, very often at higher levels than most hazardous drinkers. Unlike hazardous drinkers, harmful drinkers show clear evidence of alcohol-related harm.

What’s alcohol-related harm?

Any negative effects and harm caused by drinking alcohol that’s experienced by the drinker or other people.

Examples include: physical and mental health problems, being involved in antisocial behaviour or committing road and traffic offences.

What’s a dependent drinker?

Someone with an increased urge to use alcohol leading to difficulties in controlling their alcohol use, despite negative consequences. Severe dependency’s usually associated with physical withdrawal when drinking stops.

What will happen if I’ve been drinking heavily for some time and stop?

You may find that stopping or drastically reducing your drinking leaves you with some symptoms caused by withdrawal from alcohol. The symptoms can vary from sweating, anxiety and shaky hands to seizures, alcohol induced hallucinations and racing and irregular heartbeat. This is because when the body’s used to a regular dose of alcohol and doesn’t receive it, a chemical adjustment takes place. The effects of this adjustment are called withdrawal symptoms. Whilst most people experience some symptoms, these effects vary from person-to-person, and the safest way to consider making changes in your drinking is to seek advice and support from an alcohol support service, such as Swanswell, or your GP.

What’s a detox?

Detox (sometimes called managed withdrawal) is a planned procedure, during which a person who’s physically dependent on alcohol stops drinking. During the detox period you’ll be given a short course of medication, to help minimise withdrawal symptoms. You can do this in an inpatient setting, such as a hospital, or in your own home. In order to give you the best chance of success, it’s important to prepare for detox, and to plan for the support you’ll need afterwards.

If I recognise I have a drinking problem do I have to stop drinking forever?

Not necessarily. Some people find that they can cut down to a safe level that they’re happy with. Some make the decision to have a period of not drinking before starting to drink alcohol within low risk limits. Others stop drinking forever because they feel it’s safest or because their health would be seriously at risk if they continued to drink.


What does a typical drug user look like?

There’s no such thing as a ‘typical drug user’. Drug users can come from any social background, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or age group.

What’s drug treatment and who’s it for?

Drug treatment covers a number of treatments and services to help people overcome their drug dependency and reduce the damage caused to themselves, their families and communities. It’s suitable for anyone who’s become dependent on illicit drugs. Treatment will always be based on individual needs so there’s no ‘best’ treatment, only treatments that work ‘best’ for each individual. Treatment may include any one of, or a combination of, the following:

  • Medical – receiving substitute medication to help tackle problem drug behaviour
  • Psychosocial – talking about problem drug behaviour
  • Peer support – support networks and groups where people with problem drug use come together to talk about experiences and offer support to one another

I feel under pressure to take drugs - what can I do?

The first thing to understand is that you’re not alone. Many people feel under pressure to take drugs at some point in their life. You might feel that you’re the only person who hasn’t experimented with drugs, but you’re not.

Here are some helpful pointers:

  • Talk about it with friends or family who aren’t offering you drugs
  • Understand why they’re offering you drugs to help you think about the best way to tell them you’re uninterested
  • Make sure you’re comfortable explaining why you don’t want to take drugs
  • Avoid people and places where you’re likely to be put under pressure to take drugs


What’s rehab?

Rehab usually involves staying in a facility for a length of time and is a complete break from your current circumstances. Rehabs normally have a mixture of group work, counselling and other activities. There are several types of facilities:

  • Traditional rehab units with programmes to suit different needs. Different units have different approaches, for example therapeutic communities and the 12-step programmes used by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
  • Crisis intervention units help people in drug-related crisis. These are generally shorter stay units
  • Residential treatment programmes for specific client groups (e.g. pregnant women, people with liver problems and clients with mental illness). These may require joint initiatives between specialist drug services and other specialist inpatient units
  • Other supported accommodation, with the rehabilitation interventions (therapeutic drug-related and non-drug-related interventions) provided at a different nearby site(s)

As with inpatient treatment, people will generally access rehab through community services such as Swanswell. People going into rehab will usually have gone through detox before entering. This detox could be somewhere else – for example in a hospital, or the community – or at the rehab itself, if it has an attached detox unit.

 Coming to Swanswell

How do I contact my Swanswell worker?

If you need to contact your Swanswell worker outside of your appointment you can ring your local office. If your worker’s unavailable, leave a message and they’ll contact you when they return. When telephoning, it’s important to know the name of your Swanswell worker, doctor and GP surgery.

What if I miss an appointment?

If you miss an appointment it’s important that you speak to your Swanswell worker, so they can discuss with you what needs to happen next. If you’re with Swanswell as part of a probation order, you may be required to attend as part of this order. In this case, if you miss an appointment the worker will let your probation officer know. Missing appointments that you’re required to attend may lead to probation taking further action.

If I come to Swanswell, will I have to sit in a group?

No. We offer one to one appointments. We may offer you the opportunity to join small groups for group support. It’s your choice whether you access group activities. We don’t operate a ‘one size fits all’ service. We offer tailored services to meet your needs.

If I decide to come to Swanswell, how much will it cost?

Swanswell services are free.

Who will know that I’ve been to Swanswell?

We have a clear confidentiality policy which we’ll explain when you first visit.

Will you make me stop drinking?

No. We’ll advise you as to whether you’re drinking at a hazardous or harmful level, and will give advice on cutting down. If you decide that you want to stop drinking we’ll help. We’ll work with you to set goals that are right for you; we won’t try to make you do anything.

How long will I have to attend?

This is difficult to answer. We won’t set any time limits or prescribe a certain length of time, but we may initially offer you six sessions. It’s a good idea to review your treatment every six sessions or so, to ensure that you’re getting what you need from the service.

If it’s difficult to leave the house, can you visit me at home?

Occasionally we can visit people at home, however this is when the person has great difficulty leaving the house, perhaps due to mobility problems or a mental health issue. We also see people in GP surgeries and other community settings, which may be easier to get to. We can provide telephone help where most appropriate. If you think that attending the office may be difficult for you, please contact us to discuss how we may be able to help.

If I’m drinking all day and can’t come to Swanswell without a drink, can someone visit me at home?

We understand that there may be times when you need a drink. All that we ask is that you visit us in a reasonably sober state. Perhaps there are certain times of the day when you’re less likely to need a drink - we can try to arrange a suitable time.

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