Alcohol Awareness Week 2023 takes place from 3-9 July and presents an opportunity for those who drink alcohol to look closely at their drinking habits. Even when alcohol is consumed in moderation, it wreaks havoc on our minds and body over time. With alcohol being readily available worldwide, its popularity and cultural significance can often mask its true identity – a highly addictive and toxic drug with devastating long-term effects, diseases, and disorders. An estimated 10 million people in England regularly exceed the Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk drinking guidelines, including 1.7 million drinking at higher risk and around 600,000 dependent on alcohol. *

Here, Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS, Clinical Director at The Cabin, looks at how poor mental health related to the cost-of-living crisis has and will continue to increase the nation’s alcohol consumption, with many of us struggling with increased stress, anxiety, and depression.

Lee comments: “The relationship between the current cost-of-living crisis and problematic alcohol use is complex, and the impacts will likely vary among individuals and communities. Factors such as personal circumstances, cultural and subcultural norms, and individual coping mechanisms at the level of personal resilience will all play significant roles in determining how people respond to economic challenges and alcohol use. The financial crisis will affect individuals and communities, including potential impacts on alcohol consumption patterns and problematic alcohol use.” 

How the cost-of-living crisis is influencing people’s relationship with alcohol: 

  • Financial stress: Rising living costs across the UK, including increased rent, utility bills, and food prices, lead to financial strain for many individuals and families. This financial pressure contributes to stress and anxiety, which often increases the risk of problematic alcohol use, as many individuals turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. 
  • Prioritizing spending: When facing financial constraints, people may have to make difficult choices about allocating their limited resources. In some cases, individuals might forfeit the prioritizing of spending on necessities, such as housing, heating, and food, in favour of recreational activities and socializing. This shift in spending patterns can inevitably lead to additional stress and hardship, increased debt, and further financial insecurity. Where alcohol is fused to such problems, research shows that increases in intimate partner violence and domestic abuse are frequently observed. 
  • Social isolation: Following so soon after COVID, the cost-of-living crisis will result in increased social isolation for many people and will create limited opportunities for social interaction. This is particularly true for individuals who work longer hours or take on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Social isolation is a known risk factor for problematic alcohol use, and this was made patently clear by research carried out during and after the pandemic. During this period, many individuals turned to alcohol to cope with loneliness and social isolation.

It’s important to understand that certain barriers often exist for those needing treatment. These can often be gender specific, but where the UK cost-of-living crisis leads to financial hardship for individuals, it will certainly affect their ability to seek and afford treatment for alcohol-related issues. Reduced financial resources will make it challenging for individuals to access counselling, therapy, or other professional support, potentially exacerbating problematic alcohol use during this difficult period.

Alcohol and Long-Term Damage to the Brain

Even small amounts of alcohol affect our emotions, judgement, memory, speech, and anger levels. Excessive drinking and long-term consumption can kill brain cells. Drinking affects the frontal cortex, which is used for planning, forming ideas, and making decisions, and the hippocampus stores our memories. Once the hippocampus is damaged, you may experience difficulty learning new things and retaining new long-term memories. Prolonged consumption of alcohol causes the brain to shrink, resulting in difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions. This contracting of the brain further causes confusion and irritation.

Alcohol Destroys Body Organs

The blood carries alcohol and travels throughout your body to your organs. Each organ is necessary for life; deterioration can alter its function and health. Long-term use of alcohol ravages your most vital organs, particularly the heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys.

Alcohol on Your Nerves

Long-term alcohol use is toxic to nerve tissue and causes nerve damage. Nerves transmit signals between the brain and the body, and symptoms will appear when this system is damaged over time. This damage can also be attributed to nutritional problems linked to alcohol, such as vitamin deficiency and malnutrition. It is heartbreaking to know that alcohol-induced nerve damage is often permanent.

Someone with alcohol dependency needs to get help, reclaim their lives and get out of the vicious cycle of addiction. The sooner you or your loved one gets help, the better their chances of recovery, which is why it’s important to seek help at the first signs of addiction. The Cabin Chiang Mai has helped thousands break free from alcohol dependence and addiction.

Lee Hawker-Lecesne

Lee Hawker-Lecesne, is Clinical Director at The Cabin, Asia’s most respected rehab. Located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and with a clinical team that has more than 50 years of experience, The Cabin has successfully treated over 5,000 inpatients. Lee heads up the clinical programme and works individually with clients to create bespoke treatment plans. His areas of expertise include mental health, addiction, and trauma.