Alcohol and Substance Misuse – What is it?

Alcohol misuse means drinking excessively – more than the lower-risk limits of alcohol consumption. Substance abuse or misuse is formally defined as the continued misuse of any mind-altering substance that severely affects person’s physical and mental health, social situation and responsibilities.


Moderation or abstinence are treatment options if you’re:

  • regularly drinking more than the lower-risk daily levels of alcohol – 14 units a week
  • experiencing health problems directly related to alcohol
  • unable to function without alcohol (alcohol dependency)

Cutting alcohol out completely will have a greater health benefit. However, moderation is often a more realistic goal, or at least a first step on the way to abstinence.

Cause and symptoms of it

You could be misusing alcohol if:

  • you feel you should cut down on your drinking
  • other people have been criticising your drinking
  • you feel guilty or bad about your drinking
  • you need a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover

Someone you know may be misusing alcohol if:

  • they regularly exceed the lower-risk daily limit for alcohol
  • they’re sometimes unable to remember what happened the night before because of their drinking
  • they fail to do what was expected of them as a result of their drinking – for example, missing an appointment or work because of being drunk or hungover


It is important to understand the many roots of addiction and always take a holistic approach to ensure we tackle every level of substance misuse.

How alcohol misuse is treated depends on how much alcohol a person is drinking. Treatment options include:

  • counselling – including self-help groups and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • medication
  • Family therapy
  • 12 Step Programme
  • detoxification – this involves a nurse or doctor supporting you to safely stop drinking; this can be done by helping you slowly cut down over time or by giving you medicines to prevent withdrawal symptoms

The positive thing about alcohol dependence is that it’s entirely possible to recover. There are many different ways of getting there. Millions succeed through self-help groups. Others need more structured alcohol support.

The key to recovery is recognising not just the problem but understanding the motivation and personal resources of the sufferer.