Living with addiction

Addiction impact
Image caption This month's Mental Health phone in discusses drug and alcohol dependency

The latest in BBC Radio Cornwall's mental health phone ins has studied the impact of alcohol and drug addiction.

Alcohol can be a normal part of life for many people, but for others it can be destructive.

The government recommends the weekly safe drinking levels to be 14 units per week for women (no more than two units per day) and 21 units for men (no more than three units a day).

One unit equals one shot of spirits or one small glass of wine or half a pint of normal strength beer.

Effects of alcohol misuse

Physical health: Short term and permanent brain damage, nerve and liver damage, bleeding and death are all risks.

Withdrawl symptoms include shaking, sweating, sickness, anxiety, fitting and at worse hallucinations and reduced consciousness.

Mental health:

Alcohol is a depressant even though it may feel like a lift.

It may worsen existing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and psychosis. It can also trigger them for the first time.


Changes in behaviour through alcohol use may cause problems with relationships, your job, or result in a criminal record. These will directly affect finances and self esteem.


It is advisable not to drink any alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy and to avoid more than one or two units per week after this.

How to know if there is a problem?

There are four questions to ask:

C - Ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

A - Do you get annoyed when people say you should cut down

G - Do you ever feel guilty about the way you use alcohol

E - Do you ever need a drink in the mornings to function (eyeopener)

More than two 'yes' answers may indicate a problem with alcohol.

Effects of drug use

Physical health:

Each drug and way of administering it has its own potential health problems. These include smoking related diseases, abnormal hearth rhythms, blood borne infections, abscesses and blood clots.

Mental health:

Many drugs can trigger anxiety, depression and psychosis, which may be short lived or more permanent. The 'come down' can make people feel irritable and paranoid.


Like alcohol misuse, drug use can affect all parts of a person's life.


There is no 'safe' amount of illicit drug use in pregnany. Drugs can affect all areas of the baby's development and cause stillbirth.

Physical and psychological addiction to drugs can occur and withdrawal symptoms range from cravings and feeling low to severe cramps and fits.


Many people use substances to numb difficult feelings after experiencing traumas in their life, and believe they help them to cope.

The children of alcoholic parents are four times more likely to have an alcohol dependence problem themselves, making early recognition even more important.


Different sorts of support are useful at different times.

Thinking about change: It can take a long time for people with a drink or drug problem to even start thinking about change. When ready it may be helpful to talk through the pros and cons of changing or thinking of ways to reduce risks involved.

Preparing to change: A decision to change has been made. Help in setting a stop date, and exploring options for stopping are helpful.

Action: Stopping the habit. Medication to reduce unwanted withdrawal symptoms and avoid complications may be needed at this stage.

Maintaining the change: Talking therapies, practical support with finances and accommodation and sometimes medication may all help to ensure ongoing abstinence.

The information above was provided by the Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust

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