CHRISTMAS is coming, which means festive work drinks and mulled wine on tap.

December can feel like one long party, but if you never want the party to end, you may be an alcoholic – albeit a functioning one.

You might be able to get to work, pick the kids up and still hit deadlines, but if you have your next drink always on your mind, you may need some support.

CEO of Delamere health and addiction specialist Martin Preston said: "Alcohol addiction is at the chronic end of the spectrum of alcohol use disorders for which there is no cure.

"It can, however, be successfully treated and the sooner treatment is undertaken the better for the individual concerned and their loved ones."

Here's what to ask yourself when it comes to your drinking…

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1. Are you being secretive?

Do you always have a bottle or can of something nearby? And do you find yourself keeping it hidden?

Martin said functioning alcoholics are likely to snaffle alcohol out of sight from others, like the garage, in a drawer or the car – so they know where it is when they need it.

2. Are you more irritable than usual?

Becoming irritable, anxious, restless and having difficulty sleeping without alcohol is a red flag.

Martin said alcoholics can also become erratic, spontaneous, angry or change their character completely while intoxicated.

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3. Are you boozing at strange times?

A swift glass of buck's fizz on Christmas morning doesn't guarantee you have an issue.

But Martin says regular morning drinking and topping up at lunchtime to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms, may be a sign.

4. Are you in denial?

Feeling defensive or flippant when challenged over your drinking? This could be a cause for concern.

Justifying drinking as a way of unwinding after work, a busy day with the kids or as a reward on a regular basis?

Denying you're an alcoholic, reasoning that they still hold down a job or take the kids to school on time, may reveal a struggle with booze intake and that it's getting in the way of everyday life, Martin explains.

5. Do you get memory loss?

Blank patches? Difficulty remembering what took place while you were heavily intoxicated or experiencing an alcoholic blackout is something to be alert to, Martin said.

6. Are you taking more risks?

We all feel more care-free when we've had a drink, but Martin said this risk could be more dangerous and risk-taking in general could become more frequent if you're an alcoholic.

He said: "You may well drive to work or drive children to school whilst still over the limit from the previous night or from taking a morning drink."

How to cut down on your boozing

Former politician Laura Willoughby MBE, who founded Club Soda,a mindful drinking movement that helps people change their drinking said there are things you can do to cut down on your boozing this festive season.

Laura explained: "If you want a merry Christmas that you’ll remember the next day, you’ll want to consider how to cut back on the booze.

"Here are some tips to get you through the festive season, hangover free."

Stop before you reach your limit: Your body takes some time to process alcohol. You’ll feel the initial effects after about 10 minutes, but the impact of alcohol will build over the next 30-90 minutes. That means you will get drunker even after you stop drinking. It’s always a good idea to stop sooner than you feel you need to, to give your body time to catch up.

Slow down and enjoy your drink: If you get into trouble with alcohol, chances are you drink too fast. Test yourself the next time you have a pint or a glass of wine. How long can you sit with it in front of you, untouched? And how long can you make it last? Take time to enjoy the alcohol you drink, savour the flavours and put down the glass between sips.

Reduce the strength of your drink: Another tactic to reduce your alcohol consumption overall is to lower the strength of your drink. Choose a wine with 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) instead of 16% to halve your alcohol consumption. Cocktails can easily be reduced in strength by swapping out ingredients too.

Have two alcohol-free drinks first: The standard advice to switch between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks doesn’t work because we always have the booze first. Instead, begin with two alcohol-free drinks. If you then alternate drinks, you will have reduced your alcohol consumption by more than half. And you will have started drinking later, so your day lasts longer.

7. Do you smell of booze?

If you're drinking regularly throughout the day, if will leave you smelling of it – and your urine will likely also smell strongly.

The urine is usually dark due dehydration.

When people drink too much the body struggles to break the toxins down, with ten per cent being distributed throughout the body.

The alcohol smell on the breath usually comes directly from the stomach.

8. Have you lost control?

Alcoholics are good at hiding their addiction, but it could manifest in different ways.

For instance, if your temperature has gone haywire or you're struggling to get on top of things.

9. Are you binge drinking?

The UK has previously been crowned 'binge drinking capital', but this is something that might not just happen at the weekend for alcoholics.

They will often consume large amounts of booze after they have taken care of their daily activities, Martin said.

10. Do you pre-load?

Students often go for 'pre drinks' before hitting clubs and bars in order to get a little bit tipsy without paying full price.

For alcoholics 'pre-loading' means they can have the amount of booze they want before they go out without feeling judged when people comment on their drinking.

11. Do you avoid events?

People struggling with booze might avoid social events in order to not be quizzed on their drinking habits in public.

12. Are you using more than booze?

As their tolerance increase, people who are addicted to something need more and more of it to get the high they're chasing.

Martin said alcoholics will often use prescription drugs alongside booze to help them cope.

13. Is alcohol causing issues at home and work?

Martin said if your drinking is causing you issues at home or work, you might have a problem.

If alcohol has become a problem at home, with you either drinking excessively alone or you disappear to a pub or bar straight after work for hours.

What to do if you’re worried

If you have many of the above symptoms, it’s possible you have a drinking problem.

Delamere says it is fairly easy to self-diagnose alcoholism if a person is honest about their drinking and asks themselves the following questions:

  1. When you drink are you able to stay in control of the amount of alcohol you consume and drink in moderation?
  2. If you want to stop or reduce your drinking are you able to, and able to maintain it?

Answering ‘NO’ to both of these questions indicates that a person is suffering from an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), over which they have no control.

If you're concerned about your drinking or someone else's, a good first step is to see your GP, the NHS says.

They'll be able to discuss the services and treatments available to you after assessing your drinking habits using screening tests. 

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Treatment usually involves counselling and medicine that helps you to slowly cut down on drinking and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

There are also a number of charities, support groups, and private clinics to help.

How to get help with your booze

There are plenty of helpful resources and tools to help you with your drinking issues.

Drinkline – Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).

Alcoholics anonymous – free self-help group that offers a 12 week plan

Al-Anon – A group for family members or friends struggling to help a loved one

Adfam  – a national charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol

 National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa – helpline for children who have parents who are alcohol dependent – call  0800 358 3456

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