Tony Adams: “If you won’t get help for you, get help for the people you love.” Alcohol Awareness Week 2019

November 2019 | 11 minutes

New survey shows that people are negatively affected by others’ drinking, but believe that their own drinking does not negatively affect others

Almost half (44%) of UK adults know at least one person who drinks too much, and 4 in 5 (76%) have been negatively affected by that person or people’s drinking, a new YouGov poll suggests. Yet while 1 in 8 (12%) people say that they themselves drink too much, almost half (45%) believe their drinking has never negatively affected other people.

The poll, commissioned by charity Alcohol Change UK for Alcohol Awareness Week (11-17 November 2019), draws attention to the common misconception that our drinking only affects us. In fact, alcohol can cause a wide range of harm, not only to individuals that drink but to their families, friends, colleagues and wider communities.

People are clear that others’ drinking harms them in a variety of ways. Of those who know one or more people who they believe ‘regularly consum[es] an amount of alcohol that could be considered harmful’:

  • 50% have been made to worry about the person
  • 37% have felt uncomfortable around them
  • 31% have felt embarrassed to be with them
  • 19% have been inconvenienced by their drinking
  • 17% have felt unsafe around them
  • 16% have experienced negative impacts on their mental health
  • 13% have had to take on extra responsibilities
  • 12% have had a more unstable life as a result
  • 10% have drunk more as a result
  • 9% have experienced a negative impact on their finances
  • 8% have felt lonely as a result
  • 4% have experienced physical injury

Only 21% (1 in 5) have never experienced any negative impacts as a result of that person/people’s drinking. Yet of the 1 in 8 people who said that they themselves ‘regularly consum[e] an amount of alcohol that could be considered harmful’, 45% said that their drinking has never negatively affected others.

People reported believing that their own drinking was less harmful than others’ in all areas, with the exception of leading others to drink more.

Press release AAW chart

Respondents mentioned a wide variety of people whose drinking affected them: work colleagues (10%), friends (36%), partner/spouse (9%), children (5%), parents (10%), siblings (9%), grandparents (2%), other family members (21%) and acquaintances (16%).

Alcohol Change UK is a national charity working to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. It is the charity behind Dry January and Alcohol Awareness Week, which this year aims to increase understanding of the impacts alcohol can have not only on ourselves, but on those around us.

Alcohol causes significant harm to people who drink:

  • - Alcohol is a factor in the deaths of three people every hour in the UK;
  • - Last year 1.2 million people in the UK were admitted to hospital because of alcohol, and costs the NHS £3.5 billion each year in England alone;
  • - Alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages;
  • - Hospital admissions due to alcoholic liver disease in England have increased by 43% in the last 10 years.[i]

This harm is under-recognised, with over 80% of the UK population unaware of the low-risk drinking guidelines of 14 units (a bottle and a half of wine or six pints of normal strength lager) per week or less.[ii]

But arguably even less understood is the scale of wider harm: over 200,000 children in England live with an alcohol-dependent parent or carer, and they are twice as likely as other children to experience difficulties at school, five times more likely to develop eating disorders and three times more likely to consider suicide.[iii] Even for adults, having an alcohol-dependent loved one increases your chance of suffering from a wide range of harms ranging from mental health problems to financial problems and interpersonal violence.[iv]

Tony Adams, former Arsenal and England football captain, founder of addiction charity Sporting Chance and patron of Nacoa, said:

“Alcohol took me down and almost destroyed my life. The thing that made a difference was asking for help. Now I’ve been sober for 23 years, and it’s not just my life that’s better, it’s the lives of everyone around me – my friends, my family, most of all my children.

“If you’re drinking too much it’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter because it’s only affecting you. Lots of us don’t care much about ourselves, and we push our own needs aside. But if you’re drinking heavily it will be affecting people around you, even if you don’t realise it.

“Your friends might be embarrassed to be with you, and they’ll definitely worry about you even if they don’t say so. Your partner might have to take on extra responsibilities because you’re not up to it. Your children will notice, even if they’re young, that their mum or dad isn’t acting like themselves, isn’t doing the things that mums and dads are meant to do. So if you won’t get help for you – and I hope you will – get help for the people you love.

“I hope people who read this will have a bit of sympathy for people who drink too much. When I was trapped in my illness I didn’t care about me or anyone else. I loved the way drink suppressed my feelings, changed the way that I thought and I was oblivious to all the people around me. I didn’t care about who I hurt when I drank and when I came to I was in pain, filled with years of self-loathing, shame and guilt and my solution was to drink again. The cycle of addiction! I’m so glad I asked for that support and put the recovery work in – for me as well as for my family.

“Charities like Alcohol Change UK and Nacoa aren’t just about helping people who drink. They’re about helping whole families, whole communities, that are affected by alcohol. If you’re being affected by someone else’s drinking, reach out to charities like theirs, because you deserve support too.”

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said:

“In the UK drinking is legal, socially acceptable, even encouraged. We talk about drinking all the time – but when it comes to alcohol problems there’s a veil of silence, of shame. In this environment it can be hard to accept that we are drinking too much, and even harder to accept that our drinking may be hurting the people we love. And the reality is that problem drinking includes millions of us who are drinking harmfully, not just the extreme few that we often think about.

“The good news is that for anyone with a drinking problem, life can get better. For many of us that will mean taking steps to cut down to 14 units a week or less. It might mean taking on Dry January to reset your relationship with alcohol. It might mean talking to your GP or local alcohol service about getting some help. It might mean seeking support for a friend, parent, partner or child who is drinking too much – and for yourself, because help is out there for those affected by someone else’s drinking.

“We must all talk more openly about the role alcohol plays in our lives, and the harm it can bring. Because this harm is entirely avoidable – help us end it.”


For interviews with Dr Richard Piper and case studies, please contact Maddy Lawson, Head of Communications at Alcohol Change UK: [email protected] / 0203 907 8493


[i] Find all references here.

[ii] Alcohol Health Alliance UK (2018). News release on poll of 2,000 people across the UK carried out by national polling company OnePoll on behalf of the AHA.

[iii] Nacoa (2000). Survey.

[iv] Andersson et al (2018). Understanding recovery from a family perspective: A survey of life in recovery for families