Alcohol abuse is one of the most common and widespread types of substance abuse in the world. As with other substances, it can be hard to quit drinking alone and professional help is always recommended. Although it is hard, quitting is possible.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you love has a drinking problem, then there’s a good chance that there’s cause for that concern. However, you may want to make sure of the facts before you start thinking about and talking about treatment. For that reason, we’re going to look into alcohol abuse, the most common signs and symptoms, and what you can do to stop it.
What Leads to Alcohol Abuse?
There is no one factor that predetermines whether someone is going to develop a drinking disorder or is going to abuse alcohol. Various risk factors can play into it, including genetic predispositions, upbringing, mental health, the kind of social environment they enjoy and more. For instance, people with a family history of alcohol abuse are more likely to develop a drinking problem themselves. Socialising with people who drink heavily is also more likely to lead to the development of drinking problems. Alcohol is also a common self-medication tool by people who are dealing with mental health issues like anxiety, stress, or depression.
Early Signs of Alcohol Abuse
The terms used to describe alcohol abuse are widespread. It’s referred to as addiction, as a drinking problem, as alcoholism and more. The lines between these definitions can blur, so it’s important to look at the full spectrum or physical and mental symptoms, as well as behavioral signs of someone dealing with alcohol abuse.
For one, it can be hard to see the line between health social drinking and problem drinking since alcohol is, in general, such a prevalent part of modern life in most cultures. However, there are a few signs that this line has been crossed. A person abusing alcohol may have guilt or shameful feelings about how often or how much they drink and lie or deny about their consumption. Drinking may have become a common tool for relaxation or feeling happier, which is known commonly as self-medication. If someone blacks out due to drinking too much, that’s another common sign, as is regularly drinking more than they intended to. These experiences are all subjective to a degree, so it’s important for the individual to recognize them.
The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholism is a nebulous term, used interchangeably with alcohol abuse in general. However, it is associated with a specific disorder that is diagnosed by a doctor. That said, alcohol abuse is still a serious issue that should be treated, as it can often lead to alcoholism in combination with other risk factors. A growing tolerance for alcohol means you are more likely to develop full-blown alcoholism.
The Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
The effects of alcohol on the body are widely known and almost immediately recognizable by most people. They include the following:
- Slowed reaction times
- Difficulty with walking and dexterity
- Poor judgement leading to more risk taking
- Slurred speech
- Memory impairment
It can difficult to tell what the difference between simple inebriation and alcohol abuse is, and they are not necessarily one and the same. However, people who abuse alcohol tend to exhibit those symptoms much more frequently and at inappropriate times, as well.
The Role of Denial in Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
There is a lot of societal shame associated with drinking problems, whether it’s alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Since most people know this, people who are dealing with drinking problems are likely to deny having those problems as much as possible. They may deny it not only to family, friends, and loved ones but also to themselves.
It can be hard to break through this denial and if you attempt to force it, then a person can become defensive, angry, and overly emotional. Interventions are a common strategy used to address alcohol abuse and can be effective but must be done with care. Due to the negative stigma surrounding problem drinking, a loved one should be approached with concern and care. Besides highlighting signs that you have noticed of their alcohol abuse, you should also take care to mention the concerns you have for their safety and wellbeing and emphasize the importance of helping them.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Since we have made the distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, it’s wise to recognize that the signs and symptoms are going to be different, too. Alcohol abuse might not look like a full-blown addiction from the outside, but there are still red flags that we should be aware of. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include the following:
- Forgetting, ignoring, or dismissing responsibilities due to drink. This includes your home life, family, work, and school and can include missing them because you are hungover, sleeping in after drinking heavily, or choosing to drink instead.
- Drinking in order to relax and fight stress or to improve your mood. Self-medication is one of the most common risk factors that leads from alcohol abuse to alcoholism and may include getting drunk after a stressful day or drinking after getting into arguments with your family.
- As a result of drinking around family and loved ones, being drunk, or neglecting responsibilities, your relationships can become endangered. Drinking even when alcohol is causing relationship issues, such as fights or tension, is a common sign of alcohol abuse.
- Reckless and dangerous alcohol consumption, such as driving or operating machinery under the influence or mixing alcohol with medication even when it’s recommended that you shouldn’t do so.
- A history of legal problems related to drinking. This includes not only being arrested for DUIs, but also for drunk and disorderly conduct, assault, damage to property, and other reckless behaviors.
Each of these signs represents one of the ways that alcohol abuse can interfere with and damage your personal life. Many people are not able to recognise it in themselves, but outside observers, such as family, friends, and loved ones, may pick up on it.
When Does Alcohol Abuse Become Alcoholism
Also known as alcohol dependence, alcoholism is when problem drinking has become a full-blown addiction. The habits and risks involved with problem drinking are then also combined with a physical dependence on alcohol. This can make it much harder to quit, as you may feel unwell when not drinking, or feel a physical craving for alcohol that can get in the way of life.
The first warning sign that a drinking problem is becoming true alcoholism is that the individual is becoming much more tolerant of the substance. They may feel like they have to drink more to get a buzz on and might drink much more than their peers. Over time, our bodies get used to alcohol and require more to achieve the same effects.
When we become physically dependent on alcohol, we start to suffer from unexpected and unpleasant physical symptoms when we haven’t drunk in a while. Many people experience these symptoms first thing in the morning, which shaking being the most common of them all. This is withdrawal symptom and it happens when our brain gets so used to a certain substance that it reacts in a volatile way when we are no longer taking it. Withdrawal symptoms can be very diverse but will usually include some of the following:
- Short temper
- Profuse sweating
- Sleep problems
- Loss of appetite
- Migraine headaches
Withdrawal can become more severe as the dependence becomes stronger, too. If there are symptoms like seizures, fever, hallucinations or disorientation, a doctor should be involved immediately. These symptoms can be very dangerous.
There is also a range of behavioral signs of alcoholism that might be noticed by either the individual or their friends, families, and loved ones. These can include:
- Losing control over drinking, including drinking more than the individual wants to, for longer than they wanted to, or even when they intended not to drink at all.
- A will to quit drinking, but difficult doing it due to a physical dependence. If you’re concerned about alcoholism, trying to cut down even a little to see whether you are able can help make this symptom known.
- A loss of interest and participation in other hobbies and interests due to alcohol. This can include solo hobbies like DIY and reading, socialising with friends, and even relationships that you have stopped spending time on.
- Finding and drinking alcohol becomes a much larger part of your life. People suffering from alcoholism can spend long periods of time thinking about and trying to find alcohol, even when they aren’t drinking it.
- Due to the greater energy and focus invested in alcohol and the diminishing of other interests, alcoholism also causes severe relationship problems, such as worsening depression, marriage difficulty, and the breakup of friendships.
If you notice any of the above signs, then there is a good chance that alcoholism is at play and that help of professionals is needed as soon as possible.
Putting a Stop to Alcohol Abuse
The impact of alcohol abuse on the physical health, mental wellbeing and family life of an individual is too great to ignore, and the risks of reckless behaviour under the influence too dangerous to turn a blind eye to. If you want to learn more about alcohol abuse and addiction treatment, get in touch with Innovative Medicine. From detox to therapy, counselling to skills-building, professional assistance can help you fight the disease that is alcohol abuse. Your chances are much better when you have others on your side.