Signs of Alcohol Abuse – Because drinking is so ubiquitous in cultures around the globe and the effects of alcohol use vary widely between individuals, it’s sometimes difficult to determine when a person has crossed the line between social drinking and problematic drinking. If any of the following signs of alcohol abuse apply to you, you may have a drinking problem:
- You feel guilty or ashamed about how much, when, or how long you drink.
- You deceive others and conceal your drinking habits.
- You need to drink to relax or improve your mood.
- You “blackout” – don’t remember much or all of what you did while you were drinking.
- You are drinking when you first wake up to quell hangovers or have a “hair of the dog.”
- You regularly drink more than you originally intended.
- You have made efforts to quit or cut back but have been unsuccessful.
How alcohol affects you, your life and the people around you determines whether or not you have a drinking problem. If your drinking has resulted in negative consequences in your life, then by definition, you have a drinking problem.
Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse
Risk factors for developing difficulties with alcohol rise from many interconnected elements, including genetics, how a person was raised, social environment, and one’s emotional health. For example, people who have a family history of alcoholism or drug abuse or who associate closely with unapologetic, heavy drinkers are more likely to develop a drinking problem. And those who experience mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are also particularly vulnerable because alcohol is often used as a means of self-medication.
On the Path to Alcoholism
Not every person who abuses alcohol will develop full-blown alcoholism, but those who consistently exhibit the signs of alcohol abuse are by far the most likely to become alcoholics. Nonetheless, alcoholism can onset suddenly in response to a stressful life event, such as divorce, retirement, grief, or other loss. More often, however, it gradually sneaks up on you as your tolerance to alcohol increases. If you frequently binge drink or consume alcohol every day, it goes without saying that the risk of becoming an alcoholic is high.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse or Problem Drinking
Substance abuse experts differentiate between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, which is also referred to as alcohol dependence. Unlike alcoholics, alcohol abusers have some control and the capability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol intake is still self-destructive and frequently dangerous to themselves or others.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Routinely shirking responsibilities at home, work, or school, such as performing poorly at work or school, neglecting children, or ducking out of commitments to drink or recover from a hangover.
- Consuming alcohol in circumstances where it’s physically dangerous, such as driving or operating machinery while intoxicated or combining alcohol with prescription medication or other psychoactive substances.
- Encountering repeated legal issues due to drinking, such as getting arrested and charged for drinking and driving or drunk and disorderly conduct.
- Continuing to drink although alcohol use is causing conflicts in relationships, fighting with family members, friends, or a spouse over negative drinking behavior.
- Drinking as a way to relax or alleviate stress. Many alcohol use disorders begin when people start using alcohol to self-medicate, such as drinking at the end of a stressful day or reaching for a bottle after arguing with a spouse or boss.
Alcoholism is the most serious kind of drinking problem. Alcoholism is associated with all the signs of alcohol abuse, but it also includes another feature: physical dependence on alcohol.
If you depend on alcohol to function or feel physically compelled to drink, you’re an alcoholic. This condition means that your brain has become so used to alcohol’s presence that it is unable to operate normally without it, and thus, discontinuation of alcohol use results in withdrawal symptoms.
If you have to drink more than you used to to achieve the desired buzz or to feel relaxed, this is a hallmark symptoms of tolerance, which is a sign of alcohol abuse and a warning that the development of alcoholism is imminent. Tolerance means that, over time, a person requires more and more alcohol to feel the same effects, due to the brain’s propensity to reduce a substance’s impact in response to repeated exposure.
If you need a drink to steady your nerves in the morning – drinking primarily to relieve or prevent withdrawal symptoms – this is another sign of alcohol abuse and an early sign of alcoholism. When you drink excessively, your body gets accustomed to the alcohol and experiences withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Shakiness or tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Drinking and Denial
Denial is one of the biggest impediments to receiving help for alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The desire to drink is so intense that the mind finds ways to rationalize drinking, even when the consequences are evident. By keeping a person from honestly examining their behavior and its adverse effects, denial continues to exacerbate alcohol-related problems with work, finances, legal issues, and relationships.
People who have a drinking problem tend to deny it by downplaying how much they drink and underestimating the negative consequences of their drinking. They may find themselves rationalizing drinking habits, being deceptive about them, or straight up refusing to discuss the topic. But if one honestly does not have a drinking problem, he or she should find no reason to conceal their behavior and make excuses.
Effects of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can encompass all aspects of a person’s life. Long-term alcohol consumption can lead to serious health complications and affect nearly every organ in the body, including the brain. Problem drinking can also impair emotional stability, decimate finances, impede one’s career, and undermine one’s ability to build and maintain satisfying relationships.
The Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Loved Ones
Besides the potentially lethal damage that excessive drinking does to the body, which includes cancer, heart, and liver disease, the social consequences can be equally destructive. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can also have a profound effect on one’s family, friends, and co-workers.
Those who abuse alcohol are more likely to get divorced, become involved with domestic violence, struggle with unemployment, and live in poverty. But even those who succeed at work or sustain their marriage can’t always escape the effects that alcohol abuse has on personal relationships. Drinking problems put a tremendous amount of stress on loved ones.
Oftentimes, family and close friends feel obliged to cover for the person with the drinking problem. So, therefore, they take on the burden of deception and concealment – but pretending that nothing is wrong and burying their fears and resentments can take a considerable toll. Children are especially sensitive and can experience lifelong emotional trauma when a parent or caregiver is an alcohol abuser
Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse
Admitting that you or someone you love has a drinking problem is a critical first step. It takes immense strength and courage to confront alcohol abuse and alcoholism head on. Reaching out for support is the next step.
A person’s recovery is directly impacted by continuing mental health treatment, learning and implementing healthier coping strategies, and making better choices when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges. Long-term abstinence also requires having to face the underlying problems that led to alcohol abuse in the first place.
These objectives can be accomplished using a comprehensive approach that includes long-term inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment and aftercare.
You can reclaim your life and experience the happiness and wellness you deserve. We can help – contact us now to find out how!