What are the Signs of Alcoholism?
Maybe you don’t drink a lot at any one time. Maybe you can go for long periods of time without drinking at all. Or maybe you only drink wine or beer, and only in social situations. Even so, you still might be at risk for alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency.
Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependency
Not all rectangles are squares, and not all people who abuse alcohol are necessarily alcoholics. However, those who abuse alcohol do put themselves at greater risk to become dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol. For some, developing alcoholism might be a gradual progression, taking years. For others, just one major stress factor, such as job loss, a death in the family, or a breakup is all it takes to escalate from abuse to addiction.
Signs of alcohol abuse include the following practices:
Binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of 4-5 or more alcoholic drinks in 2 hours or less. While popularly associated with teenagers and young adults, this practice knows no age limits. More young adults from 18-34 years binge drink than other age groups, but adults 65 and older binge drink more frequently.
Physically or emotionally self-destructive behavior. Examples include driving under the influence, prompting aggression in social situations or at home, undermining relationships with others, fragmentary or en bloc blackouts, and neglecting work and familial responsibilities.
Self-medicating. Alcohol abuse often begins with a tendency to rely on alcohol to de-stress after a long day, and from there, this tendency escalates to using alcohol to cope with anxiety and depression. Alcohol might also be combined with prescription medications against all medical advice.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol dependency include the following:
Tolerance and withdrawal. Increased tolerance to any drug is a warning sign of physical dependency. Likewise, increasingly severe symptoms of withdrawal during detox, such as shaking, nausea, sweating, insomnia, headaches, or even hallucinations and fever are definite signs of addiction. Other physical manifestations include weight loss, stomach pain, and redness of the nose and cheeks.
Loss of control. Many alcoholics find that they cannot control the amount they consume or the frequency of drinking episodes. Many are unable to quit after repeated attempts. Some alcoholics recognize that their alcohol is causing problems at school or work and in their personal relationships, but they continue drinking anyway. They make excuses for themselves to justify their actions, or experience cycles of shame, guilt, and consumption.
Surrender. Alcoholism is time- and resource-consuming. Often, alcoholics find that their activities revolve around alcohol. Relationships, hobbies, and social responsibilities are surrendered to the addiction. Time, effort, and mental faculties are generally focused around obtaining alcohol, consuming it, and recovering from episodes.
The CDC reports that over 50% of American adults are current, regular drinkers, defined as having consumed 12 or more alcoholic beverages over the last year. Of these, nearly 30% are considered at risk for alcohol abuse or dependency. Some risk factors are:
- family background and ethnicity
- social circles
- social class
- mental and emotional health
While some of these factors may be beyond the control of the individual, the decision to consume alcohol in a responsible way is an individual choice. Redirecting blame to others or to personal life circumstances is the equivalent of a loss of control. To take back control over your life and your choices, it is important to take an honest look at your own habits, your health, your risks, and your future.
Because alcoholism is a disease, it requires professional, medical treatment like any other. Once on the road to recovery, many alcoholics opt for inpatient treatment. A clinic’s 24-hour medical supervision helps to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and discourage relapse. Another advantage is the comfort of being among those who can identify with your situation. Humans are social creatures and we depend upon each other for help, so there is no shame in asking for it and accepting it.