What Are The Signs Of Alcohol Abuse, Dependence And Addiction?
The use of alcohol is not only socially acceptable but expected. If you have a hard day at work, you wind down by going home or to a bar and having a beer. Birthdays and anniversaries are celebrated with champagne, and expensive wine is considered to be a staple at fancy dinner parties. People who drink a little too much are thought of as “fun”, and we mock those who refuse to drink at all.
We have normalized alcohol consumption to the point that alcohol abuse is difficult to recognize in ourselves or in others. So while we may think that we’re just always up for having a good time, we may actually be developing alcohol abuse and dependence issues. When we become so used to seeing our neighbour with a beer that we don’t even notice it, they might already be an alcoholic without even realizing it.
What Are The Signs Of Alcohol Abuse?
So if it’s that difficult to even know when you or someone else has a problem, what are you supposed to do? How and when does it eventually become obvious that your alcohol consumption has gone beyond the realm of what is “normal”?
There are some signs of alcohol abuse that you can look out for. Fortunately, some of these can be caught early.
You often drink more than you intended to
If you find yourself frequently uttering the words, “One more can’t hurt”, you may need to take stock of how much alcohol you are consuming. Most people are able to attend a social gathering and limit themselves to one or two drinks. Even those who would usually have a glass of wine at a dinner party find it easy to abstain if they are the designated driver. You may be starting to toe the line of alcohol abuse if you want to say no to that extra beer but find that you just cannot resist, or if hasty arrangements have to be made for an alternate driver.
You drink to recover from a stressful day
There is nothing wrong with kicking back with a glass of wine after a long day, but if this becomes your primary means of dealing with stress, you may be treading in dangerous territory. Not only are you increasing your reliance on alcohol, but the underlying source of your stress is also going unresolved. If you recognize that you are in this situation, you can take immediate action by seeking healthier ways to handle stress, possibly with the help of a therapist.
You end up in dangerous situations when you’ve been drinking
The problem with being drunk is that you are often in denial about being drunk. So you may engage in risky behaviour, either believing that it is safe or not care that it isn’t. A lot of impaired driving incidents happen as a result of someone insisting that they are “fine to drive”. If your job requires you to operate dangerous machinery, you may persist in this after you’ve had a few drinks over lunch. Also, another sign of alcohol abuse is if Friday and Saturday nights are rife with fistfights and unsafe drunk sexual encounters.
You intentionally seek out activities that involve alcohol
Some people are able to maintain their interests if they can find a way to combine these interests with drinking. For example, you may develop a sudden interest in the 19th hole at the golf course, or you may start serving wine at the book club meetings you host. Other people will simply abandon their previous interests. Instead of going walking on the beach, they will stay home so they can drink. They will gradually fade away from the team sport they participated in; their kids may start to have more sleepovers at Grandma’s house. It’s the little things that point to alcohol abuse.
Your health is starting to decline
This happens for two reasons. First, as people increase their consumption of alcohol, they tend to neglect aspects of health and wellness, like nutrition and exercise. And second, the alcohol itself can cause damage to the liver and increase the heart rate and blood pressure. If you drink alcohol regularly, and you have a general sense of feeling run-down, you may need to put a pause on your alcohol consumption.
You tell yourself that you need to stop drinking
Even if you don’t fully recognize that you have a problem, something may make you aware of the extent of your consumption. You may look at the empty bottles in your kitchen and get a shock. Or you may be going over your bank accounts and see a lot of transactions at the liquor outlet. If you are saying to yourself, “Maybe I should cut down on the drinking”, you may need to stop and think about whether that is actually true.
Related article: Be in the Know: Canada’s Latest Alcohol Addiction and Recovery Facts
What Are Alcohol Dependence And Alcohol Addiction?
If you are abusing alcohol regularly over a prolonged period of time, you can become dependent on alcohol. This means that you no longer merely enjoy a drink: you actually need it in order to function. If you deprive yourself of it, you start to experience withdrawal symptoms that can be uncomfortable. Once you become addicted, alcohol is no longer just a part of your life. It is your whole life. Once you reach this point, withdrawal can be almost impossible; in some cases, it can be life-threatening.
Common signs of alcohol dependence
Alcohol dependence manifests differently for everyone, but some of the more common signs include the following:
- You need to have a drink as soon as you wake up
- You routinely deal with hangovers by having another drink
- You frequently call in sick to work or school
- You cancel plans with friends at the last minute
- You experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking
Common Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction affects everyone differently depending on factors like age, state of health, and whether alcohol is consumed with other substances. Common signs of addiction include the following:
- You regularly consume alcohol while at work, or while you are driving
- You disguise your alcohol – for example, by pouring it into a commuter coffee mug
- You use money intended for bills and living expenses to purchase alcohol
- You hide your alcohol consumption from friends and family members
- You continue to use alcohol in spite of deteriorating relationships
- You continue to use alcohol in spite of deteriorating physical or mental health
- You buy alcohol from multiple locations in order to avoid suspicion
- You use alcohol, even when you know it could result in you being in an unsafe situation
Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol addiction is one of the most difficult substance use disorders to combat. Mostly, this is because the use of alcohol is not only socially acceptable, but in some cases, socially expected. We live in a world where celebrations revolve around glasses of sparkling wine and people fill up their refrigerators with beer before “watching the game on TV”. Those who refuse alcohol at parties are greeted with reactions ranging from mild surprise to mockery and insults. For some, a standard response to alcohol withdrawal symptoms – which may feel like a bad hangover – is to simply drink more alcohol.
All of this contributes to alcohol being the most widely abused substance in the world, and for alcoholism being the addiction that people are least likely to seek help for. Loved ones may not be in a position to help, simply because it can take a long time for them to realize that there is a problem.
Our lax social attitude toward alcohol use is accompanied by the belief held by many that overcoming alcohol addiction is simply a case of not having another drink. There are two major pitfalls to this plan: first, people who try to quit any substance without help are far more likely to give in to cravings and start using the substance again, and second, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be extremely dangerous – in some cases, fatal.
What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name given to the collection of symptoms that can occur when the body is deprived of alcohol — to which it has become accustomed. AWS typically starts several hours after the last drink and can go on for about a week. Symptoms include physical effects such as headaches and nausea, and mental effects like anxiety.
What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Alcohol addiction starts with tolerance. If someone who has never consumed alcohol has a glass of wine, it can have a tremendous impact on them. They might feel sick or get sleepy; a shy person may become outgoing; someone who is cautious might take risks.
If that person has a glass of wine each day, in time they will get used to it. And in order to achieve the same effects, they have to drink more. The body becomes tolerant to increasing amounts of alcohol, to the point where the tolerance becomes a dependence.
What this means is that the body does not merely tolerate the alcohol, it relies on it. And if it is suddenly deprived, it cannot cope, and withdrawal symptoms set in. The person will start to feel ill, and anxiety will set in if alcohol is not available.
Common Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
The first few hours
Six to twelve hours after the person has their last drink, the initial impacts of withdrawal will be felt. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms during this phase include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- A mild feeling of the jitters
- Agitation and anxiety that may be amplified if no alcohol is available
The first day
The headaches, nausea and vomiting generally pass without incident, but the other symptoms can become worse. The individual may experience the following:
- A sense of confusion and disorientation
- Uncontrollable hand tremors that interfere with the ability to perform tasks like eating and operating basic household items
- Jitters that escalate into seizures
Around the second or third day, the withdrawal symptoms escalate. They may include:
- Continuing seizures that are worsening in frequency and intensity
- High blood pressure and elevated body temperature
- In severe cases, the person will experience delirium tremens
What Is Delirium Tremens?
Delirium tremens, colloquially referred to as “the DTs”, is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This condition can be fatal if not managed properly: an out-of-control body temperature, complications from seizures, and wild fluctuations in the heart rhythms can result in death. Anyone experiencing the following symptoms of delirium tremens should be provided with immediate medical care:
- Agitation, irritability and rapid mood swings
- A deep sleep that goes on for an unusual length of time
- Confusion and disorientation
- Increased or irregular heart rate
- Elevated body temperature
- High sensitivity to light, sound and touch
- Grand mal seizures
Does delirium tremens happen to everyone?
It is estimated that around half of all people who quit drinking experience withdrawal symptoms in any form. Of those, 3-5% experience delirium tremens.
You may be at high risk of delirium tremens if:
- You have been addicted to alcohol for more than ten years
- Your average daily consumption is equivalent to 2-3 bottles of wine, 7-8 pints of beer, or a pint of hard liquor
- You are more than 40 years of age
- You have suffered a head injury
- You have an illness at the time of withdrawal
- You have a history of seizures
- You have experienced delirium tremens in the past
How To Safely Withdraw From Alcohol
If you are addicted to alcohol – and especially if you are in a high-risk group for delirium tremens listed above – you should first talk to a medical professional before stopping your use of alcohol. Your doctor or addiction counselor may recommend that you undergo medical detox.
This is a process whereby you are under the supervision of a doctor, who will monitor your vital signs and treat your withdrawal symptoms as they arise.
If you choose to withdraw from alcohol without medical help, it is important that you do not do so alone. Ensure that you are in the company of a support person who will be able to identify the signs of delirium tremens and immediately ensure medical help if needed.
Important Facts About Alcohol Addiction
When taken in excess, the adverse effects from the use of alcohol are most often irreversible. These alcohol addiction facts will surely be a starting point to correcting your mindset about drinking.
You are drinking more than you think you are
This seems untrue, but it is, and it is one of the many reasons you don’t feel compelled to know how to stop drinking. It is one of the essential facts about alcohol abuse that you should always think about. With every bottle you take, there is an average of 14 grams of concentrated alcohol.
Also, when you take a regular beer, there are about 12 ounces of alcohol in there. There is 5 ounce of it in wine and about 8 or 9 in liquor. And on many occasions, especially when out with friends, it is more likely that you’ll mix two or more of these substances.
The truth is, you will most likely not feel like an alcohol addict. You are most likely not a drunkard. But, when you notice that you are taking beyond 4 bottles of your favourite alcohol drink per day, it calls for concern.
Alcohol alters your brain
Whenever your brain notices that you are trying to make a habit, it changes physically, to create a condition that helps you perform that task better. Hence, whenever your brain notices that you are frequently taking in alcohol, it interprets that you are trying to get better.
It changes and creates a condition that makes it easy to continue drinking seamlessly. Once this change occurs, there is no going back, and it may be problematic for a lifetime, even if you do change later on. It’s best to seek professional help from an addiction treatment expert near you now!
The effect of alcohol is different for each gender
Another interesting alcohol addiction fact is that the bodies of men process alcohol differently from that of women. This difference is caused by factors including stomach enzymes, the concentration of water in the body, the muscle to fat ratio, and the presence or absence of some hormones.
For women, when alcohol is absorbed, it is broken down more slowly, and they can suffer more damage from alcohol addiction. However, for men, drinking excessively is common because the body breaks it down fast, which will inevitably lead to the symptoms stated above. Either way, alcohol addiction is detrimental.
Alcoholism is partially generic
Genetics also has a role to play in alcoholism. Though environment and exposure play a significant role in alcoholism, parental genes also play a part. Though this risk is not definite, as scientists state, it is only a 50-50 chance that the parent’s genes will bring about addiction in a person. However, it is only right to note this, no matter how minute the occurrence is.
Alcohol can cause death
According to reports, about 88,000 persons die as a result of alcohol yearly, because several people drunk-drive. On the grimy side, this makes it one of the leading causes of death that can be prevented. By staying sober, over 80,000 deaths can be prevented.
Binge drinking is dangerous
Binge drinking refers to the condition of drinking too much within a short period. This is a widespread occurrence in people that are between the ages of 18 and 22 years. Taking this much within a short time can lead to dangerous alcohol body levels — a situation that comes with severe health consequences.
Alcohol withdrawal comes with severe side effects
It’s best to fight alcohol addiction ASAP. This is because with extended dependence on addiction if you stop drinking totally, and suddenly, the agitation of some nerve cells occurs. This can lead to a condition known as delirium tremens that comes with severe side effects including vomiting, unconsciousness, strong cravings, cold skin etc
Tips for Getting Rid of Alcohol Addiction
Beyond the alcohol addiction facts, there are several ways with which you can work on yourself to get rid of this menace.
- Therapy: This is the best way to stop drinking, as you rely on the professionalism and expertise of a therapist to lead you through the side effects that come with alcohol withdrawal
- Support group: This is a typical recommendation in therapy, especially for those that suffer addiction to one disorder or another. Your support group can be a group of friends and family that will help at every stage of the addiction recovery process.
Recovery Does Not End With Alcohol Withdrawal
Safe alcohol withdrawal is an important first step in the journey to sobriety, but it is not the only step. Addictions almost always have a root cause, and a comprehensive rehab program will help you explore those causes, and either resolve them or learn more positive ways of dealing with them.
With the right approach and plenty of support, you can overcome your alcohol addiction and lead a positive, productive life. In terms of support, it doesn’t get better than addiction treatment experts.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
It is never too soon or too late to get help for alcohol addiction. This can look different for different people: some may need to make some significant lifestyle changes, and perhaps find a local 12-steps program that works for them; others would do better in an inpatient addiction rehab program.
For alcohol addiction treatment to work, it should be customized to the individual, and the goal should be to resolve the issues that lie beneath the addiction. While detox is an important first step – and one that should be done under medical supervision – it is by no means the only step on the path to recovery.
Related article: How To Avoid Alcohol After Recovery