Are you concerned that you or someone you know may be dependent on alcohol? Find out how to recognize the common signs and get help.
In America today, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance. Alcohol is woven into many areas of life, such as celebrating weddings or taking a break from a long workday. However, this doesn’t make it any less of a danger. It’s important to remember that despite its legality, alcohol is still an addictive substance.
The signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, can vary from person to person. Some of the symptoms will be more difficult to spot than others, and factors like the amount of alcohol you are drinking, and the frequency of your alcohol consumption will all play a role in whether you develop a dependency on the substance.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
A person addicted to alcohol does not know when or how to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol and cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, at work, or financially.
What’s the Difference Between Casual Drinking, Alcohol Abuse, and Alcoholism?
Different types of drinking can be defined by the way alcohol is consumed and the consequences associated with it.
- Casual Drinking – Also known as social drinking, casual drinking is when people occasionally drink alcohol. They usually drink responsibly, so they don’t get drunk or blackout regularly.
- Alcohol Abuse – A pattern of drinking excessively despite negative consequences. It usually results in drinking more than intended and regretting actions. People who abuse alcohol may experience some health effects, but they can quit drinking on their own.
- Alcohol Addiction / Alcoholism – A chronic and progressive disease where people cannot control their alcohol use despite negative consequences. People who have alcoholism cannot control how much they drink. They regularly experience problems in various aspects of life because of how much or how often they drink. These people typically require assistance to get and stay sober.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
Physical Signs of Alcohol Addiction
It’s usually easy to recognize that someone has been drinking; if they have a severe alcohol dependence, they’re likely to need significantly higher amounts of alcohol before showing the telltale signs of alcoholism.
People with long-standing alcoholism may be able to have several drinks before appearing intoxicated. When they do exhibit signs, they may appear as:
- Having built a tolerance to alcohol, meaning the person needs to drink increasingly higher amounts of alcohol to feel ‘drunk.’
- Lethargy and headaches
- Excessive sweating in the absence of physical exertion
- Weight loss or gain because of changes in appetite
- Lack of concern over physical appearance/personal hygiene
- Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia
- Appearance of alcohol withdrawal symptoms if they haven’t consumed alcohol for a certain amount of time
Behavioral and Social Signs of Alcohol Addiction
For many of us, our behavior changes after drinking alcohol. However, if someone suffers from alcoholism, these behavioral changes can linger and affect everyday life. Some changes include:
- Secretive or dishonest behavior about alcohol
- Drinking heavily alone
- Heavy drinking or binge drinking
- Drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning
- Avoiding contact with loved ones
- Withdrawing from responsibilities at home or work
- Continuing to drink despite the negative effects at home, work, or in their social life
- Increased risk-taking
- Losing interest in activities, hobbies, or events that were once important to them
Mental and Emotional Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
Prolonged alcohol abuse changes and damages many areas of the brain, such as the dopamine receptors (or feel-good chemicals). It can cause damage to such an extent that the children of an alcoholic are more likely to suffer from alcoholism.
This shows just how harmful the irreversible effects of alcohol addiction are. Some of the mental and emotional signs someone may exhibit include:
- Trouble controlling emotions such as anger or irritability, even when sober
- Short-term memory loss, difficulty forming new memories, and retrieving memories
- Intense and sudden loss of memory, which can last up to 30 minutes due to an alcohol-induced coma-like state known as “blackout”
- Poor decision-making in risky situations, such as driving while under the influence or engaging in dangerous behaviors
- Feeling guilt or shame associated with drinking
- Uncontrollable cravings for alcohol, even when trying to abstain from drinking
- Difficulty focusing and retaining information due to decreased concentration and attention span
What To Do if You’re Struggling with the Symptoms of Alcoholism
If you, or someone you love, appears to be struggling with the symptoms of alcoholism, there are steps you can take to tackle the issues you’re experiencing and put yourself on the road to recovery. The first step is to acknowledge that there is an alcohol dependency problem. The next step is to get help. This is available from a range of support groups and professional services.
The following are some recognized treatment options for alcoholism:
- Counseling: A qualified counselor can help people share their problems and devise a plan to tackle their drinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat alcohol dependency.
- Support groups: Safe, supportive environments for individuals to share their experiences and gain mutual support from people on a similar journey.
- Intensive outpatient programs: These involve regularly scheduled, structured sessions in a counseling setting to address issues such as life skills, emotional health, and relapse prevention. These programs enable people to maintain their lifestyle and work schedule while attending regular therapy sessions.
- Residential programs: These live-in programs provide a secure environment with 24-hour support from medical and mental healthcare professionals. Being physically away from access to temptation is helpful for some people.
- Medication-assisted treatment: A medical professional can provide medications that help reduce the symptoms and cravings associated with the urge to drink and withdrawal.
- Treating underlying problems: There may be problems with self-esteem, stress, anxiety, depression, or other aspects of mental health that are fueling the reliance on alcohol. Common alcohol-related issues, such as hypertension, liver diseases, and possibly heart diseases, will need to be treated, too.
- Abstinence: Some people complete detox successfully, but they start drinking again either soon after or sometime later. Access to counseling, medical help, support groups, and family support can all help the individual avoid alcohol as time goes on.
It’s important to understand that alcohol addiction is a treatable disease, not a sign of moral failure or personal weakness. With treatment and support, it is possible to manage alcoholism and lead a healthy and fulfilling life. No matter how severe or long-lasting the alcohol use is, for many people, there is a path to a healthier, sober future.
If you or a loved one is ready to overcome an addiction to alcohol, it’s time to seek help. Take the first step by reaching out for more information about treatment today.
October 15, 2023
10 mins read