Your life does not have to be in shambles for you to be an alcoholic. For you to be considered a ‘heavy drinker’ or someone who ‘abuses alcohol’, you don’t have to drink a bottle of booze a night. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism may be more in line with your own habits than you are inclined to think. When drinking becomes a regular part of life and results in negative consequences, there could be a very serious problem.
Alcohol addiction can seemingly sneak up on you and it may not be real easy to recognize in the beginning. Fortunately, there are many signs and symptoms that you can learn to look out for which may help you to be better prepared to recognize alcohol addiction early on and stop this dangerous problem in its tracks.
The first step to healing from any addiction is to understand what it is, what causes it, how to recognize it and how you can get help.
Is it Alcohol Abuse or Alcohol Addiction?
Moderate drinking that is not combined with any negative consequences is considered ok and safe to take part in, however, when drinking results in trouble with the law, legal problems, relationship problems or lowered productivity at work, home or school there could be a potential problem at hand. In the early stages, when there is no physical addiction to alcohol, the problems that occur as a result of drinking are the result of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is not an addiction but it is a problem none the less.
Alcohol addiction is a more severe form of alcohol abuse that is paired with a physical dependence on the substance that causes adverse reactions when the individual does not drink. Those who are addicted to alcohol will continue to drink despite the known consequences that result from their drinking and they may suffer dire consequences within their family relationships, career, legal record and financial statuses as a result of their decision to continue drinking. For the addict, these negative effects are just another burden of their addiction.
Who is at Risk of Alcohol Addiction?
Some people are at a greater risk of falling victim to alcohol addiction than others. American Indians and Native Alaskans tend to have an increased risk of alcohol addiction as do those who come from a family with a background or history of alcoholism. Individuals who suffer from certain forms of mental illness such as depression or anxiety are also at an increased risk of becoming addicted to alcohol as a result of their intended use of the substance as a means of self-medication.
Recognizing the Signs of a Drinking Problem
If your drinking has caused serious problems in your life, you have a drinking problem and should seek help!
Other signs of a drinking problem include:
- Drinking so much that you forget what happened while you were drinking
- Drinking more than you tell yourself or someone you love you will drink, especially despite your intention to drink less
- Feeling as though you need to drink in order to relax, have fun or be part of a group
- Feeling ashamed of your drinking, yet you drink anyway
- Feeling guilty about your drinking, yet you drink anyway
- Hiding your drinking habits
- Telling others that you don’t drink or that you drink less than you do
- Causing family upset, worries or other problems as a result of your drinking
If any of the above situations has happened or regularly happens then you may want to seek help for a drinking problem. Even social drinking can become problem drinking especially when social drinking causes problems in your life.
Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse is a mild to moderate drinking problem that is characterized as problematic drinking that is not accompanied by the presence of physical dependence. This does not mean that there will not be or can not be serious consequences as a result of alcohol abuse. Those who suffer from alcohol abuse are able to control their drinking to some extent but they still tend to take part in destructive behaviors that can pose a significant risk to themselves and to others when they are under the influence of alcohol.
Additional signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Risky behaviors while drinking. Alcohol abusers tend to take part in promiscuous activity, dangerous activity or otherwise improper activities while they are drinking. Most would not partake in such activities if they were not drunk.
- Using alcohol at work, school or while performing important duties at home. Many alcohol abusers will drink while they are at work, school or while they are supposed to be handling important activities at home such as caring for their children or handling other commitments that should not be addressed while under the influence.
- Drinking in dangerous conditions. Alcohol abusers will often drink and drive or drink and perform other dangerous activities such as operating heavy machinery.
- Drinking and fighting with family members or loved ones. Alcohol abusers often drink despite their loved one’s request for them not to drink and these actions often result in fighting between one another. Getting drunk despite the known relationship stress that will come is a sign of alcohol abuse.
- Getting in trouble while drunk. Many alcohol abusers will drink and drive which often results in DUIs. Other legal problems that could result from alcohol abuse include charges of disorderly intoxication, disorderly conduct or related legal problems.
- Spending money that was meant for bills on alcohol. Alcohol abusers will often make up excuses as to why they can afford to spend money on alcohol despite the fact that the money was intended to pay bills.
Recognizing the Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction is a more severe problem that often results from alcohol abuse. Alcohol addiction actually resembles alcohol abuse in many ways except that the consequences are typically more severe and they are combined with a physical dependence on the alcohol that makes it difficult for the addict to stop drinking even when they want to.
The following symptoms are present when an individual is addicted to alcohol:
- Tolerance: prolonged use of alcohol will lead to the need for more and more alcohol in order to have the same affect. Tolerance is one of the first signs of alcohol addiction and results when an individual needs more alcohol in order to get buzzed or drunk than they used to.
- Withdrawal symptoms: When you wake up in the morning, are you shaky? If you feel shaky or unwell until you have a drink, this is a sure sign of a physical dependence on alcohol which is considered addiction.
- Lack of control: Do you lost control over your drinking? If you can’t control the amount of alcohol you drink despite your good intentions or the intentions of those around you then you are addicted.
- Can’t Quit: Have you thought about the negative effects that your drinking is having on your life and decided to quit but you find that you keep drinking? If you’ve tried to quit drinking before and you are consistently unsuccessful in your efforts then you have an alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Addiction Myths & Facts
Myth: Alcohol is not physically addictive.
Fact: Alcohol is one of the most physically and psychologically addictive substances available. When used with other drugs, alcohol can lead to overdose and other physical health problems. Used long term, alcohol can lead to a number of withdrawal symptoms that are painful and difficult to cope with.
Myth: Food can absorb the alcohol and reduce the time that an individual is intoxicated.
Fact: Food does not absorb the alcohol and it has nothing to do with how long an individual remains intoxicated once they drink alcohol. Alcohol will take approximately one hour to metabolize through the body per ounce. What this means is that for each beer, glass of wine or shot of alcohol that is consumed, a period of one hour will have to pass before the effects of the alcohol wears off.
Myth: Alcohol addiction only affects those who lack willpower to quit drinking.
Fact: Alcohol is a highly addictive substance that leads to physical and psychological dependence. Even people who are strong willed and who want to quit drinking may have trouble stopping due to the withdrawal symptoms that are present with alcohol addiction.
Myth: Alcohol addiction only affects those who don’t have a good job.
Fact: There are hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from alcohol addiction and still work a good job. Many of these alcoholics are what is known as “functioning alcoholics” and, although they do function and work, they are still addicted to alcohol.
Myth: I drink responsibly so I am not addicted to alcohol.
Fact: Alcohol addiction is not ALWAYS the result of being irresponsible and just because you are responsible, you don’t drink and drive or you don’t get in trouble when you drink, does not mean that you cannot still be suffering from an addiction to alcohol.
Alcohol Addiction Help
Once you realize that you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, you can begin to make the proper preparations to seek help for alcohol addiction. Many different forms of alcohol addiction treatment are available to assist you in your recovery. If you’re ready to stop drinking and you’re willing to take the necessary steps to seek help, alcohol addiction can and will become a part of your past and recovery will be in your future. No matter how bad your alcohol addiction is, how powerless you are feeling, or how much you think that you are going to be stuck with this addiction for the rest of your life, you can make the change and become sober at any time you choose.
The first step to getting help for your alcohol addiction is to make the commitment to change. At this point, you’ve realized that drinking has more negative effects than it does positive ones and you’ve likely realized that there is need for change in your life. The only problem is that you probably don’t know where to begin or how to find the help you need. The road to recovery will likely be a long and difficult journey but the end result is a rewarding and powerful feeling that you get when you know that you have completely overcome alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Once you decide to quit drinking, you will be faced with a number of withdrawal symptoms that can be difficult to cope with and could lead you on a quick path to relapse if you aren’t prepared to deal with these symptoms.
The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Shakiness, tremors or Dts
- Mood swings
- Bad dreams or Nightmares
- Nausea and Vomitting
- Sweats, Cold clammy skin
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- Poor appetite
In some cases, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become severe and may warrant the need for immediate medical care. The following symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are considered severe and should be monitored by a healthcare professional to ensure the safety of the recovering addict:
- delirium tremens
- Fever that spikes rapidly
- Extreme agitation or anger
- Confused mental state
The first step of any alcohol addiction treatment program will be alcohol detox. During detox, the individual will begin to experience the withdrawal symptoms that are associated with the physical dependence that the body has developed to alcohol. Not everyone will have to go into a medically supervised alcohol detoxification program but some will require this care to ensure their safety. Long-term, heavy drinkers are likely to require medical supervision during the early days and even weeks of alcohol addiction treatment when detox is taking place. For those who are not heavy drinkers, or who do not suffer from extreme physical dependence on alcohol, inpatient detox in a medically supervised facility may not be necessary. These patients are often able to detox on an outpatient basis or in an alcohol treatment center that provides limited medical monitoring during this difficult time. Certain medications may be prescribed to help prevent medical complications during detox and to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or at least make the symptoms more manageable for the patient.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
The method of treatment for alcohol addiction that works best for you will depend on a number of factors. One important thing to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment program that works for everyone. Alcohol addiction treatment typically includes counseling and therapy. Support groups are widely used to help patients find social support and also to gain additional life and social skills, rebuild relationships, learn how to listen to others and be compassionate and reintegrate into society post alcohol addiction.
When you decide to get treatment for alcohol addiction, it’s important to consider the following:
- Alcohol addiction treatment should be customized to your needs. Because there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for alcoholism, it’s important to make sure that any alcohol addiction treatment program that you take part in is tailored to your individual needs. This may include additional support, mental health counseling, medical care or other methods of treatment being incorporated in to provide you with a rounded approach to treatment and care.
- Treatment must address your health, lifestyle and addiction. Many treatment programs provide only treatment for the addiction and this is not always effective as addition is often the result of underlying health, relationship, social, lifestyle or other issues. It’s important that your alcohol addiction treatment focus on helping you in every facet of your life so that you are better prepared to develop a completely new way of life that will be conducive to a reduced risk of relapse.
- Dual diagnosis treatment is often necessary. If you have any other medical or mental health conditions, it’s important to seek help for these conditions in addition to the alcohol addiction. Often times, alcohol addiction is the result of a desire to self-medicate some underlying health condition such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or pain. Recovery from alcoholism is contingent upon the patient receiving treatment for both their addiction and any co-occurring health conditions.
- Help is widely available. It’s important to remember that treatment for alcohol addiction is widely available and does not only take place in rehabilitation facilities or alcohol treatment centers. The type of treatment that is most beneficial to you will depend on the severity of your addiction, the intensity of your addiction, your will power to quit and your support system. You may find help for alcohol addiction by talking with your doctor, mental health counselor, members of your church or clergy, social worker, or counselors and therapists within your community. The important thing to remember here is that there are plenty of opportunities for help and that you don’t have to accept alcoholism as a part of life.
Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Depending on your addiction, your lifestyle, and other factors, one of the following types of alcohol addiction treatment will likely be beneficial to you:
- Residential Treatment – this method of alcohol addiction treatment takes place in a facility that is similar to a hospital and which houses patients while they receive counseling, support, therapy and medical treatment for their alcohol addiction. Treatment is rather intense during the day and patients are required to live in the facility for the duration of the alcohol addiction treatment program which typically lasts a period of 30-90 days.
- Intensive Outpatient Programs – these alcohol addiction treatment programs do not require the patient to live at the facility however they do provide very intense daytime treatment for alcohol addiction. These programs typically require patients to meet for at least 3 days per week for a period of 4 hours or more each day. The primary focus of intensive outpatient treatment for alcohol addiction is to provide patients with the support and education necessary to prevent relapse.
- Outpatient Treatment – these programs provide counseling, therapy and support to patients daily, weekly or semi-weekly as needed. Most outpatient treatment programs are for a period of 24 weeks or more and include substance abuse counseling, group counseling and in many cases weekly attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in conjunction with the services provided by the outpatient treatment program.
- Sober Living – sober living facilities provide a smooth transition for the recovering alcohol to move from a residential alcohol treatment program on to sober living. Sober living homes typically house other individuals who are in recovery and provide a supportive environment for recovering addicts who are not ready to return to their own home for various reasons.