Alcoholism sits at the far end of a continuum, with alcohol use disorders making up the stages in between. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, an estimated 170 million American adults, age 18 years and older struggled with some form of alcohol use disorder in 2012.
More oftentimes than not, casual or social drinking marks the starting point for alcohol abuse. By the time a person asks, “Am I an alcoholic,” signs and effects of alcohol abuse have likely taken shape in his or her life.
Tolerance Level Increases
Alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing chemical interactions throughout the body via the brain and central nervous system. Concerns regarding am I an alcoholic often take shape once a person notices the steady increase in his or her consumptions amounts over time.
Alcohol works by interfering with serotonin, GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter secretions in the brain. With frequent drinking, the brain develops a tolerance to alcohol’s influence. In effect, tolerance level increases will continue for as long as a person keeps drinking. In this respect, the answer to “am I an alcoholic” becomes painfully apparent once consumption levels reach a certain point.
A physical dependency on alcohol develops out of the brain’s rising tolerance levels. Once physically dependent, a person starts experiencing withdrawal effects on a regular basis.
Withdrawal effects take shape in response to growing chemical imbalances in the brain. As tolerance levels rise, the brain requires increasing amounts of alcohol in order to regulate the body’s processes as normal.
In the absence of more alcohol, withdrawal effects start to surface as various bodily processes breakdown. Someone who’s asking “am I an alcoholic” has likely experienced more than a few severe hangovers, also known as withdrawal episodes.
More than anything else, psychological dependency marks the presence of an addiction in any form, alcohol included. By the time the answer to “am I an alcoholic” is a resounding yes, a person believes he or she needs alcohol’s effects to make it through the day.
At this point, alcohol’s influence on the brain’s chemical system has “rewired” a person’s overall psychological make-up. Ultimately, the answer to “am I an alcoholic” has more to do with the role alcohol plays in a drinker’s daily life.
Am I an Alcoholic? – Questions to Ask
When/Where Do I Drink?
As far as a person’s drinking behaviors go, the when and where of drinking can provide some important clues on whether “am I an alcoholic” holds any credence. Setting, in terms of where a person drinks and who he or she drinks with may point to the role alcohol plays in person’s life.
This means, someone who drinks on the job may feel he or she needs alcohol’s effects to manage work stressors. Likewise, someone who drinks heavily at home or socially may rely on alcohol’s effects to feel comfortable within these settings.
Have Withdrawal Effects Become the New “Normal”?
Severe alcohol withdrawal effects typically take the form of:
- Persistent fatigue
- No appetite for food
- Profuse sweating
- Ongoing nausea
- Foggy thinking
Anyone experiencing these symptoms on a daily basis can answer yes to the question, “am I an alcoholic.” Withdrawal effects play an active role in perpetuating the abuse/addiction cycle, as most heavy drinkers will drink more alcohol in order to gain relief from withdrawal symptoms.
Do I Binge Drink?
The brain’s tolerance levels for alcohol can rise quickly, especially in cases of frequent and/or heavy drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Once tolerance levels reach a certain point, drinkers must consume massive amounts in order to experience the desired “buzz” effect. Concerns regarding “am I an alcoholic” may well start to surface once a person starts drinking large amounts of alcohol, as in entire cases of beer or whole bottles of hard liquor, on a regular basis.
Do I Have a Family History of Alcohol/Substance Abuse?
Alcoholism carries a genetic as well as an environmental component. This means people brought up in families of heavy drinkers (or substance abusers) remain at high risk of alcoholism in much the same way as someone who’s genetically inclined to drink.
When asking “am I an alcoholic,” consider your family’s substance abuse history. Alcoholic spouses, significant others and close friends can also steer a person towards heavy drinking behaviors over time.
Has My Drinking Caused Problems in My Life?
Once alcohol’s effects take over a person’s life, he or she will show little regard for any negative consequences that result from drinking. Negative consequences may take the form of:
- Problems on the job or losing a job
- Relationship conflicts or divorce
- Problems with the law
- Money problems
- Health problems
- Mental health problems
Someone who continues to drink in spite of one or more of these results can answer yes to the question, “am I an alcoholic.”
Have I Tried to Stop Drinking and Failed?
A loss of control over drinking behavior is a clear warning sign of a looming addiction. Anyone who’s made multiple attempts to quit drinking and failed has good reason to ask, “am I an alcoholic,” as multiple failed attempts indicate a clear loss of control over alcohol’s influence in his or her life.
Am I an Alcoholic? – Early & Late Stage Symptoms
According to the University of Southern Indiana, alcoholism progresses in stages, with early and late stage symptoms developing along the way. Alcohol has a cumulative effect on a person’s physical and psychological health, so it’s never too soon to ask the question “am I an alcoholic.”
Early stage symptoms typically take the form of:
- Inability to manage or cope with daily stressors
- Drinking to relieve stress
- Drinking in the morning or at the start of the day
- Sleep problems
- Frequent nightmares
Late stage symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Blackout episodes
- Persistent cravings for alcohol
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in the hands and feet
- Yellowish skin tone
- Swelling in the feet
Once a person starts experiencing late stage symptoms, concerns regarding “am I an alcoholic” are well warranted as his or her health status has seen considerable decline. Without needed treatment help, symptom severity worsens over time, to the point where life-threatening health conditions, such as liver disease and heart problems start to develop.