Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is a term that people often speak about in a more hushed way– instead using words like “lush”, “party animal” or discussing someone’s fondness of a certain liquor. A person with alcoholism is likely to drink every day and has done so for a long period of time which leads to conflict between families and a loss of job. People aren’t quick to admit to this stage of alcohol consumption because it seems too severe to apply to them or someone they love. People weren’t quick to admit to this stage of alcohol use because it seemed too severe to apply to them. But alcoholism looks differently for everyone who experiences it. It’s not always reflected accurately by the harsh pictures painted by others created to make you feel shameful or afraid.
Alcoholism is a disease and should be approached as such. Successful recovery often depends on having the medical care and supportive guidance in place. Whether you have faced personal challenges with alcoholism yourself or have watched a loved one battle this disease you know first hand just how hard it can be to overcome. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2015, an estimated 16 million people in the United States of America had been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder also known as AUD. Men have alcohol use disorder almost twice as much as women; of the estimated 16 million affected adults, 9.8 million were men and 5.3 million were women. Adolescents can also be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and in 2015, an estimated 623,000 young people between 12-17 years of age had this disorder. To be diagnosed with AUD, a person must meet two of the eleven criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which provides professionals and doctors in the mental health space with an indispensable diagnostic tool that helps them identify various mental health disorders, which includes alcohol use disorder. Check out the eleven factors here.
Alcoholism isn’t always medically diagnosed right away, if ever. It may take months or even years for the symptoms, effects, and actions of the disease to make its physical presence known. Drinking habits range across the board. What may seem “normal” for one person may seem like “heavy drinking” to another.
How much you consume and how it affects your body is all relative to a number of factors at play including weight, gender, history with alcohol use, among others. If you struggle with alcohol abuse or someone has brought your alcohol use to your attention, there is a chance you could self-diagnose the disease.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has put together a quick quiz of questions that will help you identify if you have tendencies that match up with alcoholic behavior:
- Do you sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time?
- Are you having more financial, work, school, and/or family problems as a result of your boozing?
- Have you at times failed to keep promises you’ve made to yourself about controlling your boozing habits?
These kinds of questions can help you self-diagnose or begin to look at the possibility that you may be abusing alcohol and becoming an alcoholic. It’s understandable that accepting this kind of diagnosis or the chance you may have a drinking problem isn’t always an easy one to face. Just know you are not alone in this journey. Many who battle alcoholism start in denial. If you’ve watched a loved one go through this phase do not be discouraged as this is normal behavior.
While confronting your alcohol problem may seem scary it’s important to take control of your health and address anything that may be standing in the way of your well-being.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
If you’ve ever abused alcohol, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re at the stage of alcoholism. There are signs and symptoms of both, many overlapping. Common tell-tale signs may start with problems at work or school because of your drinking. You have a drink way more than normal. Additionally, if you can relate to any of the signs below, it could be an indicator of alcohol abuse:
- You drink in situations that put you at higher risk, such as before or while driving a car.
- You often experience blackouts after drinking where you can’t recall certain events.
- You have experienced legal problems as a result of drinking, which may include DUIs, public intoxication, or assault.
- You’ve hurt yourself or others when you’ve been drinking.
- Your friends or family members have voiced concern about your drinking.
- You’re unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
Since drinking is often a part of many social activities, it can be difficult to separate the two. After all, if everyone around you is drinking, does it hurt to have a few drinks yourself? In some cases, for some people, the answer might be yes. You may start the night or attend a party thinking you can have one or two drinks along with the rest of the group, but end up drinking much more and much longer than you had originally intended.
People who don’t suffer from alcoholism know how to limit their drinking. Unfortunately, if you battle this disease, it’s likely that you simply can’t. While this can be frustrating it’s important to put your well-being first and start taking the steps to living a healthier and happier life free from addiction.Speak with a qualified treatment specialist today.
Habits Leading to Alcoholism
There are five basic warning signs of alcoholism as laid out by Healthline. Keep in mind, not everyone goes through all five stages and not everyone goes in the outlined order. There is no one path to alcoholism but it’s helpful to be aware of signs that may help you prevent from advancing the stages. The first stage is alcohol abuse as mentioned by the signs above. This phase might be ongoing or characterized as occasional binge drinking.
Being in stage one doesn’t mean it’s any less harmful to you. It’s still forming a habit and type of behavior that can lead to more serious problems with alcohol down the road. The first stage is seen typically among college-aged kids and young adults who may not drink on a daily basis, but may binge drink when they go out.
Even “once in awhile” drinking habits like binge drinking are risky. Too much alcohol could lead to blackouts, dependency, or other alcohol-related accidents. While many young adults outgrow this phase of binge drinking, others go on to stage two, which referred to simply as increased drinking.
In this stage, it’s just like it sounds – you are drinking more frequently. Rather than going out to a party or having drinks with dinner, your drinking behavior might shift to having drinks every night to combat boredom, loneliness, or stress. There is more of an emotional and less of a social aspect to this phase of drinking, especially if you are constantly drinking alone. You may want to “band-aid” feelings with alcohol.
Problem Drinking and Alcohol Dependence
After the first two stages comes what’s referred to as “problem drinking.” When this happens, you aren’t the only one affected by the amount of alcohol you consume. It means your drinking has started to have a negative effect on others. It may lead to situations at work, school, or in your own relationships with friends and family that are problematic and cause tension.
At this phase, you may be seen as unreliable, anxious, or you may experience insomnia and lack a healthy appetite. Friends who have drank with you before may stop because you continue long after they’re done or because of how you behave when you’ve drank too much.
When you begin making excuses for your drinking and how it is or isn’t affecting your life, you have to deal with the possibility of alcohol dependence, the last stage before alcoholism. There are actually two parts of alcoholism: dependence and addiction. Although similar, they’re still not the same, since you can become alcohol dependent, but not yet addicted.
So, then, what is alcohol dependence? It’s when you develop a need, an attachment to alcohol to a point that it’s become part of your regular routine. It might seem so common at this point that it’s almost abnormal to not have at least a few drinks every day.
This is typically when your tolerance begins to increase and the amount it used to take for you to feel drunk doesn’t work anymore. You need a few more drinks to feel the same buzz, which in turn, leads to both short-term and long-term physical effects on your body. At the dependence stage, you may also start to experience the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which can range from nausea and vomiting to tremors and profuse sweating.
Final Stage of Alcoholism
If you’ve gone through all the aforementioned stages, which may not take long to do, then you arrive at the fifth and final stage of alcoholism. This is where you’ve not only become dependent on alcohol, but your body has become addicted to it. There has been a change that makes you need to drink regardless of whether it’s for pleasure or not. Additionally, drinking alcohol to excess can causes liver disease
You can experience any and all of the same symptoms of alcoholism at the other stages, but you are at a high risk at this stage since your alcohol intake has increased to such a high level. At this point, you most likely won’t be able to function without drinking because the body’s become so used to it. This level of drinking weighs heavy on your health, with the potential to damage to the liver, brain, and other organs.
It makes you susceptible to pain and discomfort felt from alcohol withdrawal symptoms. And, depending on how long and how much you’ve been drinking, these symptoms can last for weeks, even months. It’s not something you can now easily control on your own. When you get to the point of alcoholism, it’s often best to seek professional care. While the idea of seeking treatment can be scary it’s important to remember that the right treatment center can help provide you with the medical and emotional support you need to sustain a successful recovery and regain control of your life.
Alcoholism Signs Easily Missed
If you are a friend or family member of someone you think might have a drinking problem, there are a few not-so-obvious signs that might be good indicators you should at least talk about with your loved one. If you’re concerned, don’t be afraid to speak up. Your loved ones need you now more than ever.
One of the more subtle signs of alcoholism is drinking to relieve stress. This hits a gray area, since it’s not uncommon for anyone to say, “I need a glass of wine” or crack open a cold one after a rough day. People do this because they feel stressed. They want to relax and they’re using alcohol to do that.
The fine line comes into play when this behavior changes from the occasional happy hour or glass of wine to unwind to your go-to method to de-stress or cope with your emotions. When you start to depend on alcohol and use it as your “crutch” as the one thing to get you through, this begins to resemble the early stages of alcoholism.
Another potential sign of alcoholism that might not be readily apparent is when you start to sneak drinks. Do you catch yourself lying about how much you’ve drank? Or, how often? Do you finish other people’s drinks when they don’t? When you become secretive, it tends to mean you feel like you have something to hide. Maybe it’s because you don’t want people to get the wrong idea? But, maybe it’s because you haven’t considered or don’t want other to know you are struggling with controlling your alcohol.
Again, if you’re concerned for a loved one, other signs to look out for is if alcohol is affecting their work. Are they constantly hungover? Has their physical appearance changed, especially their skin or hair? Do they drink more than they have in the past? These kinds of questions don’t always immediately indicate that someone has a problem with drinking, but it doesn’t hurt to take note and ask. Approach the issue with sensitivity and compassion from a place of genuine concern to initiate more open lines of communication.
Taking Control of Your Health and Life
When you’ve reached any of these stages or experience any of these signs or symptoms of alcohol abuse or addiction, know there is treatment available for you. Every person who suffers any part of alcoholism will experience it and handle it in different ways.
Some may quietly realize they’re drinking too much and want to seek help before it goes any further. Others may not see the risks unfolding at the time, but have reached a point where it’s become obvious to themselves and others. Whatever situation you are faced with, there are programs designed to help you heal.
The first step of most treatment programs is to detox, which is highly recommended to be done in a place you feel safe, supported, and comfortable. The staff of a monitored detox facility have been trained and are educated and experienced in helping you cope with the side effects, dangers, and challenges often associated with alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal.
Don’t feel burdened by the thought of facing alcohol detox or recovery alone. There are many who have stood in shoes similar to yours and have since achieved sobriety and a healthier outlook on life. If you or your loved one face challenges with alcohol or you have questions as to what your options are regarding alcohol treatment, reach out to the help available to you. It’s never too late to pave a more positive path for your future. You deserve the opportunity to live a healthier and happier life.
Find hope. Find recovery. Begin a commitment to lifelong recovery today from substance abuse—for yourself, for your friend, or for your loved one.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder. 2015. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM-IV and DSM-5. July 2016. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
Mayo Clinic. (2015). Alcohol Use Disorder. July 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243
Healthline. Stages of Alcoholism. https://www.healthline.com/health/stages-alcoholism
Prevention. 7 Sneaky Signs You Drink Too Much. March 2018. https://www.prevention.com/health/a20438408/binge-drinking-how-to-tell-if-you-have-an-alcohol-problem/