Dealing with alcohol addiction and abuse is difficult, but being able to recognize and identify if you may have a substance use problem can be. Recognizing the warning signs of alcohol abuse and addiction is the first step, and working towards recovery comes next. Alcohol is a controlled, legal substance with a wide range of effects on the body. It lowers anxiety, causes slurred speech, and even loss of coordination. Not everyone who takes alcohol is an alcoholic. But, when you have lost control over your drinking, you could have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
In the United States, more than fourteen million adults struggle with alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse and addiction is the fourth leading cause of preventable deaths globally. According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), over 95,000 people die every year in the US due to alcohol-related causes. That’s an average of 261 preventable deaths per day.
What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a psychoactive substance. Ethanol is the main ingredient in alcoholic drinks and is responsible for the general drunk feeling you experience after a few drinks. Wine, beer, and liquor are some of the most popular alcoholic drinks. Beer has the lowest alcohol percentage or content by volume (ABV) of 4% and 5%. Wine, especially the one made from grapes, has an average of 12% ABV. Liquor has the highest alcohol percentage of about 40%. Liquors include vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila.
You absorb about twenty percent of alcohol through the stomach while the rest takes place in the small intestine. Alcohol then travels through the bloodstream to the rest of the body, where it disrupts the body’s normal functioning. The liver plays an essential role in metabolizing most of the alcohol you consume. Excessive or long-term alcohol use can strain the liver leading to many health problems. The short-term effects of alcohol include coordination issues, slurred speech, drowsiness, perception distortion, memory problems, and loss of consciousness. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to several health conditions:
- Liver cirrhosis
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Stomach ulcers
- Digestive problems
- Anxiety and depression
- Brain and nerve damage
- Unintentional injuries to others or self
What is Alcohol Use Disorder or Addiction?
Most of the time, it’s hard differentiating between casual use and abuse. Just over 85 percent of people aged eighteen and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. In 2019, almost 70 percent of US adults reported consuming alcohol in the past year. While there is no telling how much alcohol is risk-free, some drinking patterns can increase your risk of addiction.
Alcohol addiction is when you can’t stop drinking or crave a drink despite the negative consequences of such choices. Alcohol use disorder occurs when the brain adapts to the chemical changes that long-term alcohol use causes. When you have AUD, you may lose control over how much you drink, when you drink, and will even feel bad if you are not drinking.
Certain behaviors increase your risk of suffering from AUD. Heavy and binge drinkers, for instance, are more likely to have AUD. Binge drinking means having at least five drinks for a man or four drinks for a woman in around two hours. Heavy drinking means binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.
Key statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NSDUH) show alcohol use in the United States:
- 25.8 percent of people aged 18 and older report binge drinking in the past month.
- 29.7 percent of men and 22.2 percent of women aged 18 and older report binge drinking.
- 6.3 percent of adults (8.3 percent men and 4.5 percent women) report heavy alcohol in the past month.
What are the 3 Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse?
Alcoholism progresses over time, and many people don’t even realize that they have a drinking problem until it’s too late. Learning how to identify the signs of alcohol use disorder can help you start treatment early. Alcoholism can affect you physically, psychologically, and socially.
The physical signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Drinking more than usual
- Sacrificing more of your time, energy, and money to drink
- Spending a lot of time blacked out, being hangover, or getting over the effects of alcohol
- Engaging in risky behavior like driving too fast or having unsafe sex
- Injuring yourself more often since alcohol and workouts don’t tend to mix
- Having poor hygiene and not taking care of yourself
- Experiencing signs of intoxication like poor coordination, walking problems, and slurred speech regularly
- Constantly smelling alcoholic drinks or empty alcohol bottles
- Weight loss
- Cardiac issues like irregular heartbeat, stroke, and high blood pressure
- Weakening of the immune system
- Liver problems like fibrosis, cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver
- Certain cancers
Psychological signs of alcoholism occur when long-term alcohol use interferes with brain functioning. The signs may include:
- Mood changes
- Increase in anger, irritability, and aggression
- Memory, attention, and concentration problems
- Failure to follow through on your responsibilities
- Hallucinations and delusional periods, especially during withdrawal
Alcohol can affect your social life leading to the following:
- Isolation or spending less and less time with family and friends
- Spending more time with new people, especially those who drink
- Increase in shady behavior like deceit and lying
- Refusing or forgetting to follow through on plans
- Declining of performance at work, school, and sports
- Increase in conflict with people around you like family, co-workers, and friends
A person with the social signs of alcohol use disorder will be very inconsistent. They could be happy and outgoing one time and angry, hostile, or sad the next.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Alcoholism is a progressive disorder where the impact and effects get worse over time. Treating AUD in the early stages is the best way of preventing the long-term health effects of alcohol abuse. When you’re trying to recover from alcohol abuse, it goes beyond a simple hangover remedy. It even goes beyond knowing what foods to eat before drinking to avoid a hangover.
Usually, the first step involves detoxing. It can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like nausea, headache, sweating, and insomnia. These symptoms are generally worse in the first forty-eight hours but go away after some time. Other people also experience symptoms like delusions and hallucinations.
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Detoxing at a facility is usually the best choice because medical professionals make the process as safe as possible. After the detox process, treatment should continue with either outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation. Such programs help treat alcohol addiction as well as the root causes. After treatment, most people do much better in therapy or alcohol support groups. These types of aftercare programs usually offer the best chance of lowering your risk of a relapse. You can find a list of alcoholism resources on the Alcohol Rehab Guide, from support groups to educational resources.
A sobriety app can also help you stay sober. Such apps include:
- AA Speakers To Go
- I Am Sober
- NA Speakers
- Recovery Box
- Sober Grid
Alcohol Addiction Hotline: It’s Never Too Late to Get Help
Alcohol addiction can lead to physical, social, and psychological problems. A person struggling with alcoholism will find it difficult to quit independently and may even relapse several times. Alcohol anonymous hotlines are there to help those struggling with alcohol addiction. The numbers are usually toll-free, and calling one will connect you to a treatment facility, plus recovery and support groups like AA. Calling an AA hotline is the first step towards recovery. The numbers are also open to those struggling with withdrawal symptoms and those with loved ones going through alcohol addiction. It’s never too late to get help because there is always someone on the other end of that line willing to help.
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