For many, drinking is a social element that never warrants a second guess as to whether addiction will become a potential problem; but for some, frequent drinking with friends or at social events can spiral out of control causing disruption and disarray. It's not always easy to recognize a drinking problem, especially when the drinking takes place with others in a social setting. But if you're drinking is causing resentment, worry, fear or other consequences in your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a serious disease that affects an estimated 17.6 million people over the age of 12, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
It is unknown exactly why some people who drink fall into the perils of addiction while others are able to casually and socially consume alcohol without any major repercussions or consequences.
Some of the possible causes of alcohol abuse or alcoholism include:
Genetics - those with a family history of addiction or alcoholism are at an increased risk.
Upbringing - people who were raised around parents or family members who regularly consumed alcohol or used drugs are more likely to suffer from alcoholism.
Social environment - individuals who regularly drink with others or who are social uncomfortable may become more prone to alcoholism.
Emotional health - individuals who suffer from anxiety, depression or other forms of mental illness are more likely to abuse alcohol. According to NAMI, more than 33% of those who abuse alcohol are also suffering from some type of mental illness.
You may be wondering if your drinking is casual and acceptable or if you actually have a drinking problem. Because drinking affects people differently, determining whether you have a drinking problem requires deep introspection of yourself and your alcohol use habits.
You may be suffering from a drinking problem if:
- You feel upset about your decision to drink alcohol.
- You feel guilty about drinking or you are ashamed of your alcohol use.
- You cover up or mask your use of alcohol.
- You lie to others, especially your friends or family members, about the amount of alcohol you have consumed.
- You hide your drinking from your loved ones because they believe you have a drinking problem.
- You feel as if you "need" to drink alcohol in order to relax or "kick back."
- You feel like parties, outings or social events "just aren't fun" without alcohol.
- You drink more than you intend to despite efforts to scale back.
- You make commitments to cut back and you go back on your word.
- You forget things or completely "black out" when you are under the influence of alcohol.
- You feel sick or otherwise unhappy without alcohol.
Mere guilt about drinking, or the fact that you have drank more than you intended doesn't necessarily deem you an alcoholic. However, if your drinking is causing problems in your life, and you continue to drink despite the burden that the alcohol use is causing, then you have a drinking problem.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are not two in the same; however, alcohol abuse will lead to alcoholism if the habits of the user are not controlled. Alcohol abusers have some control over their drinking, though they tend to overdo it and get themselves into situations that are later found or deemed to be the result of poor judgment. Likewise, alcoholics have little control over their drinking and will often "do whatever it takes" in order to fuel their addiction.
Common signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Drinking in situations that would be considered dangerous such as drinking and driving, drinking at work, or drinking while under the influence of other substances such as prescribed medications.
- Neglecting responsibilities at work, home or school. This includes missing work, failing tests in school, not properly caring for children or making excuses not to adhere to commitments as a result of being intoxicated or hung over.
- Legal problems such as DUI or disorderly conduct as a result of alcohol intoxication.
- Relationship problems resulting from alcohol use. This includes problems with your boss, getting in fights with friends, or upsetting your spouse while you are drinking.
- Using alcohol as a means of relaxing and eliminating or reducing stress.
As alcohol abuse progresses, the risks for alcoholism become much more clear and the chance for an addiction to set in increases significantly. Individuals who regularly rely on alcohol to distress, relax, fit in, or have fun are at a substantial risk of becoming alcoholics.
Alcoholism, a very severe drinking problem that has spiraled out of control, impacts the lives of both the user and those around the individual in a number of ways. If you regularly rely on alcohol to fill a void in your life, if you use alcohol because you feel sick without it, or if you drink alcohol in order to "survive," you're an alcoholic and you need help.
Common signs of alcoholism include:
- Increased tolerance which results in your drinking more and more than you used to.
- Loss of control over drinking. This includes making a commitment to drink less and failing to adhere to your commitment.
- A desire to quit drinking that is plagued by a nagging urge to continue. You want to quit drinking but you aren't sure how.
- Continued problems in life that are caused by alcohol, but despite the problems, the drinking continues.
- Giving up other activities or hobbies in order to drink alcohol. This also includes avoiding friends or family members who don't drink alcohol in order to feel more "comfortable" or "at ease" with your decision to drink.
- Suffering from symptoms of withdrawal when you don't drink.
Alcoholism will change the way that the body responds to alcohol and the way that you feel when you don't have alcohol in your system. Alcoholics tend to feel the adverse effects of alcohol within a few hours following their last drink. As symptoms of alcohol withdrawal set in, the user may feel:
- Trembling or unable to relax
- Tired or fatigued
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may also include:
- Loss of appetite
According to Medline Plus, if you experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, it's important to seek prompt medical treatment as there is a risk that the withdrawal could quickly spiral out of control leading to a condition known as delirium tremens. When this occurs, seizures, hallucinations and dangerously high fever are all possible.
Alcoholism requires responsive treatment that will aid in the reduction of withdrawal symptoms while facilitating relapse prevention. The first step is always detox. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, when you enter into treatment for alcoholism, a medical examiner or treatment professional will:
- Asses your eye movements to determine normal response to light.
- Listen to your heart for any signs of abnormal heart rhythms.
- Asses you for symptoms of dehydration, fever and proper breathing.
- Ask you questions about your symptoms.
The questions that are asked of you at this time are important and should be answers completely and to the best of your ability. The best way for you to receive proper, and adequate treatment, is to fully answer the questions when you are entering into treatment. This will help the treatment staff to outline an appropriate course of treatment to assist in your recovery from alcoholism.
The focus of alcohol addiction treatment is to:
- Reduce your symptoms of withdrawal and stabilize you for long term care.
- Prevent any complications from arising as a result of your alcohol use.
- Provide therapy and supportive care that will reduce the risk of relapse.
Many factors go into determining which type of alcoholism treatment is most suitable for your individual needs. Cost, location, level of treatment, method of treatment, length of the program and various other factors can all be considered when choosing treatment for alcoholism.
The following types of treatment are generally offered to patients:
- Residential detox
- Residential treatment
- Intensive outpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Sober living
The type of treatment that is best for you will depend on:
- The severity of your alcohol addiction.
- Whether you suffer from any underlying conditions such as mental illness.
- How committed you are to your own recovery.
- Whether you have a strong support system at home through friends and family members.
Throughout treatment for alcoholism, those in recovery are encouraged to take part in support groups which provide a foundation for continued success. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs can provide the needed fellowship and sense of community that aids in a positive outcome. According to AA.org, groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are made up of millions of people from around the world who form a common bond as they are all looking to overcome alcoholism and remain abstinent.
For many recovering addicts, the support that is received in groups such as AA is fundamental to the success of their recovery from alcohol addiction. With the right support, proper treatment and your commitment to sobriety, you too can live alcohol free!