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Alcoholism: Symptoms and Warning Signs

    Alcohol Symptoms and Warning Signs

    Alcohol is commonplace within our day-to-day lives. We use it to have fun and celebrate happy occasions, but it can also be incredibly dangerous.

    Despite its familiarity, alcohol affects the brain much more severely than other, more stigmatised substances. It is a depressant, and can therefore greatly influence how an individual thinks and feels.

    It can cause a lot of damage, and the substance is known for its high abuse risk. The body can quickly become dependent on it, potentially causing very serious – and sometimes fatal – effects.

    Common symptoms

    People tend to drink alcohol for its sedative effect on the brain. It creates a pleasurable feeling, initially making an individual feel happier and more confident.

    Once this ‘high’ passes, however, the effects are very different. An individual who has been drinking alcohol tends to exhibit some of the following symptoms:

    • Confusion and disorientation
    • Loss of motor skills and coordination
    • Difficulty speaking, or repeatedly saying the same things
    • Increased anxiety and stress
    • Bloodshot eyes

    If an individual has become addicted to alcohol, they will experience more severe iterations of these symptoms. This is because their body will have gradually developed a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they will have had to consume more of it in order to achieve their ‘high’ [1].

    This increased dose means that the following negative effects will increase in severity. For example, an alcoholic may experience extreme anxiety and depression, possibly resulting in suicidal behaviour.

    How to recognise the warnings signs

    Alcohol has a high abuse risk, meaning its frequent use can easily force the body to become dependent upon it in order to function. The changes in bodily chemistry cause there to be an imbalance whenever alcohol is absent, meaning it must regularly be consumed.

    Despite its destructive effects, alcohol abuse can be difficult to spot in another person. Those who drink too much are often very good at hiding it, and so identifying the warning signs can be hard.

    Alcohol abuse can also be a sensitive thing to talk about, and approaching someone who does not have an addiction can cause upset or anger. That is why it is important to recognise whether an individual is displaying several warning signs of alcoholism before approaching them.

    1. Being unable to stop drinking

    Addiction is better described as dependence. This is because an individual tends to not consciously want to drink alcohol, but instead needs to in order to avoid a chemical imbalance within their body.

    As an individual begins to drink more frequently, their body centres its chemistry around alcohol, eventually to the point where severe withdrawal symptoms occur when alcohol is withdrawn.

    As a result, an individual with an addiction tends to find that they cannot stop drinking, even when it is doing harm to their mental or physical health. They usually drink every day, and struggle to go several days without doing so.

    2. Obsessing over alcohol

    Due to alcohol’s ability to shape the body’s chemistry, it can quickly become the most important thing in an individual’s life.

    Feeling the euphoric ‘thrill’ of drinking and avoiding the uncomfortable and threatening withdrawal symptoms becomes all an individual can think about. They talk about alcohol, they think about alcohol, and they are always planning where their next drink is coming from.

    Over time, this pulls them away from friends and hobbies which they previously loved. An individual becomes more and more isolated, caring only for the comfort provided from alcohol.

    3. Drinking an increasing amount of alcohol

    Part of what constitutes an addiction is the need to consume more of a certain substance as time goes on.

    The more an individual drinks, the more tolerant they become of its effects. The body slowly becomes adapted to it, meaning it takes more alcohol to achieve the same euphoric effect experienced at the beginning of their addiction.

    A warning sign, therefore, is the gradual increase of alcohol consumption. If an individual seems to need more and more of it as time goes on in order to get drunk, or if they seem to have a much higher tolerance than they used to, then they may have an addiction.

    4. Being drunk or hungover in inappropriate situations

    The need to drink higher quantities of alcohol means that addicted individuals tend to be drunk more often than casual drinkers.

    Whereas most will confine their drinking to the evenings or weekends, those with a dependence on alcohol will find that they sometimes need to drink more frequently than that.

    As a result, it is common for those struggling with alcoholism to be drunk or hungover in situations where it is not appropriate. This might include work, school, or casual family gatherings.

    5. Personality changes

    The physical impact that alcohol has on the body can affect people in other ways too. It can alter how they behave, and drastically change what personality a person has.

    For example, it is common for those who drink excessively to become more aggressive or short-tempered [2].

    As a depressant, alcohol can also exacerbate mental health complications. This might make a person more anxious, or cause them to exhibit more severe depression or insomnia than usual.

    Assessing your own behaviour

    Recognising the warning signs of alcoholism in others is incredibly difficult, so being able to spot them in your own behaviour might feel impossible.

    Indeed, recognising your own harmful behaviours is hard, especially since many who suffer with the condition tend to be in denial about their destructive relationship with alcohol.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to assess whether you have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol:

    • Do you drink every day?
    • Have you ever tried to stop drinking alcohol and failed after a few days?
    • Have you ever got into trouble with work, school, or the law as a result of your drinking?
    • Do you drink when you feel sad, alone, or bored?
    • Are you dishonest or secretive with friends and family about your drinking?
    • Do you wake up thinking about when you are going to drink?
    • Have you abandoned activities or hobbies that you previously enjoyed?
    • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink?
    • Do you need to drink a lot more than you used to in order to get drunk?

    Although you may not answer yes to every question, it is important to address whether you display some of the more important signs of alcoholism.

    Daily drinking, the presence of withdrawal symptoms, and the inability to stop drinking are considered to be some of the greater warning signs.

    What are the dangers?

    Alcohol is so prevalent in day-to-day life that it is easy to forget how dangerous it can be. Drinking it in excessive quantities can be detrimental for an individual’s health, both in the short- and long term.

    The initial dangers of alcohol begin as soon as the ‘high’ of being drunk has ended. These include:

    • Poor judgement, possibly resulting in injury or legal problems
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Headaches and memory problems

    For the casual drinker, these dangers tend to pass when the alcohol has been flushed from the body’s system. They are less severe, but can still prove harmful.

    Sustained alcohol abuse tends to result in more serious effects. These are mainly long-term and can be extremely dangerous for an individual’s physical and mental health. They include:

    • Long-term or permanent brain damage
    • Depression and suicidal thoughts
    • Liver damage or failure
    • Severe anxiety
    • Damaged immune system
    • Increased risk of developing cancer
    • Alcohol poisoning
    • Impotence
    • High blood pressure
    • Neurological problems
    • Nerve damage

    Aside from health, an individual can also experience very serious problems within their personal life. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to unemployment, breakdown of close relationships, and financial hardship.

    Getting help

    If you suspect that you or a loved one are displaying signs of an alcohol use disorder, it is important to seek help. Speak to a GP or alcohol organisation to discuss potential treatment methods.

    There is a wide range of medicinal and therapeutic methods available for alcoholism. Drugs can be prescribed to ease withdrawal symptoms, and therapies can help an individual to recognise the underlying causes of their drinking.

    It is important to discuss the specifics of your situation in order to identify what methods of treatment will be most effective. Details to talk about include:

    • How long the addiction has been taking place
    • Whether there is a history of alcoholism within the family
    • How much alcohol is usually consumed
    • How frequently alcohol is usually consumed

    [1] https://archives.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/tolerance-dependence-addiction-whats-difference

    [2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

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