Alcohol is an incredibly popular substance. It is used recreationally all across the world and has become a normal part of how our society has fun and celebrates.
However, alcohol has a high abuse potential, meaning that individuals who drink a lot of it can become addicted.
Alcohol and alcoholism: what you need to know
When individuals consume alcohol, either at a party or with friends, their brain experiences a pleasurable ‘high’. We usually refer to this as being drunk.
In this state, our brain experiences a rush of dopamine, which sparks a whole range of pleasurable feelings.
Drunk individuals feel happy, confident, and optimistic. Alcohol’s effects wear off, however, and this leaves the brain without such sensations.
The more it is consumed, an individual feels a gradually stronger demand for drunkenness, increasing their consumption.
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning its consumption can lower mental health over time. Regular and excessive drinking, therefore, decreases an individual’s sober well-being, further incentivising them to drink.
As an individual succumbs to these demands, their brain begins to develop an association between alcohol and feeling well. This association only deepens the more it is reinforced, until an individual craves alcohol on a daily basis in order to function.
Identifying the problem: 10 warnings signs
Identifying alcoholism is a lot trickier than defining it. As mentioned above, drinking is such a common activity in modern society, and that makes its abuse something difficult to recognise. But what is the difference between having fun and an alcohol use disorder?
To help individuals detect alcoholism, there are 10 warning signs that can be looked out for.
1: Being deceptive about your alcohol use
Those who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol tend to behave secretively when it comes to disclosing it to others. They lie about how much or how often they drink and try to cover it up as much as possible.
This can take the form of hiding alcohol stashes, throwing away receipts for alcohol, or telling friends who have participated in their drinking to keep it a secret.
This stems from a feeling of guilt regarding how much alcohol the individual consumes.
2: Drinking in unusual settings
Those who are addicted to alcohol do not limit their consumption to just times of fun or celebration. They often drink in the morning or during the day, and having alcohol can often be the first thing they do when they wake up.
This inappropriate drinking also spans unusual places.
They will use alcohol in situations where it is prohibited, such as in the workplace or at school, or in public places where drinking is not expected.
3: Alcohol taking over your life
When an alcohol use disorder develops, drinking becomes the centre of an individual’s universe. It takes priority over everything else they care about, and this becomes evident very quickly.
Individuals will lose interest in keeping up their personal appearance, maintaining their hygiene, or paying their necessary bills.
Work and family life can fall by the wayside, leaving them in poverty or unemployment.
4: Losing interest in other aspects of life
Everyone has things they rely on for fun, comfort, and learning, but alcoholism takes these things away too. As well as the necessities of life listed above, becoming addicted to alcohol can pull us away from the things we love in life.
It is common, for example, for those struggling with alcoholism to lose touch with close friends and family members, and abandon previously loved hobbies.
Drinking alcohol becomes their entire conception of fun, and they attempt to enjoy nothing else.
5: Trying and failing to quit
One of the biggest signs of having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol is the inability to stop consuming it.
Those who drink casually can stop at any time, but those with alcoholism will not be able to.
This stems from their brain and body’s constant demand for alcohol. They desire the pleasurable effects of the substance too much to be able to cope without it, and regardless of how much they try, will fail to quit.
6: Ignoring the consequences
Drinking alcohol so much has an immense impact on mental and physical health. Health conditions become more prevalent, and the social and financial implications of only caring about alcohol cannot be ignored either.
However, alcohol use disorders make individuals dismissive of these problems.
In their mind, the only thing that matters is sustaining alcohol intake, so all of the ways that their body, mind, and wider lifestyle are being affected bear no impact on their behaviour.
7: Lack of control over drinking
During a drinking session, it is all too common for those struggling with alcoholism to lose control over alcohol use.
Binge drinking is what usually occurs, with excessive quantities being consumed in short periods of time.
Often, this occurs without the individual intending to drink so much. One glass of alcohol becomes two, and they quickly lose track until they have completely overdone it.
8: Obsessing over alcohol
Alcohol is not just on an addicted individual’s mind when they are drinking it. It dominates their mind at all times, and there are some key signs which indicate when this kind of obsessive behaviour is present.
They always talk about alcohol, how they are going to attain it, and how excited they are to have it.
Conversations at work or school can frequently turn to alcohol, and jokes about drinking can become too common to ignore.
9: High alcohol tolerance
Everyone has a different tolerance to alcohol, and there are several factors which affect this. Body mass, age, sex etc.
Consuming high amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, however, is the factor which will most evidently boost tolerance.
Those who struggle with alcoholism will often be able to drink much more than others in order to feel the effects of drunkenness. Most importantly, the extent of their tolerance can indicate just how long an individual has been drinking excessively.
10: Experiencing alcohol withdrawal
Experiencing withdrawal is normal when the body has become physically dependent on any kind of addictive substance. It indicates that the body has become so used to alcohol that it cannot cope without it.
Alcohol withdrawal, as expanded on below, is one of the most dangerous forms of the experience.
Symptoms indicate that alcoholism has started to change an individual on a physical level, and they are by far the most dangerous form of warning sign.
Alcohol withdrawal: what is it?
Alcohol withdrawal works in the same way as that pertaining to other substances. When an individual has become physically dependent on it, a sudden lack of access provokes a range of uncomfortable symptoms.
However, it must be noted that alcohol withdrawal is particularly dangerous.
Its symptoms can be lethal if not managed appropriately, so understanding its symptoms is incredibly important.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be both subtle and life-changing.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Profuse sweating
- Intense anxiety
- Disorientation and confusion
- Mood swings and a short fuse
- Intense depressive episodes
- High body temperature
- Sensory hallucinations
- Delirium Tremens, a condition which can trigger sudden death
- High blood pressure
How the CAGE questionnaire can also help
If you are concerned about your own alcohol usage, it can be difficult to identify the warning signs listed above. Looking at our own behaviour in an objective way can be near impossible, so what other techniques are at your disposal?
An effective option is the CAGE questionnaire.
It is an acronym which facilitates the identification of alcoholism warning signs by encouraging individuals to ask themselves the following four questions:
- Have I ever wanted to cut down on my drinking?
- Have I ever gotten annoyed with someone’s comments about my drinking?
- Have I ever felt guilty about my drinking?
- Have I ever drunk alcohol in order to wake myself up in the morning, or as an eye-opener?
CAGE is designed to help cut through the difficulties of assessing your own behaviour and identify traits that are found in those who are addicted to alcohol.
What dangers come along with alcoholism?
Identifying the warning signs of alcohol is the only way to limit the damage that can be inflicted on an individual’s life.
Consuming high quantities of alcohol can be disastrous for physical and mental health, and the possible dangers include :
- Decreased organ functionality, potentially leading to heart and/or liver disease
- Digestive complications
- Increased risk of stroke
- Weakened immune system, increasing the frequency of illness
- Declined cognitive capacities, potentially leading to the development of dementia
- Decreased mental health, with more regular and powerful spells of anxiety and depression
- Unemployment, financial ruin, and homelessness
- Increased risk of cancer in various parts of the body, including mouth, throat, colon, and liver
Who is at risk of developing alcoholism?
Alcoholism does not occur in everyone who drinks. This much is obvious, but what makes certain individuals more likely to become dependent on alcohol than others? There are several risk factors that can play a part.
Genetics and ancestry
Our biological make-up strongly influences how our bodies and brains interact with alcohol.
Genes can influence dopamine production in the brain when exposed to alcohol, how likely we are to develop a dependency, and how withdrawal is experienced.
Research indicates that those who have a direct family member with an addiction to alcohol are more likely to develop one themselves .
Upbringing and homelife
Our ideas surrounding acceptable alcohol consumption develop during our upbringing.
If we grow up in a household where alcohol is consumed regularly, spoken about without its associated risks being acknowledged, and is widely available, we are more likely to drink.
Home life can also be influenced by wider culture. If drinking alcohol is something celebrated or encouraged as part of day-to-day life, an individual will be more inclined to drink without taking precautions.
Drinking alcohol prompts feelings of euphoria in the short term. As a result, those who crave these effects are more likely to develop a demand for alcohol.
Those with mental health problems, therefore, are more at risk.
Those with anxiety, for example, will drink to feel relaxed. When they become sober again, their symptoms will come back even stronger, motivating them to drink again and with more intensity.
Lifestyle and social network
High levels of stress are known to incentivise alcohol consumption. If an individual has an intense job or family life, they will be more likely to drink on a frequent or excessive basis.
Alternatively, someone who partakes in binge drinking with friends or as a part of work socials can find their tolerance to it increasing.
As this happens, they will need to consume more in order to get drunk, leaving their body vulnerable to dependency.
How can alcoholism be treated?
In order to combat the grip that alcohol addiction can develop on an individual’s life, they will need to work through alcohol rehab. This is a programme of treatment that incorporates a number of stages which target different aspects of the condition.
To help the body overcome its overwhelming desire for alcohol, detox seeks to gradually reduce consumption until the substance no longer has such a strong presence within the body.
This process is conducted under medical supervision and with patience.
Alcohol withdrawal is particularly dangerous, and so the detox process is aided by the ability of health professionals to prescribe medications to reduce harmful and uncomfortable symptoms.
When an individual has completed detox and become physically independent from alcohol, the focus of rehab turns to their mind and patterns of thinking.
In therapy, individuals work to identify why they think and believe alcohol use is necessary for their lives.
A range of triggers is considered at this stage of rehab. Thoughts, emotions, familial relationships, work-life balance, trauma, mental health conditions – all of these factors can be looked at to identify and relieve an individual’s motivations to drink as heavily as they do.
Alcohol relapse prevention
With the mind and body detached from alcohol as a means of normal living, rehab focuses on the future.
How can the progress of treatment be protected and prolonged?
A variety of techniques and skills are discussed and practised, the majority of which tend to target triggers that exist in an individual’s life and how they might be able to reduce their influence on behaviour.
I suspect a loved one is struggling
Spotting the warning signs of alcoholism is a really important part of helping a loved one, but what are you to do next? How can you help them get the treatment they need?
There are several options you have available. A one-on-one chat can be helpful, in which you gently enquire as to whether they are aware of how much they are drinking and whether they need any help or support.
Denial, however, is very common in those with alcohol use disorders , and so a one-to-one discussion may not be effective. In these instances, you might want to consider conducting an intervention.
During these events, family and friends meet to address the alcoholism directly with the individual.
Everyone speaks about the impact that they believe the drinking is having, and an individual is supported and encouraged to seek help and face their problem.
I might be an alcoholic: what should I do?
If you think you have identified some of the warning signs of alcoholism in your own behaviour, it can be a very distressing situation to be in. You might be scared, angry, or just confused, but there are ways you can help yourself.
A big step you can take is to get in touch with us at OK Rehab on 0800 326 5559.
Our team can help talk you through treatment options, answer your questions, and help you along the way to regaining sobriety and improving your quality of life.
Don’t hesitate, and start your road to recovery today and give us a call!