Do I Have an Alcohol Problem – the Signs, Support and Next Steps

Trying to figure out if you have a problem with alcohol can be very difficult. How are you supposed to know whether you are addicted?

Alcohol abuse affects millions of people around the world [1], and is extremely dangerous. Getting the right help and treatment is of vital importance, but what do you do if you are unsure of whether you are in need of help?

Understanding alcoholism is a vital part of helping yourself. If you have concerns, it is important to recognise the signs and learn what treatment options are available to you.

The signs of alcoholism

To determine whether you have an alcohol problem, you should identify whether you exhibit any of the following behaviours.

It can be difficult to spot trends in your own behaviour, so it may be helpful to ask a family member or close friend if they have noticed any of the following traits.

1. Getting drunk often

If you are drinking regularly, this might be one of the more obvious signs of alcohol abuse. Frequent use of a substance is the biggest sign of addiction, but it can be hard to recognise in your own behaviour.

Drinking several times a week, or possibly every day, is a sign that you are dependent on the substance. It is also often the case that addicted individuals are drunk in situations where it is unusual or unacceptable to be so.

If you are frequently drunk at work, school, in public places, or casual gatherings, it could be a warning sign that your relationship with alcohol is not healthy.

2. Not being able to say no

If given the opportunity to drink, how likely are you to say no?

Those who are addicted to alcohol are often unable to resist the temptation to drink, even when it is having a negative effect on their mental or physical wellbeing.

Due to the dependence the brain has developed, an individual will constantly seek to consume it, regardless of the consequences. It becomes everything they think about.

If you are concerned about alcohol, think about whether you are able to decline an opportunity to drink. If it is causing health problems or damaging your relationships, are you able to say no?

3. Increasing alcohol consumption

As an alcohol addiction unfolds, an individual’s resistance to it builds. As they drink more and more, it takes ever increasing amounts to create the same pleasant feeling as when they first started.

Healthy and balanced consumption of alcohol does not result in this, so it could be a sign of addiction if you find that you are having to drink more on each occasion in order to feel the beneficial effects.

If you are unsure, try to take note of how much you used to drink. How does that compare to today? Or how does that compare to the last time you drank? If you have an alcohol problem, it will likely have increased.

4. Acting in a secretive way

Those with an alcohol addiction are often very good at hiding it. It is a very stigmatised condition [2], and those who it affects are regularly capable of keeping it from others.

To assess your own behaviour, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do I lie to others about how much I drink?
  • Do I pretend I am going somewhere else when I drink?
  • Do I hide alcohol in my home or at work?
  • Do I blame being hungover on something else?

5. Poor mental and physical health

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it can worsen an individual’s general mood and mental health over time. Often, addicted individuals drink to ease these effects, and so go around in a cycle of harmful behaviour.

It is also common for prolonged alcohol use to exacerbate the effects of pre-existing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

If you find that your mood, worldview, or general attitude is declining, and you drink regularly, they could be linked.

Also, it is problematic if you find that your alcohol use is causing you to experience physical health complications.

Alcohol is known to weaken interior organs and your immune system, so if you find that you are becoming more unwell or fatigued, your alcohol use could be to blame.

Getting the right support

Once you have identified whether you exhibit some of the behaviours associated with addiction, you need to know what options lie ahead for treatment.

For alcohol abuse, it is important to speak to your GP or a specialised organisation to discuss what options are available and what would be most suitable for your circumstances.

The condition is dangerous, and if you feel like you are struggling, you need to seek help.

1. Helping the body

Prolonged alcohol abuse changes the chemistry of the brain, so much so that it can become dependent on the presence of alcohol to function.

A large part of treatment looks to help the body shake this reliance and become independent again. A popular process of doing this is known as Detoxification.

This method involves an individual stopping their use of alcohol with the careful attention and support of trained medical professionals.

The objective is to ween the body from its dependence on alcohol, help the individual resist challenging withdrawal symptoms, and re-establish a healthy body chemistry.

Without the proper guidance, this process can be very dangerous. Suddenly stopping alcohol use can cause the body to react adversely, so it is important to speak to your GP before attempting to detox yourself.

2. Helping the mind

Alcohol treatment equally looks to help improve an individual’s thought processes and behaviours. This is commonly done through Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT).

In CBT, an individual works with a therapist or group to recognise the thoughts, feelings and situations that provoke them to abuse alcohol. These triggers are then discussed and worked through, and alternative ways of reacting are practised.

This treatment looks to help individuals break the association they have with alcohol and pleasure, and learn healthier ways of handling stressful or emotionally painful situations.

What comes next?

What many misunderstand about addiction is that the journey does not end after recovery. An individual is in a much better position than they were at this point, but they are not completely okay.

After treatment, there is another important stage: aftercare.

An individual needs to maintain and build upon the progress they have made during treatment in order to avoid being vulnerable to relapse.

What does aftercare involve?

When an individual is done with their treatment, they are tasked with returning to the world. This can be incredibly hard, and the stresses and triggers of their day-to-day lives can cause them to slip back into old habits.

Aftercare’s role is to keep them focussed on their progress, building upon what they learned and helping them keep on top of their addiction.

Unlike treatment, the activities involved are integrated into an individual’s schedule, allowing them to keep up with them whilst carrying on with their lives.

Such activities might include:

  • Counselling – continuing to discuss and work through negative emotions that influence behaviour.
  • Group therapy – meeting regularly with a group of people with similar problems to talk and support one another.
  • Keeping a diary – taking note of emotions and keeping track of how mood and behaviour fluctuates over time.

Away from the support of medical professionals, these activities look to maintain an individual’s control over their addiction, and keep them from falling vulnerable to relapse.

The longer aftercare is upkept, the more effective it will be [3], so sustained dedication is needed to remain healthy and keep the dangers of addiction at a safe and manageable distance.