Alcoholism Signs and Symptoms
“I am an alcoholic.” It’s a simple and profound statement that people may repeat each time they attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Over time, they might become accustomed to making such a statement. You, on the other hand, might never have expected to utter this statement yourself. That may not mean that alcoholism isn’t playing a role in your life. Perhaps you have the symptoms of alcoholism, but you just haven’t been able to see them clearly. If so, you’re not alone.
Alcoholism affects thousands of people across the globe, and even though the disorder is common, many people who are alcoholics don’t see the disease at work in their own lives. For example, a study in The Korean Academy of Family Medicine found that 38.8 percent of people in treatment for alcoholism had poor insight into the severity of their disease. It’s possible these people entered treatment only because others asked them to do so, not because they felt, in their hearts, that they had a problem.
Understanding that you do have a problem with alcohol isn’t a requirement in order for you to improve. In treatment, you’ll learn more about addiction and this can make you more aware of how the disease operates in your own life. Even people who don’t admit that they are alcoholics when they enter treatment often fully admit their addictions when treatment ends. But, the signs outlined here might help you begin to think about whether or not you have an addiction issue. This might encourage you to enter an exclusive residential treatment program.
How Much Is Too Much?
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase your chances of becoming dependent. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you might be at risk for alcoholism if you drink five or more drinks per occasion at least once per week. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
A Question of Control
Addiction is defined by compulsive use. People who are addicted are no longer in control of their consumption. Instead, they are driven to fulfill their addictions, no matter the consequences. It might sound as though an addiction is easy to spot, but in reality, an addiction to alcohol can slide underneath the radar for months or even years. Alcohol is an accepted part of so many social situations, and for some, alcohol is a part of daily life. It’s easy for people with alcoholism to convince themselves that their alcohol consumption falls within the realm of normal and isn’t cause for concern.
While you might try to convince yourself that a compulsion to use alcohol doesn’t exist, there are some compulsive behaviors that might be harder to hide. You might compulsively use alcohol if you:
- Are unable to limit the amount you drink
- Create rituals regarding alcohol use, and become annoyed when those rituals can’t be met
- Gulp down your drinks
- Drink before going to parties or dinners
- Try to get “extra” drinks at social engagements
Consequences of Drinking
Alcoholism is sometimes considered a “soft” addiction that isn’t quite so serious as an addiction to hard drugs like heroin. Don’t be fooled. Addictions to alcohol can be just as deadly as addictions to heroin or other hard drugs. For example, the Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham struggled with alcoholism for years, moving from a placid and easygoing personality while sober to an upset, raving man while drunk. After drinking an amazing 40 shots in four hours, the drummer died due to asphyxiation. He was only 30 years old.
Source: This Day in Music
Developing a Tolerance
When you drink, you might feel completely restored to normal just a few hours after your alcoholic binges end. The alcohol might still be at work in your body, however, and your body may come to rely on the effects of the alcohol. When the alcohol wears off, you might develop symptoms of withdrawal such as shaking hands, sweating or even hallucinations. In order to keep these symptoms under control, you might develop habits such as:
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Waking up in the middle of the night for a drink
- Stashing alcohol around your home, so you always have a drink nearby
- Drinking large amounts of alcohol very quickly
If you are dependent on alcohol like this, you might be physically unable to stop drinking on your own. Some people who are physically dependent on alcohol who try to stop drinking develop strange hallucinations, hearing noises and seeing colors that aren’t truly there. They might also develop seizures, and these can be life threatening. If you’re physically dependent on alcohol, you’ll need medical supervision to stop drinking safely.
A Story of Recovery
“I started drinking when I was in college. It just seemed like something everyone was doing, and I had a lot of fun getting drunk at parties. When college was over, I kept on drinking. I drank beer every night after work, often waking up on the couch in the morning and not remembering what had happened the night before. Then I stopped going to work altogether, so I could stay home and drink some more. Admitting I had a problem was tough, but when I went into treatment, I found out about how to control my drinking and my life is so much better now. I just got married, I have a new job and I’ve been sober for two years and counting.” – Liam
An Alcoholism Test
The Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test was designed to help medical professionals quickly diagnose alcoholism in their patients. According to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the test is remarkably sensitive. In this study, of the 128 patients likely to have a diagnosis of alcoholism, the test missed only two. It might be helpful for you to answer a few of the questions on this test:
- Have you ever blacked out or forgotten what happened while you were drunk?
- Has anyone else talked to you about your drinking?
- Do you find it hard to stop drinking after one or two drinks?
- Do you feel guilty about drinking?
- Have you become violent while drunk?
- Does your drinking cause relationship problems?
- Have you lost a job or been arrested due to drinking?
- Do you drink before noon?
- Do you shake when you’re not drinking?
- Have you ever been hospitalized due to drinking?
- Have you ever neglected your obligations for more than two days due to drinking?
The more times you can answer “yes” to questions like this, the more likely it is that you’ve developed alcoholism.
Destructive Alcohol Use
As your addiction grows, there may be very few times during the day when you are not drunk. As a result, you might begin to engage in behaviors that could jeopardize your safety or the safety of others. For example, you might choose to drive while under the influence of alcohol. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, being arrested for drunk driving substantially increased the risk of dying in an alcohol-related crash. Drinking and driving can be deadly. If you find that you cannot control your drinking and you’re compelled to drive while drunk, it’s time to get help for your addiction.
Your drinking might also land you in legal trouble. Some people engage in violent behavior while under the influence, getting in fights with strangers or even screaming at the police who intervene in such a fight. These incidents can be extremely damaging, especially in the age of mass communication where an arrest for drunk driving can result in your mug shot being plastered across the Internet, along with your name and date of birth. An arrest like this could cost you your job.
The Role of Genetics
While no specific gene has been tied to an increased risk of alcoholism, it is known that the disorder tends to run in families. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), children of alcoholics are about four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves, compared to children who did not grow up with alcoholics. If you grew up in an alcoholic household, it might be even more difficult for you to identify your own alcoholism, as it’s likely you grew up with people who had poor habits surrounding alcohol, and you probably watched those habits each day and have come to believe that they are normal.
These are dire consequences, to be sure, but they should also serve as red flags. Each time you place yourself in a risky situation due to your addiction, you should ask yourself if this is something you would have done had you not developed an addiction to alcohol. If your drinking is causing you to behave in ways you would have never thought were acceptable in the past, this should serve as a wakeup call for you.
Learn to Say “No, Thanks”
When you’re offered an alcoholic beverage, you’ll need to learn to say, “no.” It’s harder than you might think. Provide a halfhearted response, and the other person might pressure you to accept. Be too firm and you might lose a friendship. The NIAAA offers these steps to help you navigate this challenge. When you’re offered a drink:
- Respond immediately.
- Look the person in the eye.
- Respond with a short sentence such as, “No, thanks.”
- If this doesn’t stop the request, follow up with more information, such as, “I’m trying to cut back” or “My doctor told me that alcohol isn’t great for my health right now.”
Consider bringing your own nonalcoholic beverages to the party, so you can hold a drink in your hands at all times and deflect the question before it arises.
Why Can’t I Stop?
If you’re an alcoholic, it’s likely that you’ve tried to stop drinking before. You might have been able to maintain your sobriety for a few weeks before you relapsed to drinking again. It can be difficult to even think about never drinking again when you can’t even seem to get through the month without drinking. Thankfully, you don’t have to recover from alcoholism on your own. In a therapy program, you’ll work with a licensed counselor who knows all about how alcoholism develops, and how it can best be treated. You’ll be given lessons in alcoholism, and you’ll have the chance to learn new skills and practice them on other people recovering from alcoholism. You’ll grow stronger and stronger and soon, you won’t feel compelled to use alcohol in quite the same way. While your addiction might never be cured, and it’s certain you’ll never be able to drink again, therapy can help you to control your drinking and ensure that it doesn’t ruin your life.
Call today to learn how to get into an alcoholism treatment program that can help.