Alcoholism Symptoms and Signs
Alcoholic drinks can loosen your inhibitions and help you to relax. This may help to explain why alcohol is commonly served at dinner parties and in other social situations. The alcohol works as a social lubricant, easing friction and helping people to feel charming and conversational. Some people even use alcohol at home, as a reward for enduring a long day. These people may look forward to their nightly cocktail, and they won’t feel complete without it. As Dean Martin famously said, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. They wake up in the morning and that’s the best they’re going to feel all day.”
While alcohol use may be common, and drinking alcohol might even be pleasant for some people, it’s no secret that alcohol use can quickly become alcohol abuse. One tasty drink before dinner can become six or even eight drinks, and that alcohol abuse could even develop into alcoholism, or compulsive use of alcohol. Understanding what alcohol abuse looks like might help you to control your intake, and keep these serious problems from developing.
What Counts as a Drink?
Articles outlining alcohol use and abuse often contain information about how many drinks are considered “safe” for adults within a specific time period. This information is only helpful if you have a clear picture of what is defined as one drink. The answers might surprise you, as some bars serve drinks that are, by these definitions, two drinks housed in one glass. One drink is defined as:
- 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
Use, Abuse and Addiction
Since alcohol use is nearly universal among adults, it can be difficult to determine when simply drinking alcohol morphs into abusing alcohol. Unlike drug addiction, in which even dabbling in drugs is considered taboo and the first step toward addiction, drinking alcohol is considered socially acceptable, and as a result, abuse is harder to spot. In general, according to the Mayo Clinic, people who abuse alcohol tend to answer “yes” to the following questions:
Signs of alcohol abuse:
- If you’re a man, do you drink more than five drinks in a day?
- If you’re a woman, do you drink more than four drinks in a day?
- Do you feel guilty about how much you drink?
- Do you think you should cut back on how much you drink?
- Do other people tell you that you should cut back on your drinking? Does that bother you?
Notice that very few of these questions discuss compulsive use of alcohol. Instead, these questions revolve around how much alcohol you use, and how you feel about the amount of alcohol you use. These questions define alcohol abuse.
People who have alcoholism may also answer “yes” to these questions, but they might also describe their drinking as compulsive. They have a need to drink alcohol, no matter the consequences. As a result, these people may be unable to stop drinking, no matter how hard they might try to do so. The CAGE Questionnaire, outlined in the sidebar, might best be used to diagnose alcoholism.
The CAGE Questionnaire
There are some laboratory tests doctors can run to determine how much their patients drink, and how much damage has been done to their bodies as a result of that drinking. Interestingly, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, these lab tests weren’t as helpful in diagnosing alcoholism as was a series of four questions known as the CAGE Questionnaire. The questions are as follows:
- Have you tried to Cut back on your drinking?
- Are you Annoyed when people talk to you about your drinking?
- Do you feel Guilty about your drinking habits?
- Do you use alcohol as an Eye opener?
Consequences of Abuse
As you’re reading through this article, you might believe that you can honestly answer “no” to the various questions listed above. This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re completely free of alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse can be hard for you to spot in your own life, especially if you’re surrounded by other people who drink heavily on a regular basis. Drinking heavily might be something you either do or see every day, and as a result, it might not seem harmful or dangerous to you. Sometimes, people who abuse alcohol are unable to truly see their alcohol abuse until they look at how their behavior impacts the rest of their lives.
Alcohol abuse might be an issue for you if you have:
- Been unable to meet your obligations at work or at school due to alcohol
- Driven a car or operated machinery while you were under the influence
- Assaulted someone while intoxicated
- Been arrested for drunken behavior
- Continued to drink even when it’s caused problems in your relationships
If you’ve struggled with even one of these alcohol-related consequences, alcohol abuse might be a serious problem in your life, and it’s time to get serious about finding a solution. By cutting back on your alcohol intake, and keeping a tight grip on the way you use alcohol in your life, you can stop the problem in its tracks.
Some people who abuse alcohol do so by binge drinking, or taking in excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time in order to bring about a state of intoxication. Binge drinking is serious, and it can cause a variety of problems. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who binge drink are 14 times more likely to report driving under the influence than are people who don’t binge drink. People who binge drink may also get in fights with others, and they may fall or injure themselves while drunk. If you find you cannot control the amount you consume when you drink, binge drinking may be an issue for you.
People who are addicted to alcohol and who continue to drink no matter the consequences may be unable to stop drinking on their own. If you’ve tried to stop drinking in the past and quickly returned to compulsive use, you may find that an addiction program may provide you with the help you’ll need to curb your intake and return to a more healthful way of life. You might need to stop drinking altogether in order to reach that goal.
If you’re abusing alcohol, on the other hand, and your intake is not yet considered compulsive, you might be able to curb your use. By reducing the amount that you drink, you might be able to prevent some of the serious consequences of alcohol abuse from ever impacting your life. These tips from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) may help:
- Sip your drinks slowly, and take a one-hour break between drinks. Sip water or juice during your breaks.
- Don’t drink at all for one or two days each week.
- Don’t keep alcoholic drinks in your home, to help cut back on temptation.
- Never drink when tired or upset. Using alcohol to cope might quickly turn into an addiction.
If you’d like assistance finding a therapist or treatment program whether private residential or outpatient rehab, contact us at the number above. We can help you get treatment before your situation worsens.
Alcohol Abuse and Teens
Since alcohol is so easy to obtain, it’s a common target for teens who want to experiment with substance use and abuse. Some parents may even encourage their children to drink alcohol, as they hope their kids will stick with drinking instead of moving on to abuse drugs like marijuana or cocaine. Unfortunately, parents who encourage teen drinking may be encouraging later alcoholism. According to a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse, 11 percent of teens who started drinking when they were 16 and younger developed alcohol abuse issues, compared to 4 percent of those who started drinking at 20 or older. The earlier kids start drinking, the more likely they will develop addiction issues. That’s why it’s best to prevent all teens from drinking.