Alcohol consumption is fairly common in the United States. According to a report from the CDC, over half of U.S. adults drink alcohol within a given month, and 16% are binge drinkers, meaning they consume five or more drinks in one sitting for men or four or more for women.
People may think that alcohol consumption is harmless, but the truth is that binge drinking increases the risk of developing an alcohol addiction, which comes with numerous consequences. Since drinking is so widespread, it may be difficult to determine when someone has an alcohol addiction. Knowing the signs of alcoholism can help.
What Is Alcoholism?
When people use the term “alcoholism,” they are typically describing an alcohol addiction. In the professional treatment world, the clinical term for alcoholism or alcohol addiction is alcohol use disorder. While binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse or “problem drinking,” not all binge drinkers necessarily have an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorder develops when a person continues to drink alcohol even when they experience serious consequences, such as problems at work or in key relationships. Someone with an alcohol use disorder will also lose control over their drinking, so they may display symptoms like strong alcohol cravings and an inability to cut back on drinking, even when they want to.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 15 million Americans age 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder as of 2019 — 5.3% of the population in this age group.
Alcoholism Risk Factors
Some people may be at greater risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, which is why some can drink in moderation, while others struggle with drinking. These risk factors can include:
- Gender: 6.8% of men have an alcohol abuse disorder, compared to 3.9% of women.
- Genetics: Alcohol addiction seems to run in families. Children who have a parent with an alcohol use disorder are two to six times more likely to develop their own problems with alcohol.
- Having a mental health condition: Mental health conditions, including depression, personality disorders and schizophrenia, are common among alcoholics. Scientists believe that neurological issues linked to mood instability and poor impulse control can also increase the risk of alcoholism.
Signs of an Alcoholic
Once someone develops an alcohol use disorder, they are likely to demonstrate several symptoms. While each person’s experience with alcoholism may be unique, there are some common signs of alcoholism based upon the diagnostic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
You cannot control your drinking
Loss of control over drinking is one of the key signs of alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder. When someone develops a clinical alcohol addiction, they will be unable to stop drinking or cut back on alcohol use. They may also drink larger quantities of alcohol than intended. For instance, an alcoholic may say they will only have one drink but end up drinking ten.
Your life has become unmanageable
Alcohol addiction is a chronic condition that results in a compulsion to drink, which can make life more difficult. You may not be able to manage responsibilities, such as keeping on top of your tasks at work or caring for your family.
You try to hide your drinking
You may feel the need to hide your drinking to avoid upsetting loved ones. For example, if your drinking angers your spouse, you may attempt to drink privately or lie about your drinking so they do not find out about it.
You rely on alcohol
When someone develops an addiction, they are likely to become physically dependent upon the substance. This means the body experiences uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when sober. In the case of alcohol addiction, you may rely on alcohol to get you through the day to avoid unpleasant withdrawal side effects.
You drink in the morning or when you’re alone
For someone who lives with alcoholism, drinking isn’t just a social activity you do at night. Because the body has become dependent on alcohol, individuals with a severe alcohol use disorder may drink first thing in the morning to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms or drink alone because of the strong urge to consume alcohol.
You’re facing legal consequences as a result of drinking
If you have developed an alcohol use disorder, you may continue to drink even if it results in repeated arrests for offenses like public intoxication or drunk driving. While legal problems may deter someone who isn’t addicted, when alcohol abuse rises to the level of an addiction, it is difficult to stop despite most consequences.
You blackout or forget things you did when drinking
Drinking to the point of blacking out is hazardous, especially because it may place you in dangerous situations that you do not even remember the next day. If you continue to drink alcohol knowing you may black out, it’s a sign of an addiction.
You experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking
If you stop drinking, you may notice alcohol withdrawal symptoms like tremors, sleep problems, sweating, nausea, vomiting, fever and restlessness appear within a few hours. In more severe cases, you may have serious withdrawal side effects, such as seizures and hallucinations. In rare instances, patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal can experience a potentially fatal condition called delirium tremens.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Beyond a life-threatening addiction, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a number of health problems:
- Cirrhosis of the liver and other alcohol-related liver diseases
- Stomach bleeding
- Heart disease
- Injuries from violence, falling and motor vehicle accidents
- Risk of drowning
- Difficulty managing chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure
- Problems with memory and attention
- Nutritional deficiencies that can lead to a serious disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which leads to severe memory problems and in some instances, psychosis
If you or someone you know is living with alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder, it is important to seek treatment. Alcoholism is a chronic medical condition, and just like any other health problem, people need treatment to get better. Given that alcohol withdrawal is potentially fatal, it is important to begin alcohol addiction treatment with a professional detox program that keeps patients as safe and as comfortable as possible as the body rids itself of alcohol. Medical detox can provide support and medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms and decrease the likelihood of serious complications from seizures or delirium tremens.
Following a detox program for alcohol, it is important that you continue your treatment with either inpatient or outpatient treatment. An inpatient treatment program is often the first step after detox for patients who have a severe alcohol addiction and complicating factors, like a poor living environment. During inpatient care, patients live onsite at a rehab facility and participate in a variety of interventions, including individual and group counseling.
After completing an inpatient program, many individuals with an alcohol use disorder will transition to outpatient care to continue their treatment. While in outpatient treatment, patients continue to attend individual and group counseling appointments at a treatment center, but they live in the community and return home after appointments. Some patients may begin with outpatient care after detox, but each treatment plan will vary based upon a person’s unique needs.
For those seeking alcohol addiction treatment in New Jersey, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper serves the state of New Jersey and the greater Philadelphia area. We offer a full continuum of care for alcohol use disorders, including detox as well as inpatient and outpatient care. Call us today to get started.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.