In the US, drinking is often a part of everyday life. From cocktails after work to beers at a baseball game, alcohol is present at the majority of social activities. As a result, it can be hard to differentiate where acceptable, social drinking crosses over into alcohol abuse.
There are, however, signs that individuals and loved ones can look for if they are wondering if alcohol abuse issues may be developing. Whether you are wondering if your drinking has gotten out of control, or if a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, look for these signs. If they are present, it may be time to take action before addiction takes hold.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Generally, alcohol abuse is the first step on the path to an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol abuse often occurs when a person is drinking heavily and regularly engaging in binge drinking sessions. Binge drinking is defined as a man drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour time period, or a woman drinking four or more drinks in the same period of time.
If a person continues to abuse alcohol regularly, dependence can develop. This means the person is physically dependent on alcohol and will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms once alcohol levels in the blood are lowered. Once physical dependence is present, a person should not attempt to stop drinking on their own without professional help, due to the possibility of developing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Common signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Becoming violent when drinking
- Drinking despite harm to various areas of life, including one’s career, relationships, and health
- Preferring to drink alone
- An inability to control how much alcohol is consumed
- Acting hostile when questioned about drinking
- An inability to reduce alcohol intake despite a desire to do so
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Finding excuses to drink
- Missing school or work due to drinking or a hangover
- Decreased performance at school or work
- Neglecting nutritional needs
- Hiding alcohol use or lying about drinking
- Ignoring personal hygiene
Once an alcohol use disorder and the accompanying physical dependence have taken hold, the following symptoms may be present:
- Alcohol-related illnesses, such as liver disease
- Issues with short-term and long-term memory
- Withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
Ask yourself the following questions about your drinking:
- Do you ever feel guilty for drinking in inappropriate situations?
- Do you ever drink after you have promised yourself that you wouldn’t?
- Have you ever lied about drinking?
- Do you ever drink in an effort to feel better about yourself?
- Do you often drink more than you intended, especially after promising yourself you would have “just one”?
- Do you regularly miss out on work or social commitments due to a hangover?
- Do you not remember things due to “blacking out” while drunk?
- Do you drink in situations where it is unsafe to do so?
- Have you ever driven after drinking?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you may be struggling with alcohol abuse issues.
When Is It Time to Get Help?
If you, or a loved one, are struggling with alcohol abuse issues, it’s important to get help as soon as possible, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. You don’t need to wait for an alcohol use disorder to fully develop. Oftentimes, treatment will be more effective when it is sought early, and this means getting help as soon as alcohol abuse becomes apparent.
Treatment may consist of a 12-Step program, partial hospitalization, outpatient therapy, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), or even residential treatment. Ultimately, the best treatment approach will differ from person to person. What is right for one person may not be the best choice for someone else.
The goal of treatment for alcohol use disorders is generally total abstinence from drinking. According to WebMD, about 50-60 percent of individuals are still abstinent one year after entering treatment. Since addiction is a chronic disorder, there is no cure, but it can be effectively managed on a long-term basis.
The key is to reach out for help. Alcohol abuse can be effectively treated before addiction develops. With customized care, you can learn to stop drinking before the effects of alcohol abuse are felt throughout your entire life.