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Alcohol abuse is no laughing matter. At least 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, a statistic that accounts for more than 5% of the country.
Millions of others may have an alcohol use disorder and just don’t know about it. Many people ask themselves, “Am I an alcoholic?” To answer that question, you have to answer a few others.
What are the most prominent signs of alcoholism? How can alcoholism affect your job performance and personal life? What are some medical conditions associated with alcohol abuse?
Get the facts and you can start your recovery from alcohol abuse. Here is your comprehensive guide.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
A medical condition known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) refers to one’s inability to stop or control his or her alcohol consumption, despite negative social, occupational, or health consequences. In some contexts, it refers to alcohol abuse, alcohol dependency, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism, which is a colloquial term.
The severity of AUD can range from mild to severe. Alcohol misuse results in long-term changes in the brain that perpetuate AUD and make individuals more prone to relapse.
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Signs and Symptoms
Cravings for Alcohol
One of the most common signs of a drinking problem is a craving for alcohol. You may be able to go a couple of days without drinking, but you may experience a longing to drink. Your thoughts may wander and you may start fantasizing about drinking again.
You may have a craving throughout the day to drink alcohol. You may tell yourself that as soon as you get home, you’ll have your first drink of the day. You also may find an excuse to drink before you go home, like celebrating a friend’s accomplishment.
Even after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, you may not feel relief from your cravings. You may want to continue drinking, and you may only stop when you are cut off from alcohol.
Try getting help for your cravings, even if you have no other symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you reduce your cravings by replacing your negative thoughts with positive ones.
Drinking in the Morning
Your cravings may not last a few hours. You may wake up and pour yourself an alcoholic drink to start the day.
Some people rationalize their drinking by saying they are having a “hair of the dog” drink. They may say that they are having a small drink to lessen the effects of a hangover. In reality, drinking a beverage in the morning after a night of heavy drinking will only increase your dependency.
Extreme Consumption of Alcohol
Heavy drinking occurs when a man drinks more than 14 beverages a week and when a woman drinks more than seven. Heavy drinking also occurs when a man has more than four drinks on any day and a woman has more than three.
Binge drinking occurs when someone drinks heavily on five or more days in a month. It can also occur when someone drinks enough alcohol that their blood alcohol concentration exceeds .08%. Some people with weaker metabolisms or smaller bodies may exceed .08% in two or three drinks.
You have an alcohol problem even if you only drink heavily on one day in a month. You should never drink to excess or use alcohol as a way to make friends.
One drink counts as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. Light beers still contain significant amounts of alcohol, so you should limit your consumption of them.
You may develop a tolerance to alcohol. You may need to drink heavy amounts in order to get drunk or feel any effects of alcohol. This is a standard sign of alcohol abuse.
Inability to Control Alcohol Consumption
You may not be drinking heavy amounts of alcohol or binge drinking. But you have a problem with alcohol if you are unable to control your consumption at all. You may experience cravings, or you may not be able to turn down a drink when someone offers it to you.
Some people feel they need to drink in order to feel happy or stay focused at work. Other people continue to drink for no reason they can pinpoint. It does not matter what reason you have for drinking, as long as you cannot control your drinking.
Switching to a different drink does not mean you have control over your alcohol consumption. Wine abuse can have the same health effects as beer abuse.
Loss of Interest in Other Activities
As you continue to drink alcohol, you may lose interest in other activities. You may drink instead of participating in hobbies or hanging out with friends.
You also may lose interest in going to work. You may drink or buy alcohol instead of heading to the office. While you are at work, you may sneak a drink.
Your family is not immune from your behavior. You may turn down family engagements or avoid family meals.
There may be consequences to your lack of interest. You may lose out on a promotion or get fired from your job, especially if you show up to work drunk. Friends and family members may separate themselves from you.
Alcohol consumption can change your behavior in a few different ways. You may drink in private, without letting anyone else know what you are doing. You may sneak away from family events, meetings, or stressful situations so you can drink.
You may decline to speak when someone asks you about your drinking habits. If you watch a movie with a character with an alcohol use disorder, you may leave the room.
You may substitute food for alcohol. You may stop eating, or you may eat poor meals. You may pair all of your meals with alcoholic drinks, even if the flavors don’t complement each other.
Your hygiene may deteriorate. You may stop brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or wearing clothes that match.
Some people can go to work and attend to their responsibilities without any apparent sign that something is wrong. This does not mean that they do not have an alcohol problem. They are just better able than other people to hide their consumption.
Some people engage in risky activities while they are drinking or after they have gotten intoxicated. The most common risky behavior is drinking while intoxicated. You may get into an accident or commit a traffic violation because you are unable to control yourself.
According to the Coast Guard, alcohol use is the single biggest factor in boating accidents. Boaters have crashed into other boats and navigation beacons while drunk. Many boaters have also fallen into the water, causing them to drown or develop hypothermia.
Some people engage in unsafe sex. They may forget to use condoms, which can result in sexually transmitted diseases.
People can perform risky activities so they have the resources to drink. Some people steal money while others gamble with their savings to buy alcoholic drinks. This can cause you to develop a gambling addiction as well.
Feelings of Guilt
You may not be happy that you are drinking alcohol. You may feel like it is affecting your health and ruining your life. You may blame yourself for drinking even though you can’t stop yourself.
You may feel very guilty when you wake up in the morning or after you are done drinking. While you are drinking, you may forget your feelings, which can encourage you to drink more.
Journaling or making art that expresses your emotions can provide temporary relief. You can also get relief by talking to a friend about your feelings. But the only way to resolve your feelings once and for all is to stay in alcohol treatment centers.
If someone talks to you about alcohol treatment, you may become angry. You also may become angry if you have to go several days without drinking alcohol or if someone cuts you off from alcohol.
The irritability may only last a few seconds. Yet you may resort to physical violence or raise your voice in order to get what you want. Small things like your television not working may set your anger off.
Irritability can cause you to get into fights. You may get punched in the face or fall to the floor, which can result in a brain injury.
You may experience irritability not while you are drinking but during the withdrawal process. You may not get angry, but you may be fidgety or unable to focus on certain things. Mindfulness and meditation may help you reduce your irritability, especially during alcohol treatment.
Your irritability may only last a few seconds before you feel another emotion. Some people become suddenly happy, sad, or confused about something.
As with irritability, you may encounter mood swings during periods of withdrawal. Mood swings can cause someone to relapse if they are intense enough and if a person believes alcohol will cure the swings.
Your mood swings may scare or confuse the people around you. They may distance themselves from you so they do not get hurt or become upset.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal is rarely easy, but people dependent on alcohol may find withdrawal very painful. Besides irritability and mood swings, they may encounter physical pain a few hours after they stop drinking.
Your hands and feet may begin to shake, making it hard to hold objects or walk. You may not have any appetite, and when you eat, you may find it hard to hold food down.
Withdrawal can make you feel anxious. You may become paranoid, believing that others are hurting you or out to get you.
Delirium tremens is rare, but it can be deadly. You may become agitated and disoriented, and your heart rate may skyrocket. Some people develop hallucinations and a high fever, which can require hospitalization.
Health Conditions Related to Excessive Alcohol Use
Alcohol abuse can cause more than 200 different health conditions. Your liver processes alcohol for you, but it can start to break down if you drink too much. You may develop scar tissue and fat deposits in your liver.
Alcohol can weaken the muscles in the heart. Over time, this can cause the heart to change shape and pump less blood. You may suffer from heart failure and/or circulation issues.
Alcohol can also damage and inflame your lungs, making them less able to take in oxygen. You can develop alcoholic lung disease or acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Drinks can damage microbes in your throat and suppress your immune response. You may become sick more often with colds and viral infections, and you may develop a chronic cough.
Heavy alcohol consumption caused more than 740,000 new cases of cancer in 2020. In particular, rates of throat, mouth, and esophageal cancer rose. You may also develop cancer in your colon, liver, or rectum.
Binge drinking can damage the brain by changing how brain cells send signals to each other. Brain cells may start to die, which can make it harder for you to remember things or speak. Blood may stop circulating to your brain, leading to dementia.
Not all of these diseases are caused by alcohol alone. But alcohol is a leading cause of most of them, and they occur amongst alcoholics more than non-alcoholics. If you have two or more of these conditions, you may have a problem with alcohol.
So Am I an Alcoholic?
“Am I an alcoholic?” is a question that deserves answers. People who abuse alcohol have intense cravings for drinks. They consume massive amounts of alcohol, and they are unable to control the amount they drink.
Their behavior may change, and they may start to perform risky activities. They may stop taking care of themselves and their families. Over time, they may develop a health condition like liver disease or cancer.
If you feel you match this definition of an alcoholic, get help. Healing Pines Recovery serves Colorado residents. Schedule a visit today.