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The moderate use of alcohol might not seem harmful or dangerous for most adults. However, research shows that more than 18 million American adults have an AUD (alcohol use disorder). Among these individuals, the use of alcohol tends to cause harm and distress - often leading to severe cases of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Therefore, you should know that alcoholism - which is also referred to as alcohol dependence - is a condition that causes:
- Intense cravings, or a strong need for alcohol
- Loss of control, meaning that you won't be able to stop drinking from the moment you get started
- Physical dependence, which is usually characterized by intense, severe, and sometimes life threatening withdrawal symptoms
- Tolerance, in such a way that you will have to drink more alcohol to be able to feel the intoxicating effects that you desire
Where alcohol abuse is concerned, you will not be physically dependent on drinking. However, you might still have serious problems as a result of your abuse, leading to trouble at work, school, or home. Your abuse might also see you in dangerous situations or even lead to social and legal problems.
Binge drinking, on the other hand, refers to drinking 5 or more drinks within a span of 2 hours (for men) and around 4 or more drinks within two hours (for women). This is also a problem that needs addressing while reviewing your risk of alcoholism.
That said, you can be sure that drinking alcohol excessively is extremely dangerous. In fact, heavy drinking might increase your risk of developing certain cancers, live damage, brain damage, and other forms of organ damage.
If you drink while pregnant, you might also cause serious (and sometimes permanent) harm to your unborn baby. Last but not least, alcohol abuse and alcoholism increase the risk of certain deaths as a result of suicide, homicide, injuries, and motor vehicle crashes and accidents.
Among all the forms of problematic alcohol intake and drinking, alcoholism is the most severe problem. It can be defined as a strong and typically uncontrollable urge and desire to take alcohol.
If you are an alcoholic, you may often find that you place drinking and alcohol above every other obligation - including family and work. Eventually, you might build up physical tolerance to alcohol, meaning that you will have to drink more to achieve the desirable effects that you are looking for. If you stop drinking, it is almost certain that you will experience severe withdrawal symptoms.
Alcoholism is also referred to as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction. It is somewhat different from harmful drinking, which comprises occasional patterns of heavy drinking that can cause serious damage to your overall health and wellness.
Examples of harmful drinking include imbibing too much while at a party - which could increase your risk of getting into arguments and accidents. Over time, this pattern of harmful drinking might eventually develop into full alcoholism particularly if you make it a habit that happens regularly.
Effects Of Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism may affect every aspect and detail of your life. For instance, if you abuse alcohol over the long term, you are likely to experience serious health complications that could affect virtually all your body organs - including but not limited to your brain.
In the same way, problem drinking might cause intense damage to your emotional stability, career, finances, and ability to naturally build satisfying relationships and sustain them over the long run.
Additionally, alcoholism might have a negative impact on your social and personal life - leading to problems with your friends, colleagues, and family. This is why it is now considered one of the reasons why people get fired or divorced.
Apart from the potential lethal damage arising from the heavy damage alcoholism causes to your body - including liver disease, heart problems, and cancer - the social consequences of heavy drinking can prove to be just as devastating. As we mentioned earlier, alcohol abusers and alcoholics have a relatively high risk of getting divorced. Most of them also live in abject poverty, struggle with unemployment, and have problems revolving around domestic violence and abuse.
However, even if you still manage to work like everyone else and keep your spouse, you will still not be able to escape the effects of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in your other personal relationships. In fact, drinking problems tend to put enormous strain and pressure on your closest loved ones.
In most cases, your close friends and family members might feel obliged to cover for your drinking problem. This means that they will have to adopt the burden of clearing and cleaning up every mess you make, lying on your behalf, and working even harder to make both ends meet.
As they continue hiding their resentments and fear while pretending that everything is as it should be, the pressure might eventually take a heavy toll. In particular, children tend to be sensitive and might suffer long term emotional trauma if their caretaker or parent is a heavy drinker or alcoholic.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcoholism
At times, it might be difficult to spot the exact signs and symptoms of alcoholism. This is mostly because most alcoholics tend to be secretive about the issue and may become angry when someone confronts them.
However, if your loved one has been showing any of the signs listed below, then it is highly likely that they are suffering from alcoholism and that they have a drinking problem:
- Appearing and acting intoxicated on a regular basis
- Everything becomes an excuse to drink
- Becoming increasingly dishonest and secretive
- Hiding alcohol in various spots around the house
- Being unable to say no when someone offers them alcohol
- Commonly drinking alone
- Lack of interest in activities they used to be fond of and choosing only activities that involve drinking
- Neglecting responsibilities and obligations while drinking instead
- Mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
- Tolerance, or the need to drink more alcohol to achieve the desired effects
On the other hand, if you are assessing yourself, you can be sure that you might have an AUD especially if your answer to two (or more) of the questions listed below is yes.
Have you, in the past year:
- Continued drinking although it was causing you to feel anxious and depressed?
- Cut back or completely given up on the activities you used to enjoy to make time to go drinking?
- Discovered that drinking, or recovering from it, often interfered with your school, job, or family life?
- Experienced withdrawal symptoms - trouble sleeping, sweating, nausea, restlessness, depression, anxiety, irritability, or shakiness - when you went for too long without alcohol?
- Felt strong urges and cravings for alcohol?
- Forced yourself to drink more alcohol to feel the effects that you desired?
- Found yourself drinking for a longer period of time or drinking more than you originally intended to?
- Found yourself in dangerous situations - including having unprotected sex or driving under the influence of alcohol - after or while drinking?
- Kept drinking despite the problems it was causing between you and your friends and/or family?
- Kept on taking alcohol despite the fact that you had another problem with your health?
- Spend a great deal of your time taking alcohol (or recovering from drinking)?
- Wanted to stop or cut down drinking (or even tried) but were unable to?
In case you display any of these symptoms, it is likely that your drinking has gotten to a stage where it should be a serious cause for concern. In most cases, you will find that the more symptoms you display, the higher the likelihood that your problem is quite serious.
That said, if you suspect that you have an alcohol abuse problem, the first thing you should do is talk to a health care professional and ask them to evaluate you. If they find that you are an alcoholic - or almost becoming one - they might create an appropriate treatment plan, prescribe effective medications, and - where possible - give you referrals to alcoholism treatment and rehabilitation facilities.
Risk Factors For Alcoholism
The risk factors that are related to developing drinking problems tend to come from a variety of interrelated factors. These include, but are not limited to, your genetics, your social environment, your emotional health and wellness, as well as how you were brought up.
In particular, some segments of the population - including Native Americans, Alaskans, and American Indians - are at greater risk of developing alcohol addiction and drinking problems than other segments.
Additionally, if you have a family history of intensive alcohol abuse or if you closely associate and interact with heavy drinkers, you risk of developing similar problems will also increase.
Last but not least, if you suffer mental health problems like bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety you can also be sure that your risk of alcoholism and alcohol abuse will increase - especially because most people with these conditions tend to use alcohol to self-medicate.
PROGRESS FROM ALCOHOL ABUSE TO ALCOHOLISM
Although not everyone who abuses alcohol will become a full blown alcoholic, this is a major risk factor that you need to bring under control before it starts causing even greater harm in your life and health.
At times, alcoholism might develop as a response to stressful changes in your life - including other loses, retirement, and breakups. In other instances, however, it will creep on you gradually as your tolerance to drinking continues rising. On the other hand, if you drink on a daily basis or you are a binge drinker, the risk of developing alcohol will be much greater.
Myths About Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism
a) I Can Quit When I Want To
Although some people can stop drinking, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to. Anyway, the mere fact that you have to say this means that you are looking for an excuse to continue drinking.
It also shows that you are not yet ready to quit. As a result, you tell yourself that you can stop when you desire so that you feel in control in spite of all the evidence showing the contrary and despite the damage your drinking causes.
b) Drinking is a Personal Problem
Although the decision to fight alcoholism is entirely up to you, drinking is never a personal problem. In fact, you will only be deceiving yourself thinking that alcohol only hurts you. In most cases, alcoholism will affect just about everyone around you - particularly those who are closest to you. As such, your problem is directly and indirectly their problem too.
c) I Don't Drink Daily
Some people think that just because they only drink beer or wine and they never do so on a daily basis it means that they are not alcoholics. However, the truth of the matter is that alcoholism is never defined by the type of alcohol you drink, how much you take, or when you choose to drink.
Rather, the problem is defined by the effects that drinking has in your life. Therefore, if alcohol has been causing problems in your work or home life, then you can be sure that you have a clear drinking problem - whether you drink on a daily basis or every other day.
d) I Have a Job (Financial Stability)
On the other hand, you might assume that you can't be an alcoholic simply because you are financially stable and you have a job that is going well for you. However, you can be sure that some people are functional alcoholics - meaning that they can still work and appear to be normal (or even doing well) even though they are still dependent on alcohol.
In fact, you do not have to be drinking out of brown paper bags or homeless to be clinically classified as an alcoholic. Actually, many alcoholics manage to get through school, provide well for their family, and hold down to their steady jobs. Some even excel and do particularly well in their chosen lines of work.
However, just because you are a high functioning alcoholic does not necessarily mean that your alcoholism is not putting others (and yourself) in danger. With the passage of time, the effects of your drinking may eventually catch up especially if you do not get the right kind of detox, treatment, and rehabilitation for you alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
To treat alcoholism, the first step you should take is acknowledge you have a problem before seeking help from healthcare professionals, addiction specialists, or alcoholism treatment and rehabilitation facilities.
After your initial assessment, you will undergo medical detox to manage your withdrawal from alcoholism. Then, you might start rehabilitation either on an outpatient or inpatient treatment facility. The ongoing treatment will deal with your psychological, psychosocial, or a combination of the treatment.
Overall, you should get started with your addiction treatment as soon as possible. The earlier you manage your withdrawal and deal with alcohol, the easier it will be for you to overcome the condition and find the freedom you deserve in a life of sobriety and abstinence.
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