Updated: June 24, 2022
Originally Published: Feb. 28, 2019
Signs of a Drinking Problem
For most people, moderate alcohol use is not a problem. But not every person consumes alcohol in the same way. Some have higher tolerances and can “hold their liquor” better than others. However, for the nearly 18 million adults in the country with an alcohol use disorder, drinking alcohol causes distress and harm.
After a long night of drinking, have you ever asked yourself “am I an alcoholic?” You might be walking the line between moderate and uncontrollable drinking. That’s why it’s important to be able to identify the early signs of a drinking problem before it reaches the level of an AUD. Whether it’s a glass of wine at dinner or a beer at a sports event, alcohol is the most commonly misused substance in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 86% of Americans ages 18 and older reported that they drank at some point in their lives, while 70% reported drinking in the past year. It’s safe to say alcohol is a cultural staple.
We can all admit that certain behaviors become problematic when they start to negatively affect our lives, especially when the behavior is uncontrolled drinking or intense alcohol cravings. That’s when seeking out a treatment program with a proven track record is vital. Landmark Recovery is a rehab center with both residential and outpatient treatment services, an ideal choice for people battling an alcohol addiction. Our goal is to save as many lives as we can in the next 100 years, starting with anyone who may have trouble controlling their drinking.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a term used to describe someone who has developed a physical and mental dependence to alcohol. Medical professionals use the term alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcoholism and AUD causes cravings, loss of control, tolerance and health-related problems. It’s important to note that alcoholism and AUD are two different conditions. Both conditions are dependent on how much alcohol a person drinks.
These conditions typically begin as a coping strategy, or a way to deal with stress. Many of us may drink a glass or wine, beer or cocktail as a way to loosen up after a hard day at work. It’s when we feel that drinking alcohol is the only way to unwind or feel better that we begin to teeter towards alcoholism or a use disorder.
Binge drinking versus heavy drinking
Excessive alcohol use is anything beyond moderate alcohol intake, which the CDC defines as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking and heavy drinking.
Binge drinking is classified as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, usually within two hours or less. Heavy drinking is classified as 15 or more drinks per week for men, and 8 or more drinks per week for women, not necessarily within a short time frame. For that reason, heaving drinking is much more dangerous for a person’s health in the long term.
Binge drinkers and heavy drinkers may not always be alcoholics. The results of excessive drinking vary from person to person and depend on what happens when they stop drinking. However, binge drinking and heavy drinking can lead to alcohol dependence, can have disastrous effects on the body and can even impact mental health.
Alcoholism is something that doesn’t just affect the drinker but can have adverse effects from drunk driving or drinking while pregnant. For a problem that contributes to nearly 88,000 deaths each year and costs the United States more than $200 billion each year, everyone should be aware of the harmful effects of alcohol and the signs that point to whether or not you may be an alcoholic.
Signs of Alcoholism
Mild forms of alcohol use disorder include some type of cravings and loss of control once a person starts drinking. More severe forms of AUD, which are generally signs of alcoholism, include:
- Experiencing physical and mental withdrawal symptoms
- Building up a high tolerance
- Needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects
Oftentimes we think we know what alcoholism or an alcoholic looks like. Unfortunately, in many cases, high-functioning alcoholics walk among us every day. We think that drinking is a way for us to achieve a high, despite alcohol being a depressant. Sometimes we use it to forget about issues in our lives or we perceive it to be a substance that helps social situations in an advantageous or positive manner.
This mindset creates a dangerous mindset that fools us into thinking that “alcohol won’t hurt me” or “this isn’t changing anything about my situation in life.” It’s deeply important to always reasonably question yourself at different checkpoints in life to make sure you’re on the right track for personal and emotional prosperity.
Am I An Alcoholic?
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), two DSM-IV disorders, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, have been combined into alcohol use disorder with different severity levels. A person’s level of AUD is determined by the following number of symptoms:
- two to three symptoms indicate mild AUD
- four to five symptoms indicate moderate AUD
- six or more symptoms indicate a severe form of AUD
To determine your level of alcohol use disorder, ask yourself in the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking, more or longer, than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after-effects?
- Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family, job, or caused school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?
Answering “yes” to six or more of these questions likely means you are an alcoholic or are at risk of becoming one. It is often assumed that most excessive drinkers are alcohol dependent. However, this is not always the case, as some studies have found that only 10% of excessive drinkers met the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.
“A good indicator is that something is out of whack,” said George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Is your personal life deteriorating because of your drinking? You don’t have to hit bottom. You’ll save yourself a lot of damage socially, professionally, and probably in your own body if you attend to an alcohol problem a lot earlier.”
If you are unsure of your relationship with alcohol, the NIAAA’s website allows you to examine and evaluate your drinking patterns to help you understand if you have a problem. You can also call a Landmark Recovery specialist at 888-448-0302.
Treatment Options for Alcoholics
According to the NIAAA, about one in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problem. The good news is that most people with a form of alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of treatment.
There are a number of treatment options for people struggling to control their drinking. Most treatment centers, also known as rehab, provide medical detox for alcoholics, allowing them to safely get through the withdrawal process and focus on upcoming treatment programs. Inpatient rehab, or residential treatment, usually follows detox and takes place at the facility.
This level of care provides an environment free of distractions and consists of individual and group therapy to help provide educational and emotional support. After residential treatment, many rehab centers will give patients access to outpatient treatment services to help patients stay on track for long-term sobriety.
Treatment can be a hard thing to seek out. However, understanding you have a drinking problem that can be reversed and that going to a rehab center can help is one of the best ways to get sober and stay sober.
If you have it is a friend of loved one that is dealing with alcohol abuse or dependence, it may be best for them for someone else to step in and reach out to help them. Staging an intervention can help open their eyes to the problems that they may be experiencing. If you are not sure if your friend or loved one is dealing with an addiction, some signs that they may be dealing with these problems include having an unusually high tolerance, being under the influence at work, they are displaying deceptive behavior, and more.
To stage an intervention it is best to consult with friends and family who are close to the person and, if possible, seek assistance from addiction professionals. During the intervention be sure to stay supportive to let your friend or loved one know that you are coming from a place of love and concern. Prepare to have a plan on what to do following the intervention, like having a treatment center ready to admit your friend or loved one.
Effects of Alcohol
There are a number of health consequences to drinking alcohol. These health problems will affect anyone who drinks more than moderately, not just those dealing with alcoholism. Alcohol affects many parts of the body and increases the risk of many chronic diseases and problems.
There are a number of short-term effects like alcohol poisoning, which can prove to be deadly, and there’s a long list of long-term effects that people who overuse alcohol are at risk of dealing with.
One of the biggest consequences of overdrinking is the increased risk of alcohol-associated cancers. Based on data from the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the country were alcohol-related.
There are clear patterns between alcohol consumption and the development of the following cancers:
- Head and Neck
- Colon & Rectum
Moderate drinkers have a 1.8-fold higher risk of oral cavity and throat cancers. Meanwhile, alcohol consumption at any level is associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with a two-fold increase in liver cancer. Studies have consistently found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake.
Along with cancer, there are a number of other health problems that can come from drinking too much alcohol. One of the most severe problems is the effect that alcohol has on the liver. Alcohol-related liver disease occurs after years of heavy drinking and over time, liver scarring and cirrhosis, the final phase of the disease, can occur. Alcoholic liver disease is a major source of alcohol-related morbidity and mortality, it is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of alcoholics will develop cirrhosis.
Cancer and liver disease are two of the most common problems associated with excessive alcohol use, however, the problem can still cause many other health risks including learning and memory problems, mental health issues like depression, heart disease, digestive problems, and more.
Alcohol can also impact other people besides the drinker through drunk driving and drinking while pregnant which can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome and damage the baby’s developing brain.
Recovering from an Alcohol Use Disorder
Because of alcohol’s popularity and acceptance, many people may not realize they have a problem. There are many ways to determine if your drinking is creating a problem in your life. Answering questions like “have I been unable to cut down on drinking after I tried?” or “has drinking interfered with my work, social or home life?” are good indicators that you are dealing with some form of alcohol use disorder.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options for people dealing with substance abuse issues, especially alcohol.
At Landmark Recovery, we offer detox, residential treatment as well as individual and group therapy to help conquer addiction. If you would like more information about our treatment options, or if someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse, call one of our admissions specialists at 888-448-0302.