Many people have had a few too many drinks at some point, maybe even on a few different occasions. Alcohol has such a heavy presence in our culture, we may not even consider the dangers of abusing it.
Yet every year, millions of people in our nation struggle with alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Once you begin abusing alcohol, it’s very hard to stop, especially without help. How do you know when you’re past the point of recreational enjoyment, and may be in danger of alcohol abuse?
The following are some signs of alcohol abuse:
- You’ve recently had times where you drank more than intended, or for longer than anticipated
- You’ve wanted to cut back on your drinking, or stop altogether, but failed in your attempts
- You’ve been in risky situations during or after drinking, such as: driving, making risky sexual decisions, operating heavy machinery or equipment, swimming or ignoring signs of danger you normally wouldn’t
- To feel the effects of alcohol, you have to drink more than you used to
- You’ve developed anxiety or depression due to drinking, but continue to drink
- You’ve had multiple blackouts (memory gaps) from drinking, but continue to drink
- Recently, you spend a lot of time drinking or being sick from the after effects
- Your drinking has caused problems with your family or friends
- Sometimes drinking, or the after effects, have gotten in the way of your obligations/responsibilities with family, work, school etc.
- You no longer participate in or cut back in participation of activities you used to love
- You’ve been arrested or been in legal trouble due to drinking
- When you aren’t able to drink, or try to stop, you feel withdrawal symptoms
How Alcohol Abuse Can Lead To Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcoholism)
What’s the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)? Alcohol abuse is a pattern of behavior that becomes a habit which can lead to addiction, which is alcoholism.
Here’s how it works: alcohol triggers a response in your body that is different than the norm. When you drink, you experience immediate calming and relaxing effects, and your body enjoys it—so much, in fact, that your brain decides it wants this feeling again and again.
The brain actually changes the way it responds to feelings of reward, such as the relaxing and calming effects experienced when drinking. After that, you start seeking those effects more and more. With time, you build up a tolerance, or no longer feel the effects as strongly as you once did, or even at all.
When not drinking, you might even experience withdrawal symptoms, like headache, nausea or tremors. This signals a physical dependence on alcohol. It’s at this point you might start feeling, even when sober, like you need alcohol to feel normal. That’s what addiction does.
It’s for these effects that alcohol abuse is dangerous. You may think a few binges are harmless, or drinking to the point of blackout a few times per month isn’t affecting you. All the while that you abuse alcohol, you may be risking forming a habit that will be hard to break.
That’s why it’s best to seek help before you get to that point. No one asks for addiction when they are just having a few drinks, but with alcohol abuse, alcoholism is not too far away.
Health Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
As the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains, “drinking too much—on a single occasion or over time—can take a serious toll on your health.” Alcohol abuse can affect the brain, heart, liver and pancreas, among other organs.
Changes to the brain from alcohol abuse can affect mood and behavior, which is why a lot of treatment for it integrates methods to help improve these aspects of your health.
Long-term alcoholism can cause heart failure, lead to stroke or heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure. Prolonged drinking can also greatly affect your liver, causing fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, fibrosis or alcoholic hepatitis.
Excess alcohol in the body may result in toxic waste produced by your pancreas, which can cause pancreatitis and disrupt digestion. Risk of development of several types of cancer also increases with heavy drinking, and include: breast, esophagus, liver, mouth and throat.
How Can Alcohol Abuse Affect Your Life?
In addition to health risks, alcohol abuse can take a toll on your life. Some ways alcohol can affect you include:
- Injury from accidents
- Violent behavior
- Risky sexual acts
- Pregnancy effects, such as miscarriage or birth defects
- Alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency
Long-term abuse of alcohol can affect your relationships, finances, school or work obligations. Finally, perhaps the biggest way alcohol abuse can infect your life is that it may lead to addiction.
How Is Alcohol Abuse Treated?
Alcohol abuse is best treated in an inpatient setting. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism greatly affect your mind as well as your body. Treatment, then, has to include healing for all aspects of your health. This well-rounded approach is best accomplished in an environment far removed from triggers of abuse.
Getting away from the pull of your usual environment and alcohol use can help you get well. The difference with inpatient, private rehab is that it provides quality support from staff and clinicians and a strong, serene environment in which to heal.
For some seeking treatment from alcohol abuse, they’ll need help in detoxification. At Turning Point, we offer medication assisted treatment with Suboxone.
Detox can be a harrowing, even dangerous process, so getting medical assistance is important. Supporting staff can monitor vital signs, help you safely taper off use of substances and administer medication as needed.
Some other effective treatment components we offer include:
- Counseling, to help build confidence and restore mental health
- Behavioral therapy, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), to help get rid of toxic behaviors and replace with positive lifestyle habits
- Co-occurring disorder care, to address any other substance use disorders
- Relapse prevention and aftercare support
- Family support program
- An inpatient treatment network
- Intervention services for addiction
Find Solace In Treatment At Turning Point
Alcohol abuse can be tricky to recognize. If you’re still unsure about the signs, we would like to help. Your call will be completely confidential. Contact a treatment specialist at Turning Point today at 844-551-7335.
Centers For Disease Control—Fact Sheets—Alcohol
Mayo Clinic—Alcohol Use Disorder Symptoms
National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism—What Are Symptoms Of An Alcohol Use Disorder?
WebMD—Alcoholism Signs And Symptoms