Many people can pick up a drink at a party or while dining out and have no problem having just one drink. However, not everyone has this ability. In fact, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports, “approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had an AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) in 2012.” With such a large scope, alcohol is one of the most highly abused substance in the United States today.
But how do you know when use turns to abuse? If someone drinks regularly, but seems to struggle with stopping drinking, how can you tell if that person may be suffering from alcoholism? The best way to ensure people get the proper help when they need it, is to recognize the signs of alcoholism. Only after a person recognizes their alcohol use disorder, may he or she seek appropriate treatment and begin to recover.
What Factors Constitute Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol, or “problem drinking that becomes severe,” as defined by NIAAA. Most addictions are characterized by some common factors, including:
- Loss of control: this includes engaging in substance abuse for longer than a person intended, more frequently than desired or even when a person knows he or she should stop.
- Neglecting responsibilities: many addicted individuals may fall behind in school, perform poorly at work or neglect family obligations due to substance abuse
- Poor behavior: addiction may cause a person to take part in activities or to take risks that a person may not otherwise engage in.
- The strain on personal relationships: as people become afflicted with substance abuse, many find their personal lives are affected. People close to addicted individuals may want to help stop abuse and addicted individuals may feel attacked or threatened.
- Tolerance: prolonged substance abuse often fosters tolerance, which means a person no longer feels the effects of the substance (in this case, alcohol). This usually causes the person to drink higher amounts more frequently.
- Withdrawal: people suffering from addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms if they are trying to quit or have not used substances for a period of time.
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What Are The Signs?
People who are suffering from alcoholism may exhibit many signs of their struggle. If you are close to someone you suspect may be at risk of addiction, there are a number of behaviors and activities which may contribute. Recognizing these behaviors is key to identifying an alcohol use disorder and to getting the person the help he or she needs. Here are some common warning signs:
- The person tends to drink more than he or she intends or for longer than intended
- The person has wanted to stop drinking before but has been unsuccessful
- The person spends a lot of time drinking—this may be multiple days a week or for long periods of each day
- A person has urges to drink; these may seem more like a need than desire
- Drinking or the effects experienced after drinking (i.e. being “hungover”) affect the person’s daily life, such as work, school or family obligations
- Drinking continues, even if a person’s family or friends express concern or if a person experiences trouble in relationships due to drinking
- A person needs to drink more and more in order to achieve desired results (expresses tolerance)
- The person undergoes withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as anxiety, depression, inability to sleep, increased sweating, irritability, nausea or tremors.
In addition to changes in behavior, a person addicted to alcohol may experience some adverse effects to health. These may include changes to memory, such as a blackout (memory loss); headaches, skin color changes (flushed appearance) and changes to a person’s speech (slurring). Prolonged abuse may cause changes to the digestive system which can be severe, including bloody or black stools, chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting blood.
Is It Treatable?
Though many who experience alcoholism do not get help for their addiction, alcoholism remains treatable. However, people may not understand or be able to admit that they have a problem with addiction. If this is the case, it may be best to stage an intervention or a gathering of supportive people who care about the person addicted. This may help the person to see the problem and urge him or her to get help.
When a person enters treatment, he or she will undergo detoxification. This is a harsh process during which the toxins will leave the body so treatment may begin. A person may then choose from a number of treatment methods. The most effective may involve dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) in addition to other methods. At Turning Point, we use DBT to help a recovering individual learn to abstain from alcohol and to form lifestyle habits that are fulfilling and keep the person engaged and active. Medication may help a person during the detox period and to deal with the cravings which may be experienced. Counseling can give a person the space to express the harsh feelings and emotions experienced during recovery, while also teaching valuable coping skills.
How Can You Seek Treatment?
Discovering a person’s addiction can be overwhelming, especially for the addicted individual. If someone close to you has recognized his or her addiction and is ready for healing, it may be helpful to seek assistance during this time. To learn more about treatment options and how our rehabilitation center may be best for your situation or for answers to your questions, contact us at Turning Point.