Alcohol is a common aspect of daily life. For many people, having a drink can be a way to unwind from a stressful day. Going out with friends can involve social drinking. Many people choose to celebrate exciting or important events, such as a new promotion, with a round of drinks. Unfortunately, because alcohol is used in so many ways, it can become difficult for some people to know when unwinding with a drink or two can become coping with too many drinks.
Understanding Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are not events that occur overnight. They are often the product of lengthy emotional and physical struggles. Many people who have mental health issues (such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, etc.) use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, people who are emotionally unstable might use alcohol as a form of self-medication. Abuse is dangerous, especially if the user does not see their alcohol intake as a potential problem. Alcoholism can also stem from predisposed genetic tendencies. In some places, certain ethnic groups are considered high risk for alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Many studies have found that people who grew up in homes with an alcoholic parent were more likely to develop alcoholism as adults. Determining if someone has alcoholism or abuses alcohol can be difficult. However, some signs and symptoms can alert friends and family members that a loved one may be suffering from alcohol dependency.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
When discussing alcohol abuse, it is important to note that unlike alcoholics, abusers have some control over their alcohol use. They can still set limits to their drinking, but are still in a very dangerous situation if they do not recognize the signs of their behavior. They can be a danger to themselves and others when they allow the alcohol abuse-free reign.
Signs that you or a loved one may need to seek help for alcohol abuse:
- Drinking and Driving – Or any careless behavior that occurs because of alcohol abuse.
- Neglecting friends, loved ones, work, school or other important life activities. Letting important areas of your life slip away as a result of spending too much time on alcohol.
- Are they using alcohol as a coping mechanism? Are they turning to alcohol to cope rather than discuss problems with another person?
- Unwillingness to stop drinking despite the ill effects in relationships. Blaming the people in your personal and professional life for the issues that arise rather than acknowledging that alcohol is a factor.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism (alcohol dependence)
Alcoholics are in many ways unable to cope with their addiction. They are physically and emotionally dependent on alcohol. An alcoholic can become violently ill if they do not feed their dependence and will have a more difficult time recuperating.
Alcoholism has several trademark signs:
- Progression of tolerance for drinks – Can you drink far more drinks than your peers and never feel “drunk”? Does it take more and more alcohol to make you feel “tipsy?”
- Physical problems – Alcoholism can cause many physical warning signs: shakes, tremors, seizures, dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue and more.
- You want to stop drinking, but you can’t -Alcoholics may feel unable to go through their daily lives without drinking. They may feel physically ill without drinking and may feel that they can not complete simple daily tasks unless they drink.
Drinking Problems and Denial
For many people suffering from alcoholism or alcohol abuse, the ability to see their dilemma is skewed. Rationalizing their drinking habits can become a pattern of normality for them. Many times, they also disperse the “blame” to other areas of their life. Rather than admit that their drinking caused them to miss an important early morning meeting, they may blame their spouse for “nagging” them the night before. Alcoholics also tend to cover their drinking habits from concerned friends or family members. Lying about the number of drinks that they consume can lend them a feeling of credibility and control, they admitted to drinking but didn’t admit how much they drank.
Many people suffering from alcoholism are often in denial about their issues. They are often defensive when a loved one brings up their drinking. They typically go to great lengths to keep their drinking a secret. They often scoff at the idea of “being an alcoholic.”
Effects of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse affect not only the drinker but also their family and friends. Alcohol abuse can physically take a toll on the person drinking. The consumer can suffer withdrawals when attempting to quit drinking. However, the long-term physical effects of alcoholism can be fatal. Liver disease, cancers, and cardiovascular health problems can all stem from alcohol abuse. When a person succumbs to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, their personal and professional relationships suffer. The drinker may lose their job due to poor work performance or reprimands. The family and friends of the alcoholic may have to watch their loved one go through emotional and physical turmoil. Often the drinker puts up barriers between themselves and loved ones to hide their addiction. They also may want to distance themselves from the guilt associated with drinking after being confronted by a concerned person from their life. They often think that their barriers and lies are efficient and don’t like knowing that others, especially friends and family, can see their dependence on alcohol.
Getting Help for Alcoholism or Alcohol Abuse
For anyone suffering from alcoholism or alcohol abuse, admitting there is a problem is the first challenge. The person with the addiction must recognize that they need help. No one can force another person to want actually to change. There are many programs, institutions, and professionals that can offer support to people all over the country suffering from alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Going through treatment is important, but learning to continue the journey after treatment is more so. Establishing a basis for treatment that allows you to discover what lead to the initial onset of alcoholism will be imperative to staying sober. Learning what triggered the drinking, and how to come to terms with that, can keep the person from relapsing and falling back into old habits.
Helping a Loved One with Alcoholism or Alcohol Abuse
If the drinker can admit that they have a problem, their loved ones should react with support. However, there will be times when a loved one must wait until the abuser can come to terms with their addiction. No one can make a person want to change. Using guilt to force an alcoholic into treatment will not “make them better.” Attending support groups for families and friends of alcoholics can be a place to find answers to many questions and fears that you may be feeling. It can also help you to know and understand the boundaries and limits that should be set as a person close to an alcoholic. Support and enabling can sometimes be confused, and these meetings can help to clarify that you are supportive of the person without enabling their addiction.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are not something that is confined to an individual. They affect not only the lives of the drinker but the lives of their families, friends, co-workers and people they come into contact with on a daily basis. Becoming educated on alcohol, how it affects physical and mental stability, rehabilitation and supportive programs are all important steps in combating this illness.