Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol, despite being a legal substance that has certain potential benefits for those who use it, can be a dangerous, addictive substance when misused. Therefore, it is always important to understand the issues that alcohol abuse can cause and to seek help when your drinking has begun to create problems in your life.

Understanding Alcohol Abuse

People often drink in order to socialize, feel good, or relax. Drinking occurs at times of celebration. But there is such a thing as taking one’s use of the substance too far, and when people do, serious side effects can occur.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem––drinking too much can cause a range of consequences and increase your risk for a variety of problems.” Unfortunately, many people abuse the substance often and consistently, and this type of use is liable to lead to serious issues that may or may not be reversible.

Once you understand alcohol abuse, why people indulge in it, and how it can affect the body and brain, as well as every aspect of your life, you can begin to understand why drinking too much is unhealthy and highly dangerous.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

It is usually easy to recognize when someone has been abusing alcohol. They will

  • Be intoxicated
  • Slur their words
  • Have coordination problems
  • Exhibit mood swings
  • Become confused
  • Become more aggressive
  • Sweat profusely
  • Become flushed

Even one instance of overindulgence can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening consequences. But those who participate in this behavior consistently and have trouble stopping are suffering from an alcohol use disorder. According to the National Library of Medicine, the signs and symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Wanting to cut back on drinking and not being able to
  • Drinking more than you planned to
  • Spending lots of time and effort on drinking and recovering from it
  • Losing interest in the activities that once mattered to you
  • Drinking even when alone
  • Not being able to enjoy oneself unless alcohol is available
  • Continuing to drink even when it causes multiple problems in your life

These behaviors paint the picture of someone who does not have control over their drinking, which is one of the strongest signs of an alcohol use disorder. It is important to consider how your substance abuse may be affecting you and if your drinking has already risen to this point.

Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Unfortunately, there are multiple issues a heavy drinker can face along with the formation of an alcohol use disorder. According to the NLM, “Anything more than moderate drinking can be risky” and cause severe side effects.

Alcohol abuse, especially over time, can deeply affect the body and brain. Common side effects of this behavior include

  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Serious damage to your brain over time so you have trouble controlling your moods and thinking clearly (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism)
  • Causing problems with the pancreas that can eventually lead to pancreatitis
  • Serious liver problems, including:
    • Steatosis
    • Fibrosis
    • Cirrhosis
  • Stroke
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Certain cancers, including:
    • Mouth
    • Breast
    • Throat
    • Esophagus
    • Liver

However, the dangers of alcohol abuse don’t stop here. A person who drinks consistently is also likely to become highly tolerant to the effects of the substance, making them drink more in order to experience the same effects they once did. Those with high tolerances to alcohol have often built their resistance up over time.

Dependence is another dangerous effect of alcohol abuse. Those who become dependent on its effects cannot suddenly stop drinking because they will be likely to experience uncomfortable and frightening withdrawal symptoms. There is even a syndrome that often occurs in long-term alcohol abusers called delirium tremens that can be life threatening. According to the NLM, the symptoms of delirium tremens include

  • Body tremors
  • Stupor
  • Fear
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, etc.
  • Seizures

In addition, someone who drinks too much over a certain period of time can even overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning. The individual will often black out or go into a coma, and their breathing will become very shallow. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “An average of 6 people die of alcohol poisoning each day in the US.”

Who Abuses Alcohol?

Unfortunately, almost every group has considerable issues with alcohol abuse. College students, underage individuals, and expectant mothers all have high percentages of heavy drinkers. This last example is extremely troubling as well because the child and mother can both be affected by alcohol abuse, and fetal alcohol syndrome is reported to be prevalent in as many as 2 to 7 cases per 1,000 in the US (NIAAA).

  • “In 2014, 37.9 percent of college students ages 18-22” reported to have engaged in binge drinking (or drinking 5 or more drinks on one occasion) in the past month.
  • Around 7.2 percent of adults 18 or older were reported to suffer from an AUD in 2012 (NIAAA).
  • Men are especially likely to die of alcohol poisoning, as 76% of the individuals who do are male (CDC).

Because alcohol is so highly available and drinking is an acceptable part of most social functions, abuse of the substance is very prevalent in our society today and truly always has been. However, this does not mean that alcohol abuse is not dangerous, nor that it cannot cause addiction like other substances of abuse.

Alcohol Addiction

According to the NLM, there are four main signs of alcoholism of which a consistent drinker should be aware.

  • Cravings, or the strong desire to drink that becomes a need
  • Loss of control, or the inability to limit one’s drinking in any way
  • Dependence, or the experience of withdrawal symptoms when unable to drink
  • Tolerance, or the need to drink more in order to experience the same effects as before

When a person becomes addicted to alcohol, they will act similarly to someone addicted to drugs. Namely, their desire to drink will become more important than anything else, and they will be likely to participate in dangerous behaviors in order to obtain or drink more. Once addiction sets in, a person will no longer be able to control their drinking, and they will require help in order to learn to do so.

Am I an Alcoholic?

If you are unsure if your drinking has risen to the level of addiction, ask yourself the questions below.

  • Do I have to drink more than I used to in order to experience the same effects?
  • Do my friends and family ever express concerns over my drinking? Do I continue to do so anyway?
  • Have I tried to cut back and been unable to?
  • Do I make excuses for myself to drink?
  • Have I ever experienced uncomfortable or frightening symptoms when I’ve stopped drinking suddenly?
  • Have I ever experienced alcohol poisoning?
  • Has my work taken a downturn because of my substance abuse?
  • Am I in danger of losing my job, scholarship, or experiencing other serious consequences because of how my alcohol abuse is affecting me?
  • Have I already experienced severe consequences of my alcohol abuse, including
    • Getting reprimanded at work or fired?
    • Getting failing grades?
    • Losing an important relationship?
    • Getting arrested?
    • Experiencing financial problems?
  • Despite these issues, do I still feel I won’t be able to stop?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is a strong chance that you are suffering from alcoholism. Once you have lost your control over your drinking, it is time to seek help from a professional program.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

According to the NIAAA, “Treatment techniques and tools to address alcohol use disorders… have multiplied over the last 30 years.” There are many different methods that an alcohol rehab center can use to treat your addiction, including

  • Medications, such as
    • Acamprosate (Campral)
    • Extended release naltrexone (Vivitrol)
    • Oral naltrexone (ReVia)
    • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Behavioral therapies, such as
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
    • Contingency management
    • Motivational enhancement therapy
    • Family therapy
  • Support groups, such as
    • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
    • SMART Recovery
    • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

These medications can help to manage one’s cravings for alcohol while also minimizing the chance of relapse. Behavioral therapies teach patients life skills that will help them avoid substance abuse in the future, as well as get to the root of one’s drinking and what may have caused it. With the help of professional treatment––and popular support groups like AA––you can put an end to your alcohol abuse and start your life anew.