Whether it’s a glass of wine at dinner or a beer at a sports event, alcohol is the most commonly used substance in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 86 percent of people aged 18 and older reported that they drank at some point in their lives, while 70 percent reported drinking in the past year. For most people, moderate alcohol use is not a problem. However, about 18 million adults in the country have an alcohol use disorder, meaning that their drinking causes distress and harm.
Alcoholism is a disease that causes cravings, loss of control, dependency, and tolerance. Excessive drinking can cause problems at home, work, or school and can lead to dangerous situations that have wide legal and social ramifications. Along with the legal problems that can come from alcohol use, alcohol is dangerous and can lead to increased risk of cancers and can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs.
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
Alcoholism is a chronic disease that is characterized by uncontrolled drinking due to physical and emotional dependence. So, the question remains the same: how much is too much? The National Institute of Health says that men shouldn’t have more than 14 drinks per week and no more than 4 drinks in a single day, for women that means 7 drinks per week and no more than 3 drinks on a day. A drink is considered a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce glass of beer, and 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Drinking more than this amount is considered excessive drinking. Similarly, binge drinking does not mean that a person is an alcoholic either. However, these things can both lead to alcohol dependence and can have disastrous effects on the body and can even impact mental health.
Mild forms of alcohol use disorder includes some type of cravings and loss of control once you’ve started drinking. More severe forms of the problem, that are generally signs of being an alcoholic, include experiencing withdrawal symptoms and building up a tolerance and needing to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects.
Alcohol abuse and binge drinking are two things that happen frequently across the country, however, these things do not necessarily mean that a person is an alcoholic. To be considered an alcoholic, a number of factors need to be met.
Am I An Alcoholic?
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), you should ask yourself the following questions to determine if you have an alcohol use disorder, a term used to describe both alcohol abuse and dependence into a single disorder. Presence of two to three symptoms indicates mild AUD, four to five indicates moderate AUD, and six or more indicates a severe form of the problem.
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 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 6 or more of these questions indicates that you are likely an alcoholic or are at risk to become one.
It is often assumed that most exessive drinkers are alcohol dependent. However, this is not always the case, in fact some studies have found that just 10 percent of excessive drinkers met the diagnostic criteria to be considered alcohol dependant.
Alcoholics have a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol and will experience withdrawal effects if they do not have access to the drug. Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, shakiness, fever, seizures, rapid heart rate, and more.
“A good indicator is that something is out of whack. Is your personal life deteriorating because of your drinking? Are people starting to shun you? If you’re feeling generally miserable, that’s a warning sign,” said George Koob, director of NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “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.
Learning that you have a problem and accepting that can be a tough thing to deal with. Looking for and finding help for your dependence can be an even harder thing to do. However, if you want to be around for a longer time for your family or loved ones, getting help is the best thing you can do for your situation.
According to data from the NIAAA, about one in 10 children live in a home with a parent who has a drinking problems. The good news is that most people with a severe that the problem can benefit from some form of treatment.
“People shouldn’t wait for a physical problem like liver disease,” said Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, an NIH researcher studying new alcoholism treatments. “People develop an alcohol disorder before liver problems get bad. The goal is to identify an alcohol disorder sooner. The sooner you act can help prevent medical consequences.”
There are a number of options for alcoholics seeking treatment. Many treatment centers can provide a medically assisted detox process for alcoholics, allowing them to safely get through the withdrawal process and focus on the upcoming treatment programs. Treatment following detoxification normally consists of individual and group therapy to help provide educational and emotional support. After residential treatment, many recovery centers will give patients access to outpatient treatment efforts to help patients stay the course post-rehab.
Treatment can be a hard thing to seek out, but understanding that there is a problem and that going to a recovery center can help is one of the best ways to get sober and stay sober.
Alcoholism is considered a chronic relapsing disease and many alcohol-dependent people experience bouts of heavy drinking mixed with periods of abstinence. There is some evidence that approximately 90 percent of alcoholics are likely to experience a relapse over the four-year period following treatment.
“Alcohol dependence is a complex, diverse disorder. There’s not one treatment that works for everybody,” says Dr. Raye Litten, an alcohol treatment and recovery expert at NIH. “If one treatment doesn’t work, you can try another one. Sometimes a combination of these will work.”
If 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 a long list of long-term effects that people who overuse alcohol are at risk of dealing with.
One of the biggest consequences of over drinking 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 head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer.
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 that 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.
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the country and there are millions of Americans who deal with some type of alcohol abuse problem. Many of these people may not even know that they have a problem. There are many ways to determine if your drinking is creating a problem in your life. Answering questions like “have you been unable to cut down on drinking after you tried?” or “has drinking interfered with your work, social or home life?” are good indicators that you may dealing with some type of alcoholism. Luckily, there are many treatment options for people dealing with substance abuse issues, including alcohol.
At Landmark Recovery, we have detox centers, residential treatment as well as individual and group therapy to help them conquer addiction. If you would like more information about treatment options, please reach out to our admissions team today.