The majority of adults who drink alcohol in the United States do so in moderation, or only drink when they are out with friends, family, or other loved ones in social settings.
However, this is not a reality for everyone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 16 million people in the U.S. have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the clinical diagnosis given to someone who is either dependent on alcohol, abuses alcohol, or struggles with both alcohol abuse and dependence.
These issues can have harmful effects on both mental and physical health, impacting a person’s ability to work, go to school, or provide as a caregiver.
Unlike alcohol dependence, people who abuse alcohol do not always rely on alcohol to stave off symptoms of withdrawal. However, the severity of a person’s alcohol abuse— and its impact on their life— can vary and does not look the same for everyone.
Understanding the signs, symptoms, and dangers of alcohol abuse can be helpful in identifying alcohol abuse in either yourself or a loved one.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, talking to a professional about treatment options is recommended.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol slows down several functions in the body due to how it interacts with certain areas of the brain. This can lead to effects on mood, coordination, speech, memory, and other physical functions.
Abusing alcohol by drinking heavy amounts or drinking very frequently can lead to more pronounced mental and physical effects.
For adults of legal age, this means drinking more than one drink a day for women, or more than two drinks a day for men on a regular basis.
Unlike moderate drinking, abusing alcohol can also lead to a host of other symptoms and health problems that can grow worse over time.
These symptoms can include:
- increased tolerance
- difficulty concentrating
- memory blackouts
- poor decision-making
Signs Of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol use disorder can be diagnosed by a doctor as mild, moderate, or severe based on how often a person drinks and its effects on their health and wellbeing.
In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), this means presenting at least two of 11 key signs of alcoholism.
The eleven signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:
- being unable to reduce how much you drink
- having strong urges to drink alcohol
- spending a lot of time drinking alcohol, getting alcohol, and recovering from the after-effects of heavy drinking
- drinking alcohol for longer or in greater amounts than intended
- cutting back on activities or hobbies you used to enjoy in order to drink
- continuing to drink despite noticing negative effects on physical and/or mental health
- having problems at work, school, or in the home as a result of your drinking
- experiencing troubles with friends, family, coworkers, or romantic partners due to drinking
- often find yourself in dangerous or risky situations after drinking, such as unsafe sex or driving while drunk
- drinking more than you used to due to an increased tolerance
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the effects of the alcohol have worn off
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include shakiness, trouble sleeping, nausea, sweating, racing heart, and hallucinations.
People who abuse alcohol but are not dependent are likely to be diagnosed with a milder form of AUD, which requires experiencing at least two of the above symptoms within a 12-month period.
Without seeking treatment, alcohol abuse can progress into a more severe form of AUD and lead to alcohol dependence.
Who Is At Risk For Alcohol Abuse?
Any person, regardless of gender, income level, or racial and ethnic background, can be at risk for developing a drinking problem. For many, alcohol abuse can begin as a way to cope with stress, trauma, or to distract from negative emotions.
According to alcohol abuse research, there are also personal, genetic, biological, and environmental factors that can increase the risk of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Factors that can increase the risk of problem drinking include:
- family history of alcoholism
- frequent binge-drinking (drinking four or more drinks in a single sitting for women, or five or more for men)
- previous or co-occurring substance abuse problems
- having other mental health issues or a personality disorder
There is no single cause of alcohol abuse that applies to every person’s experience. While the above risk factors are commonly found in alcoholics, this list is not comprehensive.
What causes alcohol abuse can be highly individual and vary based on each person’s own life circumstances.
Dangers Of Abusing Alcohol
If you are worried about your own drinking habits or those of a loved one, it’s important to understand the dangers and risks involved with alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse can take a serious toll on physical and mental health over time and increase the risk for several acute dangers. This includes a higher risk for suffering severe injuries, alcohol poisoning, becoming a victim of sexual assault, and suicide.
As a progressive disease, other physical and mental health problems linked to alcohol abuse can grow worse with time and develop into long-lasting and potentially life-threatening conditions.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), health conditions linked to chronic alcohol abuse include:
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- damage to the pancreas
- weakened immune system
- increased risk for several types of cancer
- severe alcohol withdrawal
Further, it’s important to recognize that the risks of alcohol abuse can extend beyond effects on health.
People who abuse alcohol will often find themselves experiencing financial problems due to how much they spend on drinking or have a difficult time keeping a job.
The social and financial costs of alcohol abuse can be significant. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s recommended that you seek help as soon as possible.
Getting Help For Alcohol Abuse
Whether someone is struggling with mild alcohol abuse or has a severe drinking problem, it can be very difficult to overcome this problem alone.
Seeking professional treatment is the most effective way to address all aspects of a person’s alcohol abuse and overcome problem drinking.
At Vertava Health of Massachusetts, we offer comprehensive treatment programs for alcohol abuse that follow patients through all steps of the recovery process.
This includes a broad range of treatment services from medical detox to behavioral therapy, support groups, and aftercare.
Our knowledgeable team of specialists is trained to help people across the spectrum of alcohol abuse and dependence. Individuals in recovery from alcohol abuse will learn to address the roots of their drinking and discover their motivations for recovery.
It’s never too late or too soon to seek help for a drinking problem. For more information about alcohol abuse treatment options, contact one of Vertava Health of Massachusetts’s treatment specialists today.