Alcohol use disorder (the correct medical term for alcohol dependence, abuse or addiction) is a debilitating disease that can ruin your life and the lives of those around you, including your family members, friends and work colleagues.
Abusing alcohol can also cause long term physical and mental health problems, affecting your appearance, weight, energy levels and concentration. But it is never too late to stop drinking and if you suspect that you, or someone close to you, has a drinking problem or often indulges in heavy drinking, you need to seek professional medical advice or contact a treatment centre as soon as possible.
Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol may be legal, but it is also highly addictive and can lead to a host of social and professional problems, affecting both the addict and those closest to them. Prolonged and regular heavy drinking or binge drinking has serious consequences for your social wellbeing and health and can be the cause of life-threatening diseases.
Rather than acknowledge the problem, many alcoholics will blame circumstances or other people for their excessive alcohol consumption and become defensive when confronted.
Alcohol reacts with the chemicals in the brain and the effects of abusing alcohol in adolescents can have serious long-term physical, cognitive, mental health and behavioural consequences. Instead of ignoring a drinking problem, you need to deal with it before the damage becomes irreversible.
Common Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
We all recognise the media-driven image of the alcoholic sitting alone at the end of the bar crying into his drink or the soccer mon who crashes her car while doing the school run because she is driving under the influence of alcohol and while you may not fit that profile, it does not automatically mean that your drinking is not a problem.
There are numerous signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction and most people are familiar with the obvious ones, but it is important to also be aware of the less common symptoms or early warning signs of alcoholism.
Mild alcohol abuse often goes undetected until it turns into a major problem that has a negative effect on your family and friends and if untreated can eventually become life-threatening.
This means that the early warning signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction should be taken seriously, and the underlying problems need to be addressed and dealt with before they destroy your life.
You may believe that you have a handle on your drinking and that it is not a serious problem or that it is not having a negative impact on your life but when untreated, alcohol abuse can quickly get out of control. Early detection, however, can have a significant impact on your recovery rate and ability to move forward and lead a normal, healthy life.
The common physical warning signs of a potential alcohol dependence problem include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Temporary blackouts
- Short term memory loss
- Unreasonable or unexplained irritability
- Feeling hungover even when you haven’t been drinking
Other symptoms of alcohol addiction are:
- Drinking first thing in the morning
- Drinking alone or in secret and becoming isolated from friends and family members because of your growing dependence on alcohol
- Drinking to the extent that it interferes with work or other activities
- Ignoring family and work responsibilities and obligations so that you can continue to drink
- Finding excuses to have a drink
- Making new friends and hanging out with acquaintances who have the same drinking habits
- Drinking even when you know you have to drive or that it is having a negative effect on your health
If you have any of these signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction, you potentially have a problem that should not be ignored as you could easily develop a full-blown alcohol use disorder with serious life-threatening consequences.
If you suspect that a friend or family member is suffering from alcohol dependence or if they exhibit any signs or symptoms of alcohol addiction, don’t wait until it is too late, take action as soon as possible.
Identifying Alcohol Use Disorder
The symptoms of alcohol addiction are varied and often disguised by socially acceptable behaviour. Drinking is legal in most countries and condoned by most cultures around the world. Usually, nobody bats an eyelid if you are a little tipsy at the company Christmas party or a family wedding.
This means that it is not always easy to diagnose a drinking problem but there are several screening tools that can be used to help you determine if you, a work colleague, friend or family member has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. One such useful tool is CAGE, a questionnaire designed to measure the seriousness of a potential drinking problem.
CAGE has four simple questions and if you answer “yes” to any two or more CAGE questions you need to seek medical advice or contact an addiction treatment centre.
The CAGE questions are:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?
There are also other questions from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that medical professionals will consider when making a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.
These questions, regarding your drinking habits in the past year, include:
- Are there situations where you end up drinking much more than you intend to?
- Since you started drinking have you lost interest in activities and hobbies that used to interest you?
- Have you ever experienced withdrawal symptoms?
- Do you crave alcohol?
- Have you continued drinking even though it makes you depressed or anxious?
- Have you continued drinking despite it contributing to existing health problems?
- Have you taken unnecessary risks or ended up in dangerous situations while drinking that have increased your chances of harming yourself or others?
- Have you faced legal action as a result of your alcohol dependence?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are at risk of having or developing an alcohol use disorder and you need to seek medical advice.
Treating Alcohol Dependence
The good news about alcohol use disorders is that they are treatable and the sooner you get treatment, the more successful your recovery will be.
Overcoming alcohol dependence is complex and you will need the support of medical professionals and addiction counsellors if you wish to make a full recovery.