Alcoholism, the most severe form of alcohol abuse, is a debilitating condition in which an individual loses control over their drinking habits. Commonly referred to as alcohol use disorder, it is categorized into mild, moderate, and severe. Each category has different symptoms but can be equally harmful to the overall quality of life. Individuals struggling with alcoholism often feel like they are unable to function without consuming alcohol. This may lead to a wide range of issues that impact their relationships, personal matters, professional goals, and overall health. Over time, the serious side effects of consistent alcohol abuse can worsen their health and produce long-lasting complications.
Fortunately, you don’t need to suffer from alcoholism in silence. Multiple treatment options are available to stop it from destroying lives.
Many factors considerably increase the risk of alcoholism. People may turn to this addictive substance for one reason and gradually develop a tolerance for drinking. Some of these causes include:
Relying on alcohol to manage the daily stressors of life can significantly increase the possibility of developing alcoholism. As a sedative and depressant, drinking leads to feelings of pleasure that allow the users to improve their mood. However, tolerance sets in when the habit becomes too frequent, forcing them to consume more alcohol to achieve the same effects.
For some, consuming alcohol frequently provides a break from reality while offering a sense of relief from the underlying pressing issues. Such people may consistently start using alcohol to escape from something and acquire a serious drinking problem.
Coping with Loss
Losing a family member or a close friend can emotionally and physically disturb anyone. In such stressful circumstances, many resort to alcohol to ease their grief and get through difficult times. However, this temporary habit can quickly spiral into alcoholism.
People with anxiety disorders always seem to worry about one thing or another. To calm their racing and perpetually anxious mind, they may be tempted to drink more than usual, especially in social situations. Over time, this habit may lead to addictive behaviors.
Lack of Connection
Many people turn to alcohol because they do not feel connected to others. Such people believe drinking will fill the void and make it easier for them to develop new bonds. While this may or may not happen, the person may develop alcoholism.
As one of the most difficult emotions, shame can easily force anyone to indulge in frequent drinking. Many people may use this beverage to mask their shame with false feelings temporarily.
Trauma can present in various forms, yet each can exert the same pain level in the afflicted individual. To hide from this pain or suppress it temporarily, many prefer drinking alcohol and numbing their emotions. However, unresolved trauma only contributes to alcoholism.
Alcoholism can be tricky to spot, especially in the early stages. People with this disorder are mostly secretive about their drinking habits and may become furious upon confrontation. Most experts assess whether an individual is dependent on alcohol by looking for signs that depict how they cannot regulate their drinking habits. Some specific signs they may look for include the following:
Impaired control over alcohol use
One of the early signs of alcoholism involves not being able to control a drinking session, the amount of alcohol consumed, the frequency of drinking, and being unable to stop drinking once started.
If someone is giving precedence to drinking over other daily responsibilities and activities, or if it becomes more important than looking after one’s health, it may indicate alcoholism. People with this problem also continue to drink despite facing negative consequences on health and life in general.
Unwanted mental and physical effects
People with underlying alcoholism may need to progressively increase their alcohol intake daily to experience the same effects. They may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms once they miss a drink and may be forced to use alcohol again to get rid of these symptoms.
The presence of two or more of the symptoms mentioned above usually indicates the presence of alcoholism. Usually, the diagnosis is based on behavior over the past twelve months or more; however, the daily use of alcohol for at least a period of three months may also be enough in some cases.
Drinking too much, either in a single setting or on a long-term basis, can take a toll on health. While some of the side effects of alcoholism may affect your health minorly, others can have life-threatening consequences. In the short term, drinking too much can impact reaction time, causing an individual to have slow coordination and reflexes. These complications may make simple activities like driving extremely dangerous. Some other short-term consequences of alcoholism include:
- Lowered inhibitions
- Poor reflexes
- Blurry vision
- Reduce brain activity
- Difficulty breathing
Continuous heavy use of alcohol over extended periods can start affecting long-term health, leading to several side effects. In some cases, these side effects may lay dormant for years before they slowly begin to surface. For this reason, it is recommended to get professional assessment and care before these effects permanently damage health. Some of the long-term health complications of alcoholism include:
- Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
- Brain defects
- Liver disease
- Heart problems
- Diabetes-related complications
- Vision damage
- Increased risk of cancer
- Bone loss
Alcoholism carries multiple long- and short-term risks to health and overall quality of life. Hence, it is imperative to seek treatment for it as soon as possible. Some of the professionally led treatments to manage this condition include the following:
Also known as counseling, behavioral treatments involve working closely with a health professional to recognize and change the behaviors that initially led to alcoholism. Most types of behavioral treatment share certain common features, including the following:
- Developing skills required to reduce or stop drinking
- Setting achievable goals
- Building a stronger social support system
- Learning to avoid or cope with triggers that might cause a relapse
Following are some types of behavioral treatments used for managing alcohol syndrome in adults:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves individual and group sessions that focus on recognizing behaviors and feelings that contribute to the drinking problem and can lead to relapses in the future. This therapy aims to change these thought processes while equipping clients with the skills necessary to cope with everyday situations without resorting to alcoholism.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy takes place over a short period and aims at building and strengthening motivation to change clients’ drinking behaviors. The therapy identifies the pros and cons of seeking help, forms a plan to change one’s drinking habits, helps clients build confidence, and teaches them the skills they need to maintain sobriety.
- Marital and Family Counseling includes participation from clients and their family members in the treatment process. The therapy aims to improve and repair family relationships to form a robust family support system that can speed up long-term recovery.
- Brief Interventions refer to short, individual, or small-group counseling sessions in which trained counselors provide information to each client about their drinking pattern and the potential risks it carries. This personalized feedback helps clients set their perspective and strive to make a change with the help of a counselor.
Certain medications have been shown to help people manage or stop alcoholism while reducing relapses. At present, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three medications for treating alcohol use disorder which include:
- Naltrexone to help people limit heavy drinking
- Acamprosate to maintain abstinence more easily by cutting back on cravings
- Disulfiram acts as a deterrent. This medication blocks the breakdown of alcohol in the body, leading to uncomfortable symptoms like skin flushing and nausea. These symptoms help some avoid drinking as long as they take this medication.
It is important to remember that not everyone with alcoholism responds to medications, but for some, it can be a good tool in overcoming their drinking problem. Scientists are constantly working to develop more pharmaceutical treatments that could support alcohol abstinence in a better way. As more medications become available, people may have more options to determine the best suits them.
Is alcoholism genetic?
A growing body of scientific evidence confirms that alcoholism does have a genetic component. As per the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children of alcoholic parents are up to four times more likely than others to become alcoholics when they grow up. However, it is important to remember that environmental factors also play a role in many of these cases.
What are alcohol bruises, and why am I getting them?
Bruising from alcohol is a common phenomenon that many heavy drinkers experience. The first and the most obvious reason for these alcohol bruises is that you are much more likely to bump into things when intoxicated. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down the activity in your brain, impairs your balance and motor functions, and alters your ability to judge distance. Hence, you may bump into different objects and not remember them the next morning, as alcohol may also impair your memory. Another physiological reason behind alcohol bruises is that alcohol relaxes and expands the blood vessels in the body. This expansion of vessels increases the blood flow, increasing their risk of rupture. When these vessels rupture, especially the ones close to the skin’s surface, it leads to blood leakage, which shows up as a purple-colored bruise.
What is the association between sweating and alcoholism?
Excessive intake of alcohol increases the heart rate and widens the blood vessels in the skin. This process is termed vasodilation, and it causes the skin to feel flushed and warm. In response to this increased warmth, the body releases sweat.
How to tell if you have an alcohol problem?
You might be suffering from alcohol if:
You often feel the urge to have a drink
You think your drinking habits are causing you problems
Other people constantly warn you about how frequently you are drinking
You get into trouble more often because of your drinking
What should I do if I think someone is suffering from alcoholism?
If someone close to you displays all signs of alcoholism, it can be difficult to determine what to do next. You may feel worried about them, frightened for them, or frustrated that they don’t want to accept help. All of these feelings are natural and completely normal. It is important to know that there are plenty of opportunities for help not only for your loved one struggling with alcoholism but also for you as a caregiver. If possible, consider talking to your loved one honestly, express how you are concerned about them, and gently convince them to see a doctor. It can be extremely challenging for people dependent on alcohol to admit they have a problem; however, being non-judgmental and compassionate can make them feel safer. If you accompany your loved one to an appointment, try obtaining an explanation for them about their illness, its long-term effects, and the potential recovery options in simple language. Don’t forget to ask them how you can best support them in their recovery journey. You may also become their emergency contact if they require help. Support them with their daily tasks as they detox from alcohol, or lend an ear to them to make them feel heard.
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