While some people can use alcohol in a way that isn’t harmful to them or the people around them, it has the potential to be a dangerous drug. Over 15 million Americans in the United States are struggling with an alcohol use disorder, and only 10% of them are seeking treatment. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that often starts as a tendency towards using drink to relax or ease anxiety in social scenarios. Needing alcohol consumption to unwind or feel confident is an early warning sign that many people dismiss.
As the disease takes hold, your body starts to rely on alcohol for normal functioning, which is known as physical dependence. Ideally, you should seek treatment before it gets to this stage so you can minimize the risk of long-term damage to your health, including liver disease. The good news is that alcohol use disorder is treatable at any stage. There is always hope for recovery, but first, you need to understand the nature of disordered drinking and accept that it’s time to change.
Health care professionals who have your best interests at heart can guide you through the healing process by addressing your spiritual, psychological and physical symptoms.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorder is the clinical name for drinking that you are no longer in control of. There are stages of this disease, which gets progressively worse as it develops. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms is imperative for anyone worried that they or a loved one be falling into addiction. It’s not safe to be in the early stages, as there is a likelihood the condition will worsen and cause more health problems down the road.
Many young people go through an experimentation stage when they go to college and get a first taste of freedom. This may include binge drinking, drinking to the point of blackouts or relying on drink to enjoy social occasions. While this is a phase for some, others will go on to develop chronic alcohol use disorders if they don’t seek treatment to stop drinking.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
Knowing the mechanisms and effects of alcohol abuse can help you self-diagnose or determine if a loved one needs help. Some people may present several of these symptoms and never go on to develop a seriously disordered alcohol dependence, but many of them will. Once the alcohol has become a person’s main priority, they have developed a chronic alcohol use disorder or addiction. Signs of a developing drinking problem include:
- Tolerance: You need to consume a disproportionately large amount of alcohol to get inebriated. That said, after a while, the liver becomes damaged and struggles to metabolize ethanol, decreasing tolerance. The impact heavy drinking has on the central nervous system can also decrease tolerance.
- Withdrawal: When you try to cut down on or stop using alcohol, you’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, nausea, insomnia and anxiety. You might start drinking more frequently to alleviate these feelings.
- Persistence: Even though physical and psychological harm is being done, you continue to drink alcohol.
- Intention: Consistently intending to drink a certain amount and not sticking to your limit or continuing to drink for longer periods than you had planned.
- Isolation: You stop seeing friends and family and focus more and more time on getting drunk.
- Vocational or financial worries: In spite of your job or school work being affected, you continue drinking heavily. You may also have found yourself in financial trouble.
- Time: Spending a considerable amount of your day getting drunk or recovering from the effects of drinking.
- Relapse: Often, people who are addicted to a substance make unsuccessful attempts to stop. One of the key defining factors of a substance use disorder is being aware that you have a problem but not being able to overcome it or stop drinking.
Is Alcoholism Hereditary?
Children of people with alcohol problems are four times more likely to suffer from alcohol use disorders. Some genetic factors have been linked to a higher likelihood of developing alcoholism, and exposure is also thought to play a part. If you come from living around family members that are heavy drinkers, there’s more of an increased risk that you’ll see the behavior as normalized. There are also several other risk factors thought to be causes of alcoholism:
- Starting to drink before the age of 15
- Ease of access
- Low self-esteem
- Media or advertising influence
- Needing to consume more alcohol to get drunk
- Other mental health disorders
- Peer drinking
- Lack of parental supervision growing up
- Neglect or problematic childhood
- Repeat exposure
If any of the issues discussed here resonate with you and you’d like to discuss alcohol treatment options with an addiction expert, or if you just need to talk about your situation, call Peace Valley Recovery at 215-780-1953.