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How to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol has been ranked as one of the five most addictive substances. It can take a serious physical and emotional toll on a person’s life and life of people around. Do you know someone that has a problem with alcohol? Do they drink to excess? Are you worried about it? In this article, we will talk about how to determine if there is an alcohol problem and how to help this individual.

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Alcohol Abuse vs. Being an Alcoholic

Do you know the difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism? Most of the time when we are worried about somebody misusing, we are worried about whether or not they are an alcoholic. Alcoholism can end careers, cripple families, and change somebody’s life forever. However, as strange as it may sound, one should worry more about people who abuse alcohol more than the people that are alcoholics.

Alcoholism is the most severe form. The symptoms of being an alcoholic are really obvious. Alcohol abuse symptoms are less obvious. It is harder to detect the symptoms of somebody who is abusing alcohol. The problems fester and fester undetected until there is a crisis.

When an individual abuses alcohol, there is a slow destruction of their relationships and the quality of their life. People who abuse alcohol deny it. They would say something like, “I am not an alcoholic because I go days without drinking. I get up every morning. I go to work. My job is not in jeopardy. I am in good health, so there is nothing to worry about.”

Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a chronic, compulsive, uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. It is similar to alcohol abuse, but it is way more severe. It has one additional symptom and that is a physical dependency. In other words, an individual relies on alcohol to function and feels physically compelled to drink. There are different levels of alcoholism severity, so it is important to diagnose it right and apply the right treatment to help an individual.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

An individual is abusing alcohol:

  • If someone close to them told them that they are worried about their drinking;
  • If they use it as a way to cope with your day;
  • If they are secretive about their alcohol consumption;
  • If they are failing in their responsibilities at work, school, or home;
  • If they are dangerous about their drinking;
  • If they continue to drink despite an ongoing relationship problem that is caused or worsened by drinking.

Signs of Alcoholism

There are two major warning signs of alcoholism.

  • Tolerance

This means that over time an individual has to drink a lot more than they used to in order to get a buzz. They can “out-drink” most other people.

  • Withdrawal

With the withdrawal, an individual “needs” a drink in the morning to steady their shaky hands and relive or avoid withdrawal symptoms in general. Trouble staying asleep and an unexpected panic attack are other symptoms. This is a huge red flag.

Role of Age, Gender and Genetics in Excessive Alcohol Use

The red flags for different age groups are slightly different and one would evaluate different criteria based upon what you would expect the person to be doing. If they are a high school student, you would be looking if they are drinking at school and with friends and if they are late or not going to school, etc. For someone who is older, you would be looking if they have reduced productivity at work, if they are not doing the family obligations, etc.

There are also specific differences between genders. For a man, at-risk drinking is drinking five drinks in a day or 15 or more drinks per week. For a woman, that level is four drinks a day and eight or more drinks per week.

Genetics, family history, and heritability are one of the top risks for alcohol use disorder. Having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases a child’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder four times. About 50% of the risk of developing alcohol use disorders is determined by our genetics. However, these factors only mean that the risk is higher, but the person will not necessarily be an alcoholic or abuse alcohol.

Alcohol Effects on Brain and Body

The dangers of regular excessive drinking go way beyond the morning hangover. Those who drink heavily run the risk of damaged brain tissue, an array of liver disease, and a variety of cancers. Here are just some facts that might get you really thinking about the problem:

  • Alcohol use causes the brain’s delicate neurotransmitters to relay information slower.
  • It boosts the production of dopamine, which tricks the brain into thinking it is actually feeling great, while it shrinks and disturbs brain tissue.
  • Alcohol makes the drinker feel drowsy, suffer from memory loss and lack of motor coordination, and experience sudden mood swings.
  • Over time, alcohol changes the brain’s structure, causing heavy drinkers to crave more alcohol.
  • Frequent drinking can lead to cardiomyopathy (a stretching of the heart), arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat), stroke, or high blood pressure.
  • The liver bears the brunt of alcohol’s effects: steatosis (a fatty liver), alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, or cirrhosis.
  • The pancreas can suffer from inflammation of the blood vessels, called pancreatitis.
  • Overdrinking has also been shown to cause cancer in the mouth, esophagus, throat, breast, and liver.
  • Drinking also weakens your immune system.

As you can see, if one drinks to excess habitually, a hangover is the least of your worries.

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Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Remember, everyone who eventually becomes an alcoholic at some point abused alcohol, but not everybody who abuses alcohol will for sure go on to become an alcoholic. Without intervention, chances are pretty good that alcohol abuse will turn into alcoholism. So, what do you do about it?

You need to talk about the white elephant in the room. You do not dance around the subject and just keep secrets. You need to tell them that you are worried about them and you want to help them to get some professional help.

Let the individual know and reassure them that you will stick by them and this will be alright. The biggest worry alcoholics have when they become sober is if everything will come back and kick them in the backside, all the pain happening again, headaches, regrets, depression, anxieties.

Many alcoholics drink because they think alcohol stopping or suppressing these anxieties and other issues. Let them know that you understand what is going on, that it is going to be hard, but you are going to help them through this process and after this process.

You have to let them know that it is okay to forget about what happened in the past. It is okay to have made mistakes and messed up in the past. It is okay to move on and start their life from a new page. They don’t have to go around and regret what they have done before because they were under the effect of alcohol and could not control themselves.

If you are the person that has a problem with alcohol, get some help. Call your physician, talk to your clergy, go see a psychologist, tell a friend. You do not have to go through the process of getting sober all alone.

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