Understanding Alcohol Abuse
Learn About Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse is defined as a problematic pattern of drinking that causes significant impairment or distress in a person’s life. As indicated in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental health disorders, alcohol abuse is characterized by at least two of the following situations occurring within a 12-month period:
- Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts and for a longer period of time than intended.
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down alcohol use.
- A significant amount of time is spent obtaining alcohol, using alcohol, or recovering from its effects.
- Cravings for alcohol.
- Continued use of alcohol despite a failure to fulfill responsibilities at work or at home.
- Continued use of alcohol despite repeated problems within social or interpersonal relationships as a result of the alcohol.
- Important activities are abandoned or reduced because of alcohol use.
- Uses alcohol in situations that are physically dangerous.
- Continued use of alcohol despite knowledge of physical or physiological problems that have occurred as a result of alcohol abuse.
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol.
- Symptoms of withdrawal occur should alcohol use cease.
Individuals who abuse alcohol place themselves at an increased risk for the development of many different functional complications in all areas of his or her life. This includes an increased risk for the development of an alcohol addiction, which includes both a physical and psychological dependence on this substance. Alcohol use disorders can be difficult to overcome without professional help. Thankfully there are many alcoholism treatment options available to help individuals overcome the disease of addiction and go on to lead a healthier, more successful future.
Alcohol Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders
Those with alcohol use disorders tend to also suffer from an additional mental health condition. The following are among the several co-occurring disorders that may have contributed to or have been exacerbated by an individual’s alcohol abuse:
- Additional substance use disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that, more than 87 % of adults in the United States have consumed alcohol at least once and more than 70% have consumed alcohol within the last year. Furthermore, the NIAAA reports that about 17 million adults in the United States have an alcohol abuse problem.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse
The development of alcoholism is influenced by many different factors, instead of just one single cause. Genetic, psychological, social, and environmental influences have all been cited as playing a role in the onset of alcohol abuse problems. Consider the following:
Genetic: It has been determined, by multiple research studies that alcohol use disorder runs in families. In fact, genetics are said to make of 40% to 60% of an individual’s risk for the development of alcohol abuse and addiction. Furthermore, those who have first degree relatives with alcohol use disorders are three to four times more likely to develop problems with alcohol, when compared to others who have no such history.
Environmental: The environment in which we grow up in and spend a majority of our time can greatly influence the way we think and behave. Just as genes play a role in the development of alcoholism our environment also impacts its development. For example, growing up in a family where alcohol is readily available and is regularly abused is going to make an individual more likely to believe that engagement in this type of behavior is acceptable. There are also a number of environmental factors, such as traumatic events, an inability to effectively cope with stress, and being the victim of a type of abuse can all make it more likely for an individual to begin drinking, which can lead to alcoholism.
- Family history of alcohol abuse and dependency
- Family history of mental health concerns
- Started drinking at a younger age
- Binge drinking on a regular basis
- Presence of depression or other mental health conditions
- Having friends or family members who drink
- Experiencing excessive amounts of stress
- Poor coping skills
- Unresolved grief or loss
- Experiencing a significant failure
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
It is not always easy to determine if someone is struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Many times an individual, who is abusing alcohol, will go to great lengths to keep his or her addiction a secret, even from those closest to him or her. However, if an alcohol abuse problem does in fact exist there are several indicators that will begin to make themselves known. Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with alcohol use disorders include:
- No longer participating in activities one used to enjoy in order to spend more time drinking
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Drinking alone or dinking in secret
- Hiding alcohol throughout the house
- Is unable to stop drinking after one or two drinks
- Constantly drinks more than the intended amount
- Is defensive when confronted about drinking habits
- Becoming irritable or agitated when not able to drink
- Continuing to drink despite negative experiences that are occurring as result of the alcohol
- Drinks in physically dangerous situations
- Decline in work performance
- Neglects major responsibilities
- Interpersonal problems
- Increased tolerance (needing more alcohol to feel initial effects)
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Increased rate of cancer
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lack of coordination
- Constantly thinking about drinking
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Experiencing memory loss
- Strong cravings
- Impaired memory
- Reduced inhibition and ability to use sound judgment
- Suicidal ideation
Effects of Alcohol Addiction
The diagnostic features associated with alcoholism can result in a series of negative consequences that can greatly impact all major areas of a person’s life. The following are some of the many ways that alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on a person’s life:
- Loss of job
- Financial difficulties
- Strained or failed relationships
- Injuries due to alcohol-related accidents
- Legal problems
- Engagement in violent behavior
- Liver disease
- Heart problems
- Digestive problems
- Bone loss
- Neurological complications
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of cancer
- Suicidal ideation and behaviors
Withdrawal and Overdose
Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal and Overdose
Effects of alcohol withdrawal: When an individual who has been abusing alcohol for a prolonged period of time suddenly stops drinking, they are likely to experience a number of unpleasant symptoms known as withdrawal. Symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal may include the following:
- Irritability or easily excited
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Hand tremors
- State of confusion
Effects of alcohol overdose: An alcohol overdose, also called alcohol poisoning, is a very dangerous and often deadly result of consuming too much alcohol. The following symptoms may indicate someone may have overdosed on alcohol:
- Slow breathing
- Irregular breathing
- Blue-tinged skin
- Low body temperature
- Passing out