Over 15 million adults ages 18 and older in the United States have an Alcohol Use Disorder, the medical term for alcoholism and extreme problem drinking. With 6% of America’s population struggling with alcohol abuse and showing signs of alcoholism, it is likely that you know at least one person who has a drinking problem.
You may have noticed it in a friend who seems to get out of control every time your group goes out to a bar or club on the weekend. Perhaps there is a member of your family who seems to always have a beer in their hand when you go over. Despite the normalization of heavy drinking in today’s culture, with over 25% of adults reporting binge drinking at least once in the past month, there is a difference between a hard night out and the signs of alcoholism.
How do you know when a friend has crossed from a hard couple nights out into problem drinking, Alcohol Use Disorder, or alcoholism territory? Although sometimes individuals are functioning alcoholics, capable of managing their day to day life while still heavily intoxicated, there are usually some obvious indications of problem drinking.
Look for these 4 signs of alcoholism or problem drinking next time you’re around that friend or family member. Use the information in this post to get help for yourself or someone you love. We’ve also included helpful information on how to help someone with a drinking problem. After all, everyone deserves a chance at sober living. Seeking help may save your life. It could also save someone else’s life.
1. They Drink More than They Originally Intended To
You can see the signs of alcoholism and problem drinking when a friend or family member set out to have a nice, casual time drinking, insisting they’ll “only have a few.” Before you know it, they are six drinks deep within an hour. If this happens once or twice it doesn’t mean a person has a drinking problem. But when it happens more often than not, it’s a good sign there’s an issue.
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Social Pressures to Drink
There are many reasons for this. One of the biggest reasons is the way we look at alcohol. We treat alcohol differently from every other drug. It’s socially acceptable to have a few drinks. In fact, it’s expected in some contexts. This means that alcohol is widely available. Drinking is often encouraged.
Also, there’s frequently social pressure to drink more. Whether it’s supposed to “loosen up” someone to dance or help in some other way, drinking is usually seen as harmless and helpful. This creates a situation that encourages people to drink more.
Another part of the problem is that guidelines for how much to drink aren’t really clear. Everyone handles alcohol differently. However, there is general advice about how much to drink.
How Much is Too Much to Drink?
Popular Science recently ran an article about the amount people drink. They say that men should have no more than four drinks a night. They also shouldn’t have more than 14 drinks per week. Women shouldn’t have more than three drinks a night and seven per week.
Mental Health and Drinking More than Intended
Mental health is another risk factor. People with mental health issues like depression and anxiety might try to self-medicate with booze. But heavy drinking makes these conditions worse. This situation can create a cycle. Someone drinks to avoid their problems. Then the drinking makes the problems worse. That causes someone to drink more.
Alcohol Poisoning from Drinking Too Much
Another danger of drinking more than you intended to is alcohol poisoning. This condition results from drinking more than your body can handle. Alcohol poisoning goes far beyond being drunk. It means that there is so much booze in your body that the alcohol starts to damage it.
Alcohol poisoning from heavy drinking can cause serious damage. This includes things like:
- Brain damage
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Cardiac arrest
- Pale or blue-tinged skin
Depending on someone’s reaction and tolerance to alcohol, they may or may not show signs of how inebriated they actually are. Many times, functioning alcoholics are capable of handling themselves in a completely normal-seeming manner. This leaves those around them unaware of how much they have actually consumed.
Keep an eye on the number of drinks they have; any more than 4 drinks for women or 5 drinks for men on a single occasion is defined as binge drinking by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
2. They consistently drink and drive or have multiple DUI charges.
There are many Americans who will be pulled over for and charged with a DUI after a night out, thinking they were more capable than they actually were. However, for an individual with a drinking problem or alcoholism, they consistently take risks that put themselves and others in harm’s way.
Heavy alcohol consumption produces a feeling of invincibility and decreases the capability to make rational decisions. This causes individuals with an Alcohol Use Disorder to drink and drive more often than their counterparts.
Most studies point out that most DUI arrests happen to people who already have a DUI or other drug or alcohol-related conviction. One review of DUI studies found that, statistically, someone will drive drunk between 200 and 2000 times for each time they’re arrested.
Another study found that people with multiple DUIs don’t see drunk driving to be as risky as it actually is. That outlook is a good indication of a problem with heavy drinking. A person that consistently drinks and drives put their substance abuse over safety. Unfortunately, this often has tragic consequences.
The CDC reports that DUI crashes account for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the US. Also, they found that only 1% of people that self-reported driving while intoxicated was arrested for it. This shows that someone who gets caught for a DUI multiple times is either a statistical anomaly or they have a drinking problem.
Repeat DUI charges are also a sign of alcoholism or a drinking problem. After being charged with a single DUI, most people would never repeat the mistake and instead make arrangements after a night out on the town. However, an individual with an Alcohol Use Disorder will usually not learn from the mistake, instead of continuing to drive. Especially for those who are functioning alcoholics, they continue to attend work or school while drunk, usually driving to and from their daily activities while under the influence.
3. They continue to drink despite the negative impact it has on their life.
You can see the signs of alcoholism or a drinking problem in those who continue to drink, even after the negative consequences that occur which are related directly to their drinking. Most often, those with alcoholism or a drinking problem will not see that it is the alcohol causing all of the consequences and negatively impacting their life. Instead, they will change a multitude of factors they believe are causing the issue, all while continuing to drink.
Alcohol creates a sense of euphoria. This is a powerful lure to many people. Being drunk offers an escape from daily problems. That means that people trap themselves in a cycle. They drink to escape problems. Their drinking causes more problems. Those new problems make them want to drink.
It’s easy to see how this cycle is hard to break. This cycle also explains why people continue to drink despite the negative impact it has on their life. Sometimes it’s hard for people to realize that drinking is the cause of their problem. They’ll continue to see it as a solution. Things like addiction quizzes can help people understand that they’re drinking too much.
Those who struggle with problem drinking or alcoholism will continue to drink despite job losses, breakoff of engagements, divorce, loss of custody of their children, failing out of school, public humiliation, and more. Alcohol helps them to cope with all of the bad things happening in their lives. They often do not realize that it’s the alcohol causing the problems.
4. They experience withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol isn’t just psychologically addictive. The body becomes dependent on alcohol as well. The human body is always trying to find a balance. When someone is a heavy drinker their body changes how it works. It does this to handle the regular supply of alcohol it gets.
There are many ways the body changes to adapt to heavy drinking. It increases the use of some receptors and decreases the use of others. When someone stops drinking, this different balance causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
If an alcoholic doesn’t have access to booze, their body reacts. The things it did to maintain balance with the alcohol now throw it out of balance. This causes physical and psychological effects.
This sign of alcoholism may be more difficult to notice as alcoholics are quick to curb their withdrawal symptoms with another drink. However, the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol dependence include:
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Delirium Tremens (DT)
Delirium Tremens or DT cause the body to go into overdrive. They happen because alcohol messes with your neurotransmitter systems. GABA receptors malfunction when you stop drinking. These receptors influence many important body functions. They help maintain your neurotransmitters. They also control blood pressure, heart rate, and prevent seizures.
DT is caused by your GABA receptors changing back to the way they were before they adapted to constant alcohol. That increases how much your mind processes. As a result, people might get dizzy or have seizures. They happen about three days after your last drink. They also taper off in 5-7 days.
DTs are one of the main reasons why alcohol treatment programs are so important. They provide access to medical professionals. These people can help manage symptoms. They know what to do to prevent the worst symptoms. They also know how to respond if your condition starts to get worse.
There are two different ways that alcohol withdrawal causes tremors. These are physiological and psychological. A person can experience either or both causes.
The psychological cause of body tremors has to do with an alcoholic’s mindset. Things like anxiety and nervousness cause your body to release hormones. These are related to the body’s fight-or-flight response. The increase the amount of energy the body has. But with alcohol withdrawal, there’s no one to fight and nothing to run away from. That energy gets channeled into body tremors and twitches.
The physical cause of tremors is a bit different. Alcohol lowers the level of stimulation to your brain. The brain gets used to this. When someone stops drinking, the brain is overwhelmed with information and stimulus. That causes your nervous system to go into hyperactive mode. The result is body tremors.
People withdrawing from alcohol are usually much more angry than normal. This isn’t just because they’re mad about alcohol, or their lack of alcohol. In fact, it’s related to one of the causes of body tremors.
Alcohol is a depressant. Heavy drinking and alcoholism cause the brain to get used to being in a depressed state. One of the results of this is that it stops using natural ways to relax. Instead, it relies on alcohol to help calm down.
The brain gets overloaded with stimulation when someone stops drinking. It’s in a heightened state of awareness. It isn’t producing the necessary chemicals to calm down because alcohol made them unnecessary. Without the alcohol, the brain isn’t able to relax. That causes people to be more angry and irritable.
Depression is one of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It happens for several reasons. First, alcohol addiction alters key receptors in your brain. These receptors are called NMDA receptors. They play an important role in preventing depression. When these receptors adapt to handle heavy drinking, they don’t work as well as they otherwise would.
Also, other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal cause depression. Another common symptom is insomnia. Not sleeping enough is a problem. Sleep helps restore you. It gives your brain and body the energy needed to handle the day. It also lets your brain sort and manage information. This helps it work effectively.
When you stop drinking, your body doesn’t have the depressant effects of booze to help it sleep. That can cause insomnia. This lack of sleep can contribute to other problems. Depression is one of them.
Sometimes these withdrawal symptoms are hard to notice. It may seem like a person has a cold or flu. The person might blame something other than alcohol withdrawal for their symptoms.
Keep an eye out for some of these signs in the person you are concerned about. Depending on the severity of their alcohol dependence, withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as two hours after their last drink.
What to Do For Someone Who Shows Signs of Alcoholism
If you have a friend or a loved one exhibiting signs of alcoholism or problem drinking, the most important thing you can do is let them know they can share with you. Educate yourself on the various types of treatment available for alcoholics and those with drinking problems. Help them understand the line between alcohol use and alcoholism. If they need help and they feel comfortable coming to you, you can help to guide them in the right direction if they don’t know where to go.
Talking to Someone About Alcoholism or Heavy Drinking
It’s difficult to confront someone about their drinking problem. No one likes being told they drink too much. Some people react with denial. Others get angry and lash out. Still, others will agree and make excuses. They’ll say that they are planning to stop drinking soon. Many people point to things going on in their life that they say prevent them from stopping drinking.
All of these things make it hard to talk to someone about alcoholism. After all, talking to them causes a backlash, and they’re not likely to change anyway. So most people think “why bother?”. But there are some things you can do to make the task easier. Some of these things include:
Talk About Yourself
One of the most effective ways to talk to someone about their drinking is to explain how it affects you. Talking about your feelings helps the person realize that the issue isn’t just about them. It also helps them break through defensive feelings. Use “I” statements. Examples include “I feel like…” or “That affects me because”.
Avoid Labels and Threats
Most people will reject any label someone gives them. That means you should avoid labeling someone when you’re talking to them about their drinking. Instead of accusing them of having an alcohol problem, point out specific instances and behaviors that worry you.
This also helps you avoid sounding preachy or like you’re lecturing. It also helps steer you away from guilt-based tactics. These tactics are more likely to make the problem worse. If you’re right and the person has a drinking problem, then when they feel bad or guilty they’ll resort to drinking to feel better.
The same logic applies to threats. When you threaten someone, it creates stress. That stress can contribute to the problem. Threats also make people think that you’re not on their side. That makes everything you say sound less persuasive.
One of the best things you can do is to be supportive. Try to let the person know that you’re on their side. Make sure they know that you’re not trying to punish them. You can be supportive in plenty of ways. You can offer to go to a doctor or counselor with them. You can also help them find information and strategies to help them stop drinking.
Offering to help is very effective. One of the biggest barriers to confronting a drinking problem is fear. People are afraid that they’re a failure. They also fear to have to go through such a challenging process alone. Helping someone get the resources they need lets them know you’re there for them. It does so in a way that doesn’t seem threatening or challenging. That makes it more likely that your talk will work.
Another helpful strategy is to prepare yourself for the conversation. You can do this with research. For example, some people will resist quitting alcohol because they’re afraid of withdrawal symptoms. You can anticipate this argument. You can share facts about alcohol withdrawal. Information like timelines for withdrawal and alcohol detox facts help to make quitting seem more possible.
You can also research addiction treatment centers. Find out basic information about different programs. Things like how long a program lasts, what it costs, and whether or not it’s covered by insurance can make it easier for someone to get treatment.
Also, giving people a range of options helps. If someone knows what their choices are, then they’re more likely to make a good one. That means including inpatient and outpatient treatment options in your list. You can also find free support groups. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, has meetings all over the country. You can give someone meeting times and locations. You can even offer to go with them.
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Getting Help for Heavy Drinking and Alcoholism
Everyone needs help sometimes. It’s hard to stop drinking by yourself. Between the social pressures, the personal pressures, and the withdrawal symptoms, most people need help to stop drinking.
People need different kinds of help. After all, every person is different. In the same way, every addiction is different. A trained medical professional can help you or someone you love determines the best way to stop drinking.
Depending on the severity of their alcoholism, someone may need detox, inpatient rehab, or just an intensive outpatient program. There is treatment available for every alcoholic that can help them get sober. Educating yourself and being there when they are ready for help could be just the thing they need to assist them in getting sober.
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