Alcoholism is common in America. It comes hand in hand with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and is categorized as having alcohol dependence.
It’s not unusual for many alcoholics to struggle with alcoholism. After all, 10% of Americans drink as many as 74 drinks each week. That’s about 10 drinks a day.
If you’re worried that you or someone you know may struggle with alcoholism, here are some signs to look out for.
A Look at DSM-5 and DSM-IV
The American Psychiatric Association considered alcoholism as a mental disorder. As a result, they have come up with certain criteria for diagnosing the condition.
There are two different manuals used for diagnostic purposes: DSM-5 and DMS-IV. DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
DSM-IV looks at two different disorders. They include alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Only the latter is a form of alcoholism.
Under this diagnostic criteria, anyone who met:
- More than one ‘abuse’ criteria within 12 months were considered to abuse alcohol
- More than three ‘dependence’ criteria within 12 months were considered to be dependent on alcohol
There is quite a list of criteria to comb through.
DSM-5 is much simpler. Doctors diagnosed patients with AUD if they met at least 2 out of 11 criteria within 12 months. A disorder is considered to be more severe if it meets more criteria.
Sign #1: Building Up Tolerance to Alcohol
One of the biggest and simplest signs of alcoholism is an increase in tolerance. This means that addicts need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects as before.
Everyone has a different initial tolerance. While some people will feel a buzz after drinking only two beers, others may need at least four. Keep track of the amount of alcohol needed to achieve a buzz. If you or someone you know needs more and more alcohol, it’s a clear sign of alcoholism.
Many alcoholics struggling with alcoholism are high-functioning drinkers. This means that they are able to drink quite a lot without acting or looking drunk. In fact, many alcoholics can go about their usual daily routine while intoxicated.
How Is Tolerance Built?
Alcoholics become tolerant when their body and brain get used to metabolizing alcohol. The liver metabolizes 0.6 ounces of ethanol, or one standard alcoholic drink, each 90 minutes.
Heavy drinkers will find that their bodies can metabolize alcohol much more quickly. The liver anticipates that it will need to break down more alcohol. As a result, it produces more enzymes than usual.
Since the liver is able to metabolize alcohol much more efficiently, more alcohol is needed for alcoholics to enjoy a buzz. This is one of the first steps to an increased tolerance.
Other than the liver, the brain is also thought to play a rather large role in developing tolerance. The brains of alcoholics are exposed to alcohol on a regular basis. The chemicals in alcohol suppress neurotransmitter function. They attach to GABA receptors to induce sleepiness and a relaxed sensation.
Increased exposure to alcohol will cause the GABA system to adapt. This means that the brain will need more alcohol to produce the same effect as before.
Drinkers may also have a larger tolerance if they drink in the same watering hole. The usual environment may create a sense of familiarity. This sense of familiarity may have an odd psychological effect on the brain.
Sign #2: Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Another clear sign of alcoholism is the presence of withdrawal symptoms when quitting. If being sober comes with physical consequences, it’s a sign of alcoholism.
There are three distinct stages to alcohol withdrawals. The first withdrawal symptoms usually appear about 8 hours after one’s last drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe. In severe cases, withdrawing from alcohol improperly can lead to death.
Minor Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Not all symptoms are severe. Some symptoms are relatively minor, and will only cause some discomfort. The intensity of these minor symptoms will usually peak one to two days after the last drink. They will slowly subside after that.
The intensity of the symptoms will depend on what the usual alcohol intake may be. It will also vary from person to person. Common minor symptoms to expect include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Irritability and mood swings
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Uncontrollable shaking
These symptoms are not life threatening at all. To prevent these withdrawal symptoms, many alcoholics rely on medical detox treatment plans.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
About 10% of all patients struggling with AUD will experience acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This comes with some serious consequences. The initial symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome include:
- Delirium tremens
- Increased anxiety
- Low-grade fever
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid breathing
The most dangerous symptom of all is delirium tremens. It is so dangerous that it has a mortality rate of anywhere from 5% to 25%.
One of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms of alcohol detoxification is delirium tremens. This symptom can affect a lot of long-term, heavy drinkers. It is the one condition that professional rehab centers keep an eye out for the most.
Patients will generally start getting confused anywhere from 24 to 96 hours after their last drink. After this happens, other symptoms related to delirium tremens will start to kick in. Common symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Changes to mental acuity
- Enhanced sensitivities
- Mood changes
When seeking treatment from a rehab center, professionals take great care to assess each situation. They will try to determine the likelihood of each patient experiencing delirium tremens. These patients need closer and more intense medical supervision.
Sign #3: Isolating Oneself from Family and Friends
It’s unfortunate, but alcoholics tend to drive everyone close around them away. They tend to isolate themselves in favor of drinking alone. Behavioral and mood changes from alcohol consumption may even ruin personal relationships.
A clear sign of alcoholism is feeling like you’re unable to connect with anyone else. This can be from both a physical and emotional standpoint. Alcoholics often feel disconnected from others, and may even feel as if no one cares about them.
It’s not unusual for alcoholics to feel abandoned although it’s due to their own actions.
5 Ways to Rebuild Relationships Broken by Addiction
Addictions, by nature, drive others away. If you’re struggling with alcoholism, you’re not alone. There are plenty of other people in similar situations. You can get the support you need from group counselling and even from 12-Step Programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous.
In fact, steps 8 and 9 of the 12-Step Program are geared towards rebuilding broken relationships. Some tips for rebuilding relationships include:
- Being honest about the addiction and opening up
- Learning how to communicate clearly and healthily
- Looking for ways to make amends for past wrongdoings
- Reaching out to family and friends first
- Setting realistic expectations everyone can get behind
This is where family or group counselling at the rehab center may come in handy. It helps all parties work through emotions and conflicts.
Sign #4: Craving Alcohol on a Regular Basis
Once anyone become dependent on a substance, they will start to crave it. The same can be said for alcohol.
Both external and internal triggers can result in cravings.
Internal triggers involve a psychological response to the lack of alcohol. The brain evokes negative emotions and thoughts to the chemical imbalance. This may make you feel angry, irritable or upset. It will feel like alcohol is always on your mind.
External triggers are physical things that remind you of drinking. This may be certain people that you always drink with or certain places that you always drink at.
Certain parts of the brain are responsible for the cravings. They light up with activity whenever they are exposed to triggers.
It’s normal to experience cravings, especially when you first start to recover. Unfortunately, cravings can last for quite some time. Some heavy drinkers may still experience cravings years after they’ve gotten sober.
Factors that Affect How Long the Cravings Will Last
While it’s normal to experience cravings, the cravings will last for different lengths of time for each addict. The factors that affect how long the cravings will last include:
- The amount of alcohol that was consumed regularly
- The frequency of which alcohol was consumed
- The length of alcohol use and abuse
- The amount of stress that one experiences on a regular basis
- The amount of support received from family and friends
- The amount of triggers that are present in one’s environment
- One’s physical and mental health
There are certain medications that can help curb cravings. Naltrexone is a very popular option. They block the receptors that stimulate pleasure when drinking alcohol.
Sign #5: Neglecting Responsibilities
Alcoholics often find themselves performing poorly at work, at school and at home. They often fail to complete homework, are unable to catch up at work and neglect their children.
If you notice a heavy drinker’s performance changing drastically, there’s a good chance that they’ve begun to abuse alcohol. Usually, close family members and friends are the first to notice a steady decline in daily performance.
Heavy alcohol consumption can cause hangovers and poor cognitive function. It can also cause one to lose their motivation in day-to-day life. An alcoholic’s mind is only focused on drinking. They become obsessed with when and where they’re going to get their next drink.
Rehab centers recommend that each patient try several different types of therapies. Many therapies focus on rebuilding good habits. This may result in enhanced productivity and performance.
Sign #6: Blacking Out or Experiencing Memory Loss
It’s not unusual for those who are addicted to alcohol to wake up with no memory of the night before. Memory loss and blackouts are common amongst those who drink heavily. These two incidents are also signs of alcoholism.
Alcohol interferes with one’s ability to form memories. It prevents the brain from storing and processing new information for a brief amount of time. The level of memory impairment is dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed.
Dealing with Blackouts
There are two different types of blackouts: partial and complete. Partial blackouts are also known as fragmentary blackouts, while complete blackouts can also be referred to as en bloc blackouts. Alcohol disrupts activity in the hippocampus, so it cannot form new memories. This means that it doesn’t affect memories formed before intoxication.
There’s a key difference between en bloc blackouts and fragmentary blackouts. With en bloc blackouts, drinkers are unable to recall any information at all. The drinkers usually fall asleep before these blackouts end.
While experiencing a blackout, drinkers can still carry on certain functions. They may still be able to engage in exhilarating conversations and even drive. This is because they still have some form of short-term memory. They can normally recall events for up to 2 minutes before completely forgetting about them.
Those who experience fragmentary blackouts, on the other hand, realize that they are forgetting something. They can remember that events have occurred if they are reminded of them.
The intensities of blackouts have been correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who regularly consume a lot of alcohol are more prone to en bloc blackouts than fragmentary blackouts.
Fight Back and Get Sober
Alcoholism doesn’t have to take control of your life. You’re not helpless. Seek help from a recovery center. We have all the resources that you’ll need to avoid withdrawals and get sober.
We’ll also teach you a bunch of ways to prevent relapses, so you can stay sober for longer.
Since alcohol withdrawals can be deadly, it’s always wise to deal with withdrawals under medical supervision. This is the safest way of becoming sober.
To get more information, contact one of our counsellors as soon as possible. One of our medical staff will assess your condition and situation to determine which treatment plan is most appropriate. We’ll also custom design therapies to meet your needs and expectations.
Trust us. You’ll be in good hands.