What are the Signs of Alcohol Abuse?

When breaking down what is considered alcohol abuse or heavy drinking, SAMSHA says it’s drinking 5 or more days per month. This is what is considered heavy alcohol use or binge drinking. There are a variety of different signs of alcohol abuse and it can be challenging to know for sure. This is especially true because people who abuse alcohol may begin to be strategic about it. They will hide their drinking or try to blend in by only going to events that allow them to drink among others.

This is why it’s so important to know what the signs of alcohol abuse are before it becomes alcoholism. It’s good to know it within yourself because often, there’s a sense of denial when you abuse a substance. It’s also good for family and loved ones to know what to look for if they’re around someone abusing alcohol. There is a risk that alcohol abuse will turn into alcoholism. This article serves as a purpose to answer the questions of what alcohol abuse symptoms are. It is also about being able to identify the difference between abusing alcohol and alcoholism as they are two separate issues.

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Alcohol Abuse Definition

It’s legal and socially acceptable to enjoy a glass of wine or drink a beer after a long day. It is a part of many celebrations but there is a line when it becomes too much. So how can you tell if you’ve gone too far? What is the definition of alcohol abuse and and how does it morph into alcoholism? 

What is considered drinking in moderation is when you have no more than a drink a day if you’re female. For a man, it’s two drinks. If you’re not sure what is considered a drink, here is the following guideline: 

  • For hard liquor like whisky, it’s 1.5 ounces.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 12 ounces of beer. 

The amount you drink can also be broken down by the week. Heavy drinking is a form of alcohol abuse. The measurement for a woman is when you drink seven or more drinks per week. For men, it’s 14 or more drinks per week. Heavy drinking per day includes three drinks for women and four drinks for men. 

Alcohol abuse is considered to be any harmful use of alcohol. They are prone to binge drinking, heavy drinking, but not regular drinking.

Alcohol Misuse Disorders

As there is a spectrum of different drinking problems, there is now an umbrella they sit under known as alcohol misuse disorders. They range from mild to severe. The terms under this are alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence. The relationship of the person and alcohol may vary but there are similar descriptions which are as follows:

  • A person will have a hard time controlling how much alcohol they consume. Once you start drinking, you’ll continue and not stop until you’ve had far too much. The following day, you will likely look back and remember that was not your plan for the night.
  • You will keep drinking even though it has negative consequences in your life. Your relationship may be hurting from your drinking. You may even say you’ll stop when you’re in the middle of a conversation. When the opportunity arises however, you’ll keep on drinking.

The Problem with Alcohol Abuse

Plenty of people drink. There is a definition of what is considered heavy drinking which would be one of the signs of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse comes with many downfalls, the main one being that you can develop an addiction known as alcoholism. Jama reported recently that alcohol use disorder is on the rise. There are 1 in 8 people that develop the disorder. 

Alcohol abuse can also cause many health issues. Alcohol starts changing many parts of your body from the very first sip. Having an occasional drink isn’t going to cause long term health issues. The effects of consistent drinking have a cumulative effect and can harm the body greatly. 

Alcohol can actually change your behaviors, you lose your focus which inhibits your ability to make good decisions. Alcohol abuse can shrink your brain in the frontal lobes. This affects your memory or you may experience hallucinations. It is ultimately the brain that will become dependent on alcohol when abused. To the point you will need a professional alcohol detox that is fully supervised as delirium tremens are a possibility. 

Your body suffers extreme repercussions too. The worst case scenarios include: 

  • Heart damage.
  • Liver damage.
  • Lung infections.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cancer.
  • Infertility.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Bones can become thin.
  • Complications with diabetes.
  • Stomach problems.
  • High blood pressure.

Alcohol Abuse and Liver Damage

The most common serious health problem with drinking is liver damage. It is the liver that has to work so hard to process alcohol. The liver is responsible for breaking down any harmful substance that are in the body. This of course includes alcohol. When you abuse alcohol and drink often, the liver function process is interrupted. This increases the risk of liver disease and chronic liver inflammation.

The scarring that inflammation of the liver causes is known as cirrhosis. The scar tissue gets more and more damaged until it’s completely destroyed. It isn’t possible to get toxins out of the body when this occurs. Toxins and waste will build up and can become a life threatening disease. Women are at greater risk of developing liver disease through alcohol abuse. Their bodies are more susceptible to absorbing greater quantities of alcohol and the processing time is longer. Liver damage will show up more quickly in women also.

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can't predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”

― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Consider alcohol abuse the bridge from casual drinking to full on alcohol addiction. When you drink heavily and often, there is the potential to develop a physical and emotional dependendency. Your behaviors will change and you will become a slave to alcohol. It all starts with alcohol abuse. While alcohol abuse symptoms have many of the same symptoms as alcoholism, the person isn’t addicted or dependent yet. Tolerance will build up and it’s certainly a catalyst, however, addiction to alcohol causes greater problems. 

Who Would be Considered an Alcohol Abuser? 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder IV, someone who abuses alcohol will continue drinking even if they have experienced problems in their life because of it. This can be legal, social, interpersonal, or health issues. The kind of help an alcohol abuser will need includes a brief intervention. This would include information about the ramifications of binge drinking as well as alcohol poisoning.

What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorder?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define alcohol abuse as a pattern of drinking that causes harm. When you drink enough that your health, relationships, and responsibilities are affected due to alcohol, this is considered abuse. There are symptoms that go along with it as well. Alcohol abuse may occur because someone is having emotional issues and are looking to numb the pain. 

Tolerance will rise so a person can drink more all the time without feeling as drunk. The drinking will be quite regular and often the person will drink quickly, quite a large amount in a short time, or both. Behaviors will begin as the alcohol begins to affect the brain's functioning. The person may experience pain in their lower back and feel fuzzy in the mind most of the time. 

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependency. The disease is chronic and best characterized by how much alcohol is consumed. That level will interfere with a person’s mental and physical health and will manifest in many outward problems in life. The main difference between abusing alcohol and alcoholism is the addiction factor and how the disease will affect every aspect of a person’s life. Alcoholism, once developed, will always be there. You can never just enjoy another drink. 

Alcoholism occurs through genetic factors as well as environmental factors. Some people that abuse alcohol may not be as susceptible to becoming addicted. If your family members had addiction problems, you’re more likely to as well. If you’re around people who are always drinking, it’s hard to stop. If you grew up in an alcoholic household, you’re far more likely to become an alcoholic if you’re abusing alcohol.

Breaking Down Alcohol Abuse

There are physical and mental symptoms that will indicate you’re abusing alcohol. As described above, there are certain parameters of drinking. How often you drink and how much you drink in one sitting. Heavy drinkers may only drink on the weekends but if they have ten beer, this is just as big of an issue as someone who drinks daily. Abusing alcohol and alcohol use disorder are closely intertwined. Your consistent or heavy drinking habits can form into a medical condition that affects your brain. It’s clearly easy to fall into this as there is an estimated 16 million people who have it in the U.S. alone.  

Alcoholism is the outcome of alcohol abuse for some. Genetics can play a part in how easy it is for someone to become addicted. Also, their lifestyle and environment will play a role. Why you abuse alcohol is a clue into how dependent you may become on it. If you’re emotionally drinking, this can become a cycle of abuse that turns into an alcohol use disorder.

Health Risks of Drinking

Regardless of whether you’re drinking heavily, drinking often, or have developed alcohol use disorder, the health risks of drinking are all the same. They affect people differently. Women will develop liver problems earlier than men. Each individual will have their own health issues with alcohol based on their genetics and other factors. If you have a mild alcohol abuse disorder, your liver will slowly deteriorate. This gives you time to do something about abstaining. This is where you have the opportunity to go to alcohol rehab and change your life for the better. A serious drinking problem will see a faster decline in health. It’s all relative but one thing's for certain, alcohol is poison to the system and will cause issues if you are consistently drinking. Here are the risks: 

  • Heart issues such as arrhythmias, stroke, dangerously high blood pressure or cardiomyopathy.
  • Liver problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis, a deadly health issue with the pancreas.
  • Cancer that can develop in the mouth, liver, throat, or esophagus.
  • The immune system becomes weak which makes you vulnerable to diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Did you know that there are outward, physical signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism? A person's face and other characteristics can often tell the truth about their relationship with this substance.

The physical appearance of someone when they abuse alcohol isn’t always so obvious at first. The skin will start to look different and you’ll likely have dark circles under your eyes because you don’t get the right kind of rest. Alcohol will eventually cause a gut also. This has a lot to do with how the body processes alcohol. It also has something to do with being drunk and not making healthy food choices. Late night binge eating is a common problem while drinking. 

When someone becomes an alcoholic, any physical symptoms will increase and worsen. Physical symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism include: 

  • Broken capillaries on the face and nose.
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (physical signs of liver damage).
  • Breath that always seems to smell like alcohol.
  • Problems with personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain.
  • Very dry skin.
  • Looking very red or flushed.
  • Appearing to age quickly.
  • Brittle fingernails and hair. 

There are psychological alcohol abuse symptoms that indicate a problem. Alcohol directly influences and actually changes the way the brain functions. While under the influence, alcohol depresses the brain. This is why you feel so relaxed and you become accustomed and dependent on the feeling. When you abuse alcohol, you may begin to get some uncomfortable side effects.

Drinking often can cause the following mental issues: 

  • You may have symptoms of depression that can lead to major depressive disorder.
  • The risk of suicide.
  • Due to an unhealthy liver, hepatic encephalopathy can occur. This is a deterioration of brain functioning.
  • Mood and character changes that are noticeable.
  • Anxiety of panic attacks may occur.
  • It’s more challenging to focus on things.  

There are certain behaviors to look for when someone abuses alcohol. There will likely be a change in personality which will in turn cause a change in behavior. The following symptoms will also be something people do when they’re dependent on alcohol.  Here are some of the behavior patterns that are typical for those who have serious drinking problems: 

  • They will come up with every excuse in the book to get to drink.
  • They typically hide alcohol in various places around the house.
  • They will often stay up late to drink when it's quiet.
  • They won't attend events where alcohol isn't served or permitted.
  • They may start drinking earlier in the day. If they’re on vacation, they’ll use it as an excuse to day drink which will start in the morning.
  • They may drink before leaving the house for the day.
  • They become defensive when someone brings up the subject of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
  • They feel ashamed or guilty about how much or how often they drink. 

By now, you may have a pretty good idea of what a drinking problem like abuse or alcoholism looks like. Have you noticed any of these qualities within yourself? If you have, you may have a serious drinking problem that needs to be treated professionally.

What's Your Relationship With Alcohol? This Quiz Can Help You Find Out

Maybe you've noticed some of the signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism in your own life. Sometimes, it’s not so easy to see the distinction between the two. While some of the symptoms of alcohol abuse are similar to alcoholism, it may not mean you’re fully dependent yet. There are also doubts that will creep in if you have become an alcoholic because you don’t want to admit it to yourself. It feels like you have a weakness and you know the social stigma that surrounds it. You may be far accepting of the fact that you’re abusing alcohol or that you drink too much. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve developed an addiction to alcohol and that it has total control over them. This kind of lie that you tell yourself is hard to get out of. That’s why there are interventions and alcohol addiction quizzes.

This quiz was designed for people who seriously question the role of alcohol in their lives. It will ask you a series of questions, and it's important to be honest. Once you answer all of the questions, you'll be redirected to your results.

If someone you love has a drinking problem, it's never going to be easy to point it out to them. They do a good job of hiding their drinking problem whether it’s abuse or full dependency. In fact, you may not be aware of what to look for yourself. You need to know what the specific signs and symptoms of alcoholism are. 

Does your loved one display any of the following?:

  • Lying about their drinking habits
  • Hiding alcohol all around your house, or in their vehicle
  • Extreme mood swings, based on how much they've been drinking
  • Health problems that are related to drinking
  • Recent job loss, or other work-related problems
  • Legal issues that involve drinking
  • Instances of driving under the influence
  • Problems managing responsibilities at home
  • Becoming isolated from family and friends
  • Promising to cut back, but then breaking that promise
  • Trying to stop drinking, but being unable to follow through 

If you're like most concerned family members, you probably notice quite a few on this list. Many of these are signs that let you know the person is abusing alcohol and may have developed an addiction. If your loved one has only a few of these characteristics, he or she most likely has a drinking problem. It may range in severity which can be figured out by how many symptoms the person has.

There are stages that you’ll go through before you become a full-blown alcoholic. There are warning signs that will indicate if you’re going down a bad road. First, we’ll discuss the stages:

The early stage is when you regularly drink. In this phase, you might also drink too much when you do drink. You haven’t suffered any consequences as of yet which in a way makes it hard to stop. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. It’s the easiest time for you to abstain and make positive changes however. This stage is when denial is at its highest.

The middle stage is what we’d classify as a functioning alcoholic. The person still has their job but relationships may be suffering. As it’s hard to pinpoint someone in this phase, family and friends may keep quiet as they’re not certain what or if there’s a problem.

The late stages is when drinking affects aspects of your life. This includes your job, finances, relationships, health, and legal problems because of drinking. This is what most people would consider to be alcoholism. What it actually is would be the end of the line. Consequences worsen over time so when it’s noticeable, the addiction is well established.

It's possible that you're not exactly an alcoholic yet, but it's only a matter of time. There are some warning signs you can look for to determine this. These include:

  • Having frequent blackouts after you've been drinking
  • Suffering from short-term memory loss
  • Frequently feeling irritable
  • Suffering from extreme mood swings
  • Telling others you need to drink because it relieves stress, or helps you relax
  • Choosing drinking over every other activity
  • Choosing to drink only in secret
  • Feeling hungover even when you haven't been consuming
  • Changing your physical appearance
  • Spending time with a different group of people than usual, who all drink

You're also more likely to take dangerous risks. That raises your chances of being injured or dying from:

  • Car accidents
  • Homicide
  • Suicide
  • Drowning

Problem drinking like alcohol abuse are going to affect those around you. Even if you’re just drinking a little over what is considered “casual drinking,” you still affect your mind and your body. You become less focused and less interested in engaging with people. If you have a family and you’re hungover all weekend, this will become a problem. Your drinking may damage relationships with loved ones because of anger problems, violence, neglect, and abuse. Women who are pregnant risk having a miscarriage. Their baby is more likely to have fetal alcohol syndrome and a higher chance of dying from SIDS.

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Help For a Drinking Problem

Whether you have alcohol abuse symptoms or have developed addiction to alcohol, you can get help. It’s far more easier to abstain when you’re abusing alcohol but there are also many options if you’ve let your drinking go too far. Evergreen at Northpoint offers intensive outpatient treatment in Bellevue, Washington. We also have inpatient recovery in Washington available with our sister clinic. If you are looking for anonymity, you might find it useful to go to a different city to receive treatment. rehabilitation in an inpatient setting. This has been found to be the best way to prompt the road to recovery.

Treating addiction is what we do. Our staff care about your recovery and you’ll feel this every day you’re with us. We have helped countless addicts with alcoholism because we use proven methods. We care about our clients and give them the chance to grow and thrive past addiction.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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