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June 3, 2019

Alcohol Abuse Symptoms, Signs & Behavioral Patterns

alcohol abuse

Alcohol is one of the world’s most abused substances, and according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, around 86.4% of people over the age of 18 in the United States have had an alcoholic beverage in the past. An estimated 26.9% of the population participates in binge drinking at least on one occasion every month.

Furthermore, it is also reported that around 7% of the individuals are heavy drinkers on one or more occasions on a monthly basis, as an estimated 14.5 million people aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the United States during 2017, accounting for around 1 in 19 persons in that age group alone. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) characterizes AUD as a chronic relapsing brain disease illustrated by compulsive alcohol use, a negative emotional state when not using, and loss of control over alcohol intake.

Similar to other addictive substances, it can be difficult to stop drinking completely without professional help. Alcohol addiction recovery takes time and effort but is absolutely possible. Knowing more about the features of an alcohol use disorder as well as the available options alcohol detox & rehab programs can help you find the best alcohol treatment program for yourself or someone you care about.

The term alcoholism is clinically ambiguous and out of use. Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the new term is “alcohol use disorder,” which is explained in the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders section of the book. In order to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, a person must meet the specific criteria delineated in the DSM-5.

A mental health professional must find that a person has checked off at least two of the delineated 11 criteria during the same 12-month period of time. Depending on the number of criteria a person meets, the individual will be diagnosed with a mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder. The more criteria present, the more severe the grading of the disorder.

The 11 criteria (or symptoms), in the DSM-5 in the list:

  • Feeling powerless to control one’s level of alcohol use
  • Declining to engage in social activities or hobbies that used to be of interest
  • Having a desire to stop or decrease drinking but being unable to do so
  • Using alcohol in high-risk situations, such as while swimming or driving
  • Devoting significant time and resources to drinking
  • Developing a tolerance for alcohol (i.e., needing more alcohol over time to match the feelings from earlier use)
  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol when not drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking (e.g., cravings, sweating, shaking, and nausea)
  • Facing problems at work, home, or school because of alcohol use
  • In reaction to the discomfort associated with withdrawal, having to drink to feel better
  • Continuing to use alcohol even when it is leading to social, physical, relationship, and personal problems

Alcohol use disorders are more common than most would assume. According to Psychology Today, their studies have revealed that 29.1 percent of the US population (or 68.5 million) has experienced an alcohol use disorder (of varying grades) at some point in their lifetime. Within a 12-month period, approximately 13.9 percent (32.6 percent) of the US population experiences an alcohol use disorder. About 19.8 percent of the adults who have experienced an alcohol use disorder in their lifetime seek treatment or ask for help at some point.

Psychology Today also pointed out that about 75 percent of the alcohol that Americans drink occurs in the form of binge drinking, where the symptoms of binge drinking include blackouts and memory lapses. Over time, a chronic binge drinker can develop serious liver damage and/or brain damage too.

How Much Alcohol Consumption is Considered Moderate Use and How Much is AUD?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, moderate drinking is considered up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. NIAAA goes on to clarify that women who drink no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 per week are considered low-risk for developing AUD. Men, on the other hand, are considered to be low-risk when they have no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.

The Complications Of Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is known to have many adverse effects on the body, which leads to both physiological and psychological complications. By understanding the impact that heavy alcohol consumption has one’s body is an important part of ensuring a person affected by this type of addiction can gain the motivation they would need to overcome their alcohol dependence.

Drinking too much alcohol causes problems with the communication pathways of the brain and also affects the heart in a negative way. The alcohol content in these beverages is also heavy on the liver. Furthermore, alcoholism has been linked to a higher risk of certain cancers and also causes problems with the pancreas.

Physical & Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol has immediate effects on one’s mind and body. The immediate impact of alcohol use on the body may include but is not limited to:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Blackouts (usually during binge drinking episodes)
  • Troubles with an inability to walk properly or motor coordination
  • Impaired judgment and risk-taking without full consideration of the consequences (ex. drunk driving)
  • Memory impairment or memory lapses
  • Slurred speech

An alcohol use disorder, especially when at the severe end of the spectrum, can lead to debilitating and permanent health conditions that may end up requiring extensive ongoing care for one’s lifetime. 

A common signal that a person’s behavior has progressed into an alcohol use disorder concerns their nutritional habits. As alcohol abuse strengthens, people will often neglect their nutritional health. This person may begin to show signs of malnutrition, such as having a gaunt appearance, hair loss or thinning, and routinely having dark circles under their eyes. These may be symptoms of a general condition known as thiamine deficiency. The brain and all the tissue in the body need thiamine (B1) for healthy functioning. Individuals with an alcohol use disorder may be suffering from a thiamine deficiency, among other nutritional deficits affecting their health and well-being.

The psychological effects of alcohol are immediately recognizable after a person drinks. Individuals may repeat themselves (due in part to memory lapse) and not show their familiar level of good judgment. Over time, individuals may develop sleep troubles and/or mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. Cognitive problems include a diminished attention span and problems with motor coordination, such as asterixis, a condition that causes a person to involuntarily flap or shake their hands. In severe cases, hepatic encephalopathy can develop and, for some, cause them to slip into a fatal hepatic coma.

Behavioral Signs Of Alcohol Abuse

As the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence explains, several behavioral signs of an alcohol use disorder will usually be apparent in someone. People who experience alcohol abuse tend to become increasingly secretive about their activities because they may not want to hear people’s concerns or told to get help and/or to stop. This individual may also drink in secret, either in a private place or out in public but away from friends and family concerned about their habit.

As a result of all this drinking, these people may become more prone to accidents and begin showing signs of injury, which they may even try to cover up as well. One who is experiencing an alcohol use disorder may also hide alcohol in various spaces around the house or at work. 

Alcohol abuse can also lead people to decrease their level of hygiene and care for their physical appearance. As alcohol abuse progresses, this person may stop shaving, no longer wash or change their clothes, and look as if they haven’t showered in days. Alcohol abuse often leads to several problems in one’s relationships across many areas of their life.

Additional behavioral signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Increasing legal troubles, such as assault, domestic abuse, or drunk driving
  • Showing up intoxicated at work, a family function, or a meeting
  • Lying to friends, loved ones, and co-workers
  • Manipulation of friends and loved ones
  • Passing the blame to other people & situations
  • Yo-yoing: drinking and then stopping in a repeated pattern over time
  • Overreacting to any criticism about their drinking
  • An increasing amount of financial problems
  • Uncharacteristically taking out loans, liquidating any assets, and depleting cash accounts
  • Stealing and likely lying about it to others
  • Engaging in risky activities, such as unprotected sex

One of the most troubling behavioral signs of an alcohol use disorder is drunk driving. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving statistics on drunk driving:

  • In 2013, 28.7 million Americans reported that they drove after drinking alcohol
  • In 2014, 9,967 Americans died in car crashes that involved alcohol. This statistic translates to a fatal car crash every 53 minutes in the US, or about 27 fatalities every day.
  • In 2014, about 290,000 Americans were injured in a car accident that involved drinking, or one car accident injury every two minutes.
  • On average, a person will drive drunk 80 times before being arrested for the first time.

How to Get help with an Alcohol Addiction

Most individuals that have an alcohol use disorder and experience various brain or cognitive troubles will be able to recover with alcohol treatment within a year of being sober. However, in some instances, recovery can take much longer. The outcome of recovery and sustaining successful sobriety will depend on a variety of medical, personal, and physiological factors. The first step in recovery from an alcohol use disorder is seeking out quality alcohol abuse treatment at a rehab center that offers exemplary clinical services and compassionate care.

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem and affects millions around the world. If you or a loved one has an alcohol abuse disorder and needs help, you are not alone. You can speak with an alcohol treatment expert confidentially 24/7 today at Beach House. 

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