Alcoholism affects millions of Americans, which is why it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether someone you care about is struggling with this disease and needs help. However, knowing how to identify signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction can help you determine whether you or a loved one is at risk.
Continue reading to learn more about alcoholism warning signs and where you can find quality treatment if you live in or near New England.
What Are the Risk Factors of Alcoholism?
Anyone can develop alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder. However, certain factors can increase your risk.
Risk factors of alcoholism, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), include:
- Chronic stress
- Difficulty controlling impulsive behavior
- Early exposure to alcohol, such as trying alcohol at a young age
- Easy access to alcohol, such as in the home or community
- Exposure to trauma
- Having a family history of substance abuse
- Having a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression
- Lack of parental supervision and monitoring
- Peer pressure
If you or a loved one meets one or more of the above risk factors, it helps to be aware of how and why they can increase the risk of alcoholism. Knowing the warning signs of alcoholism can alert you to whether it’s time to cut back on drinking alcohol or get help at an addiction treatment center.
What Are the Top Warning Signs of Alcoholism?
Any addiction, including alcoholism, is characterized by compulsive behaviors that are often difficult to control. Behavioral therapy and counseling at an alcohol rehab center can often help people identify and change addiction-related behaviors.
Meeting two to three of the below criteria indicates a mild addiction, meeting four to five criteria indicates moderate addiction, and meeting six or more indicates severe addiction, according to the NIH.
Here are the top 11 signs of alcohol addiction.
- Drinking alcohol in higher amounts over time or drinking for longer than was initially intended. For example, you make plans to stop drinking after the holiday season but continue to drink well into January.
- Having the desire to stop drinking or to drink less but then having problems controlling your alcohol use. For example, decide to limit yourself to only two drinks a week but usually have several drinks a week.
- Devoting lots of time to buying alcohol, drinking alcohol, and recovering from its effects. For example, you spend the first half of every day nursing a hangover.
- Having strong urges or cravings to use alcohol. For example, you can’t stop thinking about drinking alcohol until satisfying your craving.
- Failing to fulfill important obligations related to work, school, or family due to regular alcohol use. For example, you miss your children’s sporting events or put off studying for an exam so you can spend that time drinking.
- Continuing to use alcohol, knowing it is causing relationship problems with your friends and family. For example, you engage in binge drinking every weekend even though it keeps leading to fights with your partner or spouse.
- Devoting less time to your favorite recreational activities so you can drink alcohol instead. For example, you give up long-held hobbies like photography or hiking in favor of spending time at the bar.
- Continuing to use alcohol even when knowing it is dangerous and puts you at risk for physical harm. For example, you knowingly engage in unsafe sex after a night of heaving drinking.
- Continuing to drink alcohol even when knowing it is causing serious physical or mental health problems. For example, you continue to drink even though you know it causes severe aggression or causes you to think about harming yourself or others.
- Developing a higher tolerance for alcohol due to drinking it regularly. For example, you no longer feel the effects of alcohol after drinking two beers and now need at least six beers to feel the effects.
- Having alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly stop after a long period of use. For example, you start vomiting and having strong tremors after nearly a day of no alcohol.
What’s the Link Between Alcoholism and Mental Health Disorders?
Many people who are struggling with alcoholism also have a mental illness. The NIH reports that half of those diagnosed with a substance use disorder will have a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, and vice versa. That is because alcohol changes the structure and chemistry of the brain in ways that cause mental illness and because mental illness produces symptoms that increase the risk of alcohol use.
For example, feelings of sadness, guilt, and despair are common symptoms of depression. Some people with depression may drink alcohol to escape or reduce these symptoms, especially those not treated for depression. After some time, these individuals can develop alcoholism due to drinking regularly with hopes of curing their depression.
Many alcohol rehab centers offer dual diagnosis therapy, a specialized therapy that helps people manage both addiction and mental illness. This therapy gets included in many residential treatment programs in alcohol rehab.
What Are the Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism?
Alcoholism produces a wide range of short-term and long-term effects that can greatly reduce your quality of life.
Some of the short-term effects of alcohol include:
- Distorted vision and hearing
- Drowsiness and sleepiness
- Impaired judgment and decision making
- Poor balance and coordination, which can lead to accidents
- Slurred speech
- Sudden changes in personality and mood
Long-term alcohol use can often lead to a range of serious problems that affect both your health and livelihood. Long-term side effects of drinking include:
- Financial hardship
- Increased number of health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, and cancer
- Legal issues
- Loss of employment
- Lost or strained relationships
- Mental illness
- Reduced performance at work or school
If you notice that alcohol misuse is causing any of the above problems, it may be time to get help before they worsen. Many addiction treatment centers offer customized treatments for those who are abusing alcohol and need help.
What Are Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?
Going through alcohol withdrawal is a necessary step in recovering from alcoholism. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when you suddenly stop drinking after a long period of alcohol use, and your body has adapted to the constant presence of alcohol.
Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Cloudy thinking
- Fatigue and extreme tiredness
- Irritability and mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe confusion (delirium)
- Shaking and tremors, usually in the hands
Many of the above symptoms occur only if you are physically dependent on alcohol. It is possible to be psychologically addicted to alcohol without being physically dependent, though this is rare. Fortunately, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can get safely and effectively treated with alcohol detox in an alcohol rehab program.
How Is Alcohol Addiction Usually Treated?
Alcohol addiction usually gets treated using a combination of detox and behavioral therapy.
Alcohol detox is the first stage of treatment for alcoholism. This treatment usually occurs in a residential rehab facility, where patients can receive 24-hour medical care and supervision. Detox usually lasts between two and 10 days, or however long your withdrawal symptoms last.
Alcohol withdrawal can often be extremely uncomfortable and may even be life-threatening for some. During detox, you will receive medications that reduce your symptoms and the risk for potential complications, including seizures and heart failure. You will also receive nutritional supplements to boost your immune system health and be encouraged to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration caused by sweating and vomiting.
After the acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal have resolved, you can start receiving therapy in a rehab program.
Behavioral therapy helps you identify and change harmful behaviors that may have been contributing to your alcohol addiction. For example, if you were drinking alcohol to relieve stress, you may receive therapy that teaches you how to manage stress using meditation, exercise, or yoga instead of alcohol.
Every patient receives their own set of behavioral therapies based on the unique circumstances behind their addiction. Some patients may receive trauma-focused therapy that helps them recover from trauma, while others may receive dual-diagnosis therapy to help them manage a co-occurring mental illness.
Behavioral therapy takes place in both one-on-one and group sessions. While in rehab, patients will also learn how to identify and manage their top triggers and receive substance abuse education that teaches them about the negative effects of alcohol and other substances. Many rehab centers offer family therapy that helps patients repair and mend relationships with their loved ones and improve the overall family dynamic.
Substance Abuse Treatment at Haven Detox in New England
The Haven in New England offers residential rehab and alcohol detox programs. We offer a wide range of behavioral therapies, including dual diagnosis therapy for those who need help fighting a co-occurring mental health disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism and needs help, contact The Haven today at (844) 933-4145 to receive medical advice about addiction and get started on your path to long-term recovery.