Alcohol can be fun. It can liven up celebrations or casual dinners. It’s often treated as an exciting feature of parties and large events. The culture surrounding alcohol is fueled by energy, liveliness, and a generally positive atmosphere, which is why it’s widely accepted. Consumption of wine, beer, and booze is common among most American households, despite it being ranked as the third leading cause of preventable death in the country. The alcohol industry is so deeply ingrained in our everyday lives and, as a result, it can be next to impossible to detect when alcohol becomes a problem.
Identifying when alcohol has become a problem is not always an easy task. Knowing the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse is important as it may help minimize the potential consequences associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
If you or someone you love is battling alcohol dependency, treatment with AspenRidge can offer support during a difficult time. Family members and individuals are encouraged to contact us directly 24/7 for help with their specific drinking issues at 855-281-5588. Our compassionate staff is here to provide clarity and comfort in taking the next steps toward recovery.
What Is An Alcohol Problem, Anyway?
In the U.S., 6.6% of the adult population reported heavy or excessive alcohol use. About 95,000 deaths each year in the U.S. are the result of excessive alcohol abuse. Additionally, one in four people reported at least one episode of binge drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as four or more drinks in a day for a woman and five or more drinks for a man. It’s likely you know someone who binge drinks — if not daily, then at least on weekends.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medically recognized disease that refers to what is commonly known as alcoholism. AUD, like other substance use problems, is considered a disease. Ironically, while excessive drinking is often normalized, problematic alcohol use is actually stigmatized and viewed as a moral failure by many. It can make it even more difficult to tell when alcohol becomes a problem because excessive drinking may be considered perfectly acceptable.
In general, an alcohol problem usually occurs when a person is unable or unwilling to stop drinking despite it being detrimental to health, relationships, and wellbeing. When alcohol begins to interfere with life, dependency may be a growing concern for family members and friends.
Cases of Excessive Alcohol Use
Many people mistakenly believe that excessive alcohol use can be controlled and curbed easily and without issue. However, science and addiction studies show that the impact of alcohol use—particularly in excessive amounts—can alter key chemical structures within the brain. Why is this important? The toxins in wine, beer, and booze actually block chemical signals between brain cells, leading to the common immediate symptoms of intoxication such as:
- Impulsive behavior
- Slurred speech
- Poor memory
- Slowed reflexes
- Feelings of euphoria
When alcohol becomes a problem, and excessive drinking is the new norm, the brain responds by adapting to these blocked signals. The result is the overproduction of key neurotransmitters. Dependency then sets in, and a person may unwillingly lose control of their drinking habits leading to a build-up of tolerance and a more frequent need to drink.
The cause of AUD is a complex interaction between genes and the environment, with a strong association with other health problems. In one study, 77% of the individuals with AUD carried another medical problem, either cancer, liver disease, pancreatitis, or psychiatric diseases such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. A history of trauma, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse is also highly prevalent in this population. Even though genetics play an important role, exposure to specific life events and situations can significantly increase one’s vulnerability to seek comfort and reward using alcoholic beverages.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?
When alcohol becomes a problem, the brain can be immediately impacted. After alcohol leaves the system, the brain continues over-activating the neurotransmitters, causing painful and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can damage brain cells. This damage is made worse by drinking binges and sudden withdrawal.
Alcohol’s damage to the brain can take several forms. The first is neurotoxicity, which occurs when neurons overreact to neurotransmitters for too long. Too much exposure to a neurotransmitter can cause neurons to eventually “burn out.”
Since neurons make up the pathways between different parts of the brain, when they begin burning out, it can cause a noticeable slowing in the reactions of these pathways. In addition to pathway damage, brain matter itself is also damaged by heavy alcohol use. People with alcohol dependence often experience “brain shrinkage,” which is a reduced volume of both gray matter (cell bodies) and white matter (cell pathways) over time. There are some subtle differences in how brain damage occurs in men and women, but regardless of gender, loss of brain matter increases with age and the amount of alcohol consumed.
What Are Physical Signs of Alcohol Use Disorders?
Symptoms associated with alcohol-related disorders are important to remember for family members and friends. Knowing the signs of alcoholism and other substance use disorders can protect yourself, family, and friends from the stress and difficulties that occur from alcohol abuse.
It can be hard to distinguish alcohol use behaviors from other mental and physical disorders as they often occur simultaneously. Proper education is beneficial and is recommended if you or a loved one suspects an alcohol use disorder may be present. Common signs of alcoholism include:
- Slurred Speech
- Nausea and/or Vomiting
- Respiratory problems
- Vision problems
- Slowed Nervous System
- Decreased judgment
- Memory problems
When alcohol becomes a problem, physical signs are almost always immediately apparent. However, as an individual develops higher tolerance for alcohol, signs, and symptoms may vary or become indistinguishable or subtle to family members. It’s important to seek help sooner to avoid long-term damage.
What Are Emotional Signs of Alcohol Use Disorders?
Alcoholism can have a powerful impact on physical health, as well as mental health. It is more common for family and friends of an individual struggling with addiction to notice the physical symptoms. Even though mental health symptoms may not be as visible to others, emotional symptoms should not be disregarded.
Becoming aware of potential emotional changes and symptoms is equally as important as learning to identify physical symptoms of addiction. Common emotional symptoms of addiction include:
- Erratic mood swings
- Obsessions and compulsions
- Disruption of routines
- Guilt and remorse
The mental effects of alcohol abuse will vary from person to person. How much a person drinks, how long they have abused alcohol, and the frequency they drink will all impact the side effects experienced.
Can I Identify Symptoms If I’m Struggling With Alcohol?
Identifying potential signs of alcoholism within oneself can be challenging but not impossible. Developing an awareness of possible addiction signs often involves outside support from counselors, physicians, employers, and family and friends. Not everyone has access to supportive social systems.
A few self-help tips for addressing potential alcohol-related disorders include the use of the following techniques:
- Mood charting
- Cost/benefit analysis
- Behavioral activation
- Thought recording
The above techniques are highly effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that can be done at home or within a clinic setting.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a popular form of therapy that is highly structured. It is a helpful therapy that provides tangible tools and skills that can be practiced at home as well as with a trained therapist. Substance use treatment facilities and AODA therapists are often trained extensively in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques as they are a highly successful and measurable treatment method.
Is it Safe for Me to Quit Drinking on my Own?
Stopping or quitting alcohol can be a dangerous process. Long-term and severe alcoholism can cause significant physical and emotional dependence on alcohol. Alcohol dependence may cause physical and emotional ailments to occur when quitting alcohol use. These physical and withdrawal can be quite severe, including potential death.
Reducing alcohol use and maintaining sobriety is highly encouraged. However, safe and effective treatments should always be utilized.
How Can AspenRidge Help?
AspenRidge can help address both short-term and long-term problems from alcoholism. AspenRidge has developed highly effective alcohol treatment programs in Colorado that can handle all levels of alcohol use disorders. AspenRidge can provide safe and effective support for a long-term healthy and sober lifestyle. The staff are highly trained in assessment and can provide effective counseling options for potential alcohol disorders. AspenRidge offers many online and telehealth tools available during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-678-3144 to speak to staff about various programs and treatment methods for alcohol, drug, and other co-occurring disorders. Further information can also be found at www.aspenridgerecoverycenters.com. Gaining knowledge prior to taking the steps towards recovery is crucial, and AspenRidge is determined to help in the recovery process and connect those with proper medical professionals.