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Signs of Being an Alcoholic

From functional alcoholism signs to severe alcoholism symptoms, recognizing the signs of being an alcoholic can help you save a life

Alcoholism is one of the most common addictions in America. Due to alcohol's legality and general acceptance in modern culture, the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder is something many don't consider until it begins affecting their lives. Do you know the signs of being an alcoholic? This article reviews some of the signs that signal potential alcohol abuse disorders in yourself, family members, or friends.

An alcohol use disorder is diagnosed when a person's alcohol consumption causes suffering or injury, and can vary from mild to severely debilitating. When most think of an alcoholic, or an individual who habitually does heavy drinking, they think of a person whose life is characterized by broken relationships, major financial troubles, limited or no employment, multiple health challenges, and consistently intoxicated or hungover. This is not always accurate, and in fact many alcoholics are considered to be "functional alcoholics," which have been estimated to make up 75 to 90 percent of all those with alcohol abuse disorders.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the key factors involved in the development of alcoholism symptoms are:

  • Tolerance: The need to drink more and more to achieve a buzz or become drunk.
  • Physical dependence: Many heavy drinkers discover that if they must keep a certain level of alcohol in their systems to avoid experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Cravings: Alcoholics experience near-uncontrollable cravings alcohol and often prioritizes finding a way to get a drink over their responsibilities.
  • Compulsive drinking: Alcoholics are not able to stop drinking once they start. For an alcoholic, one drink is almost never enough.

An alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms identified. Signs of being an alcoholic can include:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol consumed during one event or sitting – regardless of previous plans or commitments to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.
  • Wanting to cut down on drinking or making failed attempts to do so.
  • Planning the day around drinking, spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol, or recuperating from alcohol use.
  • Feeling a strong craving or a "need" to drink.
  • Memory gaps or blackout experiences when drinking.
  • Drinking alone, sneaking alcohol, or hiding their bottles.
  • Periods of abstinence that are accompanied by agitation, nervousness, distress, and mood swings.
  • Drinking and engaging in potentially hazardous activities (e.g., driving intoxicated, working with dangerous equipment or machinery while under the influence, engaging in risky sex, reducing or comprising morals, etc.)
  • Needing alcohol to reduce anxiety, stress, and tension or drinking to relax.
  • Failing to fulfill work, school, or personal responsibilities due to drinking,
  • Continued alcohol use even though it is causing physical, interpersonal, and/or social problems.
  • Stopping or reducing work and personal activities that had previously provided pleasure.
  • Using alcohol when it is not safe, such as when driving, boating, or swimming.
  • Developing tolerance to alcohol which results in needing to drink more to feel its effect.
  • When alcohol is not available, withdrawal symptoms may occur, including but not limited to nausea, sweating, confused thinking, and shaking.

Functional alcoholism signs include daily, binge, or periodic heavy drinking and the deterioration of mental, physical, and emotional health with chronic alcohol abuse. Functional alcoholics, as well as their friends and families, may not identify the drinking problem because the "functionally dependent" alcoholic is able to keep their drinking activities separate (or at least secret) from their professional lives. The consequences of alcohol use may not be immediately apparent as the drinking continues, but, more often than not, will develop into a more severe form of an alcohol use disorder.

Some alcoholism symptoms that take longer to make themselves apparent are additional illnesses that are caused by the unsafe amount of alcohol consumed overtime. These can include decreased brain function over time and especially later in life, liver disease, and heart problems, as well as other physically, financially, and emotionally painful outcomes like injuries from slowed reactions in hazardous environments while intoxicated, and the risks taken when driving under the influence – incarceration, other DUI charge ramifications (such as losing a job), experiencing vehicle damage and physical injury by driving under the influence – not to mention the very present risk killing an innocent passenger, stranger, or even themselves. Psychologically, alcoholism symptoms often relate to a co-occurring mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. These individuals may use alcohol to briefly relieve symptoms of a mental illness, or their alcoholism may be contributing to the worsening of their other mental illness. A quarter of functional addicts are more likely to have suffered from major depression in their lifetime, with the depressant qualities of alcohol creating a vicious cycle.

Because of the stigma addicts face, denial is common for many alcohol users and even their family members. The ability to identify signs of being an alcoholic and admitting a problem exists is first step on the way to recovery, though friends and families may notice the drinking problem before the drinker does. However, it is important to recognize that an official diagnosis for any form of an alcohol use disorder can only be made by a licensed professional, which is why seeking help of a medical doctor or psychological counselor is key to moving forward with effective treatment.

If you are beginning to recognize signs of being an alcoholic in yourself or someone you care about, Sarasota Drug Treatment Centers can help you find treatment centers. Different treatment options are available based on the unique needs of each patient as they recover from their addiction with the help of caring, experienced professionals. Find the support you need by visiting Drug Treatment Centers Sarasota or calling their 24 Hour Helpline at (941) 866-2996.

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