Learn About Alcohol Addiction & Abuse
There is a big difference between having a few drinks with friends in a social situation and having an alcohol abuse problem. When a person’s drinking habits adversely affect other aspects of a person’s life and cause disruption, there may be a need to seek outside assistance in treating alcohol abuse. Losing control over the amount and frequency of alcohol consumed, preoccupation with drinking, and the continuation of regular drinking regardless of its consequences are the key components of an alcohol abuse diagnosis.
While there is a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, there is no question that both conditions can take a toll on a person should the problem progress. With regards to alcoholism, a person experiences similar adverse effects on his or her life due to their addiction. However, alcoholism means that a person is dependent on drinking and experiences physiological side effects, beyond a hangover, should he or she stop drinking. A person struggling with alcohol abuse is not at this level of impairment, though the chances of developing a dependence on alcohol are high being that alcohol abuse is considered a precursor to alcoholism.
Alcohol Abuse Statistics
It is estimated that 17 million Americans struggle with alcohol abuse. Of that 17 million, research has shown that men are at greater risk for developing an alcohol abuse problem than women. The typical age range when the greatest amount of alcohol abuse occurs is between 18 and 29. And sadly, deaths related to alcohol consumption have made it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse
There are a number of variables to consider when determining what leads a person to develop an alcohol abuse problem.
Genetic: Despite the fact that researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact genetic origins of alcohol addiction, it is a widely accepted concept that alcohol addiction runs in families. There is often a greater likelihood of a person developing an alcohol abuse problem if one of his or her blood relatives has abused alcohol or struggled with alcoholism.
Physical: Increased alcohol consumption can lead to changes in a person’s brain chemistry. As cravings to drink intensify, an individual’s ability to control behavior, make good choices, and experience joy can diminish over time. This decrease in functioning is a result of changes in dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain – neurotransmitters responsible for regulating motor skills, mood, and other hormones in the body.
Environmental: Traumatic experiences, abuse, stress, and exposure to alcohol abuse are all environmental factors that could lead a person to abuse alcohol. Learned as a means of coping with these factors or as a way to escape them, people often turn to alcohol as a way to distance themselves from emotions or the physical environment around them. Considering that these kinds of outside stressors can be found at home, work, school, or any other number of places, it is obvious how several areas of a person’s life can be effected by alcohol abuse.
- Family history of alcohol abuse
- Poor impulse control
- Low self-esteem
- Peer pressure to drink
- Preexisting mental illness
- Undiagnosed mental illness
- Early exposure to alcohol
- Age of first consumption
- Easy access to alcohol
- Troubled interpersonal relationships
- Socioeconomic status
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Depending on the amount of alcohol being abused and the duration of the abuse itself, the following symptoms could occur:
- Poor work or school performance and /or attendance
- Interaction with the legal system
- Drinking alone
- Drinking despite ramifications of the behavior
- Isolation from family and/or friends
- Hiding alcohol/drinking habits
- Increased anger
- Flushed skin
- Lack of coordination
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Slurred speech
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor decision-making
- Memory loss
- Extreme changed in mood
- Intense urge to drink
Effects of Alcohol Abuse
The effects of alcohol abuse can transcend the abuser. As previously mentioned, several areas of a person’s life are adversely affected when alcohol is abused. Aside from work, school and personal relationships, the people in the abuser’s life are affected as well. Impaired judgment when under the influence of alcohol can lead to engaging in risky behaviors that can be dangerous to the abuser and those around him or her. Moreover, the effects on an abuser’s health can be detrimental and have lasting results. Results such as:
- Increased risk of developing certain types of cancers
- Liver disease
- Damage to the brain
- Weakened immune system
- Cardiovascular problems
- Physical injury as a result of impaired motor functioning
Furthermore, the following effects can impact not only the abuser, but also those in the abuser’s life:
- Poor work or school performance/attendance
- Increased likelihood of committing violent crimes
- Driving under the influence
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors
- Domestic problems
Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal & Overdose
Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal: Onset of withdrawal from alcohol is dependent on the user’s level of alcohol abuse. For some it can be a matter of hours or even days before a person feels the effects of withdrawal. Intensity of the symptoms experienced also depends on the person and will vary. Examples of alcohol withdrawal symptoms are:
- Mood swings
- Depressed mood
- Increased heart rate/blood pressure
Effects of Alcohol Overdose: Overdosing on alcohol is actually considered alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person has consumed more alcohol than his or her body can tolerate or metabolize. Signs of alcohol poisoning can include:
- Labored breathing
- Lack of reflexes to normal stimuli
- Slurred speech
Alcohol Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders
Alcohol abuse is often seen in conjunction with other mental illnesses. Whether it is a preexisting diagnosis or the abuser is self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness, it is common to see symptoms of other disorders in a person struggling with alcohol abuse. The following are examples of mental illnesses that can co-occur with alcohol abuse:
- Anxiety disorder
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Other substance abuse disorder
- Personality disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Addiction
What are the causes and effects of alcoholism?
Typically, alcoholism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. This form of addiction usually causes damage to a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health, and will require professional help to overcome.
What are the reasons for alcohol addiction?
While there is no single factor that can ultimately determine your risk for developing a substance abuse concern, there are certain things that may put you at increased risk for developing a drinking problem. Alcohol addiction has been linked to many causes, including genetic factors, environmental influences, and untreated mental illness.
What are the side effects of alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction can be detrimental to your mind, body, and spirit. It can make it difficult to perform to potential at home, work, and school, and can damage important relationships. Fortunately, alcohol addiction is a treatable condition, and with the proper help, sobriety is possible.
What are the key signs of alcohol overdose?
The signs of an alcohol overdose can include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow/irregular breathing, blue-tinged skin or pale skin, hypothermia, and unconsciousness. If someone who has been drinking begins exhibiting these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention.
How does alcohol affect the body?
Excessive alcohol consumption can interrupt normal brain and organ function, and takes an overall damaging toll on your physical health. It can also make it difficult to maintain healthy eating and sleeping patterns, which can cause further harm to your well-being.
How does alcohol addiction affect the brain?
Alcohol use can result in delayed response times, and memory loss known as “blacking out,” which is typically the result of binge drinking behavior. Moreover, long-term alcohol abuse can impact your ability to think abstractly, and can diminish attention span, brain size, and more.
How can alcohol addiction be overcome?
Alcohol addiction can be overcome with help from a comprehensive, professional treatment program consisting of a variety of scientifically validated supports and interventions. Run by caring and experienced staff, these programs offer effective, specialized services aimed at combating alcohol addiction.