Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol, as a legal, socially acceptable, and highly marketed drug, is commonly abused by large swathes of the population. The line between drinking and abuse is hard to tell — what are the signs of alcohol abuse and alcohol abuse symptoms?
Alcohol is one of the more easily detected substances. You can smell alcohol on someone’s breath, and the effects of alcohol are apparent soon after its ingested. But, it’s an easy dependency to hide for practiced drinkers, many of whom are functional for a long time before showing symptoms of alcohol abuse.
What Are the Signs of Alcohol Abuse?
Many of us have overdone alcohol consumption on occasion. However, when drinking interferes with someone’s life to the exclusion of everything else, when drinking takes place in private to hide the amount and frequency of use, these are definite signs of alcohol abuse.
Regular, problem drinking is considered one of the symptoms of alcohol abuse, called alcohol use disorder (AUD). Some signs of alcohol abuse are easy to spot, but quite a few are subtle enough to fly under the radar. Heavy, habitual drinkers and those close to them can ask these basic questions to determine if they show the signs of alcohol abuse:
- Are there blackouts or bouts of short-term memory loss associated with drinking?
- Is the person exhibiting irritability or mood swings that are out of character or increasing in frequency?
- Does the person make excuses for drinking, such as “I just have a few drinks to unwind” or seem to invent reasons to have a “celebratory” drink?
- Is the drinking interfering with job or family responsibilities?
- Is the person becoming more isolated from people in general or drinking in secret?
- Are they dropping old friends and hanging out with a new crowd?
- Do they become angry or resentful when questioned about their drinking habits?
Substance abuse counselors assess problem drinking using a questionnaire that’s designed to foster self-awareness. The short, four-question CAGE evaluation is meant to help those who might need treatment take the first step of admitting there’s a problem.
In general, answering “yes” to two or more of these screening questions indicates the need for further evaluation and treatment.
- Do you think about cutting back on your drinking?
- Do you feel annoyed or threatened when someone questions your drinking habits?
- Do you feel ashamed or guilty about your drinking?
- Do you drink first thing in the morning to stop the shakes or ease hangover symptoms
Because alcohol use, in general, is so prevalent in society, it’s important to separate alcohol abuse symptoms from social drinkers who occasionally have a little too much. That’s not a way of excusing any type of behavior; the overuse or improper use of alcohol is classified as one of the symptoms of alcohol abuse.
Some of the questions used to gauge alcohol dependency include:
- Do you frequently drink more than you intended?
- Do you experience cravings for alcohol or become preoccupied with thoughts of drinking?
- Do you continue to drink even if it makes you feel depressed or anxious? Despite related health or mental health problems? Even if there are negative consequences associated with your drinking, such as excessive tardiness or absenteeism at work?
- Have you lost interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy because of drinking?
- Have you engaged in risky or dangerous behavior like drinking and driving?
- Is your alcohol use causing legal problems like arrests for public intoxication, DUI, or other alcohol-related crimes?
What Are the Long-Term Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse?
There are more alcohol abuse symptoms than the occasional hangover. The signs of alcohol abuse are unpleasant, and they could lead to life-threatening health problems. Even one instance of the type of binge drinking common during high school or college years can cause death by alcohol poisoning.
The most immediate side effects of alcohol consumption are the symptoms of ‘getting a buzz” that most of us recognize: slurred speech, slowed reactions, lowered inhibitions, and difficulty walking. Drinking past the point of mild impairment into intoxication leads to dizziness, nausea and vomiting, headaches, distorted vision, and loss of consciousness. Chronic use leads to more serious problems and may cause irreversible, long-term signs of alcohol abuse like:
- Brain and nerve damage
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Depressions and anxiety disorders
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Head and hand tremors
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
The younger drinking begins, the more likely the person is to develop AUD and experience problematic alcohol abuse symptoms. Other factors that contribute to alcoholism are a family history of alcoholism, undiagnosed or untreated mental health problems, peer pressure, low self-esteem, and frequent binge drinking.
How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?
Alcohol is measured in units by type. One 12-ounce beer is said to have the same alcohol content as a one-and-a-half-ounce shot of whiskey or a five-ounce glass of wine. The average human liver can process approximately one unit of alcohol per hour. Coffee does not sober you up or mitigate the effects of alcohol; it just makes you a wide-awake drunk. From a legal standpoint, alcohol consumption is measured by blood alcohol content (BAC); in most jurisdictions, a BAC of .08 percent is considered drunk.
While it only takes about an hour per drink consumed to lower you BAC, alcohol is detectable by other means for much longer. It can be detected in urine samples for up to 80 hours after the last drink is consumed and for up to 90 days in hair follicles.
Are Alcohol Abuse Symptoms Gendered?
Studies show that although boys are more vulnerable to peer pressure and tend to drink to excess at an earlier age than girls, there is no real difference in the effects of drinking or signs of alcohol abuse in adolescents. This changes at around the age of 18, when researchers begin to see a marked difference in signs of alcoholism and how drinking affects the body up until the age of 25.
Men, in general, experience alcoholism at higher rates than women, but alcohol affects men and women differently as they age. However, research indicates that women may be closing the gap on gender disparity in problem drinking. A new 2017 study released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released some shocking new statistics on women and alcohol abuse:
- AUD among women increased by 83.7 percent from 2002 – 2013
- High-risk drinking habits among women increased by 58 percent during the same period; this is measured as having more than three drinks per day or seven per week.
- Death due to cirrhosis in women increased during the period of the study.
In addition, a 2018 report found that between 2006 and 2014, ER visits associated with alcohol use were higher for women than men.
It’s believed that further study of the patterns of drinking and differences in alcohol metabolism between males and females at different stages in life will help improve evaluations and treatment for AUD in the future.
If you’re an alcoholic looking to end the presence of alcohol abuse symptoms in your life, help is available. Contact Stepping Stone online or call us at 866.957.4960 for help overcoming the signs of alcohol abuse.