Alcoholism: The Signs, Symptoms and Treatments
Alcoholism, which is a disease defined by the inability to stop drinking in spite of mounting health and personal issues, has a significant amount of stigma associated with it. While society has made significant strides towards accepting that alcoholism is a medical condition and not a moral failing of an individual, centuries of stigma associated with it have not been completely erased meaning that some people are hesitant to admit that either they or their loved one may be struggling.
The distinction between an alcoholic and a heavy drinker can be difficult to determine, but there are subtle distinctions which can help you determine if there is an issue which may require alcoholism treatment. Luckily, if you do decide that you or a loved one do suffer from alcoholism and need help there are a number of wonderful treatment programs which have had success helping a great deal of people recover from the devastating disease of alcoholism.
In the following article we will define exactly what alcoholism is, the symptoms it typically causes and how to recognize them, and finally the number of ways that it can be effectively treated. This information is designed to help you and your family determine if someone you know has a drinking problem which requires attention and if so, how to seek the appropriate form of treatment for them.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a severe form of alcohol abuse in which a person becomes completely unable to control or quit drinking alcohol, even when mounting issues like health problems, legal issues and disintegrating family relationships are present. While alcoholism can present itself in various ways in different people, the key concept in diagnosing it is loss of control. Those who suffer from alcoholism cannot contain their drinking, even though many desperately want to. This is due to the physiological nature of the disease, which is centered in the brain, and effectively places alcohol at the top of an individual’s hierarchy of needs. When this happens, an alcoholic’s brain tells them that they need alcohol to survive and cannot function without it. Usually for alcoholics, not drinking can lead to things like stress, anxiety, restlessness, anger and panic.
It is estimated by the National Institute of Health that around 15.1 million Americans are currently struggling with some form of alcoholism. This is over 6 percent of the population which has an extremely unhealthy relationship with alcohol. These unhealthy relationships with alcohol can present themselves initially for a multitude of reasons. People drink to celebrate, they drink to relieve stress or pain, or many times simply because they like the way that it makes them feel. It is important to remember that not everyone that drinks is an alcoholic, in fact most people who drink alcohol have no problem with it at all.
However, there are a number of people who are more susceptible to developing alcoholism. These people may begin drinking just like any other non-alcoholic, drinking when they go out with friends or during a football game on Sundays, but for a small percentage of people this drinking can eventually become addicting and they may develop alcoholism. This can progress over the course of decades or in some cases only a few weeks, depending on the individual. However, no matter how slowly or quickly the disease progresses, it always presents itself as the continued inability to control how much and how often a person drinks.
As the progression of the disease of alcoholism continues, it can begin to cause significant negative consequences for many individuals including mounting health problems, issues with employment, declining mental health and disintegrating relationships with family and friends. Recognizing these symptoms and getting yourself or your loved one into alcoholism treatment is crucial when this begins to occur.
Common signs and symptoms of alcoholism
Symptoms of alcoholism can range from relatively mild to extremely severe, even life threatening, depending on the state of progression of the disease. Those who have struggled with alcohol abuse for a long time can be easier to diagnose than some who have only recently developed the disease. One of the biggest issues with recognizing alcoholism, especially in yourself or a close friend or family member, is the natural desire to brush some symptoms off as being caused by other issues. This is most likely due to the significant negative stigma which is associated with alcoholism and unfortunately can delay someone’s treatment for an extended period of time.
If you feel that you or a loved one may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol it is important to be educated with the signs and symptoms in order to quickly and effectively diagnose the issue, as successful treatment of any medical condition first requires a correct diagnosis. Here are a few of the most common signs that someone may have a drinking problem:
- The inability to control alcohol consumption: This is often the first major sign of alcoholism as the amount that someone drinks can progress quite rapidly even early in the progression of the disease. This can present itself in the form of binge drinking, in which a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol when they do drink even if it is only occasionally. It can also come in the form of daily drinking, even if it is only a little bit every day.
- Craving alcohol when it is not present: Another early sign of alcoholism is craving it at often inappropriate times. While it may not be abnormal for someone to want to have a beer with dinner or at a party, craving alcohol in the mornings or while attending functions like work are warning signs that someone may be developing, or already have, a unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
- Placing alcohol over other responsibilities: As the disease of alcoholism progresses, drinking will become more important to the individual and many times it becomes more important that things like work, family and friends. If you or a loved one are skipping work or time with family in order to drink more, it could mean that alcohol abuse is an issue which is continuing to progress.
- Blacking out after drinking: Blacking out due to excessing drinking is not particularly common for those who have normal relationships with alcohol. Drinking to such excess that it causes you to black out and forget periods of time is a very strong warning sign that the drinking has gotten out of control.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking: When someone is such a heavy drinker that they are unable to physically function without it due to withdrawal symptoms, it is almost certain that they need help with alcoholism. These withdrawal symptoms can present themselves as things like shakiness and nausea, but may be different for other people.
- Severe health issues: Significant health issues are typically some of the final symptoms to present themselves because of alcoholism, and unfortunately they can be devastating, permanent and often times fatal. Things like liver failure can be common in those who drink heavily for many years, which is why catching earlier symptoms is so crucial to avoiding these serious health problems.
These symptoms are some of the most common, however they are not the only potential signs. Many alcoholics will not display all of these symptoms, but even one of them is a strong indicator that a drinking problem may be present. What is important to consider is that many individuals and families tend to brush drinking problems under the rug, blaming them on stress or depression. While these are two very common causes for someone to begin drinking, they are no excuse to leave a problem like alcoholism untreated. Unfortunately once the disease has progressed to a certain point, even removing stress or depression may not be able to stop someone’s drinking. This is why getting yourself or your loved one treatment as soon as you recognize these signs of alcoholism is typically the best course of action.
While alcoholism is a severe and often times devastating disease, the good news is that in the past few decades the treatment methods and options have come a long way. While treatment for alcoholism used to involve nothing more than locking an individual up in a mental institution, more modern methods for treatment have evolved to the point where the disease is absolutely treatable and does not have to spell disaster for an individual or their entire family, as long as the proper form of treatment is acquired.
The first step in fixing a problem is realizing that there is one. As soon as you or your loved one have accepted that they have a drinking problem and are ready to get help with their alcoholism, the next step is finding the most appropriate and effective treatment program for them to attend. While there are many great programs across the country, it is important to consider that there are different types and levels of alcoholism treatment and not all forms are going to be appropriate for all people.
The first thing to consider is how far the disease has progressed, someone with mild alcoholism may benefit from attending an outpatient program where they meet with a counselor and few other patients 2 or 3 times a week. This is also only appropriate if the individual has a strong family support system and a healthy, alcohol free, living environment to stay in. For those who are more moderate to severe alcoholics, or those who do not have a stable and healthy living environment, then inpatient treatment for alcoholism is typically the more appropriate form of treatment. This includes living at an alcohol rehab for anywhere from 30 to 90 days, during which they will be medically detoxed from the alcohol and attend daily counseling sessions in both group and individual forms.
Inpatient treatment has many benefits for alcoholics as it allows them to live in a safe and stable environment during the first few months of their sobriety, which is often the most difficult to navigate. This is often crucial for alcoholics because of how easy it is to obtain alcohol when a craving hits, if someone is living at home and attending outpatient treatment they may fall into these temptations, however if they are in an inpatient facility the urge to go out and drink is often much less apparent.
No matter what your situation is, it is important to ask for help when you are looking for treatment. Get advice from others who may have been through the same thing, ask a lot of questions and go and tour any program before committing to it if at all possible. Finding the perfect treatment center is one of the most important factors to the overall success of someone’s recovery from alcoholism.