Understanding Alcohol Use and Abuse

by Garreth Myers

Alcohol is a part of life in so many societies. In most parts of the world the consumption of alcohol at social events and occasions is not just customary, but is in fact a pre-requisite for any celebration. It is because alcohol is such a common element that it becomes very hard to notice when your drinking has crossed the line from social drinking to alcoholism.

Alcohol use and abuse can sneak up on you but there are several warning signs along the way that can indicate the development of a dependency and more serious problems ahead. Understanding and accepting the fact that you may have a problem is the first and most important step towards recovery. Keeping this in mind, following are some common signs that your drinking may be crossing the danger line:

  • You feel guilty or try to hide your drinking habits from family and friends
  • You lie to others about how much you drink
  • You need a drink to relax or to make you feel better
  • You drink more than you intend to
  • You drink everyday
  • Your family and friends express concern about your drinking
  • You ‘black out’ or have no memory of what happened while you were drinking

Experts make a distinction between alcohol use, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. If you are merely a social drinker or enjoy a glass once in while with your meals, this type of drinking is not considered problematic. On the other hand, alcohol abusers may still drink more than normal but have some ability to set limits and control their drinking. Their behavior when drunk, however, can still be self-destructive or dangerous to themselves and to others. Common signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • You begin shirking your responsibilities at home, school or at work because of your drinking
  • Every time you feel stressed, you reach for a drink
  • You continue to use alcohol even in dangerous situations, such as driving when drunk or operating machinery when under the influence
  • You get in to legal problems because of your drinking (disorderly conduct or drunk driving offences)
  • You realize alcohol is causing problems in your relationships but you still continue drinking

Everyone does not follow the path from alcohol abuse to full-blown alcohol dependence. Some people are more susceptible to developing a problem with alcohol than others. This could happen due to variety of reasons and risk factors, as varied as genetics to childhood traumas, social conditions to personality traits. If you exhibit most of the signs of alcohol abuse, the risk factor of becoming an alcoholic almost double. The signs and symptoms of alcoholism or alcohol dependence include:

  • Your tolerance of alcohol has increased. You now need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects.
  • Reducing your alcohol intake or abstaining from drinking causes unpleasant and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms. These could include feelings of anxiety, tremors, sweating, nausea, insomnia, irritability, weakness, loss of appetite and headaches. In severe cases of alcohol dependency, withdrawal symptoms can involve hallucinations, seizures, and confusion.
  • You no longer have any control over your drinking
  • You may want to quit but you can’t. Your efforts to quit are unsuccessful
  • You stop meeting people or going out because of your drinking
  • Alcohol takes over your energies and all your focus.

The effects of drinking alcohol can range from mild to complete loss of speech, balance, vision and co-ordination. Large amounts of alcohol and regular drinking can also impair functioning of the brain or lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are progressive conditions that can be fatal if not controlled. Alcoholism can also cause serious health problems such as high blood pressure, gastritis, liver damage, pancreatitis, brain damage, hypoglycemia and heart disease. Impotency, fetal damage, and an increased risk of developing cancer are also linked to alcohol abuse.

The key impediment towards recovery is the alcoholic’s tendency towards denial. In fact, denial is one of the biggest problems when it comes to getting help and treating alcoholism. As the desire for drink continues to increase, alcoholics begin to rationalize their drinking habits. For example, you may lie about how much you drink, blame your drinking on some other person or even or insist that your family and friends are blowing the issue out of proportion. Denial is therefore a difficult barrier to overcome before treatment and recovery can take place.

The truth of the matter is, if you have a problem with alcohol, you cannot stop drinking any time. No matter how much you may insist that you are in control of the situation, it will take external guidance, counseling, therapy, professional rehab, and even medical intervention to see you on your way to recovery and sobriety. Alcoholism is a disease and one that is every bit as damaging to the person and the people around him as drug abuse or any other addiction. The first step is in accepting that you have a problem and asking for help.

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