Alcohol can have a profoundly negative impact on your mental health, as well as your physical health, professional life, social life, and just about every other aspect of life.
In this article, we will be exploring the many signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
The Many Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is characterized by a level of alcohol use that includes trouble controlling your own consumption, symptoms of withdrawal and an inability to quit drinking and serious adverse effects that bleed into everyday life, from social consequences to health problems.
If you or a loved one has expressed frustration with their inability to quit or is clearly struggling to stop drinking – going so far as to hide it from others, regularly binge drinking, continuing to drink even after experiencing multiple severe consequences as a result of their drunk behavior, etc. – then it’s important to get them the help they need as soon as possible.
Let’s take a look at the many signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
Alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe, with varying symptoms such as being unable to control how much you drink, experiencing gaps in memory and frequent blackouts, spending a lot of time and money getting drunk, feeling strong and consistent urges to drink every day, and failing to fulfill obligations at work and home as a result of drinking.
While there are clinical definitions and diagnostic tests for alcoholism, there is a simple shorthand test to figure out if you should get help for your drinking problem:
Has drinking caused friction at work or in the family in recent memory? Have you tried to quit, and failed?
If the answer to both questions is yes, then you probably have a drinking problem. Other symptoms of alcoholism may include the following:
- Struggling to limit how much you drink.
- Hiding how much you drink.
- Drinking at almost every opportunity.
- Not being able to say no to a drink.
- Drinking even when it is unsafe.
- Needing more and more to get drunk.
- Experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping (shakes, nausea, flu symptoms).
- Feeling a strong urge to drink nearly all the time.
If you visit a doctor to ask about your drinking habits, you can expect to:
- Answer questions about your drinking, and how your drinking habits have affected your life in recent memory.
- Perform a physical examination to determine the extent to which alcohol may have affected your health, including your heart, kidneys, and liver.
- Get blood and imaging tests to further determine the physical impact your drinking may have made.
- Receive a psychological evaluation to rule out or diagnose potential co-occurring disorders. More than a third of all alcoholics also suffer from a mental health condition, which can complicate treatment.
A drinking problem is still separate from a formal diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder. But that doesn’t make it any less serious. Alcohol can have a powerful and deleterious impact on your social, physical, and mental health, deteriorating your mind, organs, and your relationships alike.
Physical Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use
Alcohol’s effects on the body become more pronounced the longer a person consumes it, and the more they consume. Like other drugs, the body builds a tolerance to the effects of alcohol over time, meaning alcoholics drink more than the average person to get drunk, and they drink much more frequently.
This means the rate at which alcohol has an effect on their health will speed up drastically. Common signs and long-term side effects of drinking include:
- Deteriorating liver health, including cirrhosis and hepatitis.
- Digestive problems, ulcers, vitamin malabsorption and pancreatitis.
- Exacerbated diabetes symptoms.
- Heart disease.
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Interrupted menstruation.
- Alcoholic neuropathy and chronic pain
- And more.
Mental Effects of Long-Term Alcohol Use
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it can slow down certain functions of the brain while reducing inhibition and inducing euphoria. But it can have a pretty mean come down, and like an addictive drug, it can severely alter the brain’s reward system. Alcohol’s effects on your mental health include:
- Exacerbated symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Short-term memory loss.
- Long-term memory problems.
- Reduced cognitive capacity.
- Greater risk-taking behavior.
- Learning issues.
- And more.
Alcohol Abuse Treatment
There are multiple stages to getting treated for alcohol use disorder. While there are medications for alcohol addiction, it isn’t quite as simple as taking a pill twice a day or going to a rehab program for a month and coming out cured. The long-term treatment of an alcohol use disorder requires making the same choice every day – the choice not to drink.
However, the good news is that that choice gets easier over time. There are hard days every now and again, but they become rarer over the years, and the reasons not to drink become clearer and clearer with age and experience.
That being said, we are all human, and there will be trying moments, even years in. It’s important to have a strong support system in the form of sober friends and family, as well as a set of principles or values that you can follow for yourself.
Alcoholism is one of the most destructive types of substance use disorder because it affects so many people and concerns a substance that is almost ubiquitous in society. Staying sober is incredibly hard for many, not only because alcohol is so easy to get access to, but because drinking is normalized, especially in social settings.
Overcoming not only your own cravings but the many opportunities for temptation along the way requires support.
Picking up certain coping skills can go a long way towards helping you deal with stressors that might have led you to start drinking in the past, such as picking up a new sport or hobby.
Alcohol use disorder treatment usually involves detoxification, long-term psychological counseling, skills building and coping mechanisms, as well as certain medications. Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, as well as related medications are important in cases where alcoholism was caused by or exacerbated by a mental health disorder.
There are different medications to help quit drinking as well, such as drugs that give you an allergic reaction to alcohol, drugs that remove the euphoric effects and short-term benefits of a drink, and drugs that help combat alcohol cravings in sober recovering alcoholics.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol use disorder, it’s a good idea to pick up the phone and get in touch with a professional today. When scheduling an appointment with a professional, be sure to prepare a few questions you might want to ask them, such as how long your initial treatment or rehab might take, whether you should consider any medications, or whether your drinking habits are a problem to begin with. Key information to prepare beforehand include:
- Recurring symptoms you can note down.
- Information regarding work and personal stressors, and lifestyle.
- Medications and medical history, both individual and family histories.
The sooner you can begin treatment, the sooner you and your loved one can start living a more fulfilling sober life.