Although drinking alcohol is both socially common and socially accepted, it can easily spiral out of control. Understanding when enjoying a few drinks with friends has turned into something that’s endangering your life is important. With the ability to identify the early signs of alcoholism, you can seek professional help before your brain and body have become chemically dependent.
At Recovery Bay Center, we believe that early interventions are always best. With the right help, many of our patients are able to avoid painful and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. More importantly, they can steer their lives back on course before major and potentially permanent damages have occurred.
Getting treatment for alcoholism is always beneficial, no matter how long you’ve waited or how advanced the disease of addiction has become. It’s vital to note, however, that alcohol addiction doesn’t just pop up overnight. This is a highly deceptive condition that occurs in multiple phases.
Moreover, throughout each of its early phases, alcoholism often leaves people convinced that they’re totally in control and that they’re able to stop drinking or limit their drinking whenever they want. So how can a person tell when drinking is becoming problematic, especially when dealing with denial? There are actually a number of physical, social, and psychological warning signs of alcoholism as the mind and body increasingly succumb to the ravages of alcohol abuse.
Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder to Look For
Alcohol abuse can be distinguished from addiction based upon the level of physical symptoms that arise when a person attempts to quit. If you drink regularly and heavily, abstaining from alcohol is never going to be entirely comfortable. However, if you have alcohol use disorder or addiction, stopping outright can send your body into a severe state of distress.
For most people, this happens approximately six hours after their last drink. Their brains and bodies have become so heavily reliant upon regular exposure to alcohol that they no longer know how to function without it. For these individuals, physical withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Shaking and tremors
- Sweating and temperature changes
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Disorientation and confusion
- Heart palpitations
However, even before you attempt to abstain by either entering a detox program or trying to go cold turkey at home, you may notice other signs of a fast-developing addiction in your:
- Mental health
- Physical health
Social drinking is often the start of substance use disorder given that many people have their first few drinks in an effort to fit in. However, when people stop drinking socially and start drinking entirely on their own, this can be a major indication of problems. Drinking alone and consciously self-isolating in other ways is usually done in an effort to conceal how much you’re drinking, how often you’re drinking, and how your brain and body have begun to respond to intoxication.
Consistent drinking, especially when done heavily, can cause a person to build up a tremendous tolerance to alcohol. Many heavy drinkers often consume far more than the socially accepted amount, and the feelings that accompany their increased tolerance include guilt, shame, and lowered self-esteem.
When you drink alcohol, your brain chemistry temporarily changes. Dramatic increases in the amount of dopamine and other neurotransmitters are what creates the sense of euphoria that makes people feel happy and relaxed while intoxicated. However, to balance these surges out, your brain will eventually scale back its normal dopamine response.
As a result, it’s often difficult for alcoholics and developing alcoholics to feel happy, motivated, or even socially engaged unless they’re actively drinking. These mood-related changes are common warning signs of alcoholism. They mean that your brain is now reliant upon alcohol to dictate dopamine release and the release of other neurotransmitters.
Given that neurotransmitters control a wide range of functions throughout the body, alcohol use disorder or addiction can even begin to affect how you feel and how well your body performs when you aren’t drinking. You might feel sluggish, sick, and hungover for days after your last drink. You may struggle with memory, balance, or cognition issues, or find that you’ve experienced significant decreases in coordination and fine motor control.
Common Signs of Abuse
People often mistake alcohol abuse for alcohol addiction. Whereas addiction is a physical dependence upon alcohol, abuse indicates an ongoing decision to continue drinking in spite of the many adverse effects that alcohol use is having. For instance, someone who’s abusing alcohol might:
- Face criminal charges such as DUI charges
- Lose custody of minor children
- Lose their job
- Lose access to stable housing
People who abuse alcohol often feel as though it’s the quickest and surest path to relief and happiness. This is especially true when they’re facing stress. Their bodies are increasingly being conditioned to rely on alcohol-triggered endorphins or neurotransmitters to elevate their moods.
As such, alcohol abusers are always on the very dangerous precipice of addiction. Chemical dependency can happen at any time. More importantly, once it does, abstaining can only be safely done with the right medical support.
Sadly, those who abuse alcohol often have a hard time recognizing the danger they’re in. People who drink heavily frequently have one or more enablers in their lives who act as buffers by keeping negative consequences at bay. These are people who pay bail monies, call in late or sick for intoxicated friends or family members who cannot work, and who routinely clean up physical messes and other alcohol-related problems.
Even without the help of enablers, some people are able to successfully maintain all outward appearances of normalcy. Although alcohol might be wreaking havoc on their physical and mental health, and even on many of their relationships, these individuals make it to work on time, pay their bills on time, and manage to look clean and well-organized.
This is known as functional alcohol abuse or high-functioning alcoholism. As with anyone else, once functional alcohol abusers become physically dependent upon alcohol, quitting drinking becomes a challenging, uphill battle.
Alcoholism in Young People
Young people with alcohol use disorder can also have a hard time recognizing the early signs of alcoholism. Unfortunately, alcoholics are frequently stereotyped as being old, washed up, and struggling in nearly all aspects of life.
Contrary to this belief, many young, vibrant, and high-performing college students struggle with this disease. For young adults, alcohol use is often heaviest on the weekends, and alcohol abuse frequently entails regular bouts of binge drinking. With binge drinking, young adults often drink:
- Until the pass out
- Until they blackout and continue functioning without conscious awareness of their actions
- Until they’re physically ill and at risk of alcohol poisoning
You don’t have to drink every day to develop alcohol dependency. The damaging effects of binge drinking on the brain can quickly and unexpectedly turn alcohol abuse into a substance use disorder, even for someone who only drinks heavily on the weekend. Frequent binge drinkers on college campuses can experience expedited changes in their brain chemistry due to the effects of undergoing regular cycles of heavy drinking and sudden abstinence.
At Recovery Bay Center, we take an individualized approach to treating alcoholism. Although alcohol use disorder is the result of changes in brain chemistry and brain functioning, it can have many underlying causes. We treat patients who have turned to drinking due to low self-esteem, past traumas, unresolved grief, and underlying mental health disorders among other things.
For those who are alcohol dependent, we offer medically assisted treatment (MAT) for mitigating and minimizing the physical symptoms of withdrawal, and for promoting mood stability and balance. With individual and group counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, life skills training, and more, we’re capable of meeting a very diverse range of needs.
If you believe that you have alcohol use disorder and are eager to put your life on a new and healthier course, we can help. Call us today at 833-991-2955.