For adults, consuming alcohol is socially acceptable and often it’s even expected. Social events, from family get-togethers to work-related functions, are often centered around alcohol. At first, you may drink just to be sociable, but eventually you may find yourself frequently relying on alcohol to take the edge off uncomfortable feelings, which can lead to dependence or even alcohol addiction.
It’s not always obvious when a person has crossed the line from drinking heavily into alcoholism. Signs of alcoholism may be subtle at first, and some people are very good at concealing the fact that they drink too much or are having a problem with alcohol.
Alcohol Abuse Versus Alcoholism
You or a loved one may drink a lot without actually becoming addicted to alcohol. If you drink too much or too often, others may tell you that you have a drinking problem. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have become physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol.
Alcoholism means that you have lost the power to choose whether or not to drink. Although you may not necessarily drink or get drunk every day, you reach a point that you are no longer able to control how much you drink. You may promise those you love that you won’t get drunk or that you won’t cause embarrassment or get arrested, but somehow you keep doing things you don’t mean to do. Your problems seem to be triggered by your drinking. Even though you may keep trying to stop abusing alcohol, you either can’t stop at all or you can’t stay stopped.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
There are some clear signs of alcoholism. If you have become addicted to alcohol, you end up drinking more or for longer periods of time than you intended. If you try to quit, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, irritability or panic attacks. When you continue to drink even though you are experiencing negative consequences, there’s a good chance you have progressed from alcohol abuse to alcoholism.
Other signs that you may be struggling with alcoholism include:
- You feel like you should cut back on your drinking, but frequently you drink much more than you mean to.
- You feel guilty or ashamed of the way you drink.
- Your loved ones tell you to give up drinking.
- You reach for a drink early in the morning to take the edge off the extreme irritability you feel as the alcohol leaves your system.
- You neglect responsibilities such as work or school because you would rather drink.
- You continue to drink even when alcohol abuse is putting you in high-risk situations, such as drinking and driving or operating machinery.
- You continue to drink even though there is tension in your relationships or the threat of losing your job.
- You are continually increasing the amount you drink because you have developed tolerance, which means the amount you used to drink no longer has an effect on you.
- If you try to stop drinking, you find that you can’t. You may be able to stop for short periods of time, but you can’t stay stopped.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
One of the problems with recognizing alcohol addiction is that most people who are physically or psychologically addicted to alcohol want to believe that they don’t have a problem. If you are an alcoholic, you may try to deny that you have any symptoms of alcoholism for a very long time. You want to believe that you can control your drinking and that you can quit any time you want to, but if you’re putting a lot of effort and energy into trying to control your drinking, there’s a good chance your drinking is out of control.
The more compelled you are to keep drinking and the more you put your drinking in front of other people and things that are important to you, the more likely it is that your alcohol abuse has progressed to alcohol addiction. Once you have crossed that line, there is a good chance you won’t be able to overcome your dependence on alcohol without help.
If you think that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol addiction, talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist. It can be very dangerous to try to get past alcohol dependence without medical supervision. If you have been drinking heavily for any length of time, the symptoms of withdrawal can be intense and even life-threatening. The longer you have been physically dependent on alcohol, the worse these symptoms will be. Withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, shaking, sweating, anxiety, depression and irritability. In extreme cases, withdrawal symptoms may include seizures or hallucinations.
Recognizing the symptoms of alcoholism and admitting you have a problem with alcohol addiction are the first steps on the path to getting better. With the help of addiction professionals and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, you can learn what you need to do to overcome alcoholism.