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Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

April 2, 2019

Alcohol is a substance that is commonly used within social circumstances, but sadly some people abuse this substance to the point where it has a detrimental impact on their life. In the United States alone, 17.6 million people suffer from either alcohol abuse or dependency. That’s why it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse.

Drinking Beyond Safe Limits

Safe is a relative term in regards to alcohol consumption. Alcohol abuse arises when casual drinking surpasses what is considered moderate or low-risk drinking. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the following is considered moderate consumption: up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

However, in terms of daily consumption, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse considers it low-risk to consume no more than three drinks for a woman and four for a man. On a weekly basis, low-risk drinking is no more than seven drinks for a woman and fourteen for a man. Thus, one cannot consume the suggested daily amount on a daily basis and remain within the low-risk guidelines.

Breaking these guidelines via daily drinking or binge drinking is a sign of alcohol abuse. It is also symptomatic of serious health problems. According to the CDC, even moderate drinking comes with risks, including: breast cancer, violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

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Signs Vary By The Individual

Please keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of a drinking problem many vary based on the individual, which is why the observation of a trained professional can be the most useful tool in determining the extent of a problem. According to the CDC, individual reactions to alcohol vary, and are influenced by many factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Physical condition (weight, fitness level, etc)
  • Amount of food consumed before drinking.
  • How quickly the alcohol was consumed
  • Use of drugs or prescription medicines
  • Family history of alcohol problems

For these reasons, it is imperative to be honest when evaluating alcohol abuse. It is crucial to realize alcohol abuse transcends the bounds of casual drinking and recognize when it bears the hallmarks of substance abuse.

The Warning Signs

Changes in behavior are the foremost sign of alcohol abuse. As an individual sinks deeper into the clutches of their addiction, important facets of their life slip away. Ask the following questions of yourself or a loved one to decide if alcohol use has become abuse. Have you, or someone you love:

  • Found yourself drinking in order to relax, feel better, or to release stress?
  • Struggled with confusion or forget what you did or said while drinking (“blacking out”)?
  • Drank more, or for longer periods of time, than you intended or experienced difficulties attempting to cut back or stop drinking?
  • Had people that voiced concern about your drinking?
  • Experienced a sense of shame or denial about your drinking habits and hid your behavior?
  • Persisted at drinking even after it’s damaged your relationships and social obligations?
  • Drank while engaging in situations that can be physically harmful? For example: using while operating vehicles or machinery or mixing other drugs with alcohol.
  • Found yourself embroiled in legal or financial problems due to your drinking?
  • Needed to drink more in order to achieve the desired effect?
  • Found you are spending an increasing amount of time drinking and recovering and avoiding your responsibilities and obligations?
  • Supplanting activities that previously brought you pleasure or fulfillment with drinking?
  • Suffered withdrawal—when you ceased drinking, was it accompanied by physical symptoms such as nausea, shakiness, a racing heart, disrupted sleep, or even seizures?

Though alcohol abuse is something that may be self-diagnosed, it is pertinent that one realizes the treatment is not nearly as effective when engaged alone. Rehab is crucial.

What Do I Do If Someone I Know Appears To Have A Problem Abusing Alcohol?

If a loved one refuses to admit they have an alcohol abuse problem, they are in denial. Denial is one of the most common and most damaging emotions associated with alcohol abuse. It directly impedes their ability to admit they have a problem. In this situation, it is important that you step carefully and take care to understand the repercussions of how this addiction affects a person.

If this person refuses to admit they have a problem, an intervention may be necessary. An intervention should be help people that share a close relationship with the affected individual. It must be non-confrontational and purposeful to let them know how much you care and how much their alcohol use is impacting their life.

If You Or Someone You Love Is Abusing Alcohol, Reach Out

To incite changes towards healthy and nondestructive behaviors, a person must be willing to change. They must accept that they need help and genuinely seek a path towards a substance-free life. There are a wide variety of venues for addressing your concerns about alcohol abuse—AA, counseling, medical help, or rehab to name a few. If you find that you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at today.

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