Alcohol is widely available, easily accessible and enjoyed by many – so it is little wonder that many people rarely stop to consider the effects heavy drinking can have on the human mind and body. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010) defines heavy drinking for women as consuming 1 or more drinks per day and for men, 2 or more drinks per day on average. Shockingly, there are approximately 80,000 deaths linked to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), suggesting that consumption of alcohol still remains a major social issue.
When used responsibly, alcohol can be safe and used for enhancing social situations. But at what point does the enjoyment of alcohol become reliance and even substance abuse? The following is a list of guidelines that can help identify signs of alcohol abuse.
An unusually high tolerance
It is easy to forget that alcohol is classed as a depressant drug, causing us to feel less inhibited and have less emphasis placed on decision making. It is for this reason that many people will drink in social situations to cause conversation to flow more freely and feel more at ease. However, if someone is capable of drinking a significant amount more than others without feeling the effects this is among the first of warning signs of alcohol abuse. If you have to drink a lot more than you used to in order to feel the same effects, you might be abusing alcohol.
Drinking to feel better
Everyone occasionally suffers from a hard day at work, bad news or perhaps simply the feeling of being overwhelmed – at which point, some people may pour themselves a drink to help them relax or improve their mood. Alcohol slows down the communication between the brain and nerves (the central nervous system) which can help people feel less stressed. If someone indulges in this regularly instead of seeking healthier alternatives, it is a red flag for dependence on drinking.
Extreme change in mood/temperament
Perhaps one of the most affecting signs of alcohol abuse is a change in mood or general temperament. When someone relies on alcohol and has built up a tolerance, they are likely to experience a range of withdrawal symptoms when they are not drinking. Increased irritability, prolonged fatigue and feelings of anxiety or even depression are not uncommon. These signs are not always easy to spot but may present themselves following heavy consumption – does the person appear to feel better after a drink? Are they ‘not themselves’ if they haven’t been able to drink in a while? If yes, these are major signifiers of alcohol abuse.
Physical withdrawal symptoms
More easily noticeable signifiers of alcohol abuse are the physical ones, such as continuing headaches, nausea, trembling, insomnia and loss of appetite. If someone has
developed a high tolerance of alcohol, they may rely on a drink to ‘feel normal’ again. For example, someone abusing alcohol may wake up feeling as though they need a drink in order to relieve trembling they experience as a result of not drinking. Alcohol is addictive and as the body builds up a tolerance, increased and sustained consumption is required to feel the same effects they may have enjoyed when they first began, so the problem gets steadily worse.
Neglecting responsibilities during and after alcohol consumption
Calling in sick to work due to a hangover, skipping commitments and performing worse at work due to alcohol are all signifiers that someone has a drinking problem. Some people do not realize that alcohol is actually treated as poison by our bodies; dehydrating us and forcing our organs to work hard to recover. This is why many people feel lethargic and unable to concentrate when enduring a hangover. Decreased productivity and sense of consequences can have alarming effects, from causing someone to lose their job to making the decision to drink and drive – both outcomes are incredibly damaging to people’s lives, not just the person drinking.
Signs of alcohol abuse can present themselves in many ways and to varying degrees. Everyone is different and while some people may suffer from physical symptoms, others may not and the evidence may be more subtle. This is only an introduction to some of the signs that may help in noticing alcohol abuse and it is highly important to encourage anyone that may have a drinking problem to seek help for the sake of their own – and others – health and happiness.
Stanley Martinson is a guest blogger with a variety of interests. Lately his main focus has been health topics, and more specifically, drug rehabilitation. For more information on this subject, read here.