Alcohol addiction is prevalent in our society because many individuals don’t realize that their drinking habits have actually turned into an addiction over time. Drinking socially and even binge drinking are seen as normal behavior in many circles, causing most individuals to not see their addiction as clearly as they would other drug addictions. Signs of alcohol addiction can be slow to appear and long term alcohol abuse can have lifelong repercussions on the body. There are physical symptoms and social signs that can point to possible addiction or abuse. Many times an addiction starts out as something seemingly harmless, but abuse can quickly manifest into addiction.
Alcohol addiction if often developed through social drinking. Drinking in our culture can be seen as harmless; a way to blow off steam or connect with friends and family. Those who fall into the category of an alcoholic are those who cannot stop with just social drinking. Addicts surround themselves with individuals or activities that standardize their behavior and encourage their alcohol abuse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports on the normalization of binge drinking in the U.S. Over 30% of men and 16% of women reported in 2013 that they had engaged in binge drinking within the past month of being surveyed. This shows how open and normal this behavior can be, and how easy it is for an individual to either mask their alcohol problem or fall into continued alcohol abuse without realizing it. While alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse aren’t the same, the two often go hand in hand. Repeated alcohol abuse can eventually lead to addictive behaviors in regular drinkers.
Many times, the social signs of alcohol abuse become visible before an individual moves into the stages of alcoholism, where physical symptoms might be present. Behavioral changes such as activities revolving around alcohol, loss of interest in activities that one previously enjoyed, and possibly engaging in risk-taking behavior can all be signs of alcohol abuse. Loss of control and the inability to stop drinking are telltale signs that an individual may have developed an addictive pattern.
After abusing alcohol over a long period of time, individuals may begin to see physical symptoms and experience health issues such as diabetes, heart complications and liver disease. Since alcoholism can be hidden and an addict can continue on with their day-to-day life, long term physical ailments can be more prevalent than those of other drugs which cannot sustain long duration of abuse. Individuals who try to curb or quit their drinking may show symptoms of alcohol withdrawal as well. Depression or anxiety can set in if an individual isn’t drinking, and tremors or hallucinations can affect a long term drinker who suddenly tries to stop on their own. Both signs and symptoms can be ways for family members to notice a drinking problem and can be used as evidence during and intervention to help get a loved one into treatment.
Many times when individuals enter treatment for alcoholism, other illnesses are discovered. This is called a dual diagnosis, which commonly involves the presence of mental disorders such as depression or emotional trauma alongside the addiction. Alcohol tends to be an effective masking drug for those who hope to cover up an existing mental illness. Mental illnesses such as depression can cause a person to drink in order to forget their pain and to make them feel normal again, even if just for a short period of time. The trouble is that this cannot sustain itself, and depression can worsen with repeated alcohol abuse. An individual may begin to close themselves off from others or become withdrawn from everyday life.
Co-existing disorders must be treated at the same time as alcohol addiction in order for an addict to fully recover. If one illness is treated and not the other, it will manifest and potentially cause the individual to relapse. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) brings up the prevalence of those who experience mental illness as well as alcohol addiction. In general, it is reported that about half of people living with severe mental illness in the U.S. also have a co-existing substance abuse problems. When it comes to alcohol abusers in treatment, one-third reported having a mental illness that required treatment at the same time.
Once an individual realizes they may have a problem with alcohol addiction, treatment must be pursued to support a successful recovery. While alcohol consumption is common in the U.S., this highly addictive substance can be hard to overcome on one’s own. Detox and withdrawal symptoms should be medically supervised, and an inpatient program that can monitor progress can be helpful. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that, when it comes to treatment admissions statistics, over 40% reported alcohol abuse as the main or secondary need for alcohol rehab and recovery.
Alcoholism can be hidden for years from one’s family and friends, and even from the addicts themselves. Unlike other high-risk drug addictions that can cause an individual’s life to fall apart rapidly, those with alcohol addictions might not show signs right away. Functioning alcoholics might hide or limit their drinking so that they can hold down a job or maintain their role in their family. Underneath the surface, their lives may revolve around alcohol and the countdown for when they can reward themselves with a drink.
Alcohol is something that is easily obtained, and is likely to be all around an addict in recovery. Coping techniques and relapse prevention strategies must incorporated to increase one’s chances of success. Having support groups and sponsors available to an addict in recovery can help them avoid the urge to drink and keep recovery at the forefront of their daily life. The good news is that those that are suffering from alcohol addiction are not alone. Treatment programs for all demographics and stages of alcoholism are available so that any individual seeking support can find a tailor made program to help. Making recovery a priority will help an individual get their life back on track and realize all they have missed while being consumed by addiction.
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