Signs of Alcoholism: Am I an Alcoholic?
Spotting the signs of alcoholism in yourself isn't always easy. We all know the stereotype of an alcoholic. Someone who sits on a park bench all day with a bottle of anything alcoholic in their hand. Bedraggled and on the outside of society.
Whilst this is the reality of alcoholism for some people, it is not the full picture. Alcoholism can affect anyone, regardless of their socio-economic background, gender, or life experience.
Some people start drinking problematically in their teenage years, others don’t start until they are middle-aged. There are those that struggle with unemployment and financial difficulties, while others rise to the top of their profession and make lots of money in the process. Some are single all their lives, whilst others have decades of long marriages.
There are now more people with alcohol addiction than ever before and alcoholism can present in many different ways, shapes and forms, including functioning alcoholics. There is no stereotypical suffering alcoholic.
In 2018, alcohol abuse was the seventh biggest risk factor for premature death and disability globally, and around 14 percent of deaths for people aged 20 to 39 were attributed to alcohol.
If you suspect that you suffer from alcoholism but are unsure, keep reading. By the end of this article, you will have a good understanding of the signs of alcoholism, and whether or not you have it.
What Causes Alcoholism?
There is no one driver of alcoholism. Instead, there are a number of factors that contribute towards its development and progression. These include:
- Drinking from an early age. A person who begins drinking while they are still in their early teens or younger increases their risk of developing alcoholism. Excessive drinking is now responsible for 3,500 deaths and 210,000 years of lost life for people under 21 years.
- A family history of problematic drinking. Often, someone with alcoholism has members of their family who also have unhealthy drinking patterns. Alcoholism can spread through family members both genetically and environmentally. This means that someone can acquire alcoholic genes, but they can also gain alcoholism through being in a dysfunctional environment where people use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
- Mental health problems. Those who have issues like depression, anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder can often turn to alcohol as a way of coping with their symptoms. Around 30-50% of people who have alcohol or drug dependency issues also have mental health problems.
- Trauma. If someone experiences trauma in their lives, they have a much higher chance of developing alcoholism during their life. A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on a group of alcoholic patients undergoing inpatient detoxification found that 55 percent had experienced childhood trauma.
Long Term Health Risks of Alcoholism
Everyone knows that drinking is not good for their health. For people with alcoholism, the question is not if, but when, they will develop health problems due to drinking.
More than 200 health conditions are linked with alcohol use disorders, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
- Learning and memory problems
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
Unfortunately, people with alcoholism continue drinking even as these problems are happening. Sometimes, there is a denial about deteriorating health. Other times, the person with the alcohol problem continues drinking despite knowing that they are facing dire health consequences.
10 Signs You Are an Alcoholic - How to spot the signs of alcoholism
As you can see from the above, there is little choice in whether a person becomes an alcoholic. Someone suffering from alcoholism will continue to drink despite consequences to their health, social life, finances, occupation and personal relationships.
Whilst alcohol addiction is considered a potentially fatal illness, happily there are effective treatments and programmes that can enable recovery.
If you or a loved one have the following signs of alcoholism, it is vital you get the correct help:
- You drink more or than you want to. Loss of control over the amount of alcohol regularly consumed is a huge warning sign that a person may be suffering from alcoholism
- You want to stop or have tried stopping, but can’t. Alcohol addiction is often characterised be repeated failed attempts to quit drinking.
- You spend a lot of time doing things to get alcohol, drink alcohol, and recovering from drinking.
- You crave alcohol. People withe alcoholism crave alcohol. They crave it first psychologically, and then physically.
- Drinking is causing consistent problems with fulfilling duties in life. Those with alcohol addiction will prioritise alcohol above their duties.
- Drinking causes problems in personal relationships.
- Stopping doing the things you love because of alcohol. Whilst alcohol helps many to socialise, alcoholism has the adverse effect. Someone with an alcohol addiction will often be antisocial, full of anxiety and withdraw from life.
- Doing dangerous things or being in dangerous places when drinking. Those that suffer from an alcohol use disorder will often take great risks whilst drinking.
- You suffer from alcohol withdrawal. Alcoholism often results in alcohol dependence. This means a person will need to drink just to avoid sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms
- Drinking more than you used to, but getting less drunk. Alcohol addiction is characterised by tolerance and progression. Over any given period of time the drinking will only get worse.
Alcoholism Is Treatable
You may have read through that list and related to a few of the signs of alcoholism. You might have related to all of them. Either way, you will likely have a better understanding now of whether you suffer from this debilitating and life-threatening condition.
This may be a depressing conclusion to come to. If you are an alcoholic, your life likely revolves around alcohol, and it may be difficult to see a path away from it. Suffering from alcohol addiction means that alcohol will have become a vital part of your life.
The good news is, that if you relate to the signs of alcoholism, and want help, treatment is very effective. There are plenty of different methods available.
Some people can stop drinking with the aid of a counsellor. The most popular type of counselling that address alcoholism is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT helps to identify and change thought patterns that are contributing towards alcoholism.
Addressing trauma is also crucial when treating alcoholism. If you suspect or know that you have trauma in your history, it is worth speaking with your counsellor beforehand to see if they have been trained to treat trauma.
Rehabilitation, or rehab as it is more commonly known, helps people who have faced addictions of all kinds to find recovery from their addictive substance or behaviour.
Rehabs usually offer clients both group and individual sessions, where people trying to recover from alcoholism can learn about recovery. Rehabilitation focuses on changing addictive behaviours and thinking as well as addressing all other areas of a persons life.
There are now self-help communities all over the world that get together and help each other with their alcohol problem.
The most popular and well-known of these groups is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is the original 12-step program. Members of AA meet regularly in groups to “share their experience, strength and hope”, and complete the 12 steps.
AA promises both sobriety and a spiritual awakening for those who go through “the steps” thoroughly. Research suggests that AA is more effective than psychotherapy at treating alcoholism.
Alternatives to AA After Seeing the Signs of Alcoholism
SMART Recovery. A mutual-aid self-help programme for people with substance use disorders, SMART Recovery offers face-to-face and online meetings, as well as a variety of tools and techniques for managing addiction and cravings. The programme is based on the four principles of self-empowerment, abstinence, scientific evidence, and harm reduction. It is a secular program, and does not promote any specific religious or spiritual beliefs.
Women For Sobriety. Women who are in recovery from alcoholism often report that it is mainly men who attend AA meetings. While there are some AA meetings specifically for women, Women For Sobriety is only for women. Like SMART Recovery, the Women For Sobriety program does not include any mention of religion or spirituality.
Alternative healing modalities. There are countless healing modalities that can help alcoholics to address the root causes of their alcohol problem.
Mindfulness practices. Practices such as yoga and meditation can help alcoholics gain more mental clarity, and can reduce levels of anxiety.
Practices which can help address trauma. These include Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR). These therapies help to release trauma in the body, which works to quell triggers for alcohol.
Understanding Alcoholism as an Illness
The American Medical Association (AMA) classified alcoholism as a disease in 1956. They went on to classify addiction as a disease in 1987.
Prior to this, people who had alcoholism were thought of as immoral people. It was believed that they could control their drinking but were simply unwilling to. They drank, and they did bad things.
Fortunately, now we understand that alcoholism is a chronic brain disease, we know that people with alcohol problems are not inherently bad people. They begin drinking and are unable to stop.
If you are someone with an alcohol problem, this means that you should stop beating yourself up about your condition. You have a health complaint. Would you chastise yourself if you had diabetes?
If you love someone who is an alcoholic, the concept of alcoholism being a disease may also be news to you. Loving someone who has alcohol problems is tough, and you may frequently lose your temper at their actions. Please try to remember that they are very ill and need specialist help and support in order to stop drinking and acting in the way that they do.
Whilst alcoholism is no one's fault, the responsibility of accessing and accepting help falls firmly at the feet of the sufferer.
How to Get Help For Alcoholism
Recognising that the signs of alcoholism may (hopefully) be enough to spur you into getting the help you need . But what does this help look like and how does alcohol treatment work?
With a mild drinking problem, you may be able to stop drinking by seeing a counsellor and working on your problems together.
If you are more severely affected by alcoholism, you will undoubtedly need the support of like-minded others and trained professionals.
If you need medical help to stop drinking, you first port of call should be your local Drug and Alcohol team.
Your local Drug and alcohol team can help you by :
- Providing advice and information on drug and alcohol use
- Providing access to alcohol detox programmes
- Referrals to residential detoxes and/or rehabs
- Giving you advice on community groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery
- Proving you with emotional support and counselling
- Referring you to community housing teams
- Providing education, training and employment advice
Whilst attending your local drug and alcohol team it is recommended that you also attend mutual aid support groups. This is so you can access help and support in between sessions.
Access help for the signs of alcoholism now
At Recoverlution we know that there is no one right way to recover. Different methods work for different people. With this in mind we have a whole library of content to help you on your way. Our wellness hub also offers proven methods of increasing your wellbeing in recovery.
Our Recoverlution platform is purpose-built for recovery, combining connection via our free community, wellbeing and knowledge all within one place. Here, you can access established support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or start your own recovery group
If you have a problem with alcohol and want help, you can start your journey here. You no longer need to feel alone.
- Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext
- Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm
- CDC Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) Application: https://www.cdc.gov/ARDI/
- WESTERN AUSTRALIAN MENTAL HEALTH, ALCOHOL AND OTHER DRUG SERVICES PLAN 2015–2025: https://www.mhc.wa.gov.au/media/1834/0581-mental-health-planprintv16acc-updated20170316.pdf
- Alcohol Fact sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
- Global status report on alcohol and health 2018: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/274603/9789241565639-eng.pdf?ua=1
- Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org/
- SMART Recovery http://www.smartrecovery.org/
- Women for sobriety: https://womenforsobriety.org/
- Causes of alcoholism: https://emrgent.com/alcohol/causes-of-alcoholism