While it is common knowledge that alcoholism and alcohol abuse are significant issues present in American society, some recently published studies and statistics are somewhat surprising. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice in the United States, with more than three-fourths of all adults engaging in drinking alcohol. Six percent of all Americans are alcoholics, which equates to more than 12 million people nationwide. In addition, 75 percent of all high school seniors report being drunk at least once. Nearly seven million individuals between the ages of 12 and 20 are binge drinkers, even though the legal age is 21.
The alarmingly high prevalence of alcohol use has led to an increase in serious problems within our society as well. In 2010, there were a total of 15,183 deaths related to alcoholic liver disease, and an additional 24,518 deaths induced by alcohol use. Furthermore, alcohol also plays a prominent role in violence and crimes; it is a fact in 73 percent of all felonies, 73 percent of child abuse cases, 41 percent of sexual assault/rape cases, 81 percent of domestic violence cases, 72 percent of stabbings, and 83 percent of murders. A person is fatally injured in a car accident related to driving under the influence every half hour in the United States alone. This is particularly tragic considering the innocent victims that suffer from the impact of an individual abusing alcohol.
Increasing awareness of the problem is the first step for individuals and society in general to overcome alcoholism and reduce its occurrence. Since drinking alcohol is common within many cultures, it can often be hard to distinguish when drinking has crossed the thin line from modest use to a serious alcoholism problem. Read on to learn more about the warning signs and symptoms of alcoholism to be on the lookout for with your own drinking patterns and those of your loved ones.
Understanding Causes of Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are caused by many different interrelated factors, such as genetics, family environment, social interactions, and emotional/mental health. Those who suffer from physical and mental health disorders are particularly at risk of developing alcoholism. Alcohol is often the drug of choice for self-medication of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. Some medications for health conditions also interact with alcohol to increase its effects and may result in more future cravings.
In addition, individuals that have a family history of alcoholism or were raised in an environment with heavy drinkers have increased likelihood of developing a drinking problem. Children that begin drinking before age 15 are an estimated four times more likely to become alcoholics, especially when compared to those that wait until the legal age. Some racial and ethnic groups, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, are also at higher risk of developing alcoholism. Despite popular belief, individuals with higher education and higher income are more likely to become alcoholics.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Medical professionals make a clear distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism, or alcohol dependence. Unlike those that have become alcoholics, alcohol abusers possess some ability to limit their use of the drug. However, alcohol abuse is still dangerous, self-destructive, and can lead to the development of addiction. Some of the common warning signs of alcohol abuse include:
- repeated neglect of work, school, social, and family obligations
- drinking alcohol in physically dangerous and risky situations, such as drinking and driving or mixing alcohol with prescriptions
- legal problems as a result of drinking, driving under the influence or disorderly conduct
- continued use even though the alcohol is starting to cause significant problems in relationships and aspects of his or her life
- utilizing alcohol as a way to relax, relieve stress, and soothe physical or psychological pain
Although not all people that abuse alcohol become alcoholics, it is a major risk factor that can lead the individual down a perilous road toward alcoholism. Alcoholism can develop suddenly after a stressful event, certain trauma, or other form of change in the person’s life. Other times, alcoholism can gradually creep up unexpectedly as alcohol tolerance increases. Alcohol abusers that drink every day or engage in binge drinking are at severe risk for alcoholism, so please seek help if these warning signs become apparent in you or your loved ones.
Symptoms of Alcoholism and Dependence
As the most severe form of drinking problems, alcoholism includes all of the above symptoms for alcohol abuse along with some other more serious ones. The major indicator for alcoholism is physical dependence on intake of the drug. If you or someone you know need alcohol to function or are consistently physically compelled to drink to avoid withdrawal, it is alcoholism. The most common warning signs for alcoholism and alcohol dependence are:
- tolerance that causes the individual to need to drink more and more alcohol to feel the same desired buzz effects
- continued alcohol use to relieve/avoid withdrawal symptoms, such as shakiness, anxiety, depression, sweating, nausea, fatigue, hallucinations, or irritability
- inability to control the amount of alcohol intake
- unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking, despite a desire to stop use
- spending less time on activities that were once enjoyable in order to drink
- obsession with alcohol that takes over their energy, focus, and time
- denial that there is a drinking problem and downplay of negative effects
Getting Help for Alcoholism
The first step to successful treatment of alcoholism involves admittance and acceptance that there is a drinking problem. It is impossible to force someone to stop using alcohol, unless they are ready to make the changes in their life. Admitting that there is a problem can be difficult and painful for the entire family, but it is important to remember that there is no reason to be ashamed. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and bravery to face the tough challenge of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
The second step is reaching out for professional help and support, because a person will not be able to stop drinking and stay sober without appropriate treatment and support throughout the recovery process. Alcoholics should seek assistance through an inpatient rehabilitation center, self-help programs, therapy, or support groups. Recovering from alcoholism is much easier when the individual is surrounded by encouragement, guidance, and comfort to avoid the risk of reverting back to old patterns.