What is Alcohol Addiction?
Table of Contents
- What is Alcohol Addiction?
- What is Considered Excessive Alcohol Consumption?
- The Formation of Alcohol Dependence
- How Do I Know If I Have an Alcohol Use Disorder?
- Am I an Alcoholic Quiz
- What are the Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse?
- What Does the Alcohol Rehab Process Look Like?
- Find Treatment for Alcohol Now!
- Medically Reviewed By
When someone drinks alcohol beyond their ability to control these habits, or to a point where they are unable to stop drinking on their own, they are considered to have an addiction to alcohol.
Once this happens, heavy drinkers will find that they are unable to enjoy their daily life or feel normal without the use of alcohol. Unfortunately, this often leads to them continuing this destructive habit.
Keep reading our ‘Am I an Alcoholic Quiz,’ to find questions that can help you determine whether you or loved one may be an alcoholic.
What is Considered Excessive Alcohol Consumption?
A heavy drinking session, or “binge drinking,” can vary in measurement based on the specific person and their personal relationship with alcohol. For example, a taller and heavier-set person may be able to handle more alcohol than someone of a smaller size.
For the most part, binge drinkers are typically considered to be those who drink around two-three times their recommended number of alcoholic beverages is considered to be participating in heavy drinking.
For men, this typically averages out to around five or more drinks and four or more drinks for women. While anyone can binge drink, this is more common amongst those with an alcohol use disorder, as they need to drink more to be able to experience the same effects as those who do not have a drinking problem.
For these excessive drinkers, how many standard drinks they are able to handle may increase as their tolerance develops over time, with six or more drinks being their extreme point. This behavior may become more likely if they are participating in social or celebratory events, such as those involving drinking games or increased pressure to consume large amounts of alcohol.
The Formation of Alcohol Dependence
Once this addiction forms, the affected person will likely spend significant amounts of time being intoxicated, often drinking daily or in larger quantities than the average individual typically would. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be easily overcome once an addiction has formed.
Substance addiction is considered to be a chronic disease due to the way that alcohol and drug abuse chemically alters your brain. When drinking alcohol, the brain releases the chemical dopamine, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.
Alcohol makes your brain release dopamine faster and in larger quantities than usual. The more alcoholic drinks you consume, the more dopamine your brain will release. This means that, with continuous heavy drinking, the brain will slowly stop being able to produce this chemical on its own.
Regardless of the event or reason, drinking more than seven drinks at a time is never recommended, as this carries a significant risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal if not properly addressed.
This is why, if you struggle with excessive alcohol use, it is highly recommended that you seek out a professional treatment provider to help you overcome these habits and achieve a healthier lifestyle.
How Do I Know If I Have an Alcohol Use Disorder?
Unfortunately, an alcohol use disorder can be hard to recognize, whether you are trying to identify this behavior in yourself or a loved one. Some people may be good at hiding their addiction, while others may be reluctant to admit they are struggling at all.
However, there are several signs of alcohol abuse that can be looked out for and can serve as a sort of self-assessment for problematic drinking behaviors.
Am I an Alcoholic Quiz
- Do you drink more, or for longer periods of time than originally intended?
- Have you had repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit drinking, even if there is a genuine desire to do so?
- Do you spend excessive amounts of time drinking or recovering from hangovers?
- Are you unable to focus on or participate in other activities without the involvement of alcohol?
- Do you experience issues with work, school, or personal relationships due to drinking habits?
- Are you no longer participating in previously enjoyable activities and hobbies due to drinking?
- Do you participate in potentially dangerous activities while under the influence, such as driving, having unprotected sex, or other risk-seeking behaviors?
- Do you continue to drink despite alcohol causing or worsening physical or mental health issues?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when not under the influence, or drink more frequently to avoid such feelings?
- Do you have to drink more frequently or in greater amounts in order to achieve the desired effects of alcohol use?
Answering yes to two or more of these questions is a solid indicator of an alcohol use disorder, and answering in the affirmative to all of them indicates what is known as alcoholism.
While these are the most common signs that can indicate that you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol use disorder, there are several other physical and behavioral symptoms that can indicate these habits.
Sudden Weight Loss or Gain Due to Drinking
For someone who is abusing alcohol, rapid weight gain or loss can be one of the biggest physical signs that their drinking has become problematic. In most cases, weight gain will occur due to the empty calories a heavy drinker will obtain from their alcohol use.
On the other side of the spectrum, someone may choose to skip meals due to their heavy alcohol intake, or when mixing their drinking with other substances. Excessive vomiting due to alcohol consumption can also be a contributing factor to drastic weight loss and malnutrition as a result of alcohol abuse.
One of the biggest side effects of an abusive relationship with alcohol is the development of various health problems. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to a person having increased blood pressure, irregular heart rates, organ damage and various other health issues.
Unfortunately, if you are struggling with these issues and are leaving them and your drinking problem untreated, this can cause these problems to become even worse, resulting in you experiencing a heart attack or stroke.
Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse began drinking as a way of self-medicating negative thoughts and feelings such as those caused by anxiety, depression, and other mental issues.
However, continuous excessive alcohol use can make these problems even worse over time, and even lead to you developing new mental disorders. This can create a vicious cycle of self-destructive behaviors, making it all the more important to seek help if you recognize these or any other addictive behaviors in yourself or a loved one.
Decreased Social Interest
As discussed, it can feel impossible to function normally without the use of alcohol for someone who has become addicted to this substance. This means that, for events where alcohol is not involved, you may consciously avoid attending these in favor of finding ways to continue your substance use.
This may become more noticeable to your loved ones before it presents itself as a problem to you, especially if you are typically an outgoing and extroverted individual before developing a substance use disorder.
With chronic heavy alcohol use, several organs will become strained due to this consumption, with the liver and pancreas being the two most commonly affected areas. If you often experience pain or discomfort in these areas, this can be a clear sign of excessive alcohol use.
Furthermore, if you are continuing to drink even despite these warning signs of alcohol’s effect on your physical health, this a clear sign you have become highly dependent on and addicted to this substance.
Perhaps one of the biggest indications that you are struggling with an addiction to this substance is if you experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit drinking. These can include a multitude of symptoms, such as shaking, nausea, sweating, and insomnia.
This can be a major sign that you have become severely dependent upon alcohol, as the removal of this substance from your system will cause it to no longer be able to function properly without it.
Unfortunately, alcohol withdrawal can be extremely difficult, and even life-threatening, meaning you will need extensive medical treatment to overcome your alcohol use. In many cases, someone who is suffering from alcohol withdrawal will need to recover through a medical detox program in order to overcome these effects.
What are the Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse?
There are several unpleasant side effects that you may experience as a result of your alcohol abuse. These include both short-term and long-term effects. In both case, these can become quite dangerous, and potentially life-threatening, if not properly addressed.
Over short periods of time, excessive alcohol consumption may result in a number of unpleasant side effects which can detract from the more pleasurable feelings that drinking can produce. These may include:
- Mood swings
- Lowered inhibitions
- Impulsive behaviors
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Head pain
- Auditory, visual, and perceptual distortions
- Loss of coordination
- Trouble focusing or making decisions
- Loss of consciousness
- Gaps in memory (often called a blackout)
Depending on your tolerance level and metabolism speed, some of these effects may develop after even just one drink. Those resulting from dehydration, on the other hand, such as nausea, headache, and dizziness, may take several hours to appear. They may also vary in intensity depending on whether you have been drinking other fluids or eating with your alcohol use.
Furthermore, cognitively and physically impairing side effects can make you more susceptible to injury, or influence poor decision-making skills, such as driving while under the influence – a behavior that can be life-threatening both to you and the people around you.
If you have been abusing alcohol over an extended period of time, the side effects of this behavior are typically more damaging than those associated with short-term use. These may include:
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Weakened immune system
- Changes in sexual libido
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Decreased cognitive functions, such as poor memory
- Reduced ability to focus or concentrate
- Liver and kidney damage
- Liver disease
In rare cases, excessive drinking that continues over longer periods of time can also lead to permanent brain damage. Some individuals may develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, or “wet brain,” a severe brain condition associated with memory loss and decreased cognitive functions.
What Does the Alcohol Rehab Process Look Like?
Contrary to most people’s initial assumptions, alcohol addiction treatment is often quite extensive and intensive. This is because, as discussed, alcohol can be an extremely dangerous substance to withdraw and recover from, particularly if you have become highly dependent on this substance.
Some of the most common methods used to treat an alcohol use disorder are medically-supervised detoxification, counseling, behavioral therapies, medication-assisted treatment, and sober support groups.
Of course, there is no such thing as a one-method-fits-all treatment for alcohol addiction. What works for one person may not work for another, which means that it is crucial to your recovery that you are able to find a facility that offers a wide range of treatment options so that your personal care needs can be met in the most effective way.
It may be helpful to seek professional treatment advice from your medical provider or an addiction specialist, such as a Find Addiction Rehabs representative when attempting to narrow down what options will work best for your recovery journey.
Find Treatment for Alcohol Now!
If you believe that you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, know that you are not alone, and help is available. The Find Addiction Rehabs hotline is available 24/7 to connect you with a substance abuse treatment provider and alcohol rehab program that is dedicated to serving all of your personal care needs.
We are here to help you, whatever time of day (or night) you may need it. Call now, and let us help you take the first step on your path to recovery, where you can become a happier, healthier, and sober you!
Nicole Rogers is an experienced and accomplished writer with special interests in the fields of Anthropology, English, and behavioral health, and has written countless articles for newspaper publications, institutional research journals, and Find Addiction Rehabs.
Her alma mater is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Nicole hopes to spread awareness of and combat the stigmatization surrounding addiction and substance abuse treatment through her writing and work in the field.