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Alcohol Addiction Symptoms – A Guide to Behavioural Changes

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Alcoholics do not set out during the earliest stages of drinking to eventually become addicted. Indeed, alcoholism is the result of a slow and gradual process that takes place over time. As such, the person making the journey from casual alcohol use to abuse, and then on to eventual dependence, exhibits a variety of behavioural changes along the way. Understanding alcohol addiction symptoms as these relate to those changes could be the key to identifying a problem in yourself or someone else.

The behavioural changes related to alcohol abuse are the direct result of how alcohol influences the brain. Anyone who has ever been drunk knows that alcohol inhibits perception, slows down reaction times, and makes it difficult to think clearly. It makes sense that a person addicted to alcohol would be profoundly affected by these changes to the degree that his or her overall behaviours also change.

For family members of alcoholics, the behavioural changes can be difficult to live with. A person who used to be mild-mannered and easy-going may have become an alcoholic with tendencies toward anger and violence. And, of course, all relationships are negatively affected by alcohol even when violence is not present. It goes without saying that anyone who suspects that an alcohol problem might be present should know and understand the symptoms and then make an honest assessment of the situation.

Early Stages of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol addiction always starts out as casual abuse of alcohol. In order to establish how and when abuse begins, we must first establish the benchmark for what is considered an acceptable level of drinking. According to the NHS, men should not consume more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol per day; women should restrict themselves to no more than 2 to 3 units.

A unit of alcohol is a standard measurement expressed as either 10 ml or 8 g by volume. It is based on how quickly the average person's body processes alcohol. It is not specifically related to any type of alcoholic drink. Your average bottle of wine with an alcohol by volume content of 13.5% contains 10 units of alcohol; a single glass of wine would have about 1.5 units. By contrast, a typical pint of beer contains three units of alcohol while a 330 ml bottle would be closer to 1.7 units.

Anyone who routinely exceeds the generally recommended safe levels of alcohol consumption during a 48-hour period is likely in some stage of alcohol abuse. For example:

  • Binge Drinking – Recurring episodes of binge drinking is one of the first behavioural changes you might notice as a person progresses into alcohol abuse. Binge drinking on the weekends is a way for people to get the alcohol they crave without interrupting the daily routine of the week.
  • Nightly Drinking – Another early behavioural change is the transition from having one or two drinks per week to drinking every night after work. People in the initial stages of alcohol abuse may go to the pub 5 to 6 nights per week to the spend hours drinking. Others may sit at home and drink until it's time for bed.

Such early behavioural changes are generally the first sign that something is amiss. Anyone who begins drinking more than they used to, on a regular basis, should be concerned.

Middle Stages of Alcohol Abuse

As a drinker progresses from the early stages of alcohol abuse to its middle stages, the likelihood of eventual dependence increases. Such individuals are already drinking too much alcohol to begin with, and they will continue doing so in the absence of something or someone capable interrupting the cycle. The middle stages of alcohol abuse will include increased episodes of binge drinking and a higher volume of alcohol consumed on a daily basis. Other behavioural changes will begin manifesting themselves at this stage. For example:

  • Work Performance – As alcohol takes more control over the mind it becomes harder to perform up to standard at work or school. The affected individual will begin failing more often, followed by blaming external circumstances or others for those failures. Being late for work or school also becomes the norm.
  • Increased Defensiveness – The middle stages of alcohol abuse are typified by increased defensiveness. When the drinker is confronted about the existence of a potential problem, he or she may become upset and ready to argue. Offering up excuses for why drinking is necessary, or even defending the behaviour as acceptable, is also common.

A drinker progressing through the middle stages of alcohol abuse on his or her way to full-blown alcohol addiction will gradually be exhibiting the symptoms of alcoholism more frequently. The behavioural changes accompanying this progression will become more pronounced and potentially more destructive.

Full-Blown Alcohol Addiction

The list of generally accepted alcohol addiction symptoms is primarily related to behavioural changes. Although alcohol does have a very definite impact on the body, it is those outward behaviours that trigger the red flags we use to identify alcoholics. Behavioural changes are very definite and profound; these include:

  • Isolation and Withdrawal – Alcoholics tend to isolate themselves and withdraw from family and friends. They will avoid family gatherings and social events; they may even develop a new set of friends who share their drinking habits.
  • Constant Worrying – The full-blown alcohol addict finds him/herself constantly worrying that there will not be enough alcohol available on a given day. Family members or friends might observe the individual constantly looking for ways to procure more alcohol. This can include turning to crime in order to sustain one's drinking.
  • Hostility Towards Family – Unfortunately, alcoholism often leads alcoholics to develop hostility towards their family members. This hostility can lead to broken marriages and permanently damaged relationships with children or siblings. Alcoholics suffer from a profound distrust due to the effects of alcohol on the brain.

There are other alcohol addiction symptoms that manifest themselves through behavioural changes. All of the changes we have listed here are just the start. Should you notice that your behaviour is changing as a result of your drinking habits, please get help right away. Likewise, seek help if you notice such behavioural changes in someone else.

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