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How to Easily Identify Symptoms of Alcoholism

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Alcohol abuse and dependence are constant problems in a modern culture in which the use of potentially addictive substances has become the norm. Furthermore, alcohol is the most abused substance on a long list of things ranging from illicit drugs to prescription medications to legal highs. Learning to recognise the symptoms of alcoholism is the first step to combating and ultimately conquering the problem.

Alcoholism is easily recognisable by those who are trained to spot it. For sufferers and their families, however, it may not be so easy to spot the problem early enough to intervene before it becomes an all-out addiction. And when alcohol abuse becomes addiction, bad things happen. Alcohol's abuse on the body is devastating and often permanent.

The first step in recognising the symptoms is understanding that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and dependence (alcoholism). Abuse and dependence are not necessarily the same thing. A person can abuse alcohol without being an alcoholic, although every alcoholic is an alcohol abuser.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

When an individual suffering from alcohol abuse is identified early enough, recovering from that abuse before it becomes full-blown addiction tends to be easier. Therefore, it is imperative for anyone who believes he or she might be in the throes of alcohol abuse to get help as soon as possible. The same can be said of friends and family members who might recognise symptoms of alcohol abuse in someone else.

The following is a list of the most common symptoms of alcohol abuse that may not yet constitute full-blown addiction:

  • Difficulty performing well at work or school, with late arrivals normal
  • Being unable to remember things that happened after a drinking episode
  • Drinking in risky situations, including in the hours before driving
  • Injuries to oneself or others as a result of drinking
  • Drinking-related legal problems, including arrests for drink driving
  • Continued drinking even though doing so exacerbates health problems
  • Family members and friends frequently show concern over drinking habits.

The individual currently in the throes of alcohol abuse may not recognise these symptoms. Often persistent drinking clouds both perception and judgement, leading a person to believe he or she is doing just fine despite the fact that alcohol abuse is present.

Family members and friends who might be concerned about the drinking habits of others should pay close attention to work or school performance, risky drinking behaviour, and recurring episodes of drinking resulting in loss of memory. These three symptoms are fairly reliable in identifying early and middle-stage alcohol abuse.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

There is both good and bad news regarding the symptoms of alcoholism. The good news is that the symptoms are much easier to identify and are linked directly to a person's alcohol consumption. The bad news is that once the symptoms are present, the drinker is in a far more serious position than he or she was in as an early or middle stage abuser. Recovery from alcoholism, otherwise known as alcohol dependence, is significantly more challenging than overcoming abuse.

The most common alcoholic symptoms are as follows:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time drinking and recovering
  • A lack of self-control relating to the volume of alcohol consumed
  • Setting aside other activities in order to drink
  • Continued drinking even though it is harming relationships
  • Drinking first thing in the morning, continuing throughout the day
  • Making excuses for continued drinking; also, defensiveness when confronted
  • Going to great lengths to hide drinking; also, hiding alcohol around the house
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when drinking ceases
  • Worrying about access to alcohol
  • A willingness to go to great lengths to secure alcohol
  • The need to consume larger volumes to enjoy the same effect
  • Deteriorating health including weight loss, stomach issues, and change in complexion.

The early stages of alcoholism may be indistinguishable from late-stage abuse because of overlap. However, there is very little difference between the two in a practical sense. By the time an individual enters late stage abuse, full-blown addiction is merely days away.

For the alcoholic, the most important question is one of how frequently one drinks and the total volume of alcohol consumed in a single day. This is an important question given the fact that alcoholics tend to change what they drink in the hopes that they can control their drinking by doing so.

For example, an alcoholic in the early stages of alcoholism may switch from spirits to wine or beer with the understanding that making the choice will result in lower volumes of alcohol for every drink consumed. The hope is that consuming less alcohol by volume will prevent drunkenness or further addiction. However, this strategy rarely works.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

The symptoms of alcoholism are easily identified by professionals because of the profound effects alcohol has on the brain. As previously stated, alcohol abusers tend to experience altered perception and judgement. In simple terms, they do not think clearly because alcohol is interfering with the thought process.

Alcohol contains certain chemicals that, upon reaching the brain, trigger the body to produce naturally occurring chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are partially responsible for the feelings of pleasure human beings enjoy.

The problem with alcohol is that it stimulates the brain to produce the neurotransmitters when it otherwise would not. In the persistent drinker, the problem is worse. The brain gets used to a certain level of alcohol in the system and produces enough neurotransmitters to keep up with it. The inevitable result is a less intense pleasurable feeling, requiring the drinker to progressively consume more alcohol. This is known as tolerance.

An Honest Assessment Necessary

In order to identify the symptoms of alcoholism, individuals must be willing to undergo an honest assessment. Denial is not an option. Denying a problem exists is not going to do anything to solve the problem, it will only exacerbate it until the most negative of results is achieved.

Anyone who consumes alcohol should make a point of knowing and understanding the generally accepted guidelines for safe alcohol consumption. With that knowledge, an assessment is in order for anyone who exceeds the generally accepted levels of safe alcohol intake. An honest assessment can identify alcohol abuse before it becomes addiction.

In the case of alcoholism, an honest assessment of an individual's condition could be a lifesaver. Anyone concerned that a friend or loved one may be an alcoholic should take a step back and honestly assess according to the symptoms listed in this guide. In the event that alcohol abuse or alcoholism is present, getting help as soon as possible is necessary for the greatest chances of recovery.

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