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What Are The Symptoms of Drinking Too Much?

Lisa Taylor
Lisa TaylorAddiction Counsellor

Do you know the difference between safe, moderate drinking and drinking too much? If not, you should. Excessive drinking is a behaviour that can lead to alcohol abuse and eventual addiction. What's more, no one is immune from the risks of alcohol. You could become an alcoholic without ever knowing what is happening to you simply by drinking too much too often.

The symptoms of drinking too much are relatively easy to spot if you are willing to be honest about your situation. It starts with knowing and understanding what the generally accepted levels of safe drinking are. If you do not know already, the NHS and various alcohol-related charities publish the information online. In short, men should not consume more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol per day while women should not consume more than 2 to 3 units.

The NHS also recommends that any episode of binge drinking should be followed by a minimum of 48 hours with no additional alcohol consumption. If you are exceeding this recommendation, or you routinely exceed the recommended daily levels of alcohol consumption, you are drinking too much.

To make this easier to understand, we have classified the most common signs of drinking too much into four categories:

  • Attitudes relating to alcohol
  • Behavioural symptoms
  • Mental and emotional symptoms
  • Physical symptoms.

Attitudes Relating to Alcohol

The person who drinks too much typically has a very relaxed and casual attitude about alcohol. He or she may not take the dangers of excessive drinking seriously enough to warrant any actionable decision to reduce alcohol consumption. Simply put, heavy drinkers view alcohol as just another beverage that can be consumed with impunity.

Imagine having to confront a member of your family who you believe drinks too much. Upon expressing your concerns, the person may just laugh at you and insist you have nothing to be concerned about. He or she may even defend current drinking habits by saying something like, “I only drink because it helps me relax.” This casual and cavalier attitude indicates the person in question does not understand, or is purposely ignoring, the dangers of overconsumption.

Behavioural Symptoms

One of the most unfortunate things about alcohol abuse and addiction is that they both lead to very distinct behavioural changes that affect both the alcohol abuser and those around him/her. Someone purposely looking for any potential signs of a drinking problem will notice that these behavioural changes become more profound as drinking progresses.

For example, a person who used to be outgoing and very social will gradually begin to withdraw as a result of drinking too much. Withdrawal and isolation can include everything from routine social events to family gatherings. The more the individual becomes dependent on alcohol, the more noticeable the isolation and withdrawal become.

Other behavioural symptoms of drinking too much include:

  • poor performance at work or school
  • financial problems as a result of missing time at work or losing a job
  • hostility towards family members and friends
  • regular scheming to find opportunities to drink
  • abandonment of former hobbies and responsibilities.

The behavioural changes that result from drinking too much occur gradually, making them difficult to spot in their early stages if one is not paying attention. But the further an individual progresses in his or her drinking problem, the more obvious the behavioural changes become. Criminal activity is a good example.

A person with a drinking problem will undoubtedly spend more and more money to acquire alcohol. But there may come a point when regular income is just not enough. If the drinker also loses his or her job, the lack of income is exacerbated. That person might then resort to criminal activity in order to support his or her habit.

The unfortunate thing here is the fact that behavioural changes become more profound and disturbing the further a person progresses through alcohol abuse. By the time family members and friends recognise these behavioural changes, the individual could already be in the late stages of alcohol abuse or the early stages of alcoholism. This is why it is so important to pay close attention to any potential signs of excessive drinking in their earliest stages.

Mental and Emotional Symptoms

The mental and emotional symptoms of drinking too much go hand in hand with behavioural changes. They are all a direct result of how alcohol affects the brain and, subsequently, perception and judgement. Anyone who has ever been drunk should understand this idea quite clearly.

Alcohol affects the brain by encouraging the production of neurotransmitters that produce feelings of pleasure. In a person who is gradually becoming dependent on alcohol, those feelings of pleasure are craved more and more. A combination of this craving and the physical effects of alcohol on the brain impair judgement, create illogical thought processes and alter perceptions of reality.

As just one example, an alcohol abuser may evolve into a person who is quick to lose his temper. That same man who used to be mild-mannered and laid-back can become a person who gets angry over the smallest detail. In some alcoholics, there is even a tendency to violence toward spouses and children.

Where increased anger and violence are not present, the opposite may be true. An individual who drinks too much may gradually become prone to mood swings that include prolonged periods of sadness or depression. Alcohol abusers tend to develop a negative outlook on life; they tend to be able to find problems where none exists.

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Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

The physical symptoms of drinking too much can be harder to identify because so many other things can cause the same symptoms. However, there are some very definite things to look for. At the top of the list is a condition known as tolerance.

When alcohol is consumed, it creates feelings of pleasure as we have already discussed. The problem is that the brain can adapt to persistent levels of alcohol in the system by producing enough chemicals to counteract it. This results in the drinker having to consume larger volumes of alcohol in order to still experience pleasure. The more alcohol consumed, the more the brain has to produce the necessary chemicals to offset it. It is a vicious cycle that develops into tolerance.

Other physical symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • unexplained weight loss or gain
  • the presence of withdrawal symptoms between periods of drinking
  • development of certain diseases such as cirrhosis
  • changes in complexion; especially redness in the cheeks and the nose.

If you suspect that you drink too much on a regular basis, you need to understand that the physical damage done by alcohol sometimes cannot be undone. You may be able to overcome the actual addiction, but if you suffer from cirrhosis of the liver, you have a permanent medical condition with no known cure. Cirrhosis may eventually kill you.

What to Do If You Drink Too Much

So, what do you do if you suspect you are drinking too much? You get help. The same is true if you suspect that a friend or family member is drinking excessively. Help is available by way of private counsellors, charities, residential rehab clinics, and even the NHS. A good place to start is to call our drinking helpline to speak with one of our experienced counsellors.

The sooner you get help, the better off you will be. Remember, no alcoholic sets out purposely to become addicted to alcohol. Alcoholism is the result of not getting the necessary help for problem drinking early on. Do not allow yourself to become a victim of alcohol, call our helpline and allow us to help you find a solution to your problem.

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