April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. That means it’s a good time to reflect on our drinking habits and how it affects our daily lives, but alcohol use is so common that it can be difficult to know if you or a loved one has a problem. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than half of the U.S. population has had a drink in the past month, while most adults (86 percent) report trying alcohol at least once in their lifetime.
When consumed in moderation, alcohol can be enjoyable and may even deliver some health benefits, such as a lowered risk of heart disease. The issues arise when drinking becomes habitual and excessive. Binge drinking or heavy alcohol use can cause liver damage, pancreatitis, malnourishment and a host of other problems that interfere with normal body functioning. It can also increase the likelihood of becoming addicted or dependent.
But how do you know when you’ve crossed the line from casual drinking to alcohol abuse? At Choice House, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 signs of alcoholism so you can better evaluate your relationship with alcohol and decide if it’s time to take action.
1. Interferes with daily life
One of the biggest signs that alcohol has become a problem is that it interferes with daily life. If you find yourself missing work to nurse a hangover, choosing to drink rather than spend time with your family, or experiencing symptoms that make it hard to function, then you’ve likely developed a harmful relationship with alcohol. Heavy drinking can also interfere with your life in other ways, such as by causing relationship problems, affecting your ability to manage ongoing responsibilities and disrupting your mood, sleep and appetite.
2. Uncontrollable cravings
Alcoholics have trouble controlling their drinking because they experience strong cravings that are difficult to ignore. They spend most of their time thinking about getting drunk and find it hard to concentrate on anything else. In some cases, those dependent on alcohol will sneak sips throughout the day or find ways to disguise their drinking. Since alcohol causes changes in the brain related to memory, reward and behavior, these cravings persist despite the negative consequences. If this sounds like you, it’s a sign that things have gotten off track.
3. Mood changes
Heavy alcohol use is linked to a number of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, memory loss and poor emotional regulation. It affects the chemical balance within the brain and has a profound impact on thinking and behavior. Over time, alcohol use can cause new symptoms to appear or worsen existing ones, which in turn triggers more drinking. This creates a vicious cycle that’s difficult to escape from. Mood changes are a side effect of long-term alcohol abuse that points to a significant problem.
4. Risky behavior
Alcohol isn’t known for causing people to make good decisions. In fact, most of us have stories about something regrettable or embarrassing we did while drunk. Alcoholics take things a step further and engage in even more risky behavior, such as driving under the influence or having unprotected sex. Drinking can also increase aggression and make people more likely to experiment with other drugs, both of which can have deadly consequences. In most cases, the frequency of these issues will only continue to increase without proper treatment.
5. Isolation from friends & family
When drinking becomes your number one priority, it doesn’t leave room for much else. As a result, most alcoholics will spend increasing amounts of time alone and retreat from their loved ones. They may also abstain from social gatherings to avoid conflict or shame. Loneliness and isolation are hallmarks of alcoholism, so if you’re ignoring your relationships to drink as much as you want to, it’s time to consider that you may have a drinking problem.
6. Withdrawal symptoms
Long-term alcohol abuse has widespread effects on the mind and body. Apart from the physical damage that occurs, chronic drinking causes the brain to compensate for alcohol’s impact on certain neurotransmitters. Abruptly stopping or cutting back can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, trembling, anxiety, hallucinations and seizures. In severe cases, these can be fatal. Withdrawal symptoms are a sure sign that your body has become dependent on alcohol and it’s time to seek treatment.
7. Legal and financial problems
In some cases, alcohol abuse can have legal and financial consequences that stem from poor decision-making and impulsive behavior. For example, driving under the influence can result in hefty fines and jail time, while alcohol-related aggression has been linked to assault and violence. Other actions might lead to job loss or court-ordered rehab. According to some studies, alcohol is a factor in more than 40 percent of all crimes in the United States, which is significantly higher than even drugs like heroin or cocaine.
8. Increased tolerance
Over time, heavy drinking can lead to a higher tolerance. That means the body has adapted to the presence of alcohol, so more is needed to achieve the same effect. For this reason, alcoholics may seem less impaired than others despite a high blood alcohol content (BAC). Since the usual response is to drink more to compensate for this, the harmful effects of alcohol are accelerated and more damage is done to bodily systems. In most cases, tolerance is a sign of dependence and a precursor to addiction.
9. Lying about drinking habits
Alcoholics may feel the need to lie about their drinking for a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s due to shame or embarrassment, while other times, it’s to avoid confrontation. People may also hide the extent of their alcohol use because it helps them cope with difficult emotions, and being honest could mean a change they’re not ready for. Whatever the reason, lying prolongs the addiction and leaves underlying issues unresolved, but rehab can help you move past the falsehoods and get on the path to recovery.
10. Drinking to cope
Many people become dependent on alcohol because they’re using it to cope with stress, trauma or mental illness. At the end of a long day, it helps them relax and forget about their problems. It can also numb them to feelings such as fear, anxiety or depression. This might work for a while, but alcohol can quickly become a crutch and lower one’s ability to face these issues head-on. Eventually, the problems worsen as addiction develops. If you’re drinking to cope with difficulties in life, it’s a red flag that you’re on the road to dependence.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism can be difficult to treat, but it’s not impossible. The right environment, a solid support system and therapeutic modalities have been shown to help individuals better understand why they drink and develop the tools needed to stay sober. At Choice House in Boulder, Colorado, we provide recovery solutions for men struggling with alcohol addiction. Our comprehensive programming is available in both residential and outpatient formats, meeting the needs of clients with varied lifestyles. We believe in fostering close-knit relationships between ‘brothers’ that fuel and inspire the recovery process, so our treatment center emphasizes connection, hope and healing above all else.
If you or a loved one has a drinking problem, don’t hesitate to contact us today to achieve a newfound life of sobriety. You can reach our admissions team at 303-578-4975.