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The Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Even though alcohol is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s not a drug. It carries a high risk of addiction, especially to those predisposed to an addictive personality. When someone routinely turns to alcohol to solve or escape their problems, it further expedites the process of addiction.

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition and should be treated with professional help. Often, those suffering are too engrossed in their addiction to realize it, so the motivation to find help falls on their loved ones.

If you’re worried that someone you know may be suffering from an addiction to alcohol, this is a good place to start. In this article, we’ll explore the signs of alcoholism, the dangers that alcoholism leads to, and possible intervention and treatment options.

It’s important to note that addiction is a life-long battle that can’t be “cured” with treatment. Sobriety can be maintained, but an addict will always have to fight against triggers and compulsions to drink long after detox and treatment. The dedication and willingness to change are what create hope for an independent future.

Recognizing the Signs of Alcoholism

The medical term for alcoholism is alcohol use disorder, and it is diagnosed by mental health professionals according to certain identifying criteria. For a formal diagnosis, a medical professional must find that a patient has a minimum of two out of 11 criteria during one 12-month time period. The number of criteria met determines the severity of the diagnosis – mild, moderate, or severe.

The 11 criteria in the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are:

  1. Declining from participating in hobbies or social activities that they used to be interested in
  2. Feeling powerless to the level of alcohol they use
  3. Wanting to stop or reduce use but feeling unable to
  4. Devoting much time and resources to support a drinking habit
  5. Using alcohol in inappropriate, high-risk situations (driving, swimming)
  6. Developing an exceedingly high tolerance to alcohol
  7. Feeling strong alcohol cravings when not using
  8. Facing problems at school, work, or the home because of use
  9. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if not drinking for a period of time (this may include strong cravings, shaking, nausea, sweating, vomiting, shivers, etc.)
  10. Drinking to deal with withdrawal symptoms
  11. Continuous use of alcohol even with social, relationship, physical, and other personal problems persisting

Beyond these 11 clinical cues of alcohol use disorder, there are many other physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms of alcoholism.

Physical Symptoms of Alcohol Use

How often one drinks, the effects they experience, and how they feel after reducing consumption are very important in determining how serious the problem is. 

The following are some physical symptoms of alcohol abuse that you should take note of if you suspect you or a loved one may suffer from the disorder. 

  • Slurred, slowed speech
  • Frequent blackouts (often seen in binge-drinking episodes)
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Drowsiness
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Distorted vision, hearing

Someone who may be abusing alcohol does not need to experience everything on this list for it to count as alcoholism. 

Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Use

  • Issues maintaining motor coordination
  • Inability to properly walk
  • Impaired judgment
  • Unusual risk-taking
  • Memory impairment
  • Lapse in memory
  • Decreased perception

While these may be psychological symptoms, if you think a loved one may be addicted to alcohol, you can observe most of these. If you notice that they show poor judgment, can’t move properly, or mention that they can’t remember things that they should, please urge them to seek help. 

Behavioral Symptoms of Alcohol Use

Behavioral signs are usually the more apparent ones, as they’re much more difficult to hide. An alcoholic may become more secretive in an effort to hide these behaviors, but the secrecy itself can be a tipoff. Watch out for:

  • Drinking in private
  • Being prone to accidents
  • Showing signs of unknown injury
  • Hiding alcohol on personal premises (e.g., work, school, home)
  • Hoarded supplies of alcohol for fear of running out
  • Diminished care for personal appearance and hygiene
  • Personal relationship issues
  • Issues maintaining productivity at school or work
  • Irritability, moodiness, or depression when drinking
  • Increased trouble with the law
  • Cycles of drinking and stopping overtime
  • Being intoxicated at inappropriate times (e.g., family parties, meetings)
  • Overreacting to any signs of worry about their drinking habits
  • Unusual financial behavior; extra loans, asset liquidation, depleted cash
  • Sudden financial problems
  • Stealing
  • Increase in engagement in risky behaviors
  • Drinking and driving

The Dangers of Alcoholism

Continued use of alcohol, at high amounts or high frequencies, often leads to life-long health conditions or serious disorders. These include cardiovascular disease, liver disease, nerve damage, ulcers, gastritis, stroke, mouth and throat cancer, and even permanent brain damage.

A couple of the main risks include:

  • Liver Disease – There’s even a disease called Alcoholic Liver Disease that causes the liver to break down alcohol and metabolize it into acetaldehyde, which is toxic.
  • Pancreatitis – Over-consumption can lead to this painful inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Cancer – Acetaldehyde is cancer-causing. Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancers of the throat, mouth, liver, stomach, colon, rectum, and breast.
  • Gastrointestinal Problems – The stomach can be affected by alcohol through stomach ulcers, heartburn, acid reflux, and gastritis.
  • Immune System Problems – Alcoholism makes the body’s immune system more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

These long-lasting health issues are a huge reason why someone who is suffering from alcohol use disorder must get help. Don’t discount it because it’s a legal substance. Alcohol abuse can do serious damage physically. 

Intervention & Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious medical condition and should be treated with professional help. Often people can make it through the uncomfortable process of detox on their own but face relapse soon after being triggered from old routines or environments.

With the help of a treatment program like SOBA New Jersey, you can get through detox, restructure your routines, prepare for the future, and transition into a successful, independent life free from the restraints of alcoholism.

Call SOBA today if you or a loved one is ready for alcohol rehab and treatment.

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