Alcohol abuse has long been one of the greatest health epidemics this country faces. Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, affects almost every person at some point in his life. Recent studies suggest that there are more than 12 million alcoholics in America. Yet in a society that centers on alcohol consumption (75% of adults drink beer, wine or liquor regularly), it is often difficult to determine whether or not someone has a problem.
The medical community considers alcoholism a disease process that affects every part of an individual’s life. Therefore most treatment options are centered on the whole person. There are a number of warning signs to look for in determining whether or not a person has an alcohol problem.
Daily Drinking Does Not Necessarily Indicate Alcoholism
While the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption is one of the ways dependence is determined, there are no hard and fast rules about this. An adult can have a glass or two of wine with dinner every night and not be an alcoholic. On the other hand, a person can drink only once a year and be an alcoholic.
Whether or not a person has a drinking problem is more fully determined by assessing the consequences that occur as a result of his drinking. Additionally, there are warning signs that help assess whether the person is controlling the substance or the substance is controlling the person.
Physical Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Physical signs of alcohol abuse are much more serious than a bad hangover. People who consume too much alcohol have health repercussions. Medical specialists have long known that alcoholism affects the liver function in a negative way. Signs of liver damage include extreme fatigue, yellowness (jaundice) around the eyes and facial skin, nausea, stomach pains and decreased sex drive.
Another serious physical condition that results from heavy drinking is high blood pressure. Untreated, this can lead to strokes or heart attacks. Malnutrition evidenced by unnatural weight loss and a frail physique is also a common symptom and many alcoholics suffer from erectile dysfunction and insomnia.
Other physical indicators of alcoholism include tolerance, or having to drink more to achieve the same effect, and blackouts, or losing all conscious memory for periods of time while drinking.
Psychological and Social Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Preoccupation with thoughts of the next drink and an inability to feel “right” without a drink is a key psychological sign of alcohol dependence. These mental cravings often lead an alcohol dependent person to drink at socially unacceptable times, like in the morning or during work. As the disease progresses, the person may start to avoid people or situations that are not conducive to drinking.
Another psychological warning sign is feeling guilt and shame regarding the amount of alcohol being consumed. An alcoholic may tell himself or others that he is going to stop or cut back, but then find himself unable to follow through on these promises. He may also hide alcohol or lie about the amount he is consuming.
An alcohol dependent person routinely suffers social or legal problems as a result of the disease. Alcoholism affects not only the drinker, but also the people who are close to the drinker – spouses, children, professional peers, and friends. His relationships with others may deteriorate. He may have one or more DUIs. He may get fired from a job for incompetence or chronic absenteeism.
A person who is concerned about his drinking habits should speak candidly and confidentially with his doctor. There are a number of treatment options available, to include medication, alcohol treatment programs and 12 Step recovery meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, available to help an individual address the physical, psychological and social symptoms of this illness.