Signs You Have a Drinking Problem

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If you are worried that you may have a drinking problem, first know that you are not alone. Whether you are exhibiting signs of binge drinking, alcohol abuse, or alcoholism, alcohol use disorder (AUD) may be more common than you think.

Nearly one-third of American adults are considered excessive drinkers, and 10 percent of them are considered alcoholics. This means that an estimated 15 million people cope with alcoholism across the country.

If you have family members with drinking problems or know anyone who struggles with substance use of any kind, you’re at a higher risk of developing a problem with alcohol. Similarly, if you or your family have a history of mental health disorders, you’re at a higher risk of developing a drinking problem.

It’s important to understand the difference between having a drinking problem, such as being a binge drinker or alcohol abuser, and suffering from alcoholism. While they are not the same, binge drinking can lead to alcohol abuse, which can ultimately lead to alcoholism. The sooner you recognize your drinking problem and take the steps to reduce your unhealthy habits or quit alcohol altogether, the easier it will be. 

What is the Difference Between a Drinking Problem & Alcoholism?

Having a drinking problem could mean that you tend to binge drink. This means that you drink enough to raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 g/dL.

Generally, it takes women and men about four to five drinks to reach a 0.08 g/dL BAC level. However, what you eat, how much you weigh, any medications you take, your overall health, your hydration level, and other factors can all impact the effects of alcohol. For example, if you haven’t eaten much on a day that you drink alcohol, your BAC level may rise quicker than if you had eaten more.

While binge drinking is certainly not safe, heavy drinking every once in a while does necessarily mean you abuse alcohol. Unlike heavy drinkers, those who struggle with alcohol misuse still continue to drink despite negative consequences, like the following:

  • Recurrent health problems from alcohol
  • Social penalization
  • Occupational issues
  • Legal complications 

Still, alcohol abusers have an easier time breaking their bad drinking habits than alcoholics. People with alcoholism have become dependent on alcohol, even despite the consequences. This is because alcoholism is defined as an addiction to alcohol, and people who have gotten to this point may suffer from withdrawals when they’re not drinking. Of course, alcohol withdrawal symptoms make quitting difficult and sometimes dangerous, even if they’re ready and wanting to stop drinking. 

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Stages of Alcoholism

Alcohol addiction doesn’t just happen overnight. There are stages of alcoholism that turn someone with unhealthy habits into a problem drinker. And, eventually into someone with full-blown alcohol dependence.

Alcoholics may start out as binge drinkers who notice unwanted effects on their well-being when they drink too much. However, since they haven’t developed a noticeable drinking pattern yet, they aren’t too concerned. Maybe they’ve had blackouts here and there, but letting loose with their friends doesn’t seem like an issue. Until their drinking becomes an issue.

Again, binge drinking can lead to alcohol abuse, which starts to have consequences beyond some nasty hangovers. But if you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, those are warning signs that you may have crossed into alcoholism.

There are five stages of alcoholism:

  1. Pre-alcoholics consume standard drinks to feel better, dull pain, escape reality, alleviate anxiety, etc.
  2. Early alcoholics start blacking out from drinking excessively, thinking excessively about drinking, and lying about their drinking habits.
  3. Middle alcoholics are those who are facing the consequences of their actions. Socially, they may be missing work and falling short on family obligations. Physically and mentally, they may be experiencing changes in weight, sleep, energy, mood, and more.
  4. Late alcoholics are very clearly struggling. They continue to drink even at the expense of their deteriorating health and failing relationships. Any attempts to stop drinking typically result in unpleasant and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  5. Recovering alcoholics are those who are actively on a journey of detoxing, getting treatment, and then maintaining sobriety. Recovering alcoholics have often sought professional help to quit drinking safely.

Consequences of Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption can take a toll on you in many ways, including physically, mentally, socially, and financially.

Excessive alcohol consumption can have physical consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Unhealthy weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Liver damage
  • Heart complications
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low libido
  • Central nervous system issues
  • Weakened immune system
  • Some cancers
  • Accidents due to impaired judgement

Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to mental consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, the following: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Personality changes
  • Mood swings
  • Compulsive behaviors

Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to social consequences that include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Detachment from family and friends
  • Skipping school or work (which can also lead to financial loss)
  • Dropping once-enjoyable activities

You may experience some or all of these consequences, as well as other consequences of excessive drinking.

What to Do If Someone You Know Has a Drinking Problem

If you, a loved one, or someone else you know has a drinking problem, reach out for professional help or call Addiction Group for more information on top rehabilitation and treatment resources.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Treatment for AUD is available. This includes outpatient and inpatient rehab centers, support groups, traditional talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), holistic healing programs, religious organizations, and more.

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

Resources +

“Alcohol's Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body

“Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Jan. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

“Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Apr. 2020, www.medlineplus.gov/alcoholusedisorderaud.html.

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders

“Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Mar. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-use-disorder-comparison-between-dsm

“Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

“Effects Of Alcohol Abuse On The Brain & Body.” The Hope House, 23 Nov. 2020, www.thehopehouse.com/alcohol-abuse/effects/

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed

“Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?” Department of Mental Health, www.dmh.lacounty.gov/our-services/employment-education/education/alcohol-abuse-faq/family-history/

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Abuse.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/addiction/alcohol-abuse

Skerrett, Patrick J. “Heavy Drinkers Aren't Necessarily Alcoholics, but May Be ‘Almost Alcoholics.’” Harvard Health Blog, 17 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/heavy-drinkers-arent-necessarily-alcoholics-may-almost-alcoholics-201411217539

Staff, Written by Casa Palmera. “The Mental Effects of Alcoholism.” Casa Palmera, 6 Sept. 2018, casapalmera.com/blog/the-mental-effects-of-alcoholism/

“Stages of Alcoholism.” Signs, Symptoms, Treatment | Hazelden Betty Ford, www.hazeldenbettyford.org/articles/stages-of-alcoholism

Wasson, Anne. “Alcohol Worsens Depression; Depression Worsens Alcohol Abuse.” AFMC, 17 Apr. 2018, afmc.org/afmc-healthspot/alcohol-worsens-depression-depression-worsens-alcohol-abuse/.

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