The problem of alcohol abuse is one that is growing more severe in the UK as time passes by. Unfortunately, the easy availability of alcohol and the social norms regarding its use have created an environment that makes alcohol abuse and dependence far too prevalent. If it has touched your family, you know the importance of doing something about it.
Where does it all begin? With a glass of wine at dinner or a couple of beers with friends after work. You see, many of us take alcohol for granted without realising how addictive it can be. It is incredibly easy to gradually make the transition from alcohol user to abuser, then from abuser to addict, without realising what is happening.
According to statistics from the NHS, as many as 9 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women show signs of alcohol dependence. Put those two together and it works out to about 6.5 per cent of the adult population. For these individuals, alcohol becomes such an important part of their daily lives they are unable to go a single day without at least one drink.
Before going any further, we need to define the three levels of alcohol use:
- Casual Use – The casual drinker may have a single drink a couple of times per week along with a meal or at a social gathering. This individual thinks nothing of going without alcohol either. For him or her, it is just a beverage choice alongside so many others.
- Abuse – The alcohol abuser is someone who uses alcohol frequently and in amounts deemed unsafe. Someone who drinks excessively three or four times per week would be a good example. Someone who goes on drinking binges more than a couple of times every few months would also be considered an abuser.
- Addiction – Addiction to alcohol is also known as alcoholism. The alcoholic is someone who no longer controls his or her drinking habits; rather, drinking controls them. The deeper they fall into addiction, the more alcohol they need just a feel good. This is a condition known as ‘tolerance’.
Assessing whether or not an individual is a casual user, abuser or alcoholic determines the best course of action for treatment. If you suspect you or a loved one may have a drinking problem, seek the advice of a GP or experienced therapist capable of offering a proper assessment.
Factors Leading to Dependence
You may be a casual alcohol user right on the verge of abuse. If so, you need to know and understand the types of factors that lead to dependence. Otherwise, you may already be on a slippery slope that will lead you to full-blown alcoholism in the future.
There are a number of contributing factors, not least of which is the family cycle. In other words, the children of alcoholics are much more likely to develop the same behaviours when they become adults. Whether this is learned behaviour, genetic coding, or combination of both is irrelevant. What is important for you to understand is that you are likely to become an alcoholic, if it runs in your family and you do not make a concerted effort to avoid it.
Other contributing factors leading to alcohol dependence include:
- excessive stress
- financial difficulties
- periods of bereavement
- psychiatric disorders
- broken relationships
- anxiety and depression
- posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Please be aware that the existence of any of these contributing factors in your life should raise a red flag of alarm. Be careful about your drinking habits so they do not get away from you. If you begin to lose control, you may be on the road to alcohol dependence.
Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence
Hopefully we have your attention by listing some of the contributing factors of alcoholism. Now let’s deal with some of the symptoms. If you notice any of the following signs evident in your own life, you already have a drinking problem. That problem may lead to dependence if you do not do something about it.
Here are the signs to look for:
- you worry about where your next drink is coming from
- you go to great efforts to make sure there’s always alcohol within reach
- you plan social events around the availability of alcohol
- you find it difficult to stop drinking once you start
- you drink first thing in the morning and as the last thing before bed
- you notice withdrawal symptoms when you go too long without alcohol.
We’ll get to the withdrawal symptoms in just a moment. For now, take a hard look at the signs of alcohol dependence listed above. If you exhibit any of them, do not continue living in denial. Seek out the help of your GP or a qualified therapist right away. If it turns out you are not dependent, you will find it easier to overcome whatever use or abuse problem you do have. If you are dependent, getting help is the only way you will recover.
Assuming you are not yet dependent on alcohol, you need to keep control of your situation in order to avoid that eventuality. A good place to start is by taking a break from alcohol for an extended amount of time. And when we say ‘take a break’, we mean a full break.
Taking a break is a great tool because it puts a stop to any tolerance you might be developing. What is tolerance? It is a physical condition in which your body adapts to the amount of alcohol in your system to the point that you no longer feel the ‘buzz’. In order to regain that feeling, you have to drink in greater amounts.
Over time, it is tolerance that leads to alcohol dependence. The more you drink, the more you need to drink in order to enjoy the same pleasures. When you stop drinking, the tolerance you developed results in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. You can avoid this altogether by simply taking a complete break from alcohol on a regular basis.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
If your alcohol abuse has evolved into dependence, you will experience withdrawal symptoms whenever you go too long without alcohol. Such symptoms are a big warning sign that you need help. The following is just a short list of those you might experience:
- sweating, nausea and vomiting
- involuntary tremors (the shakes)
- hallucinations and seizures
- anxiety, irritability
- restlessness and insomnia
- mild to severe depression.
These symptoms should not be taken for granted if you experience any of them during periods when you are unable to drink. They should instead be motivation to seek help for alcohol dependence right away.
If you are unwilling to be honest about your condition, be aware that there are some very real consequences heading your way. For starters, long-term alcohol use does very real damage to your body; damage that may become irreparable at some point. Alcoholics routinely suffer from things like liver disease, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.
In the psychological realm, long-term alcohol use is also very damaging. Why? Because alcoholics develop a psychological dependence that is just as strong as the physical dependence. Moreover, with every drink you take, the brain neurotransmitters responsible for good mental health are thrown further out of balance.
The psychological results of continued alcohol use may make you irrational, erratic, undependable, and even violent. For this reason, many an alcoholic finds him or herself facing the loss of a spouse, the loss of their children, the loss of their job and the destruction of every relationship that is important to them. Most recovering alcoholics will tell you it’s not worth it.
Take an Honest Look, Right Now
We hope and pray that you are not yet dependent on alcohol. If you do have a problem, we hope it is limited to excessive use or abuse – two conditions that are easier to overcome than full-blown dependence. Having said that, the only way to know is for you to be honest about your circumstances and drinking habits.
We urge you to call our helpline right away. You will have the opportunity to talk to a trained counsellor who can ask the questions necessary to determine the scope of your problem. From this initial assessment, Addiction Helper will be able to advise you regarding what to do next. If you are not yet exhibiting the signs of someone who is alcohol dependent, we would love the opportunity to set your mind at ease. If you are dependent, we want to assist you in getting the help you need.
When you call, be prepared to be honest with our counsellor. Only through an honest and open discussion can the two of you reach the proper conclusions. Please understand that dishonesty or denial is not going to help you. And in fact, that type of behaviour may very well lead you to alcohol dependence, if you are not already there.
Alcohol abuse is nothing to be taken lightly. Abuse left untreated usually results in alcoholism within a short amount time. Do not take that chance. Your relationships, job, physical and emotional health, and even your very life could depend on it.