Drinking alcohol is a common pastime for adults in the United States. But what might be harmless fun for many people can lead to a deadly disease for some. Recognizing the signs of alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence or alcoholism can be tricky because it’s a legal substance. If you or someone you love’s life is being negatively impacted as a result of alcohol problems, it’s time to reach out for help.

Continue reading to discover the signs of alcoholism, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency, and learn about the very real health problems associated with excessive drinking. Get in touch with Calusa Recovery today if you’re ready to start recovery.

Alcoholism vs Alcohol Dependency vs Alcohol Misuse

A man seeking support about his alcohol abuse symptoms

First, let’s clarify the various definitions and terminology surrounding harmful drinking habits. There are differences between the terms, which are often used interchangeably. Alcohol abuse or misuse refers to the overconsumption of alcoholic beverages. Not everyone who abuses alcohol goes on to become alcohol dependent or an alcoholic, but for someone with the necessary combination of genetic and environmental risk factors, it’s the precursor. You could think of alcohol abuse as a mild alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependency as a moderate disorder.

Alcoholism is generally thought of as a severe alcohol use disorder. Many alcoholics can’t go more than a day without drinking because they’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and extremely powerful cravings. Keep in mind that the early stages of alcohol use disorders can last for months or even years before progressing. Even if you don’t think your problem is that bad right now, if you feel out of control, you should seek help before the situation gets worse.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol abuse symptoms can be difficult to spot because it’s easy for someone to brush off heavy drinking as just loving to party. What’s more, alcohol and drug addiction take a powerful hold of the brain’s motivation and reward system. This means deception is commonplace because the sufferer prioritizes substance abuse over pretty much anything else — not because they’re a bad person or even because they choose to, but because their brain perceives alcohol as being crucial to their survival.

This is one of the reasons it can be hard to get someone with an alcohol problem to seek help. Not only will they lie to their friends and family, they also lie to themselves. Below is a list of lesser-known warning signs that someone’s relationship with alcohol is unhealthy:

  • Frequent hangovers
  • Bragging about drinking large quantities of alcohol
  • Lying about the amount of drinks, hiding bottles, sneaking out to drink
  • Thinking about or talking about drinking a lot
  • Often smelling of alcohol
  • Often drinking alcoholic drinks very quickly
  • Blacking out from drinking or not remembering events
  • Behaving totally out of character when inebriated
  • Denial about the harmful effects of heavy drinking

How Is Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosed?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defines the presence of two to three of the following symptoms as a mild alcohol use disorder, four to five as moderate and six or more as severe:

  • Frequently drinking more or over a longer period than intended
  • Repeated failed attempts to cut down or stop
  • Excessive time spent getting, using or recovering from alcohol
  • Strong cravings
  • Problems at work, school or home caused by drinking
  • Drinking despite alcohol-related interpersonal problems
  • Giving up activities and hobbies to drink
  • Risky behavior due to alcohol — for example, unprotected sex
  • Continuing to drink despite health issues
  • Increasing tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol is a highly physically addictive substance, which means the body quickly adapts to its presence despite the harm it causes. Withdrawal symptoms occur because the chemicals that govern essential functions become imbalanced and dysregulated as a result of alcohol abuse. Experiencing withdrawal is a good sign that someone needs professional help to stop drinking. These are signs to look out for:

  • Hand tremors
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Mental fog
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures and even coma in serious cases
Man with hangover in a bathroom

Can You Get Withdrawal Symptoms From Binge Drinking?

If you drink heavily all weekend, you could absolutely get withdrawal symptoms from binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks in one go for men and more than four for women. People who binge drink are at an increased risk of developing a serious AUD and developing negative health effects from alcohol.

Short-Term Health Impacts of Abusing Alcohol

Alcohol makes you feel a mild sense of euphoria. You also lose your inhibitions and become less coordinated. However, these seemingly harmless symptoms don’t reflect that alcohol is poisonous to the body. In small, infrequent quantities, the body has no problem processing it. But if you use in high quantities or too frequently, you’re at risk of the following short-term health issues:

  • High blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Blackouts due to memory processing shutting down in an essential part of your brain
  • Weakened immune system
  • Depression
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased risk of mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and anxiety
A woman in deep thoughts, hand on her forehead

Long-Term Mental Health Impact of Excessive Alcohol Use

Chronic heavy alcohol use leads to a myriad of health complications due to the toll the toxic substance takes on the nervous system. It’s easy to brush off the likelihood of alcohol-related illness happening to you, but it can affect anyone. The long-term health effects of alcohol include:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Liver cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Oral cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
health risks of alcohol addiction concept image

How Is Alcohol Addiction Treated?

With the right mixture of support, therapy and guidance from medical professionals, anyone can overcome alcohol addiction. Individual counseling, support groups and psychoeducation help you understand yourself in relation to addiction as a disease. You can gradually unravel the damage caused by alcohol abuse and learn how to implement healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms to avoid relapse.

Get in touch with Calusa Recovery today to find out more about our welcoming, supportive addiction rehab center and how we can help you heal.

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