Am I an Alcoholic? Recognizing the Patterns & Getting Help

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Recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcoholism is crucial for early intervention and improving quality of life.

You can find alcoholism tests that answer the question “Am I an alcoholic?”

However, it’s crucial to have a general understanding of what constitutes alcohol use disorders to recognize if and when you need help.

The Diagnostic Criteria for Alcoholism

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), outlines 11 criteria that healthcare professionals use to diagnose alcohol use disorder. They are:

  • Drinking alcohol in larger quantities or for longer periods than intended.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control your consumption.
  • A lot of time is wasted obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Experiencing cravings or a strong urge to use alcohol.
  • Failure to fulfill major obligations at home/work/school due to recurrent alcohol use.
  • Excessive alcohol use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems.
  • Giving up or reducing important activities whether social or occupational due to alcohol use.
  • Alcohol use in situations where it could be physically hazardous.
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is stopped or reduced.
  • Increased tolerance—the need for increased amounts of alcohol to get intoxicated.

The presence of two or more of these criteria within a 12-month period constitutes a diagnosis of AUD. The severity of the condition ranges from mild (2-3 criteria) to severe (6 or more).

What Are the Common Symptoms of AUD?

In addition to the diagnostic criteria listed above, if your drinking habits have reached the point of alcohol dependency, you’re likely to exhibit some of the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms below.

Physical symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder:

  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms like vomiting and nausea when not drinking.
  • Blackouts or memory lapses after drinking episodes.
  • Alcohol cravings and an inability to control your drinking.
  • Poor body coordination and balance.
  • Health issues such as liver disease and pancreatitis.

Psychological symptoms associated with alcohol abuse:

  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
  • Mood swings or emotional instability.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering events.
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of guilt or shame related to drinking.

Behavioral symptoms exhibited by people dealing with AUD:

  • Drinking despite negative consequences on personal or professional life.
  • Being secretive or dishonest about how much you drink.
  • Agitation or defensiveness when confronted about your drinking patterns.
  • Engaging in risky behavior while under the influence (i.e., fighting and drunk driving).
  • Denial about the extent of drinking and its impact on your life.

Note: The presence of one or more of these signs doesn’t necessarily indicate alcoholism.

Nonetheless, if several symptoms are present, and you feel like alcohol use is causing significant distress or impairment, you should seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis.

What Causes Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a complex disorder influenced by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

While no single cause has been identified, several risk factors can increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing AUD.

  • Biological and Genetic Factors: There’s plenty of research suggesting that certain gene variations may predispose individuals to developing a higher tolerance or a more intense cravings for alcohol.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to stress, trauma, or difficult life circumstances can increase the risk of turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to develop AUD as a means of self-medication.
  • Early Alcohol Use: Consuming alcohol at a young age, especially during adolescence when the brain is still under development, can increase the chance of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life.
  • Family History of Alcoholism: Having a parent or close relative with alcohol use disorder can increase an individual’s risk of developing AUD due to both genetic and environmental factors.

How Is Alcohol Addiction Different From Binge Drinking?

While binge/heavy drinking can be an indicator of an alcohol use disorder, there’s a distinction between the patterns of consumption in alcohol addiction and binge drinking that you should be mindful of.

Here’s a breakdown of both:

Binge Drinking

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes binge drinking as an episode of alcohol use that raises your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher—80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood in your bloodstream.

Binge drinking is considered a behavior, typically defined by the number of drinks you consume in a single period of about 2 hours or less.

Factors like your age and the sex you were assigned at birth help determine the threshold of your binge drinking, as indicated in the table below.

Gender and Age GroupNumber of Drinks
Adult MenFive or more drinks
Adult WomenFour or more drinks
Boys ages 16 to 17Five or more drinks
Girls ages 16 to 17Three or more drinks
Boys ages 14 to 15Four or more drinks
Girls ages 14 to 15Three or more drinks

Body mass can also impact how alcohol affects you. For instance, a person with a lower body weight may get intoxicated more quickly than a person with a higher body weight.

You should also note that some people don’t digest alcohol very easily. This means a lower alcohol tolerance doesn’t always relate to body size or gender.

Alcohol Use Disorder (Alcohol Addiction)

AUD is a mental health condition. It’s best described as an inability to quit alcohol despite physical, emotional, and social consequences.

A person struggling with alcohol addiction is unable to control the amount they drink or stay sober on willpower alone without professional help. They’ll also suffer from mental and physical cravings for alcohol, regardless of how much they’ve already consumed.

Simply put, binge drinking on occasion doesn’t necessarily mean you have an alcohol addiction problem. If you binge drink on a regular basis, however, you may have a higher chance of developing AUD.

What Are the Risks Associated With Alcoholism?

Alcoholism can have significant short-term and long-term consequences on an individual’s health, well-being, and overall quality of life.

Short-term risks of excessive alcohol consumption include:

  • Violence: Evidence suggests that alcohol can increase the risk of committing homicide, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
  • Injuries: Motor vehicle accidents, drownings, falls, and burns are more likely to occur when you’re under the influence of alcohol.
  • Poisoning: Consuming alcohol in large amounts in a short period of time can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be life-threatening.
  • Risky Behavior: Individuals under the influence may engage in unprotected sex or have multiple sexual partners, increasing the risk of STDs and unintended pregnancies. They also can misjudge their ability to operate vehicles and heavy machinery, leading to DUI charges and physical injury to themselves and others.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause a range of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the child.

Long-term risks of excessive alcohol consumption include:

  • Cancer: Prolonged alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing different types of cancer, including liver, breast, and mouth cancer.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases: There’s a clear link between excessive drinking and hypertension(high blood pressure), which strains the heart and other organs over time and can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
  • Weakened Immune System: Studies indicate that alcohol abuse can impair your body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections.
  • Liver Disease: Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of liver diseases like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
  • Digestive Problems: From ulcers and pancreatitis to inflammation of the stomach lining, alcohol abuse is linked to many digestive problems.
  • Brain and Cognitive Impairment: Long-term substance abuse can lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and anincreased risk of dementia.
  • Social Problems: Alcoholism can strain relationships, lead to job loss, and result in financial or legal troubles.
  • Mental Health Issues: Mental health conditions that commonly co-occur with AUD include depression, anxiety, and stress. Sleep problemslike difficulty falling asleep and reduced total sleep time are also common.

I Am an Alcoholic…How to Find Help?

Overcoming alcoholism often requires a comprehensive approach that addresses not just the physical but also the psychological and social aspects of the disorder.

Fortunately, there are many treatment options available, including inpatient/outpatient programs and psychotherapy.

Inpatient/Outpatient Treatment

Inpatient or residential treatment programs provide 24-hour care and support in a controlled environment, typically for 30-90 days. They offer a structured setting with medical supervision, counseling, and therapy sessions.

These programs are best for people with severe alcohol dependence and who require medically supervised detox. They’re also suitable for those in unstable or high-risk living environments that aren’t conducive to recovery.

Outpatient treatment programs, on the other hand, allow individuals to receive care without being institutionalized. They may involve individual or group counseling, medication management, and support group meetings.

Outpatient programs are best suited for those who exhibit high levels of motivation to remain abstinent and have a strong support system at home. Individuals with strict obligations whether at work, home, or school can also benefit from outpatient treatment.

Therapy and Counseling

This form of alcohol addiction treatment helps identify and address the underlying causes of alcoholism. It also helps with developing coping strategies and building relapse-prevention skills.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET) are two of the most effective approaches for alcohol treatment.

The former focuses on addressing unhealthy thoughts and behavioral patterns, while the latter aims to build inner motivation to change without judgment.

There’s also family and couples counseling, which aims to repair broken relationships with loved ones, resolve conflicts, and provide support systems for recovery.

Medications

Certain medications for addiction such as naltrexone and disulfiram can be prescribed to help reduce cravings and cause unpleasant reactions when alcohol is consumed, aiding in the recovery process.

Some other medications may also be prescribed to manage co-occurring mental health disorders contributing to alcoholism.

Support Groups

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and SMART Recovery offer peer support, accountability, and a sense of community for individuals in recovery.

These groups provide a safe space to learn from others who are going through similar challenges and gain some encouragement.

Lifestyle Changes

Developing a healthy lifestyle, from proper nutrition and exercise to stress management techniques, can support the recovery process and reduce the risk of relapse.

Relapse prevention strategies like identifying triggers and learning coping mechanisms are also crucial for long-term sobriety.

Need an Accurate Assessment for Alcohol Addiction?

If you’re questioning whether you or a loved onemay be struggling with alcohol use disorder, it’s crucial to recognize the signs and symptoms and seek professional help.

Early intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the chances of overcoming alcoholism and regaining control. Alcoholism is a treatable condition after all, and with the right support and resources, recovery is possible!

Book an appointment with Curednation today and we’ll help connect you with a qualified addiction counselor who can provide an accurate assessment of your drinking habits.

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