Alcoholism is another word for alcohol use disorder (AUD), or when someone is dependent on alcohol. It’s not unusual for many people to struggle with alcoholism. After all, 10% of Americans drink as many as 74 drinks each week. If you’re worried that you or someone you know may struggle with alcoholism, there are some signs to recognize, which can make it easy to know when an outpatient program for alcoholism may be needed.
Sign #1: Building Up a Tolerance
One of the clearest signs of alcoholism is an increase in tolerance. This means that people struggling with alcohol need to drink more to achieve the same effects as before. Everyone has a different initial tolerance. While some people will feel a buzz after drinking only two beers, others may need at least four.
How Is Tolerance Built?
People become tolerant when their bodies and brains get used to metabolizing alcohol. The liver typically processes about one standard drink every 90 minutes. Heavy drinkers will find that their bodies can metabolize alcohol much more quickly. Their livers anticipate the need to break down more alcohol and produce more enzymes than usual. Since the liver can metabolize alcohol more quickly, more alcohol is needed for people addicted to alcohol to enjoy a buzz.
Besides the liver, the brain is also thought to play a significant role in developing tolerance. The brains of people with AUD are exposed to alcohol regularly. The chemicals in alcohol suppress neurotransmitter function. They attach to GABA receptors to induce sleepiness and a relaxed sensation. Increased exposure to alcohol will cause the GABA system to adapt. This means the brain will need more alcohol to produce the same effect.
Sign #2: Experiencing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Another clear sign of alcoholism is the onset of withdrawal symptoms when quitting. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe.
Minor Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Some symptoms are relatively minor and will only cause some discomfort. The intensity of these minor symptoms will usually peak one to two days after the last drink. They will slowly subside after that. The intensity of the symptoms will vary from person to person. Common minor symptoms to expect include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Irritability and mood swings
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Uncontrollable shaking
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
About 10% of all people struggling with AUD will experience acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which has the potential for severe consequences, including:
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
- Increased anxiety
- Low-grade fever
- Profuse sweating
- Rapid breathing
The most dangerous symptom of all is DTs. It is so dangerous that it has a mortality rate of upward of 25%.
Sign #3: Isolating from Family and Friends
It’s unfortunate, but those with AUD tend to isolate themselves in favor of drinking alone. Behavioral and mood changes from alcohol consumption may even ruin personal relationships. People struggling with alcoholism often feel disconnected from others and may even think that no one cares about them. It’s not unusual for them to feel abandoned, although it’s due to their actions.
Ways to Rebuild Relationships Broken by Addiction
If you’re struggling with alcoholism, you’re not alone. There are plenty of other people in similar situations. You can get the support you need from group counseling and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Some tips for rebuilding relationships include:
- Being honest about addiction
- Learning how to communicate clearly and healthily
- Looking for ways to make amends for past wrongdoings
- Reaching out to family and friends first
- Setting realistic expectations everyone can get behind
Sign #4: Craving Alcohol Regularly
External and internal triggers can cause cravings. Internal triggers involve a mental response to the lack of alcohol. The brain evokes negative emotions and thoughts in response to the chemical imbalance, causing anger and irritability. External triggers are physical things that remind you of drinking, including certain people you always drink with and places where you always drink.
How Long Do Cravings Last?
While it’s normal to experience cravings, they vary for each person. Some heavy drinkers may still experience cravings years after they’ve gotten sober. The factors that affect how long the cravings will last include:
- The amount of alcohol that was consumed regularly
- The frequency at which alcohol was consumed
- The length of alcohol use and abuse
- The amount of stress experienced regularly
- The amount of support received from family and friends
- The number of triggers that are present in one’s environment
- One’s physical and mental health
Sign #5: Neglecting Responsibilities
People struggling with alcohol often perform poorly at work, school, and home. If you notice a heavy drinker’s performance changing drastically, there’s a chance they’re abusing alcohol. Usually, close family members and friends are the first to notice a steady decline in daily performance.
Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause hangovers, poor cognitive function, and a lack of daily motivation. Someone with an AUD is often only focused on drinking. They become obsessed with when and where to get their next drink.
Sign #6: Blacking Out or Experiencing Memory Loss
Memory loss and blackouts are common among those who drink heavily. Alcohol interferes with one’s ability to form memories. It prevents the brain from storing and processing new information briefly. The level of memory impairment is dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed.
Dealing with Blackouts
There are two different types of blackouts: partial and complete. Partial blackouts are also known as fragmentary blackouts, while complete blackouts can also be referred to as en bloc blackouts. Alcohol disrupts activity in the brain, so it cannot form new memories while someone is intoxicated.
- Complete blackouts – Drinkers are unable to recall any information at all. They usually fall asleep before these blackouts end. While experiencing a blackout, drinkers can still carry on certain functions because they still have some form of short-term memory. They can normally recall events for about two minutes before completely forgetting about them.
- Partial blackouts – Drinkers may realize that they are forgetting something. They can remember that events have occurred if they are reminded of them. The intensity of blackouts has been correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed. Those who regularly consume a lot of alcohol are more prone to complete blackouts than partial blackouts.
Get Sober at Northpoint Seattle
Alcoholism doesn’t have to take control of your life. At Northpoint Seattle, we have the resources that you’ll need to avoid withdrawals and get sober. Call 425.414.3530 or contact us online to learn more and get started on recovery.