The Signs of Alcohol Abuse and its Impact in Washington State

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in Washington State, as well as elsewhere all over the country. It is important to understand the signs as well as the impact heavy drinking has had in people’s lives.

SAMHSA states that a person is abusing alcohol if they drink heavily five or more days a month, which is sometimes known as binge drinking. Knowing how to recognize the signs is important because this is a problem that can often be easily hidden. It does not take long for alcohol abuse to become alcoholism.

We want to help people know how to identify alcohol abuse either in themselves or in the people they love. In doing so, it may be possible avoid becoming an alcoholic and instead, embrace a lifestyle of recovery. So many people in WA State have felt the impact of alcohol abuse, but they do not understand the risks involved. We want to help.

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Alcohol Abuse Definition

It’s legal and socially acceptable to enjoy a glass of wine or drink a beer after a long day. It is a part of many celebrations but there is a line when it becomes too much. So how can you tell if you’ve gone too far? What is the definition of alcohol abuse and and how does it morph into alcoholism? 

What is considered drinking in moderation is when you have no more than a drink a day if you’re female. For a man, it’s two drinks. If you’re not sure what is considered a drink, here is the following guideline: 

  • For hard liquor like whisky, it’s 1.5 ounces.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 12 ounces of beer. 

The amount you drink can also be broken down by the week. Heavy drinking is a form of alcohol abuse. The measurement for a woman is when you drink seven or more drinks per week. For men, it’s 14 or more drinks per week. Heavy drinking per day includes three drinks for women and four drinks for men. 

Alcohol abuse is considered to be any harmful use of alcohol. They are prone to binge drinking, heavy drinking, but not regular drinking.

Alcohol Misuse Disorders

As there is a spectrum of different drinking problems, there is now an umbrella they sit under known as alcohol misuse disorders. They range from mild to severe. The terms under this are alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol dependence. The relationship of the person and alcohol may vary but there are similar descriptions which are as follows:

  • A person will have a hard time controlling how much alcohol they consume. Once you start drinking, you’ll continue and not stop until you’ve had far too much. The following day, you will likely look back and remember that was not your plan for the night.
  • You will keep drinking even though it has negative consequences in your life. Your relationship may be hurting from your drinking. You may even say you’ll stop when you’re in the middle of a conversation. When the opportunity arises however, you’ll keep on drinking.

The Problem with Alcohol Abuse

Plenty of people drink. There is a definition of what is considered heavy drinking which would be one of the signs of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse comes with many downfalls, the main one being that you can develop an addiction known as alcoholism. Jama reported recently that alcohol use disorder is on the rise. There are 1 in 8 people that develop the disorder. 

Alcohol abuse can also cause many health issues. Alcohol starts changing many parts of your body from the very first sip. Having an occasional drink isn’t going to cause long term health issues. The effects of consistent drinking have a cumulative effect and can harm the body greatly. 

Alcohol can actually change your behaviors, you lose your focus which inhibits your ability to make good decisions. Alcohol abuse can shrink your brain in the frontal lobes. This affects your memory or you may experience hallucinations. It is ultimately the brain that will become dependent on alcohol when abused. To the point you will need a professional alcohol detox that is fully supervised as delirium tremens are a possibility. 

Your body suffers extreme repercussions too. The worst case scenarios include: 

  • Heart damage.
  • Liver damage.
  • Lung infections.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Cancer.
  • Infertility.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Bones can become thin.
  • Complications with diabetes.
  • Stomach problems.
  • High blood pressure.

Alcohol Abuse and Liver Damage

The most common serious health problem with drinking is liver damage. It is the liver that has to work so hard to process alcohol. The liver is responsible for breaking down any harmful substance that are in the body. This of course includes alcohol. When you abuse alcohol and drink often, the liver function process is interrupted. This increases the risk of liver disease and chronic liver inflammation.

The scarring that inflammation of the liver causes is known as cirrhosis. The scar tissue gets more and more damaged until it’s completely destroyed. It isn’t possible to get toxins out of the body when this occurs. Toxins and waste will build up and can become a life threatening disease. Women are at greater risk of developing liver disease through alcohol abuse. Their bodies are more susceptible to absorbing greater quantities of alcohol and the processing time is longer. Liver damage will show up more quickly in women also.

The Impact of Alcohol Abuse in WA State

Alcohol abuse has had a direct impact on Washington State, and no one is immune from it. This is a problem that spans age gaps, and the young and old are both subject to it. The Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute of the University of Washington has shared some eye-opening statistics to help us better understand this problem.

Among youth, we know that:

  • 5,000 people who are under the age of 21 die every year in WA State due to car crashes, suicides and other injuries that involve alcohol.
  • The misuse of alcohol has been tied to violence, poor grades in school and premature sexual activities in young people.
  • Heavy alcohol use during the teenage years can have a permanent negative impact on brains that are still developing.
  • Around 2% of 6th graders report having used alcohol within the last 30 days.
  • These percentages increase as young people age.
  • By 12th grade, 33% of high school seniors have used alcohol at least once within the last month.
  • Within this age group, 12% are experimenting with alcohol, 11% are drinking heavily, and 12% develop a serious alcohol abuse problem.
  • 35% of high school seniors who drink alcohol heavily report having problems in school.
  • 58% of teens who drink say that they accessed alcohol from friends or at a party.
  • Only 59% of 12th graders believe that it is wrong for kids to drink.
  • 9% of 12th graders have driven after drinking, and 17% of them have ridden with someone who has been drinking.

As far as adult alcohol abuse goes, the CDC tells us that:

  • As many as 18.1% of adults in Washington State binge drink on a regular basis.
  • Heavy drinking costs WA State as much as $6 billion every year.
  • That cost breaks down to close to $900 per person.
  • The costs involve healthcare and criminal justice expenses, loss of workplace productivity and much more.
  • Binge drinking is at the heart of these costs, and it is responsible for 77% of them, on average.

Regarding drunk driving in Washington State

  • In 2016, 278 people died as a result of drunk driving.
  • 50% of all fatalities on the roadways are because of impaired driving.
  • In 2017, there were close to 26,000 arrests made of impaired drivers.

    On average, 100 people are arrested each day for drunk driving between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

    From July to September, 149 people die on average in Washington State because of impaired driving.

What is the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism?

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can't predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”

― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Consider alcohol abuse the bridge from casual drinking to full on alcohol addiction. When you drink heavily and often, there is the potential to develop a physical and emotional dependendency. Your behaviors will change and you will become a slave to alcohol. It all starts with alcohol abuse. While alcohol abuse symptoms have many of the same symptoms as alcoholism, the person isn’t addicted or dependent yet. Tolerance will build up and it’s certainly a catalyst, however, addiction to alcohol causes greater problems. 

Who Would be Considered an Alcohol Abuser? 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder IV, someone who abuses alcohol will continue drinking even if they have experienced problems in their life because of it. This can be legal, social, interpersonal, or health issues. The kind of help an alcohol abuser will need includes a brief intervention. This would include information about the ramifications of binge drinking as well as alcohol poisoning.

What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorder?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define alcohol abuse as a pattern of drinking that causes harm. When you drink enough that your health, relationships, and responsibilities are affected due to alcohol, this is considered abuse. There are symptoms that go along with it as well. Alcohol abuse may occur because someone is having emotional issues and are looking to numb the pain. 

Tolerance will rise so a person can drink more all the time without feeling as drunk. The drinking will be quite regular and often the person will drink quickly, quite a large amount in a short time, or both. Behaviors will begin as the alcohol begins to affect the brain's functioning. The person may experience pain in their lower back and feel fuzzy in the mind most of the time. 

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol dependency. The disease is chronic and best characterized by how much alcohol is consumed. That level will interfere with a person’s mental and physical health and will manifest in many outward problems in life. The main difference between abusing alcohol and alcoholism is the addiction factor and how the disease will affect every aspect of a person’s life. Alcoholism, once developed, will always be there. You can never just enjoy another drink. 

Alcoholism occurs through genetic factors as well as environmental factors. Some people that abuse alcohol may not be as susceptible to becoming addicted. If your family members had addiction problems, you’re more likely to as well. If you’re around people who are always drinking, it’s hard to stop. If you grew up in an alcoholic household, you’re far more likely to become an alcoholic if you’re abusing alcohol.

Breaking Down Alcohol Abuse

There are physical and mental symptoms that will indicate you’re abusing alcohol. As described above, there are certain parameters of drinking. How often you drink and how much you drink in one sitting. Heavy drinkers may only drink on the weekends but if they have ten beer, this is just as big of an issue as someone who drinks daily. Abusing alcohol and alcohol use disorder are closely intertwined. Your consistent or heavy drinking habits can form into a medical condition that affects your brain. It’s clearly easy to fall into this as there is an estimated 16 million people who have it in the U.S. alone.  

Alcoholism is the outcome of alcohol abuse for some. Genetics can play a part in how easy it is for someone to become addicted. Also, their lifestyle and environment will play a role. Why you abuse alcohol is a clue into how dependent you may become on it. If you’re emotionally drinking, this can become a cycle of abuse that turns into an alcohol use disorder.

Health Risks of Drinking

Regardless of whether you’re drinking heavily, drinking often, or have developed alcohol use disorder, the health risks of drinking are all the same. They affect people differently. Women will develop liver problems earlier than men. Each individual will have their own health issues with alcohol based on their genetics and other factors. If you have a mild alcohol abuse disorder, your liver will slowly deteriorate. This gives you time to do something about abstaining. This is where you have the opportunity to go to alcohol rehab and change your life for the better. A serious drinking problem will see a faster decline in health. It’s all relative but one thing's for certain, alcohol is poison to the system and will cause issues if you are consistently drinking. Here are the risks: 

  • Heart issues such as arrhythmias, stroke, dangerously high blood pressure or cardiomyopathy.
  • Liver problems such as alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis, a deadly health issue with the pancreas.
  • Cancer that can develop in the mouth, liver, throat, or esophagus.
  • The immune system becomes weak which makes you vulnerable to diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Did you know that there are outward, physical signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism? A person's face and other characteristics can often tell the truth about their relationship with this substance.

The physical appearance of someone when they abuse alcohol isn’t always so obvious at first. The skin will start to look different and you’ll likely have dark circles under your eyes because you don’t get the right kind of rest. Alcohol will eventually cause a gut also. This has a lot to do with how the body processes alcohol. It also has something to do with being drunk and not making healthy food choices. Late night binge eating is a common problem while drinking. 

When someone becomes an alcoholic, any physical symptoms will increase and worsen. Physical symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcoholism include: 

  • Broken capillaries on the face and nose.
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (physical signs of liver damage).
  • Breath that always seems to smell like alcohol.
  • Problems with personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain.
  • Very dry skin.
  • Looking very red or flushed.
  • Appearing to age quickly.
  • Brittle fingernails and hair. 

There are psychological alcohol abuse symptoms that indicate a problem. Alcohol directly influences and actually changes the way the brain functions. While under the influence, alcohol depresses the brain. This is why you feel so relaxed and you become accustomed and dependent on the feeling. When you abuse alcohol, you may begin to get some uncomfortable side effects.

Drinking often can cause the following mental issues: 

  • You may have symptoms of depression that can lead to major depressive disorder.
  • The risk of suicide.
  • Due to an unhealthy liver, hepatic encephalopathy can occur. This is a deterioration of brain functioning.
  • Mood and character changes that are noticeable.
  • Anxiety of panic attacks may occur.
  • It’s more challenging to focus on things.  

There are certain behaviors to look for when someone abuses alcohol. There will likely be a change in personality which will in turn cause a change in behavior. The following symptoms will also be something people do when they’re dependent on alcohol.  Here are some of the behavior patterns that are typical for those who have serious drinking problems: 

  • They will come up with every excuse in the book to get to drink.
  • They typically hide alcohol in various places around the house.
  • They will often stay up late to drink when it's quiet.
  • They won't attend events where alcohol isn't served or permitted.
  • They may start drinking earlier in the day. If they’re on vacation, they’ll use it as an excuse to day drink which will start in the morning.
  • They may drink before leaving the house for the day.
  • They become defensive when someone brings up the subject of alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
  • They feel ashamed or guilty about how much or how often they drink. 

By now, you may have a pretty good idea of what a drinking problem like abuse or alcoholism looks like. Have you noticed any of these qualities within yourself? If you have, you may have a serious drinking problem that needs to be treated professionally.

What's Your Relationship With Alcohol? This Quiz Can Help You Find Out

Maybe you've noticed some of the signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism in your own life. Sometimes, it’s not so easy to see the distinction between the two. While some of the symptoms of alcohol abuse are similar to alcoholism, it may not mean you’re fully dependent yet. There are also doubts that will creep in if you have become an alcoholic because you don’t want to admit it to yourself. It feels like you have a weakness and you know the social stigma that surrounds it. You may be far accepting of the fact that you’re abusing alcohol or that you drink too much. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve developed an addiction to alcohol and that it has total control over them. This kind of lie that you tell yourself is hard to get out of. That’s why there are interventions and alcohol addiction quizzes.

This quiz was designed for people who seriously question the role of alcohol in their lives. It will ask you a series of questions, and it's important to be honest. Once you answer all of the questions, you'll be redirected to your results.

If someone you love has a drinking problem, it's never going to be easy to point it out to them. They do a good job of hiding their drinking problem whether it’s abuse or full dependency. In fact, you may not be aware of what to look for yourself. You need to know what the specific signs and symptoms of alcoholism are. 

Does your loved one display any of the following?:

  • Lying about their drinking habits
  • Hiding alcohol all around your house, or in their vehicle
  • Extreme mood swings, based on how much they've been drinking
  • Health problems that are related to drinking
  • Recent job loss, or other work-related problems
  • Legal issues that involve drinking
  • Instances of driving under the influence
  • Problems managing responsibilities at home
  • Becoming isolated from family and friends
  • Promising to cut back, but then breaking that promise
  • Trying to stop drinking, but being unable to follow through 

If you're like most concerned family members, you probably notice quite a few on this list. Many of these are signs that let you know the person is abusing alcohol and may have developed an addiction. If your loved one has only a few of these characteristics, he or she most likely has a drinking problem. It may range in severity which can be figured out by how many symptoms the person has.

There are stages that you’ll go through before you become a full-blown alcoholic. There are warning signs that will indicate if you’re going down a bad road. First, we’ll discuss the stages:

The early stage is when you regularly drink. In this phase, you might also drink too much when you do drink. You haven’t suffered any consequences as of yet which in a way makes it hard to stop. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it. It’s the easiest time for you to abstain and make positive changes however. This stage is when denial is at its highest.

The middle stage is what we’d classify as a functioning alcoholic. The person still has their job but relationships may be suffering. As it’s hard to pinpoint someone in this phase, family and friends may keep quiet as they’re not certain what or if there’s a problem.

The late stages is when drinking affects aspects of your life. This includes your job, finances, relationships, health, and legal problems because of drinking. This is what most people would consider to be alcoholism. What it actually is would be the end of the line. Consequences worsen over time so when it’s noticeable, the addiction is well established.

It's possible that you're not exactly an alcoholic yet, but it's only a matter of time. There are some warning signs you can look for to determine this. These include:

  • Having frequent blackouts after you've been drinking
  • Suffering from short-term memory loss
  • Frequently feeling irritable
  • Suffering from extreme mood swings
  • Telling others you need to drink because it relieves stress, or helps you relax
  • Choosing drinking over every other activity
  • Choosing to drink only in secret
  • Feeling hungover even when you haven't been consuming
  • Changing your physical appearance
  • Spending time with a different group of people than usual, who all drink

You're also more likely to take dangerous risks. That raises your chances of being injured or dying from:

  • Car accidents
  • Homicide
  • Suicide
  • Drowning

Problem drinking like alcohol abuse are going to affect those around you. Even if you’re just drinking a little over what is considered “casual drinking,” you still affect your mind and your body. You become less focused and less interested in engaging with people. If you have a family and you’re hungover all weekend, this will become a problem. Your drinking may damage relationships with loved ones because of anger problems, violence, neglect, and abuse. Women who are pregnant risk having a miscarriage. Their baby is more likely to have fetal alcohol syndrome and a higher chance of dying from SIDS.

Northpoint Seattle Offers Help and Hope for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

At Northpoint Seattle, alcoholism and alcohol abuse are two of the issues we see most often. We have worked with many people who were battling this problem, and we are fully equipped to help.

Our outpatient program is designed to provide people with the support they need. If an individual is addicted to alcohol, the first course of action should always be to go through the detoxification process. This is not a service we offer, but we do provide referrals for programs that offer medical detox. Once our clients finish detoxing, they return to our facility for the remainder of their recovery program.

We specialize in providing alcohol rehabilitation services. Therapy is a critical component for anyone with a drinking problem for a number of reasons. It is not enough for them to just make the decision to stop drinking, and for many, it takes more than just willpower. It is important to address the issues that led to the alcohol abuse for the person to have the best chance of recovering. For many, this means getting treated for a co-occurring disorder. We offer that treatment as well as group and family sessions to help provide the necessary support.

Northpoint Seattle has facilities that are located in both Seattle and Bellevue. We offer different levels of care, including intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient rehab and partial hospitalization.

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Do You Recognize the Signs of Alcohol Abuse? Learn How to Get Help Today

At Northpoint Seattle, we hope this information has been helpful in allowing you to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse. We know how hard it can be to come to terms with the fact that you have a drinking problem. We also understand that it can be challenging to help a loved one with the same issue. We are here to provide you with the help you need.

If alcohol abuse is something you are currently struggling with, you do not have to continue this battle alone. Real help is available, and all you need to do is take the first step and reach out.

Do you have questions about the signs of alcohol abuse or its impact in Washington State? We can give you information about that as well as talk with you about your options for treatment. Please contact us today.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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