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.
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?
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
As far as adult alcohol abuse goes, the CDC tells us that:
Regarding drunk driving in Washington State
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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?:
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:
You're also more likely to take dangerous risks. That raises your chances of being injured or dying from:
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.
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.
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.