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Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse and Dependency

Alcohol Abuse, Dependency, and Addiction: What to Look For

Alcoholism is a serious, chronic disease that can be treated but not cured. The commitment to undergo treatment for alcoholism is a journey that only a minority of people living with the disease in the US try to treat. The statistics surrounding untreated alcoholism are imposing.

  • In 2006, 1.2 million patients entered emergency rooms in the US for treatment of an alcohol-related problem.
  • In the same year, more than 2.7 million visits to physician's offices in the US were alcohol-related.
  • The Center for Diseases and Public Health (CDC) reports that about 88,000 excessive alcohol-related fatalities occur every year in the US.
  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are the third leading "lifestyle-related" cause of death in the US.
  • In 2006, the costs of excessive alcohol consumption cost the U.S. economy $223.5 billion.
  • At this time, less than 13 percent of alcoholics in the country are effectively engaged in treatment.

By any standard, these figures are intimidating and important. Alcoholism strikes at the core of individual well-being, family relationships, society and the economy.

Americans have many misconceptions about alcoholism, but an alcoholic is simply defined as "any person addicted to alcohol". Alcoholics can be any age, any race or any religion. Alcohol addiction is a devastating, life altering, career ending and life-threatening dependency.

Schools, employers, family members and friends must be ever-vigilant for signs that alcoholism is affecting an individual. One of the common misconceptions about alcoholics is that the sufferer must hit "rock bottom" before he or she should undergo rehabilitation treatment. Today, treatment centers have excellent results with patients who were enrolled in the program at early stages, before life begins to fall apart. For this reason, many centers offer professional intervention counselors who are trained to work with groups to encourage and enroll a loved one or friend in a rehabilitation program.

The CDC reports that certain people should never consume alcohol.

The CDC's Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines drinking in moderations as:

  • Women who drink one drink per day.
  • Men who drink up to 2 drinks per day.

However, there are many men and women who should not consume any alcohol:

  • Women who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
  • Persons who take certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Young men and women under the age of 21.
  • Recovering alcoholics.
  • Persons suffering a disease that could become more serious with alcohol consumption.
  • People who undertake activities that involve reaction skills, such as driving a vehicle or boat.

We Should All Know The Signs of Alcohol Addiction

It is important to understand the difference between alcoholism and alcohol abuse. The alcohol abuser is an individual who tends to consume in excess but is not addicted. Binge drinking is one sign of alcohol abuse.

The court system has a dim view of alcohol abusers, especially persons who drive under the influence or act differently and take on unnecessary risks after knowingly over-consuming. Alcohol abuse can be diagnosed and cured. Usually, alcohol abuse is connected to other psychological issues.

Alcoholism, on the other hand, can be treated but never cured. The alcoholic can relapse at any time, making continued aftercare programs necessary during the addict's lifelong therapy. Because of the lifelong affliction, persons around the alcoholic must be watchful of the signs of alcoholic relapse.

The alcoholic must resupply. Resupply becomes the most dominant characteristic of the alcoholic. The brain wants the euphoria and as the alcoholic's tolerance increases, the pursuit of resupply becomes all-consuming, usually leading the sufferer to take unnecessary personal, financial and professional risks.

Telltale Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism

  • Consistently late to work or school.
  • Blocks of unaccounted time.
  • Disappointing performance at work or school.
  • Loss of job.
  • Legal problems connected to the dependency.
  • Secretive behavior: The alcoholic does not account for his or her time and usually makes excuses why they must have a drink.
  • Withdrawal from established friendships.
  • Failing personal and professional relationships.
  • The alcoholic cannot control how often or how much they consume.
  • Alcoholics tend to shy away from activities that do not involve alcohol.
  • Despite protests from loved ones and friends, the alcoholic continues to drink.
  • Feelings of guilt often overcome the helpless alcoholic.
  • Financial problems usually occur because so much is being spent on resupply.
  • Physical signs can include weight loss, gastritis, loss of appetite and redness in the cheeks and nose.
  • Constantly checking the amount of alcohol on premises.
  • Physical abuse of spouses and children and others.

These signs should be recognized and examined at all costs; the sooner the better. Co-workers, family members and friends often notice irregular behavior patterns but are uncomfortable addressing them. Enabling an alcoholic is the wrong course of action.

A very common sign of alcoholism is that the sufferer assures concerned persons that he or she can stop drinking at any time. In fact, most alcoholics have attempted self-treatment. They are aware of the guilt and other punitive aspects of alcoholism.

Detoxification is a powerful undertaking with severe and sometimes dangerous withdrawal side effects. Alcoholics who have attempted self-treatment at some point in time realize the difficulty of this necessary step and are therefore reluctant to enter treatment programs.

This realization inevitably leads the alcoholic to become more withdrawn from existing relationships and to become even more secretive. All relationships will become strained and family ties are likely to fall apart quickly.

The Need for Intervention

Alcoholics rarely enter treatment without intervention, which can be initiated by the court system or by friends and family members through professionally-led intervention.

Aside from the numerous psychological and emotional challenges the alcoholic imposes on those around them, alcoholism poses serious short-term and long-term health risks.

Short-term health risks include:
  • Risky sexual behavior.
  • Unintentional injuries and accidents.
  • Alcohol poisoning.
  • Miscarriage.
Long-term health risks of alcoholism include:
  • Neurological disease including dementia, stroke and neuropathy.
  • Cardiovascular complications including heart attack, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy and hypertension.
  • Psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, suicide.
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, breast. Excessive alcohol consumption increase the risk of cancer.
  • Gastrointestinal complications, including pancreatitis.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver, which is a leading cause of death in the US and among alcoholics worldwide.
  • Hepatitis and liver diseases.

When these risks are coupled with the overwhelming social risks such as loss of job, inability to safely operate a motor vehicle, poor productivity and other family challenges, the time to address alcoholism is at the time of diagnosis. This disease takes hold quickly and never goes away.

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