Understanding the Severity of Alcohol Abuse

Understanding the Severity of Alcohol Abuse

Authored by Defining Wellness    Reviewed by Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis    Last Updated: November 1st, 2021

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis Medical Reviewer
Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the world and a leading cause of many fatal medical conditions. Alcoholism also progresses much more rapidly than most other types of substance abuse. Anyone struggling with alcohol abuse should understand the various effects of alcohol, the signs of alcoholism, and how to find effective and reliable alcohol addiction treatment.

Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

One of the most troublesome aspects of alcohol is the mentality of social acceptability surrounding it in the United States. Many Americans of all ages imbibe alcohol at social gatherings, sporting events, parties, and the bar scene is very popular with people of all ages. There is a difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism; the former often leads to the latter.

Alcohol abuse involves drinking for a specific purpose, such as to “unwind” after stressful days at work or as a social lubricant, making it easier for some people to lose their inhibitions and be more social with others. People who drink for specific reasons are more likely to start abusing alcohol. Many people manage to have a few drinks sparingly on special occasions but once alcohol use turns into a pattern, it becomes a serious problem.

Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. One of the most dangerous aspects of alcoholism is that it can progress very rapidly. An individual may believe that his or her alcohol usage is normal because it is not every day, or the individual only drinks a certain amount, or he or she only drinks a certain type of alcohol. It is very common for people to start abusing alcohol without realizing how dangerous their alcohol use patterns really are—until they reach critical stages.

High-Functioning Alcoholism

The social perception of alcohol and the widespread availability of the substance in the U.S. provide a dangerous mix of susceptibility. Many individuals with alcohol abuse disorders run the risk of becoming high-functioning alcoholics. A high-functioning alcoholic is an individual who has become dependent on a specific cycle of alcohol consumption while still managing the semblance of a normal life. A high-functioning alcoholic may hold a job, keep social engagements, and pay his or her bills on time, but this does not mean his or her alcohol use pattern is safe.

High-functioning alcoholism is very common in high-stress fields. A person with a very demanding job may blow off steam by having a drink after work each day or going to the bar with friends every weekend and drinking to excess. Alcohol abuse treatment professionals define heavy alcohol use as more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men more than a few times a week. For example, if a man comes home from work every day and has two drinks to “relax” after work, this would fit the description of high-functioning alcoholism.

Physical and Mental Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse disorder is a mental health condition, and some people who develop alcohol abuse problems may not realize that some of the negative feelings they experience during patterns of alcohol use are actually alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most common signs of an alcohol abuse disorder include:

  • Feeling uncontrollable urges to drink.
  • Drinking in risky situations, such as at work, on breaks at work, or before important social events.
  • Failing to exercise control over drinking quantity.
  • Any drinking that interferes with regular everyday obligations, such as getting to work on time or picking up kids from school.
  • Stopping other important activities or canceling plans to consume alcohol.
  • Continuing to drink after experiencing negative effects from drinking.

These are just a few of the most common first signs of an alcohol abuse disorder. The individual in such a situation may fail to realize the severity of his or her actions and wind up developing a serious alcohol abuse problem in a very short amount of time.

Advanced Alcoholism Symptoms

Eventually, alcohol abuse on a consistent basis or high-functioning alcoholism will become full-blown alcohol dependency. The individual may start to feel like he or she cannot relax or sleep without consuming alcohol. Feeling an urge to drink to have fun at social events is also a sign of encroaching alcoholism. Alcohol abuse can also lead to domestic violence, failure to fulfill important obligations, problems at work, loss of a job, and serious financial difficulties.

Lying about drinking, drinking and driving, and mixing alcohol with other drugs or even prescription medications are all signs of alcoholism as well. Anyone who witnesses these issues in a friend or relative should prepare for a serious conversation with the individual about his or her alcohol habits. Left unchecked, alcoholism is one of the most dangerous forms of addiction and can even be fatal.

Seeking Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

The best way to approach alcohol abuse is as quickly as possible; alcoholism can progress very rapidly and even cause death from alcohol poisoning. An individual who develops an alcohol abuse disorder will invariably drink more and more as the condition persists, eventually putting his or her own life at risk. Modern alcohol rehab facilities use a blend of medical treatment, counseling, group therapy, and holistic therapies to offer relief from alcohol abuse and help patients achieve sobriety.

There is no single solution to alcohol abuse; every individual who experiences addiction issues with alcohol will have a unique experience, so individualized treatment is essential for overcoming alcohol abuse disorder.

During inpatient alcohol treatment, a patient receives medical care during the detox phase until all alcohol is out of his or her system and withdrawal symptoms subside. It is crucial for anyone struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism to realize that withdrawal can be fatal with advanced alcohol abuse. Alcoholism damages internal organs and the brain, and stopping “cold turkey” without medical support could lead to fatal seizures, delirium tremens, dangerously high fevers and blood pressure, and various other medical risks.

What to Expect from Alcoholism Treatment

Alcohol abuse treatment revolves around uncovering the root causes of a person’s drinking and helping him or her develop new coping techniques to overcome addiction. For example, if a person developed alcoholism due to his or her high-stress job, part of treatment will likely revolve around teaching him or her new ways to handle the stress of his or her career. Additionally, rehab needs to teach patients how to overcome cravings and triggers that spur the urge to drink. These individuals may need to use extra caution when spending time with certain people or while visiting certain places that used to encourage them to drink.

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