Alcohol is prevalent in social contexts, so although you have probably heard the term alcoholism before, you may be wondering, “what is alcoholism?” It is a serious form of alcohol misuse, and it has many symptoms, causes, and adverse effects.
The Signs of Alcohol Addiction
One of the most important ways to understand what is alcoholism is to know the signs. People with alcohol addictions can be consumed by the need to drink. There are many subtle and not-so-subtle signs that you or a loved one may be addicted to alcohol.
- You think about alcohol all the time. If your thoughts throughout the day are consumed by wondering when you can drink again, it may be time to seek help.
- You feel like you need alcohol to function properly. If you usually find yourself thinking that a project would be much easier or you would feel more productive with a drink, that could be a sign of alcoholism.
- You spend money on alcohol even if it means not purchasing food or other necessities.
- You want to be drinking when you are not, or you find yourself unable to stop drinking once you start.
- You prioritize alcohol. You may place finding a drink above family commitments or work responsibilities.
- Your behavior or personality changes when you drink. Alcoholism can lead addicts to act either much more belligerent or much kinder after drinking.
The main symptom of alcohol addiction is that it consumes your life. No matter how these signs manifest themselves in you, if you feel that alcohol has become a necessity rather than a luxury, it is time to seek treatment.
Why People Turn to Alcohol
Alcohol addiction is typically a symptom of psychological factors and external influences. You may turn to alcohol to cope with a variety of situations. Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is the most common way that alcohol use becomes an alcohol abuse disorder.
You may be self-medicating. Alcohol addiction is frequently comorbid with a variety of other psychological disorders. If you struggle with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, PTSD or OCD, especially if they are undiagnosed, you may use alcohol to cope with these disorders.
- You may be stressed. People with significant financial, professional or emotional stressors in their lives may begin drinking to feel calmer.
- You may have experienced trauma or abuse in the past. Many alcoholics have a history of past trauma and abuse. People turn to alcohol as a tool to relieve painful memories or cope with the negative emotions and self-image that may come up as a result.
- You may want to feel better. Drinking can make you feel good in the short-term and help you temporarily escape from an imperfect reality. People who are lonely are especially likely to turn to alcohol either to make connections through social drinking or to forget their feelings of loneliness.
- You may be struggling with shame or grief. Shame results in low self-worth, which can lead to alcohol addiction to hide the pain of these uncomfortable emotions. Grief and loss are similarly difficult to cope with and can also lead you to try to make yourself feel better via alcohol.
In the short term, alcohol use can mask or relieve pain from all of these situations. In the long term, however, dependence on alcohol can alienate you, exacerbate the effects of psychological disorders, lead to greater social and financial stress, and increase feelings of shame and grief. Alcohol abuse disorders ultimately worsen the situations you are trying to cope with, which can lead you to drink more and result in a vicious cycle.
The Effects Alcoholism Can Have on Your Health
Alcohol addiction is very harmful to your body as well as your mind. Your organs cannot handle the amount of alcohol that you ask it to process, which can lead to serious complications and even fatalities.
Immediate effects include:
- Dizziness or difficulty walking in a straight line
- Loss of coordination
- Foggy mind
- Impaired judgement
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty sitting still
Long-term effects include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Decreased brain function
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
- Complications in diabetics
- Higher cancer risk
- Decreased bone density
- Deterioration in vision
Both in the short-term and the long-term, alcohol abuse disorders come with serious health complications and can be fatal. Seeking sobriety could save your life.
Treatments to Overcome Alcoholism
Alcohol abuse disorders consume your life, but you can get help for yourself or your loved ones. Several treatment options exist to help you overcome your alcohol addiction.
- Detoxes are inpatient facilities where you can go through withdrawal safely. Nurses and doctors will frequently use medications to help you avoid any complications as you remove alcohol from your system.
- Rehab centers are residential programs lasting 30-90 days where you will be able to focus on your recovery in a structured space. They provide therapy, psychiatry and medical monitoring, and they keep you in a soothing, temptation-free environment. Rehab programs help you address the underlying causes of your alcohol addiction and learn coping skills to manage them through individual and group therapy. They use models such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and 12-step programs.
- Outpatient treatment programs help provide support around your addiction in a group setting. In these programs, you have the opportunity to share your struggles with alcohol addiction and receive a sense of community and accountability as you strive for sobriety. Because they are not residential, they allow you to continue your daily life. However, this can be dangerous due to access to alcohol and temptation to drink, so you should consult with your doctor to ensure that you do not need a higher level of care.
- Maintenance involves attending groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and seeing an individual therapist or psychiatrist to help you stay committed to your sobriety.
The treatment process can help you recover from your alcohol addiction and learn to cope with stress in an adaptive way. Schedule an intake to take the first step towards sobriety and freedom from alcohol addiction.