What is Alcohol Abuse?
Unsafe Alcohol Consumption
Types of Alcohol Abuse
There are many types of alcohol abuse. Some of these types are more serious than others, but all of them can result in negative consequences in your life.
- Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more standard alcoholic drinks (about two drinks for women and three drinks for men) in about two hours. This type of heavy drinking is the most common form of alcohol abuse among people between 18 and 34 years of age and is responsible for many of the negative consequences associated with alcohol abuse. Binge drinking has many negative effects. It can lead to injuries, sexual assault and death.
- Underage Drinking: Underage drinking is the consumption of alcohol by minors. In many places this is a criminal offense, and the penalties can be severe depending on the circumstances. Many people begin drinking at a young age. However, it is important to remember that the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. This means that young people are at a higher risk of experiencing harmful effects from alcohol.
- DUI: Driving under the influence is when a person drinks too much alcohol and then gets behind the wheel. Driving under the influence can result in serious injuries and even death. Alcohol Abuse During Pregnancy: Alcohol abuse during pregnancy can be harmful to both the mother and the baby. Drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects, miscarriage, and developmental issues in the child later in life.
Daily Limits for Drinking Alcohol to Avoid Alcohol Problems
While it is important to understand what alcohol abuse is and how it can harm your life, it’s also important to understand how much alcohol is too much. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a branch of the Mental health Services Administration, recommends that adult men drink no more than two standard drinks per day and that adult women drink no more than one drink a day. A standard drink is: 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content) 8 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content) 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol content) Some people metabolize alcohol differently than others, so there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for alcohol consumption. Keep in mind that even if you do not feel the effects of alcohol when you drink, you can still be dangerously drunk. This is especially true if you have a high body weight, are a woman, or are taking certain medications.
Binge Drinking: the Most Dangerous Type of Excessive Drinking
Tips for Controlling Alcohol Use
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
The short-term effects of alcohol abuse vary between individuals and will depend on factors such as your age, weight, gender, and metabolism. Short-term effects of alcohol abuse can include:
- Unsafe sexual activity
- Poor decision-making
- Disrupted sleep
- Decreased social connection
- Decreased productivity
- Worsened academic performance
- Increased risk for injury
- Increased risk for sexually transmitted infections
- Increased risk for unplanned pregnancies
- Increased risk for legal repercussions
- Increased risk for health issues
- Increased risk for eating disorders
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
The long-term effects of alcohol abuse can be serious. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to changes in brain chemistry that are difficult to reverse. Alcohol abuse also puts your health at serious risk. The long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:
- Changes in brain chemistry
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver disease
- Metabolic disorders
- Changes in hormone levels
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in social relationships
- Changes in academic performance
- Changes in productivity
- Changes in sexual function
- Legal repercussions
- Financial problems
- Poor self-esteem
- Eating disorders
- Psychological issues
- Suicidal ideation
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Misuse
If you think you may be struggling to control alcohol intake, there are some signs and symptoms that you should look out for. If you’re drinking too much, you may find yourself drinking alone, or experiencing negative consequences in your life as a result of your alcohol use. If you think you’re drinking too much, it’s important to seek help before things get worse. Some of the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include the following:
- Feeling guilty about your drinking
- Changes in social relationships
- Changes in diet
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in hygiene
- Feeling depressed or anxious
- Feeling irritable
- Missing work or school
- Experiencing blackouts
- Experiencing hallucinations
- Feeling too fatigued to complete daily tasks
- Using alcohol as a coping skill
- Using alcohol to deal with health issues
- Feeling unsafe when drinking
- Facing legal consequences as a result of your alcohol abuse
What Is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence?
While alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are related, they are not the same thing. The main difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence is that people who abuse alcohol do not have a medical condition that requires treatment, while people who are dependent on alcohol do. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol show signs of withdrawal when they don’t drink, they have a strong desire to drink, they drink large amounts more than once per week, their health is negatively impacted by excessive alcohol consumption, their ability to work is affected by their drinking habits, and/or their personal relationships have been seriously affected.
How Addictive is Alcohol
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
If you have an AUD and decide to quit drinking, you will most likely experience some level of alcohol withdrawal. However, you can minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms through medical intervention, especially if you have an AUD. There are several different types of withdrawal symptoms, but the most common include:
- Abdominal cramps: Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, which produces more of a substance called bilirubin. This can cause the liver to produce more of a yellowish substance called ascites, which can leak out of your liver and cause abdominal cramps.
- Nausea and vomiting: The yellowish substance (ascites) is also likely to cause nausea and vomiting.
- Sweating: When your liver processes alcohol, it produces more heat as a result. This can cause you to sweat more than usual.
- Tremors: When you are sweating a lot, you may also be shaking. Insomnia: Alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
- No appetite: When you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal, your body may not have enough energy to process hunger normally.
- Anxiety: When you have been regularly drinking heavily, the amount of the chemical serotonin in your brain has likely been reduced.
What is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?
Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs
What is Alcohol Use Disorder?
A medical (or “clinical”) term for “alcoholism” is alcohol use disorder (AUD). Most people use these terms interchangeably, though some healthcare providers prefer one term over the other. This diagnosis is only given to people who experience the following symptoms:
Consuming large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you go too long without alcohol
Recognizing the negative effects of your alcohol abuse and alcoholism on your life but being unable to curb or change your habits
Continuing to drink in spite of recurrent problems related to your alcohol use
Spending a lot of time acquiring or drinking alcohol, or recovering from its effects
Craving or wanting alcohol in situations where you wouldn’t expect to or when you know you shouldn’t drink alcohol
Having cravings for alcohol that are difficult to control
Giving up important activities because of your use of alcohol
Is Alcohol Addiction a Mental Disorder in the DSM?
Risk factors for Alcohol Abuse
As with most mental health disorders, risk factors for alcohol abuse vary from person to person. Some risk factors include:
- Being under the age of 21: The younger you are when you start drinking, the more likely you are to develop a problem with alcohol.
- Having a family history of alcoholism: People whose families have a history of alcoholism are more likely to develop an AUD themselves.
- Having a mental health disorder: People with mental health disorders are more likely to develop another mental health disorder, including an AUD.
- Being in a situation where you are drinking more often or in larger quantities than you planned: If you find yourself drinking more often or in larger quantities than planned while you are at a party or out with friends, this can be a warning sign that you have a problem.
How do I get help for Alcohol Abuse?
If you think that you might have a problem with alcohol abuse, the first thing that you should do is get educated. Reading up on the topic can help you to identify the signs of a problem and determine if it is something that you need to address. Use that information to talk to your doctor about your concerns. Your doctor can recommend different treatment options for alcohol abuse, including attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other group therapy sessions. If you don’t think that an AUD is appropriate for you, it can be helpful to find a therapist to talk to about your concerns. A therapist can help you to get a better understanding of your habits and decide how to proceed from there. With enough time, it is possible to fully recover from alcoholism and lead a happy and fulfilling life in sobriety.
Read Further: Alcohol Relapse Prevention