What does alcoholism look like? Does it look like a disheveled businessman hunched over the end of a dive-bar at the end of every work day? Perhaps alcoholism looks like a homeless woman, sitting beside a busy intersection with a bottle in hand. Or maybe like a 19-year-old pre-med student who gets blackout drunk three times a week but still manages to make good grades. Could it be possible that alcoholism looks like a soccer-mom of four children who polishes off a bottle of wine every night after the kids have all gone to bed?
Alcoholism is more than just drinking a lot. Alcoholism is largely characterized as the inability to control alcohol use, resulting in the major disruption of the drinker’s social life, occupation, and health. This means that all of the people described above are potentially struggling with an alcohol use disorder… and they wouldn’t be alone. Recent studies show that over 5% of adults in the United States struggle with alcoholism. In New Hampshire specifically, the rates of excessive alcohol consumption are nearly twice the national average, and the rate of alcoholism is not far behind. Like most substance use disorders, alcoholism does not discriminate between who it affects. Alcoholism can be found in all ages, genders, classes, races, and in every walk of life. It is because there is no identifiable “face” to alcoholism that it can be difficult to recognize – even for those who actively have an alcohol use disorder. It is because of the wide reaching side effects of alcoholism that it is important to recognize the risk factors, triggers, and signs of alcohol use disorders.
Risk Factors & Triggers of Alcoholism
Alcoholism rarely develops overnight or without warning. Often, though not always, alcoholism is preceded by a number of warning signs, risk factors, and triggers that range in subtlety and present differently from person to person. Although the development of alcoholism does not need a specific trigger or a risk factor to be present, being able to recognize the risks and triggers for alcoholism can lead to quicker intervention and better outcomes in the long run. Listed hereafter are some of the most common risk factors for alcoholism:
Early Age Drinking: Studies show that people who drank alcohol before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol use disorders. In New Hampshire, nearly 30% of all youth between the ages of 12-20 admit that they have had alcohol before. While this is below the national average for youths, it still puts that 30% of youth at risk for later drinking related issues.
Family History: There is a 60% chance that a child of parents with an alcohol use disorder will inherit the genes that predispose them to alcoholism. Growing up around parents who drink excessively can also affect whether or not a child grows up to have similar habits.
Mental Health Problems: People with poor mental health or mental health conditions are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism for a number of reasons; for some it is a coping mechanism, for others it is linked to genetics and environment. Regardless, their vulnerable mental state puts them at a higher susceptibility. Good data, but we want to add some New Hampshire specific info as well.
With the exception of drinking while young, these factors are largely out of our control. Understanding which factors might affect you can change your perspective and often your actions towards drinking alcohol. People with family histories of substance use may choose to abstain entirely from alcohol, or perhaps a parent who struggled with alcohol use may choose to keep a closer eye on their teens to make sure they are not prematurely exposed to alcohol. In this case, knowledge is power and it can give people the power and opportunity to make wholly informed decisions when dealing with alcohol.
High Stress Situations: If a person has been in a high stress situation lately, such as a new job, becoming a parent, or being let go from a position, this can sometimes trigger an increase in drinking. Many people use alcohol as a means of relaxation and this can lead to disordered behaviors.
Social Pressures: There are a number of social settings (work, school, athletics, etc.) where drinking alcohol is considered the norm. While the setting itself will not cause alcoholism, the increased pressure to drink can foster habits that lead to an increase in alcohol consumption. There is even research showing that in New Hampshire the attitudes and public feelings surrounding alcohol may play a part in the state’s extreme alcohol consumption. This has, in part, led to residents in New Hampshire on average drinking over 4.5 gallons of alcohol a year compared to other state’s averages which even out to be around 2.3 gallons.
Traumatic Events: Trauma of any kind can trigger the use of alcohol as a way of managing both emotional and physical pains.
If you or a loved one have recently found yourself in a high stress situation, a new environment, or experienced a trauma, it is important to be aware of how much alcohol you are consuming. While there is no agreed upon amount of alcohol a person can drink to be considered an alcoholic, it is widely agreed upon that, when the use of alcohol disrupts the normal functions of a person’s life, or if that person finds themselves feeling like they are unable to control how much they are drinking, then it is likely that that person has an alcohol use disorder. Disruptions to life can include things such as isolation from friends and family, cessation of enjoyed activities and hobbies, avoiding daily commitments such as work or personal hygiene, having run-ins with the law, as well as failures to follow previously followed schedules.
When laid out like this, these signs and symptoms of developing alcoholism seem glaringly obvious. It must be emphasized however, that not every person struggling with an alcohol use disorder presents the same warning signs. What’s more is that many of these signs are things that can gradually slip past our notice without any detection until things seem to suddenly reach a crisis point.
Knowing whether you or a loved-one are developing an alcohol use disorder can be difficult and, while the warning signs above are a good place to start, they are not all encompassing. Alcoholism can exist in people who meet none or all of those characteristics. There are other behavioral and physical signs that should be watched for when dealing with alcohol use disorders. The Johns Hopkins four question self-screen, the CAGE Self-Assessment, can help you begin to determine whether you or your loved-one need help.
C – Cut Down: Have you ever thought, even in passing, that you should cut down on your drinking?
A – Annoyed: Does it annoy you when people mention your drinking habits? Especially when they say you should drink less?
G – Guilty: Have you ever felt guilt or shame associated with your drinking habits?
E – Eyes Open: When you first open your eyes in the morning, do you crave alcohol or drink to take the edge off?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then it may be time to seek help and get the input of a medical doctor on what your next steps might be. As touched upon in the CASE Assessment, there are a number of behavioral and physical signs of alcoholism that can accompany or follow the risk factors listed above.
Signs of Alcohol Intoxication
Recognizing the signs of alcohol intoxication can be important to realizing if somebody needs help. Along with the four-step CAGE self-assessment mentioned earlier, you can often tell a person is intoxicated by looking for the following signs:
- Slurred speech
- Watery, unfocused, or bloodshot eyes
- Lack of coordination
- Agitation or anxiety
- Repetitive, unfocused statements
Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism
There are many behaviors associated with alcohol use disorder and, much like the previously listed risk factors, people with alcohol use disorders can exhibit any number of these behavioral changes. Some behaviors that are important to look out for include:
- Sudden shifts in personality and behaviors
- Poor behavioral regulation
- Drinking often or in excess
- Secretively or sneaking around
- Agitation and defensiveness
- Depression and anxiety
- Dramatic mood swings
- Inability to perform tasks or maintain schedules that were previously adhered to
Often, when people imagine alcoholism, their thoughts turn towards drunkenness, acting out, or other behavioral issues. That being said, alcohol use disorder does more than change the ways that a person acts. It can also have damaging effects on the body as well as the mind.
Physical Signs of Alcoholism
While the behavioral effects of alcohol use disorders are often visually apparent, alcohol’s effects on the body are more than skin deep. Alcohol affects the entire body. Not only does it affect the organs, but it can also present externally. Listed are some of the most common physical signs of alcoholism:
Weight change – alcohol can cause excessive weight change.
Flushing – many people who drink excessively will experience flushing or blushing on their chest, neck, and face. Alcohol dilates blood vessels causing blushing.
Stomach Problems – alcohol can not only cause vomiting and reflux, but it can also enflame the stomach lining and create ulcers. People with alcohol use disorders may often vomit, or even vomit blood due to stomach ulcers.
Liver Cirrhosis – cirrhosis is damage to the liver. When the liver is damaged, the body can no longer filter toxins out of the blood. This can lead to yellowing skin, and eventually the need to be on dialysis.
Excessive Urination – alcohol is a diuretic, this can lead to excessive urination.
Sexual Impotence – alcohol dilates blood vessels and, because of this, the processes that lead to sexual arousal are hindered leading to sexual impotence in both men and women.
Withdrawal Symptoms – when a person with an alcohol use disorder goes into alcohol withdrawals, they may experience shivering, restlessness, nausea, fevers, seizures, and even hallucinations.
As stated before a person dealing with alcoholism may exhibit any number of symptoms and signs of the substance use disorder, what’s more is that these symptoms and signs are often similar to those of other illnesses. It is important to be observant and mindful when you suspect that somebody may have alcoholism
Find Recovery & Success at Addiction Recovery Services
Admitting that you or a loved one might be developing alcoholism can be scary for a lot of people. Many people have been socialized to believe that stories of alcoholism end in tragedy, or don’t believe that it could ever affect them or a loved one. That being said, in New Hampshire, despite the extreme alcohol use state wide, research shows that a majority of Granite Staters do not believe that alcohol is that dangerous. This is simply not true and for those affected there is hope for treatment and recovery.
At Addiction Recovery Services (ARS) we work to address alcoholism through our intensive inpatient and outpatient treatment options as well as offer medication assisted treatment when necessary. At ARS we believe that recovery is not only possible, but achievable for every person that enters one of our programs. We understand that the road to recovery is not always smooth, but we are willing to walk it with you. If you believe that you or a loved one may be dealing with an alcohol use disorder or even other substance use disorders, call us today at 978-228-5853 or visit us today at our alcoholism addiction treatment center to learn more about our treatment options and how we can help you change your life for the better
What qualifies you as an alcoholic?
Alcoholism is characterized as the inability to control alcohol use, resulting in the major disruption of the drinker’s social life, occupation, and health.
What are 3 characteristics of an alcoholic?
Excessive drinking of alcohol, behavioral changes, withdrawal symptoms.
What are the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol?
Nausea, vomiting, confusion
How many drinks a day is considered an alcoholic?
It is not about the amount of drinks. Alcoholism is characterized as the inability to control alcohol usage resulting in the major disruption of the drinker’s social life, occupation, and health.