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Am I An Alcoholic?

People have been making and consuming alcoholic drinks since the beginning of time. In moderation, alcohol can have a relaxing effect and can have some benefits to heart health. Several studies have shown that a component found in red wine can benefit the heart. According to The National Wine Research Institute: "People that drink a moderate amount of wine regularly, particularly with food, have a 30 per cent reduced risk of heart diseases. Red wine is good for you in moderation - with one to two glasses a day there is a reduced risk of heart disease." But, when consumed in excess, alcohol is poisonous and is considered a drug.

Alcohol use disorders are more common than may be imagined. According to the publication Psychology Today, studies have revealed that 29.1 percent of the US population - some 68.5 million - has experienced some form of alcohol misuse to varying degrees at some point during their lifetime. The publication goes on to note that within a 12-month period, approximately 13.9 percent of the US population experiences an alcohol use disorder. About 19.8 percent of the adults who have experienced an alcohol use disorder in their lifetime seek treatment, check into a rehab facility or ask for help at some point.

The article continues, stating that about 75 percent of the alcohol that Americans drink occurs in the form of a binge. The symptoms of binge drinking include blackouts and memory lapses. Over time, a chronic binge drinker can develop serious liver damage as well as possible brain damage. Indeed, alcohol is a factor in more than half of the homicides, suicides, and traffic accidents that occur in the United States. Alcohol abuse also plays a role in many social and domestic problems, from job absenteeism and crimes against property to spousal and child abuse.

A person who drinks frequently or has problems because of alcohol might ask, "Am I an alcoholic?" or "Do I have a drinking problem?" Essentially, anyone who is concerned enough to ask the question likely has some alcoholic tendencies. What is worth remembering is that having a problem with alcohol does not necessarily make a person an alcoholic.

Having several drinks in one sitting can be considered alcohol abuse, especially if the drinks are consumed quickly. When a person's body does not have enough time to metabolize the alcohol between each drink, they become intoxicated. Consuming more than four alcoholic drinks - regardless of whether you're male or female - in one sitting can be said to be binge drinking.

Some people abuse alcohol, but manage to avoid developing an addiction or dependency. However, it would be wrong to assume that their drinking isn't problematic. People who abuse alcohol can have - even without developing an addiction - problems in everyday life as a result of binges. Physical issues ranging from a severe hangover to anxiety are par for the course. Because alcohol abuse impairs judgment, some people also end up with injuries and legal problems from car accidents, assaults, and domestic disturbances.

Naturally, certain people have a higher risk of developing an alcohol dependency. Binge drinkers and those who turn to alcohol when they are upset or if they have a bad day are more likely to become addicted than those who drink in moderation on occasion. Those who drink infrequently can still be at risk, though.

People who tend to socialize with heavy drinkers may be at a higher risk of abusing alcohol or developing a dependency. A family history of alcoholism also makes a person more susceptible to it. Studies suggest that genetics can make people more prone to alcohol addiction. High-stress jobs, mental health conditions, interpersonal problems, and stressful life events such as a death of a loved one or the collapse of a long-term relationship also increase a person's risk of becoming an alcoholic.

Effects Of Alcohol Abuse

An indication that a person's behavior has progressed to that of an alcoholic can be seen when their nutritional habits are explored. As alcohol abuse takes a firm hold, people in the throes of addiction tend to neglect their eating habits and overall nutrition. Indeed, the person may show signs of malnutrition - appearing gaunt, have dental issues, lose their hair and have dark circles under their eyes. These symptoms collectively could indicate thiamine deficiency - a vitamin vital to the brain and its ability to function well. Individuals who abuse alcohol are likely to suffer from a B1 deficiency as well as lacking in several other key nutrients.

As with most addictions, someone who starts off as a social drinker could suddenly start consuming more - both in volume and frequency - usually as a result of a life-changing event. However, establishing whether an individual is an alcoholic is tricky. That's because they often display similar traits to a binge drinker. The major difference is that someone with an alcohol use disorder is physically addicted. So, when asking yourself whether you are actually an alcoholic - you need to consider how you are when you haven't had a drink. Much like any other addiction, diagnosing an alcoholic often is associated with uncontrollable cravings, followed by over consumption, a high tolerance level and withdrawal symptoms. Mood swings, difficulty focussing, anxiousness or irritability, combined with nightmares and the shakes are all signs of addiction. Other symptoms include headaches and nausea, paleness, clammy skin, cold sweats, and a loss of appetite.

Many people with alcohol use disorder report waking up feeling shaky - this is because their body is withdrawing from the substance after a period of sleep. Many people drink on waking in order to alleviate this. However, those that leave having their first drink until later on in the day reveal that they are plagued by intense cravings. They put having their first drink above food - some even describe alcohol as more important than the air they breathe - becoming their sole focus and priority in life.

The psychological effects of alcohol are immediately recognizable after a person drinks. Individuals may repeat themselves (due in part to memory lapse) and not show their familiar level of good judgment. Over time, individuals may develop sleep troubles combined with mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. Cognitive problems include a diminished attention span and problems with motor coordination, such as asterixis, a condition that causes a person to involuntarily flap or shake their hands. In severe cases, hepatic encephalopathy can develop and, for some, cause them to slip into a fatal hepatic coma.

Furthermore, the signs of alcohol addiction - or alcohol use disorder - as it is now known, can be behavioral - not just physical. If a person continues to drink despite suffering severe consequences as a result and ignores the negative impact alcohol has, then they are likely to be addicted. Indeed, they are likely to think about when they can have their next drink - becoming secretive and devious. People with alcoholism usually think about alcohol throughout the day and plan their activities around it. They have a habit of lying to their families, spouses, and co-workers to hide the amount or frequency of their alcohol intake.

When they're confronted about their drinking, alcoholics tend to get defensive. They either outright deny that they are drink dependent or try and blame it on other people. Human beings tend to try and rationalize their behavior - binge eaters, drinkers and drug addicts will always say they have it in hand, or their habit isn't as bad as someone else they know or they say they have to have a drink because their boss gave them a hard time at work. In short, there is always an excuse or a reason why they reach for the bottle.

It can be hard to identify whether you - or someone you are close to - is an alcoholic. However, there are a few factors that should be taken into account when trying to assess one's own situation. Most people are perfectly able to enjoy a casual drink at a party - without it becoming a binge - and can then stop. However, people struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism might find they've lost track of how many drinks they've had. They may also find that they've been drinking for several hours without realizing it - much longer than they might have intended. Alcoholism results in a loss of control over drinking.

Substance abuse can often become a sticking point in relationships. As described by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, when the amount of alcohol that a person is consuming becomes a concern to loved ones, challenges can arise that include frequent arguments that may or may not turn violent, loss of intimacy, trust issues like infidelity or debt and being distant and disengaged from family life. Unfortunately, a true sign of someone suffering from alcohol use disorder is that despite the negative impact drink is having on their life - and on those around them - they are physically unable to stop drinking, regardless of the long-term consequences.

When a person slides into alcoholism, they tend to gravitate towards people who encourage their drinking, rather than try and contain it. They move away from friends and family who disapprove or are critical of their drinking, meaning they surround themselves with individuals who will essentially fuel their self-destruction. Any thoughts they may have had of cutting down or stopping drinking will fall by the wayside, if the company they choose to keep is encouraging alcohol consumption.

High Functioning Alcoholics

However, it would be wrong to assume that every alcoholic is on the verge of falling apart and living a life on the streets. Many people who are alcohol dependent are known as ‘high-functioning alcoholics'. A functional alcoholic might not act in a way that people would expect them to act - they can still be responsible and productive - often high-functioning alcohol abuse occurs in high-achievers and in people who hold positions of power. Equally, though, there is a worrying trend among mothers, who look forward to ‘wine o'clock' as a way of coping with the stresses associated with parenthood and holding down a job. Indeed, because of the successful nature of a high-functioning alcoholic, many people are likely to overlook the excessive drinking or won't identify it as problematic because they don't present as the stereotypical drinker.

The other thing to consider is that the high-functioning alcoholic is likely to be in denial - similar to others suffering from alcohol use disorder. They are probably inclined to think that because they have a good job, pay their bills and have a good social circle that they don't have a problem. They might also believe that because they only drink top-quality wine or spirits that they are a connoisseur. Alcohol abuse is often associated with images of drunks swigging alcohol out of a bottle wrapped in a paper bag on a street corner. Further, because they haven't ‘lost' everything or suffered any major setbacks in life due to their habit, they won't see it as a problem. However, according to Robert Huebner, PhD, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No one, “can drink heavily and maintain major responsibilities over long periods of time. If someone drinks heavily, it is going to catch up with them.”

Take Action

So what can be construed as heavy drinking? For women, it's having more than three drinks a day or seven a week. For men, it's four or more per day or 14 a week. If you drink more than the daily or weekly limit, you're at risk. Crucially, though, the first step to recovery is identifying the problem and being willing to seek help to combat it. Dealing with alcohol abuse disorder is not something that can usually be successfully tackled alone. Professional, supervised help is likely to have the most successful outcome - provided the individual is bought-in to recovery and has a network of support in place to help navigate the road ahead.