Understanding the Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Strictly defined, alcoholism is a repeated pattern of alcohol abuse in the face of negative consequences. Except in the most severe cases, this behavior pattern can sometimes be difficult to recognize. If you think that a person in your life may be suffering from alcoholism, it’s important to know what exactly you’re looking for.
Repeatedly abusing alcohol can have a profound impact on a user’s health, and it can also cause serious accidents if left unchecked. Alcoholism can affect a user’s social life, and many people end up saying things they wouldn’t have otherwise said if they had been sober at the time. There is a big difference between engaging in alcohol abuse and suffering from fully fledged alcoholism, but the two are certainly related. Alcohol abuse often involves drinking amounts that are well past a person’s capacity to handle them safely, and many people’s frequent drinking habits begin in their early twenties. This frequent drinking produces an increased alcohol tolerance. When this happens, the user must consume more and more alcohol to feel the same sensations.
The Signs of Alcohol Abuse
As a person keeps drinking alcohol more frequently, the negative health effects can start to build slowly. With time, however, they tend to add up. Some of the immediate signs that a person has had too much to drink include trouble walking, incoherent rambling, general feelings of confusion, and bloodshot eyes.
Uncoordinated Movement and Trouble Walking
When a person exceeds their alcohol tolerance, this can affect the portions of the brain that are responsible for coordinating movement. This is one of the reasons that police often make a suspected drunk driver step out of their car and walk in a straight line.
Incoherent Rambling, Belligerent Behavior or Saying the Same Thing Over and Over
Some people get especially chatty when they drink more than they can handle. Often times, a person starts repeating themselves in an incoherent manner. Alcohol certainly affects the speech centers of the brain, but excessive drinking tends to affect different people in different ways. People with a history of abuse become angered more easily than normal, and some people can even be more likely to engage in violent acts when under the influence of alcohol. Whether these effects come from decreased inhibitions or an actual chemical effect is the subject of much research.
General Feelings of Confusion
Along with incoherent speech, a person with a high blood-alcohol level can sometimes forget where they are and become confused about what they are doing there. This mental state is often characterized by staring aimlessly off into space.
Red or Bloodshot Eyes
Alcohol is a natural vasodilator, meaning that it causes blood vessels to dilate. This is part of the reason that people have trouble standing up suddenly when they are under the influence, and it’s also why you will sometimes observe bloodshot eyes in an alcohol user who is over the legal limit to drive. A person’s eyes generally return to normal after they sober up.
How Dangerous Is Alcohol Abuse?
We live in a culture where alcohol is everywhere, so it’s not always easy for the signs of abuse to stand out. From happy hour with coworkers to going out for a night out on the town after a hard week of work, many of our social traditions actually involve mild to severe levels of alcohol abuse. People may end up ignoring concerns they have about their drinking habits because they don’t want to seem out of place among their friends, but the health effects can be hard to ignore. Common short-term effects of having too much to drink on a regular basis include experiencing frequent headaches, blacking out, vomiting, having blank spots in memory, seeing double, feeling dizzy and experiencing hearing loss.
Unfortunately, frequent abuse often spirals into alcoholism if a user does not get control of their habits. Repeated bouts of heavy drinking can lead to more serious psychological effects, including mania, depression, anger, suicidal thoughts and obsessive behavior that gets in the way of normal functioning.
Mania and Depression
The reduced social inhibitions that come with drinking alcohol can lead to feelings of mania, and feelings of invincibility can sometimes lead people to engage in risky behaviors. It’s very easy for a person with a serious alcohol dependency to feel like they’re on top of the world when they have their first few drinks, but this euphoria is often followed by a crash. Despair then sets in, and this despair can often lead to declarations by the user that they are done with drinking. Unless they seek qualified help, however, things are unlikely to change. In the most serious cases of alcohol-induced depression, a person might even have suicidal thoughts.
The archetype of an “angry drunk” isn’t just a myth. For many, it’s a serious reality. Worse yet, users who become belligerent when they drink alcohol will often feel like they have the right to abuse their family and friends. This behavior pattern becomes especially prevalent when the user was abused as a child themselves. If the user had a parent who would beat them, for example, they will frequently end up treating their own children this way when they get intoxicated enough.
Obsessive Behavior That Gets in the Way of Normal Functioning
Those with alcohol use disorder typically use drinking to escape unresolved pain in their lives, and drinking can sometimes be the only thing that makes their life feel worth living. Whenever a person reaches this point, they will often become obsessed with thinking about when they can have their next drink. This can lead to reduced productivity at work and lead the people around them to feel ignored.
In the most serious cases, alcoholism results in long-term physical effects like liver cirrhosis, tremors from withdrawal, vitamin deficiencies, sustained nerve damage and even cancer.
How Alcohol Dependency Leads to Liver Cirrhosis
The body treats alcohol as a toxin, and the liver is the organ responsible for keeping the bloodstream clean. When a person keeps flooding the body with toxic chemicals, the liver has to keep working harder and harder. A stressed liver can develop scar tissue, and too much scar tissue will start to interfere with normal organ function. What’s even scarier about liver cirrhosis is that the symptoms of the disease often don’t manifest until it’s too late.
Sustained Nerve Damage and Vitamin Deficiencies
Scientists now believe that alcoholic neuropathy, the damaging of nerve tissue that results from heavy drinking, may result from the fact that alcohol consumption leads to decreased levels of thiamine. Regardless of how healthy a person is, consuming alcohol always produces some amount of stress on the body. Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is one of the quickest substances to get depleted during times of stress. Thiamine is also critical for healthy nerve function, so it should come as no surprise that alcohol abuse and nerve damage tend to go hand in hand.
All of the above is in addition to the fact that repeated abuse increases the probability of drunk driving, fatal car crashes and other serious accidental injuries like bad falls and even drowning.
The social, legal and financial consequences of alcoholism can be just as dire as the physical consequences. Many people suffering from alcoholism, especially if they are unable to control their behavior, develop legal problems, suffer from feelings of social isolation and start lying so much to their loved ones that having a functional relationship becomes nearly impossible.
Being Proactive With Healthy Habits Before It’s Too Late
It should be obvious that the easiest way to stave off the effects of excessive drinking is to prevent frequent alcohol abuse from spiraling out of control in the first place. One of the keys is to build good habits early. If a person starts drinking frequently as a teenager, then research has demonstrated they are up to 500% more likely to become significantly dependent on alcohol than a person who starts drinking in their early twenties.
Recognizing the Spectrum of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is not a binary condition. As is the case with most diseases, there are varying degrees of alcohol addiction. Someone with a mild case of alcoholic dependency may still be able to function quite well at work, but in a severe case, an addicted individual can often no longer function at all. Rather than waiting for things to get bad enough for the user to hit rock bottom, the most proactive approach is to look ahead at where things might be headed and make a serious decision to prevent potential problems before they start.
Our professionals at Green Mountain Treatment Center evaluate multiple factors before we decide upon the appropriate course of treatment. These factors include:
Is a person repeatedly drinking larger quantities of alcohol than they can physically handle?
How many previous hobbies, interests and productive activities has a person given up since they have begun drinking more frequently?
While not every case that we take on at Green Mountain Treatment Center has progressed to the most serious levels, we do understand how important it is to reverse unproductive drinking habits before things spiral out of control. If you think that you or somebody in your life might be showing some of the signs of alcoholism, there are a few things that you can personally do to help.
Staging a Gentle Intervention
A lot of people are never willing to face their addictions on their own, but having a person who they feel truly cares about them can help a user find the courage to admit that things have gotten out of control. If you are staging a personal intervention to help another person confront their own need to change, then it’s very important to be non-judgmental, compassionate and trustworthy. If you are feeling like you would benefit from talking to a friend about your own excessive drinking, then it’s very important to find someone you can rely on to provide you with a safe place to express your feelings.
Bringing Up the Idea of Attending a Treatment Center
Many users rely on alcohol to give them temporary feelings of empowerment, and the idea of attending a treatment center can be daunting. Even if a person knows they have a problem, seeking help can often feel like giving up control. If you feel that someone in your life may be able to benefit from working with us at Green Mountain Treatment Center, then the best thing to do is approach the subject very gently. One of the most effective ways to bring up the idea of attending a treatment center is to help a person come to this conclusion for themselves. We all want to feel like the things we are doing are our idea, and very few people like to be told outright what to do. Questions like “Do you think talking about this to someone experienced might help?” can be very effective.
Our Approach to Treating Alcoholism at Green Mountain Treatment Center
Here at Green Mountain Treatment Center, we take a multifaceted approach that is based on care, compassion and experience. We know that every client is coming to us with their own unique set of circumstances, so we go out of our way to create a holistic treatment plan that treats the mind, the body and the spirit. In addition to the 12-step method, we provide meditation training, spiritual development services and therapeutic writing workshops. We also help clients to engage in traditional exercise methods like yoga, weight training and cardio. In all of our years of experience, we have found that this holistic approach helps to create lasting behavioral change, improved relationships and more effective treatment outcomes. If we had to sum up our philosophy in a nutshell, it would be that real healing results from addressing every aspect of life.