Defining Alcoholism (Alcohol Use Disorder)
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a progressive but treatable neurological condition in which a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. A form of addiction, alcoholism affects every aspect of a person’s life and withdrawal can be deadly. It’s also unfortunately common in the US, with 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older meeting the criteria for AUD.
Alcoholism is characterized by the compulsive and continued use of alcohol even in the presence of serious negative consequences. A person with alcoholism is also both physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol.
The Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is progressive and has five major stages.
Pre-Alcoholism. In early AUD, a person drinks to have a good time, to increase their confidence or self-esteem, or to suppress troublesome emotions. Some pre-alcoholics also begin drinking to help themselves fall asleep or to self-medicate other health conditions. Many early alcoholics drink for more than one of these reasons.
Early Alcoholism (Prodromal alcoholism). In this stage, excessive drinking becomes a habit. Alcoholic blackouts start, along with lying about drinking and obsessive thinking about drinking.
Middle Alcoholic. Alcohol dependence becomes established in this stage. People begin failing to meet their obligations, missing, or skipping school or work to drink, endure persistent hangovers, and experience irritability and anger outbursts when unable to get a drink.
End-stage alcoholism. This stage is very dangerous, as a person’s health is poor and getting worse. At this point, an alcoholic’s life is centered around using alcohol, and being without a drink for just a few hours can prompt alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol cravings become constant at this stage, and quitting alcohol must be done in a detox facility.
Recovery. Recovery is the goal of all interventions in alcoholism. In recovery, a person is in remission from active addiction and in a state of continuously improving physical, emotional, psychological, and social conditions.
Early Signs of Alcoholism
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one might be addicted to alcohol, the early signs of alcoholism include:
- Drinking more than intended
- Drinking to eliminate anxiety, bolster self-esteem and confidence, or drinking to suppress emotional or physical pain
- Trying to reduce one’s consumption of alcohol but failing to do so, or failing to sustain a lower intake of alcohol
- Being unable to enjoy activities without having a drink
- Hiding the amount of alcohol one drinks
- Engaging in risky behavior while drinking
- Losing track of time while drinking
- Failing to meet responsibilities due to drinking
- Legal issues because of drinking, such as DUIs or DWIs.
Physical Symptoms of Alcoholism
A person doesn’t need to have all these physical symptoms to meet the criteria for alcoholism. They include:
- Increased tolerance to alcohol—needing to drink more and more to get the same effects
- An increase in hangovers
- Blackouts. A blackout isn’t unconsciousness. Rather, it’s a period in which a person has poor or no memories due to their drinking. This happens because large amounts of alcohol impair the brain’s ability to form memories.
- Slurred speech
- An increase in minor injuries due to impaired coordination
- Unsteady gait
- Altered liver enzymes
- Stomach or esophageal ulcers
- Fatty liver disease or other liver diseases, like hepatitis and cirrhosis
- Intense cravings for alcohol. Cravings are both physical and psychological
- Sleep problems—also, an inability to get any sleep without drinking
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
Psychological Symptoms of Alcoholism
- Irritability and mood swings
- Being unable to feel good without drinking
- Preoccupation with drinking
- Obsessive thoughts about drinking
- Impaired memory, impaired concentration
- Inability to manage stress or anxiety without drinking
Behavioral Signs of Alcoholism
- Failing to meet one’s obligations at work or school, a drop in the quality of one’s work or school performance
- Failure to meet one’s personal obligations
- Legal issues due to drinking
- Hiding how much one is drinking
- Canceling other activities to drink
- Isolating oneself from friends and family
- Drinking in secret
When Treatment is Needed
When a person cannot stop drinking even after trying to stop, or when a person continues to drink even though the consequences of drinking have been severe and negative, treatment is needed. However, it’s wise to seek treatment if a person even suspects they may have a problem with alcohol. No one is required to hit rock bottom before seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Contact Agape, Even If You’re Unsure
If you or a loved one are having problems with alcohol, help is available. Alcoholism can be halted, but it cannot be resolved by simply abstaining from alcohol for a sufficient period of time. To safely recover, it’s important for heavy alcohol users to receive professional monitoring and care. You’ll also learn new coping skills and effective relapse prevention strategies. Call us today to get started.