Most people will have a drink or two at some point in their lives. In fact, alcoholic beverages are served at countless functions and establishments, and legal consumption is hardly frowned upon. In some instances, it’s actually encouraged. However, when drinking leads to consequences like job loss, DUI charges, damaged relationships, and money issues, continuing to drink is a sign of a fast-developing problem.
Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder typically develops in several distinct phases. Initially, most people drink in a recreational and highly social capacity. Over time, some start drinking on a regular or habitual basis. When alcohol consumption is heavy and recurring, it can eventually lead to alcohol dependency. At this stage, it is no longer possible to stop drinking without experiencing a range of unpleasant and potentially dangerous withdrawal effects.
Alcohol abuse lies just between regular alcohol consumption and outright dependency. When someone is abusing alcohol, although they might not have a full-blown addiction, they’re living on a dangerous precipice and can fall headlong into a challenging, ongoing battle for their freedom. This makes being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse incredibly important. If you or someone you love is drinking heavily despite facing serious consequences, getting help now can make the recovery process far shorter and easier.
Physical Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Regular alcohol consumption takes a major toll on the body. It overwhelms the liver, elevates a person’s blood pressure, and weakens the immune system. When people drink heavily and regularly, they often deal with chronic fatigue and a general sense of ill-health. When people are actively intoxicated, they may have:
- Slurred speech
- Difficultly concentrating
- Balance and coordination issues
and more. When a person consumes too much alcohol within a short period of time, they may wake up with a hangover. A hangover is a series of physical and mental symptoms that occur after excessive drinking. These symptoms include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Sensitivity to bright lights and loud sounds
- Excessive sweating
People who abuse alcohol frequently contend with hangovers. In fact, if they drink daily, they may seem to be hung over all of the time. Drinking heavily can also impact how people care for themselves. Heavy drinkers tend to pay less attention to their personal hygiene and may have poor nutritional habits.
Psychological Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
As people grow closer to alcohol dependency, they usually develop issues with denial. Even though others around them might clearly see how heavy drinking is negatively impacting their lives, those who are abusing alcohol increasingly assert that they’re fully in control of their drinking. While recreational or social drinking is done with family, friends, or groups of casual acquaintances, people who abuse alcohol may begin drinking on their own. They might also attempt to hide how much they’ve been drinking or the fact that they’ve been drinking at all.
Drinking alcohol triggers action in the brain’s reward center. This incites the release of “feel good” chemicals known as neurotransmitters. When people drink, neurotransmitters like glutamate, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and Seratonin are affected. Certain neurotransmitters are produced and released in abundance, and others are greatly inhibited. Over time, this causes a range of psychological symptoms to present.
Among some of the more common psychological symptoms of alcohol abuse are:
- Lowered inhibitions
- Increased depression
- Increased anxiety
Sadly, common catalysts for alcohol abuse include undiagnosed and untreated anxiety disorders and clinical depression. Thus, although many people start drinking to elevate their moods or self-treat their psychological discomfort, continued alcohol use can actually undermine these efforts. Where drinking once provided relief, it will eventually heighten the symptoms of chronic anxiety and depression.
Behavioral Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Because alcohol consumption lowers a person’s inhibitions, people who drink heavily often engage in uncharacteristic behaviors. Heavy drinkers may take risks that they wouldn’t take while sober. This includes engaging in high-risk sexual activities, saying or doing inappropriate things, and frequently getting into physical altercations. Much like the changes that people experience in their emotions or moods while drinking, the behavioral signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse are an indication of significant changes in the brain’s chemistry, it’s reward pathway, and the production and release of neurotransmitters.
When the behavioral symptoms of alcohol abuse start to present, people become more likely to isolate, drink alone, and attempt to hide their alcohol consumption. Their insistence that they don’t have a drinking problem will increase as well. Due to lowered inhibitions and the increased likelihood of financial troubles, some heavy drinkers lie or steal in order to gain access to alcohol as well. These changes in personality and behaviors often cause significant damages in their personal and professional relationships.
Are the Effects of Alcohol Abuse Reversible?
People who abuse alcohol are at high risk of developing alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction. Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, lifelong disease. Rather than being cured, alcohol addiction must be successfully managed over time by maintaining an ongoing commitment to recovery. Whenever the body can no longer function without drinking, people are considered to be alcohol dependent or addicted to alcohol. At this time, abstaining for even just five to 10 hours can cause the body to send out widespread distress signals in the form of withdrawal symptoms. However, even if alcohol withdrawal symptoms do not present this quickly, they’ll likely start whenever a person’s normal drinking schedule has been tapered, slowed, or stopped outright. Among some of the earliest symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
These distress signals are an indication that the brain is no longer able to produce or release important neurotransmitters in an acceptable way. What many heavy drinkers do not know is that prolonged alcohol abuse actually causes several different types of brain damage. Not only does heavy drinking alter brain chemistry, but it can additionally create changes in general brain function and in the brain’s physical size.
Prolonged alcohol use:
- Inhibits or alters the functioning of all brain mechanisms
- Greatly increases the risks of stroke, dementia, seizures, and brain cancer
- Radically alters the brain’s neural pathways
- Causes neuron damage across all areas of the brain
The good news is that much of the damage caused by alcohol abuse can be reversed. The sooner that people seek addiction treatment and stop drinking, the less brain damage they’re likely to have. Seeking help early-on also limits the likelihood of severe and irreversible damage, and makes the recovery process easier. Even after many heavy drinkers have completed rehab, they still struggle with the symptoms of altered brain chemistry such as:
- Heightened depression or anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Insomnia and other sleep troubles
- Feelings of restlessness
Recovering from heavy alcohol use takes time. The good news is that those who attend professional rehab are given the skills and tools that they need for successfully overcoming the challenges that they’ll face throughout each stage of this process.
Do You Think You Have a Problem?
Abusing alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean that you drink every day. Some people drink heavily only on the weekends or at special events. Binge drinking is another sign of alcohol abuse. This is drinking extremely large quantities of alcohol within extremely short periods of time. Binge drinkers often have blackout episodes. They also have an incredibly high risk of overdose, self-harm, and accidental injury.
It’s additionally important to note that being able to continue paying your bills, going to work on time, attending classes or handling other important tasks doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a drinking problem. Many people are functional alcoholics or alcoholics who continue to function at seemingly normal levels. Functional alcoholics are often assisted by enabling individuals who cover for their mistakes or ameliorate the consequences of their addiction in other ways.
If drinking has negatively impacted your physical or mental health, or if it’s had short and long-term effects on your behavior, getting help now can limit the likelihood of potentially long-term damages. Although alcohol abuse is a step on the path towards addiction, full-blown alcohol dependence can happen at any time.
Does Your Loved One Need Help?
Your loved one may have a drinking problem if they’ve been exhibiting the physical, mental, and behavioral changes mentioned above. The good news is that there are many ways to encourage people to seek treatment when they need it. You can join a support group for the family, friends, or spouses of addicts. You can also work with a rehab counselor or intervention specialist.
At Mississippi Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, we offer a diverse range of support services and treatment options. Call us today to get the help you need. Our counselors are always standing by.