Am I Drinking too much Alcohol? Signs of Abuse and Addiction
Alcohol addiction isn’t always obvious – especially to the person abusing alcohol. Addiction can also build up gradually over time, so what might begin as harmless social drinking could easily spiral into an addiction if you’re not careful.
If you’re worried that you might be drinking too much, or if someone close to you has expressed concerns over the amount of alcohol you consume, it is helpful to understand the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and find out what help is available to help you overcome your addiction.
How much is too much when it comes to alcohol?
Most people feel that we can control our alcohol intake and can stop whenever we want to, however, alcohol use disorder can creep up on us.
The UK Chief Medical Officer recommends men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and these units should ideally be spread over three days (1).
For reference, one small glass of wine is 1.5 units, a bottle of beer is usually 1.7 units, and a single shot of spirits is 1 unit (2).
It is recommended to have several non-drinking days per week, however, a study recently published in The Lancet shows that no amount of alcohol consumption is considered safe (3).
What are the signs of alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction shows itself in several ways, and some of the symptoms may be behavioural, physical, or psychological. If you are worried that you might have an alcohol addiction, you may recognise some of the following symptoms in yourself.
Behavioural signs of alcohol addiction include:
- You often find yourself drinking alone
- You lie to others about the amount you drink
- You withdraw from your close friends and family
- You often drink until you pass out
- You feel that you need to drink alcohol in order to feel normal
Physical signs of alcohol addiction include:
- You develop withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking for a while
- You constantly wake up hungover and dehydrated
- You find yourself sweating more often, even without physically exerting yourself
- Sudden changes in appetite resulting in weight gain or weight loss
- Constant fatigue
- Suddenly feeling anxious or depressed
- Increased paranoia
- Mood swings and irritability
- Regularly feeling despondent or hopeless
- Intense cravings for alcohol daily
Other, more subtle signs that you might have an alcohol addiction include:
- Setting limits on the amount of alcohol you are allowed to drink but not sticking to them
- Only making plans that centre around drinking alcohol
- Having close friends or family members comment on the amount you are drinking
- You reach for alcohol to combat uncomfortable emotions such as stress, anger, or sadness
- You are secretly concerned about your own drinking.
What are the risks that come with alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction brings with it a range of short-term and long-term health risks and side effects. Many of the side effects can be reversed when you have stopped drinking, however, some of the side effects of more severe alcohol addiction can be lifelong, irreversible, and can even lead to death.
Short-term side effects of alcohol addiction include:
- Slurred speech
- Upset stomach
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Impaired judgement
Long-term side effects of alcohol addiction include:
- Liver disease
- Kidney damage
- Relationship breakdowns
- High blood pressure leading to heart attack or stroke
- Increased risk of injuries due to poor judgement
- Increased risk of legal troubles due to poor judgement
- Increased risk of developing certain cancers such as mouth and throat cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer (4)
- Issues gaining or retaining employment
- Sexual dysfunction
- Brain damage
Getting help for alcohol addiction
The sooner you seek help for your addiction, the easier the addiction will be to treat. Treating the addiction as soon as possible will also increase your chances of making a full recovery and ensure you suffer no long-term consequences of your drinking.
It might be difficult and scary to admit that you have a problem with controlling your alcohol consumption, but it is important to know that help is available to you no matter what stage of addiction you are at.
Admitting you need help takes a great deal of strength and courage and your close friends and family will be proud of you and will be there to guide and support you throughout your journey to sobriety.
There are several different types of treatment available and the treatment you need will depend on your level of addiction.
- Alcohol detox: Detoxing your body from alcohol is the first step in treating alcohol addiction. This involves stopping any consumption of alcohol and will likely result in unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms typically last anywhere between a few days to two weeks, however, they can last longer if the addiction was severe. Once you have detoxed, you can focus on other treatments to help you manage your addiction.
- The residential addiction treatment facility: A residential treatment facility is where you are checked in to a clinic for a set amount of time and do not leave until your treatment is complete. During your treatment within the facility, you will have round-the-clock access to medical professionals and will likely be prescribed medication to counteract the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Within the facility, you will also have access to therapy, mindfulness classes and will learn coping techniques that you can use long after you have left.
- Outpatient treatment: Outpatient treatment is when you stay in your own home but visit an outpatient clinic on set days. This might be daily to begin with and become weekly as you learn to deal with your addiction better. You will have access to medical professionals and go to therapy during your treatment, however, all of your usual triggers will still be available to you, and it may be more difficult to overcome your cravings while you are still living at home.
- Therapy: Group therapy or individual therapy can be beneficial to you to help you figure out your triggers or underlying issues that led to your addiction. Many times, addiction occurs alongside other mental health issues such as depression, and you can never overcome your addiction until the co-occurring mental health issues have been addressed. Therapy will address these issues and teach you coping mechanisms as well as allow you to talk about anything that you feel may be a stumbling block for you.
- Peer-support groups: Peer-support groups such as AA or other 12-step programs are incredibly beneficial to anyone trying to overcome an addiction. They introduce you to other people who have gone through the same journey you are on, and they can offer a range of advice and support to help you through. Many of them offer a mentor program in which you are assigned to a person who is a long-standing member of the group that you can contact at any time if you feel that you are struggling. These support groups are often free to join and only ask for donations. They are also beneficial for friends or family members who might want to understand what you are going through and how to support you.
- Behavioural therapy: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy that aims to change the way you think about and approach certain situations. It helps you overcome situations that might initially be overwhelming by teaching you how to break them down into smaller, easier to manage segments. It also helps to change the way you think from a negative aspect into a more positive aspect. It is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression but can also be used in the treatment of addiction, especially if anxiety or depression are co-occurring issues.