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The Warning Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Abuse

Statistics reported by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) regarding alcohol abuse in the United States are frightening. Based on a 2015 survey, the NSDUH found:

  • Alcohol use is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., with about 88,000 people dying every year from alcohol-related causes.
  • 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 7.0 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.
  • Over 15 million of those ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder, as did more than 600,000 of those ages 12-17.

The prevalence of alcohol-related driving fatalities is also well-documented. The NSDUH reported almost 10,000 such deaths in 2014, accounting for 31% of all driving fatalities that year. And traffic deaths are just one of the potential life-threatening outcomes of alcohol overconsumption. According to WebMD, alcohol contributes to four out of every 10 fatal falls nationwide, among other risks.

What is alcohol addiction?

What experts once diagnosed as alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse is now called alcohol use disorder (AUD). Treatment providers and medical professionals usually diagnose AUD when a person can no longer limit or stop using alcohol even though the behavior is causing serious problems in their life.

There are many warning signs that alcohol use may be negatively impacting a person’s life. Physicians often use criteria from the NIAAA, adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), to diagnose an alcohol use disorder, evaluating the number of warning signs or symptoms to diagnose the disorder as either mild, moderate, or severe.

Warning signs of alcohol use disorder

  • Regularly using alcohol to relax or de-stress
  • Choosing alcohol use over responsibilities
  • Drinking at inappropriate times, drinking alone or hiding your drinking
  • Drinking to feel comfortable in social situations
  • Inability to stop or control drinking, even when you want to
  • Lying about drinking
  • Risky behavior – driving, swimming, having unsafe sex
  • Needing increasingly more alcohol to obtain desired effects (tolerance)
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships with friends, family or co-workers
  • Becoming socially isolated from family and friends, especially those that don’t drink
  • Centering activities around drinking: no longer participating in hobbies, sports, or other activities not related to drinking
  • Health, financial and/or legal problems
  • Having temporary blackouts or amnesia about time spent drinking
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Irritability, mood swings (especially when not drinking)
  • Feeling hung-over or withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
  • Poor attention to hygiene and appearance

Any of these warning signs may signal an alcohol problem, but some are more indicative of a serious issue. If you have built up a tolerance to alcohol, tried to quit but can’t, put drinking at a higher priority than loved ones or responsibilities or experience withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, these are signs that drinking is a serious problem in your life.

Having one or two symptoms from this list – for example, using alcohol to relax – doesn’t necessarily mean you have an alcohol use disorder. However, it does indicate you need to take an honest look at your alcohol use to determine if there might be a potential problem. As with most mental or physical health issues, early intervention usually results in the highest rate of long-term success.

Does this sound like you?

It can be easy to overlook our own problematic alcohol use. We can be selective in our memories, possibly downplaying embarrassing or risky behavior while drinking or minimizing negative consequences. But if drinking has caused you problems, you probably know, at least subconsciously, that your drinking habits are not healthy.

To get an idea as to whether alcohol has become a problem for you, ask yourself the following questions, taken from the DSM-5 and used to help diagnose alcohol use disorder. Be brutally honest with yourself as you decide whether any of the following symptoms apply to your alcohol use over the past year:

Have you:

  1. Ever had more to drink, or continued to drink longer, than planned?
  2. Tried to cut down or stop drinking, more than once, but been unsuccessful?
  3. Spent a lot of your time drinking, or recovering from after effects?
  4. Wanted a drink so badly, that’s all you could think about?
  5. Found that drinking, or the aftereffects, interfered with family, home, school, or job?
  6. Continued to drink even though it is causing trouble with family or friends?
  7. Given up activities you previously enjoyed in order to drink?
  8. Engaged in risky behaviors when drinking, like driving, swimming, unsafe sex, more than once?
  9. Continued to drink despite mental or physical effects, like depression, anxiety or other consequences? Had a memory blackout?
  10. Found you had to drink increasingly more alcohol to get the desired effect?
  11. Found that as alcohol effects wore off, you experienced trouble sleeping, shakiness, sweating, nausea, racing heart, seizure, or sensed things that weren’t there?

According to the DSM-5, those with 2-3 symptoms may be diagnosed with mild AUD; those with 4-5 symptoms with moderate AUD; and those with 6 or more symptoms with severe AUD.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder

If you suspect you have an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to seek professional guidance. Start by talking with your family physician or a treatment provider. They can help you connect with the resources you need to start the recovery process. If you have a mild AUD, a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) may give you the support and tools you need to live a sober life. If you are diagnosed with a moderate or severe AUD, it’s important to seek professional treatment by addiction specialists. Even those diagnosed with an AUD at the most severe level can find recovery through professional treatment.

Turning Point of Tampa

The comprehensive alcohol and drug dependency programs at Turning Point of Tampa combine intense therapy and compassionate care with the 12-Step model for addiction treatment. Over the last three decades we have helped thousands of clients change the course of their lives by developing the coping skills needed to live a sober life.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.