Since alcohol is so widely accepted in modern culture, it can be difficult to know when a person’s drinking has crossed the line from casual to problematic. Identifying alcohol abuse as opposed to misuse is equally challenging. This is why we say it is important for anyone who thinks a drinking problem might be present to understand and be able to identify the tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse. Those signs are a warning to get help right away.
The NHS defines alcohol misuse as drinking more than what is considered lower-risk by government standards. For alcohol use to be regarded as abuse, a drinker needs to be routinely at the upper end of misuse. That would mean consuming between 15 and 35 units of alcohol every week.
Unfortunately, the guidelines provided by the NHS does not tell the whole story. That’s because units of alcohol are based on what the average adult body can process in one hour of drinking. But people are different. The amount of alcohol your body can process in one hour might be different compared to your spouse, partner, or friends. So to get a handle on what alcohol abuse looks like, we have to look at other factors.
According to commonly accepted standards, you may have a drinking problem if you:
These are all warning signs that suggest something is going on. They don’t necessarily mean that a doctor would clinically diagnose you as an alcohol abuser or alcoholic, but they are cause for concern to the degree that you should seek professional help.
The warning signs listed above are just a starting point for identifying alcohol abuse. There are more concrete signs that a doctor or mental health professional would look at to determine whether your drinking habits constitute abuse or not. If you exhibit any or all of the signs and symptoms below, we urge you to get professional help right away. You could already be an alcohol abuser on your way to full-blown alcoholism.
Assess yourself for the following:
These concrete signs of alcohol abuse represent a serious warning to get help. While it’s true that not all alcohol abusers are full-blown alcoholics, it is also true that alcohol abuse left treated almost always leads to alcoholism in the end. Why? Because of the tolerance-dependence cycle.
Alcohol is a drug that is just as dangerous as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. The psychoactive effects of alcohol alter the brain in ways that are scientifically measurable. For example, alcohol in the brain interferes with the normal operation of certain neurotransmitters and receptors. This is why you feel drunk after consuming more alcohol than your body can naturally process.
Alcohol abuse is dangerous in this regard because long-term abuse can lead to tolerance. What is tolerance? It is a physical condition characterised by the body getting used to a certain amount of alcohol in the system to the extent that the drinker no longer feels the same level of pleasure. Think of it in terms of a callous.
A brand-new guitar player just learning his instrument will experience pain in his fingertips as a result of the guitar strings cutting into the skin. But with enough practice, the fingers develop calluses, and the pain disappears. An experienced guitar player can play for hours and not feel a thing. Alcohol tolerance works much the same way.
The brain can get to the point where it just doesn’t derive the same amount of pleasure from drinking. The only solution is to drink more. This is what engages and perpetuates the tolerance-dependence cycle. Answering tolerance by consuming larger volumes of alcohol leads to dependence over time.
If you or someone you love exhibits any of the tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse, the only answer is treatment. Professional treatment at the hands of experienced medical professionals and counsellors interrupts the tolerance-dependence cycle and helps the drinker get his or her life back on track. We urge you to seek help right away if you recognise any of the signs listed above. The sooner you get treatment, the less damage alcohol will do to your mind and body.