How can you determine if you abuse alcohol, or are in fact already an alcoholic?
Although the criteria for alcohol dependence are specific, they are almost the same as those for alcohol abuse. The major difference between the two has to do with the severity of the symptoms and signs.
Signs Of Alcoholism
A person who depends on alcohol needs it every day. They typically have a high tolerance, meaning that they need to drink increasingly more to feel the effects.
An alcoholic also suffers from withdrawal symptoms and will often drink to avoid these. Withdrawal symptoms include tremors, anxiety, insomnia, sweating, depression, nausea, headache, fatigue and irritability.
Withdrawal and tolerance are both telling symptoms of alcoholism. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of control – No matter how badly you want to, you can’t stop yourself from drinking in excess too often.
- Continue having drinks despite the financial, legal and personal problems that it causes.
- Allowing your daily activities and responsibilities to be dominated by alcohol and drinking.
Various screening tools can help you determine whether somebody has alcoholism. One such tool is CAGE, a questionnaire designed to measure the severity of a persons’ drinking problem. If the answer to two or more CAGE questions is “yes”, professional medical assistance should be sought.
The 4 screening questions are:
- Are you annoyed when people criticize your drinking?
- Do you ever want to reduce your drinking?
- Do you ever drink first thing in the morning to get over your hangover, or to steady your nerves?
- Do you ever feel guilty or bad about drinking?
A medical professional often asks questions from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to diagnose alcohol abuse. These questions should be answered based on alcohol use in the past year.
- Have you been in situations where you drank much more than what you intended?
- Have you carried on drinking although it made you anxious or depressed, or contributed to other health problems?
- Have you had symptoms linked to alcohol withdrawal?
- From the time when you started drinking, have you lost interest in hobbies or other activities?
- Have you been in situations caused by drinking where the chance of harming yourself or others was increased (e.g. drinking and driving)?
- Have you had the urge to use alcohol?
- Have you had trouble with the law as a result of alcohol-related incidents?
Signs Of Alcohol Abuse
The only difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is a matter of degree. If you abuse alcohol, but don’t depend on it, you could experience some tolerance or small withdrawal symptoms, but it won’t be as severe as what a true alcoholic experiences.
If you are an abuser, the first signs will likely be ignoring your responsibilities in order to drink. You might call in sick to work regularly to nurse a hangover, or you hardly ever spend time with your family because you would rather go out drinking.
More signs of alcohol abuse are:
- Carry on using alcohol even though you get hurt or sick from drinking.
- Take risks when drinking – you may mix alcohol and prescription drugs to give you a bigger high, or drink and drive.
- Your drinking is associated with emotions, e.g. drinking to relieve stress or to be able to handle depression.
Difference Signs Of Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse
The signs of alcoholism are very similar to those of alcohol abuse, and the difference is often simply a question of intensity. It often happens that the last person to become aware that they have a drinking problem are the alcoholics themselves as they are in denial.
Some signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism are:
- Hiding your drinking from others.
- Drinking by yourself.
- Not remembering periods of time (blacking out).
- Not limiting the volume of alcohol consumed.
- Discarding activities and hobbies without apparent reason.
- Performing rituals and becoming annoyed or irritated when others comment on these.
- Being irritable close to drinking times.
- Feeling the urge to drink.
- Guzzling down drinks to get drunk and feel good.
- Stashing alcohol in unusual places.
- Running afoul of the law (caused by drinking).
- Problems with relationships (triggered by drinking).
- Financial problems (caused by drinking).
- Work related problems (drinking as root cause, or caused directly by drinking).
- Sweating, nausea, or shaking when not drinking.
- Needing large quantity of alcohol before feeling any effect.
An alcohol abuser could have many of these symptoms and signs, without having the withdrawal symptoms that alcoholics do, nor would they have the same compulsion to drink.
The problems associated with alcohol dependence are severe and affect people psychologically, physically and socially. For people with a drinking problem, it becomes a compulsion and takes priority over anything else. It can also stay undetected for many years.
How to Prevent Alcohol Abuse From Turning Into Alcoholism
People in the abuse phase of their drinking can turn things around before becoming an alcoholic. Most people start drinking simply to relax and de-stress at the end of a hard day, but this can turn into abuse.
So, how can you relax without consuming alcohol?
When you feel like drinking, try one of these alternatives instead:
- Eating something sweet
- Starting a hobby or another healthy activity
- Talking with a friend