When Alcohol Becomes an Addiction
We’re all guilty of bad habits. Some of us visit the drive-thru more often than we’d care to admit. Some of us spend too much time staring at our phones when we could be connecting with the people around us. And some of us have a little too much to drink when we go out to let loose after a long week.
That’s all it is—a bad habit, right? Or is it something more?
Alcohol abuse can quickly cross the line from a bad habit to an addiction, so how do you know when your alcohol use has gone too far? Read on to learn more about recognizing the signs of alcoholism and when your “bad habit” has gotten out of control.
The Difference Between a Bad Habit and an Alcohol Addiction
With illegal drugs, it can be easy to determine if you have a problem. Any heroin at all, for example, is too much heroin. With alcohol, the line is a bit more blurred. Alcohol is common in our culture, and many adults enjoy beer, wine, or mixed drinks in social settings and at home. Even drinking to the point of drunkenness or sickness on occasion isn’t necessarily a red flag for alcoholism. So how do you know if your alcohol intake is a sign of addiction or merely a bad habit about which you can make a well-intentioned new year’s resolution next January 1st?
Alcoholism is a condition where your body has developed a true dependency on the presence of alcohol to function. When your body is dependent on alcohol, you’ll start to find you have to drink more than you used to in order to feel buzzed or get drunk. From there, you may begin to spend the majority of your time thinking about when you’ll get your next drink, drinking, or recovering from drinking. As dependency really takes hold, you may start to show signs of withdrawal whenever you haven’t had a drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, the shakes, sweating, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, irritability, anxiety, increased heart rate, headaches, insomnia, seizures, and more. If you have to drink to stave off these uncomfortable symptoms, you are likely suffering from alcoholism and need the help of medical professionals to safely detox.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh, good. I don’t have withdrawal symptoms, so my drinking isn’t a problem,” don’t click away quite yet. Alcohol abuse or “problem drinking” outside of official alcoholism is still extremely dangerous and can wreak havoc on your health and life.
Your drinking habits may be out of control if:
- Your drinking is negatively impacting your performance in class or at work.
- You find yourself regularly hiding how much you’re drinking from family or friends.
- Drinking frequently makes you feel angry, violent, or depressed.
- You’re facing financial hardship due to your excessive drinking.
- You often make unsafe decisions while drinking, such as driving under the influence.
- You’ve done something illegal or been arrested due to your actions while under the influence.
- You drink to the point of blacking out.
Even if you haven’t begun to exhibit physical withdrawal symptoms, these are all signs that your drinking habits are out of control and it’s time to seek help.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Determine if You Might Be an Alcoholic
If you’re still not sure whether or not your drinking is a real problem, take some time to answer the following questions from the revised Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST), as presented by CounsellingResource.
- Do you feel you are a normal drinker? (“normal” – drink as much or less than most other people)?
- Have you ever awakened the morning after some drinking the night before and found that you could not remember a part of the evening?
- Does any near relative or close friend ever worry or complain about your drinking?
- Can you stop drinking without difficulty after one or two drinks?
- Do you ever feel guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
- Have you ever gotten into physical fights when drinking?
- Has drinking ever created problems between you and a near relative or close friend?
- Has any family member or close friend gone to anyone for help about your drinking?
- Have you ever lost friends because of your drinking?
- Have you ever gotten into trouble at work because of drinking?
- Have you ever lost a job because of drinking?
- Have you ever neglected your obligations, your family, or your work for two or more days in a row because you were drinking?
- Do you drink before noon fairly often?
- Have you ever been told you have liver trouble such as cirrhosis?
- After heavy drinking have you ever had delirium tremens (D.T.’s), severe shaking, visual or auditory (hearing) hallucinations?
- Have you ever gone to anyone for help about your drinking?
- Have you ever been hospitalized because of drinking?
- Has your drinking ever resulted in your being hospitalized in a psychiatric ward?
- Have you ever gone to any doctor, social worker, clergyman or mental health clinic for help with any emotional problem in which drinking was part of the problem?
- Have you been arrested more than once for driving under the influence of alcohol?
- Have you ever been arrested, even for a few hours, because of other behavior while drinking?
Take a look at your responses. A pattern of yes responses (except for numbers 1 and 4, where you should look out for a response of “no”) indicates that it’s time to seek help for your drinking habits and alcohol abuse. Exhibiting symptoms of withdrawal when you haven’t had a drink in a while is also a sign that you should seek help right away.
What to Do If You Think You’re an Alcoholic
Whether you show the signs of physical dependency on alcohol or have found that your drinking is leading you to make unhealthy and dangerous decisions on a regular basis, inpatient rehab can help.
If you’re addicted to alcohol, a medically-supervised detox can help you break that physical addiction as safely and comfortably as possible. From there, a mixture of evidence-based treatment and experiential treatment within the framework of a 12-step program can give you the tools you need to address the root causes of your behaviors and avoid relapsing upon completion of the program.