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Alcohol Abuse – What You Need to Know

Alcoholism is an addiction that slowly and steadily becomes more severe for the afflicted and those around them. Although extremely common at over 3 million cases in the United States per year, alcoholism is often not openly discussed. Part of the reason for this is a lack of general understanding for the disease. Alcoholism can take many forms, and is not limited to the stereotype of individuals who have faced significant consequences due to their disease.

Signs of Alcoholism

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the warning signs of an alcohol abuse disorder are:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Inability to stop drinking
  • Negative aftereffects
  • Interference in personal or professional life due to drinking
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Continuing to drink despite negative effects
  • Cutting back on hobbies to drink
  • Increased risky situations due to alcohol
  • Consuming more alcohol over time
  • Continuing to drink despite negative mental effects
  • Physical and mental withdrawal symptoms

Many of these warning signs are not easily observable. However, some of the more obvious signs that someone may be struggling with alcohol abuse are:

  • Drinking often
  • Drinking quickly
  • Lying about alcohol consumption
  • Inability to stop drinking
  • Skipping responsibilities to drink
  • Performing dangerous tasks while intoxicated
  • Using alcohol to self-medicate
  • Poor mood when not drinking
  • Experiencing physical, social, personal, or emotional problems from drinking

Even someone who does not drink until blacking out nightly can struggle with alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, alcoholism is a complex disease due to changes in the brain structure.

Causes of Alcoholism

Alcoholism occurs over a span of time where the brain becomes chemically dependent on alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant that acts on chemicals that affect the nervous system – specifically GABA and dopamine. While dopamine is responsible for feelings of happiness and contentment, GABA is directly responsible for maintaining normal levels of excitement in the body and brain. When alcohol is consumed often, the nervous system adapts by producing more of these neurotransmitters. In this way, the brain becomes dependent on alcohol to feel “normal.”

However, this only explains the chemical dependency on alcohol. The disease itself likely has a genetic component, although environmental stressors can play a part in its development as well.

Effects of Alcoholism

Even if the results of alcohol abuse are not immediately apparent, alcoholism is a progressive disease. Alcohol abuse and dependency can result in significant damages to health, relationships, and careers. Since alcohol abuse starts slowly, individuals afflicted may not see the consequences until the effects of alcoholism become dire.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, know that you’re not alone. With varying treatment options, an alcohol addiction can be treated, allowing improved quality of life and freedom from a chemical and mental dependency.