Understanding Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is commonly used in today’s society as a way to celebrate, socialize and even enhance religious ceremonies. Over time, however, drinking can have serious consequences on our health. Some people who start as casual drinkers will continue to only have the occasional drink. Others will become substance abusers who depend on alcohol to manage their emotions, relieve stress, or deal with daily life. In order to recover from alcoholism, it’s vital to understand the effects of alcohol abuse on both your health and behavior. Learn more about alcohol abuse, signs and symptoms of abuse, its effects on the body and mind, and how an alcohol abuser can get help.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking characterized by the consumption of alcohol at a level that interferes with mental and physical health, as well as social responsibilities. People who abuse alcohol may fail to fulfill school, work, or home responsibilities. They may also drink in situations that are physically dangerous to their health and to the health of others, such as driving a car drunk. An alcoholic may continue to drink despite serious family, health, or legal problems. People with alcohol abuse problems have unhealthy or hazardous drinking habits, such as drinking every day or drinking large amounts of alcohol at a time.

Signs and Symptoms

Alcohol abuse is a very serious medical condition that can have both short-term and long-term effects. Physical signs of alcohol over-consumption can include slurred or incoherent speech, delayed reflexes, poor balance and clumsiness, loss of consciousness, black-outs, and stomach pains, nausea or vomiting. It’s also possible for a person to reach a high level of intoxication resulting in alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening condition in which the person stops breathing. Alcohol abusers often experience a loss of control over the amount they consume, and may carry out dangerous legal, health, or financial behaviors. An increase in expressions of sadness, anger or other emotions is also a common symptom of alcohol abuse, as well as insomnia after drinking.

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Abuse of alcohol, or consumption of more alcohol than the body can handle, can result in liver damage and various other serious health conditions. One of the most serious risks of excessive drinking is becoming addicted to alcohol, which means the person is psychologically and physically dependent on the substance and cannot function without it. Long-term consumption of alcohol can cause brain cell death, which can lead to brain disorders and lowered physical and mental function. Alcohol abusers are also at risk for pancreatitis and nerve damage.

Getting Help

Before you can get help for your alcohol abuse, it’s important to accept that you may have a problem and be prepared to cut back on alcohol, or to cut it out completely. Many people with substance abuse problems are helped by counseling or advice from a physician. If the person is using alcohol to help manage other illnesses, it’s crucial to treat the underlying condition to prevent a relapse. If the person is alcohol-dependent, detoxification may be needed to help prevent withdrawal symptoms. People with serious alcohol-related problems may need to be admitted to a hospital or treatment center for detox.

Helping a Loved One

It can be difficult to help a friend or loved one who is struggling with alcohol abuse. People with addictive behaviors are often in denial about their situation, and may be unwilling to accept help or treatment. When trying to help a loved one, focus on the consequences, the psychological distress, and the emotional pain that drinking can cause the user and their family and friends. Avoid talking to the person while they are intoxicated, as the message will get across better if the person is sober. Avoid lecturing the person and maintain rapport. Offer your loved one help in getting treatment, and escort them to the source of help if needed.

Resources for Teens

Teens are particularly vulnerable to alcohol use, partially due to peer pressure and the desire to experiment. Physical changes during puberty may make teens feel self-conscious and more likely to take risks to try and fit in or please others. Having a history of alcohol abuse in the family also increases a teen’s risks of using alcohol to cope. When talking to your teen about alcohol, ask your child’s views on the subject, share facts, and debunk any myths. It’s important to discuss the many reasons not to drink, and prepare to discuss your own drinking. Help your child plan ways to handle peer pressure and avoid situations that can have negative consequences, such as unsupervised parties.

By Ted Burgess