How To Know You Have A Drinking Problem

How To Know You Might Have A Drinking Problem

Every year, billions of dollars are made through alcohol sales. Alcohol is depicted as being an integral part of every social event imaginable, from clubbing to weddings. It is advertised as being the key to relaxation, and the key to having fun. Alcohol commercials show drinkers as smiling, laughing, and living the best of life.

While the average beer commercial now includes the admonition to “drink responsibly,” there are many Americans who cannot manage to do so. Statistics indicate that over 15 million people struggle with alcohol addiction or dependency during any given year, and only a small percentage of them receive treatment for it. The following are some indications that you are among that population of people who will benefit from a change in perspective when it comes to alcohol use.

 

You Drink More Than You Intend To

Drinking more than you mean to is one of the first clues that alcohol might be problematic in your life. While many people will occasionally underestimate the effects of a drink on their level of sobriety, repeatedly failing to stay within your limits is a red flag.  There is something about your interaction with alcohol that is impeding your ability to use the stop button.

The very same part of our brain which prompts us to be responsible is the part that is most heavily affected by alcohol intoxication. For some people, that little voice of responsibility is silenced after only a couple of drinks, leading them to throw caution to the wind. If you are one of those people who  can’t stop drinking once starting, you have a problem relationship with alcohol. Continuing to ignore the fact that your stop button doesn’t work is a recipe for disaster.

 

You Drink To Be Someone Else

Alcohol is often part of a social gathering, but using it as a means to be able to socialize with others is a sign that you are using the intoxicating effects as a crutch. When used in moderation, alcohol can produce a relaxing effect, enabling a person to leave stress behind and enjoy some leisure time. When used to excess, the intoxication can lead us to behave in ways which we wouldn’t dare, otherwise.

Of all of the personality changes observable in someone who is intoxicated, the ability to be outgoing is the most consistent. Alcohol has earned the nickname of “liquid courage” for a reason. Relying on alcohol as a vehicle to speak up, confront problems, or escape social anxiety is indicative of a problem. You are not genuinely learning how to overcome your social limitations, and are relying on a substance to give the appearance of boldness.

 

You Engage In Risky Behaviors While Intoxicated

Spending time in the drunk tank or getting cited for a DWI are some of the more obvious signs that your drinking has become a problem, but there are many other drunken behaviors which put your life at risk. Every year, up to 18 percent of emergency room visits involve alcohol-related injuries. Physical altercations, daredevil stunts, drownings, and accidental falls are all associated with high levels of intoxication. Alcohol is also present in up to 22 percent of suicide deaths, and in up to 40% of attempts.

Risky sexual behaviors are also prone to increase while intoxicated. Most of us have heard the joke about no one being ugly at two in the morning. By the time the bar closes, our standards for our sexual behavior can be lowered to the point that we will hook up in ways that we would not dream of doing while sober. Factors such as potential for disease, unplanned pregnancy, or regret are all disregarded when the alcohol is driving our libido.

 

You Experience Guilt About Your Drinking

Guilt is a subjective feeling. What makes one person feel guilty may not bother another person, at all. What guilt does have in common for everyone, though, is that, when it is experienced, it feels awful. If you are experiencing guilt about your drinking behaviors or the effects of your drinking on others, you may have a problem relationship with alcohol. If you keep drinking, in spite of the guilt, you definitely have a problem. Wounding our own conscience through continuing to drink is a fast track to experiencing low self esteem and depression.

 

You Drink To Get Drunk

While some people accidentally cross the line from sipping a beverage to full-blown intoxication, there are others who know full well what they are getting into. If you are in the stage of purposefully lining up enough alcohol to get wasted, you are definitely in problem zone. Getting drunk is a form of escapism, and repeatedly using this dysfunctional method of escaping reality is a good indicator that there is something about your sober life which you are running from.

 

Others Say You Have A Drinking Problem

Your life journey belongs to you, but the opinions of friends and family can have a large impact on the quality of that journey. While they may be overly concerned about – or even biased over – your drinking behaviors, their discontent will be overflowing into their interactions with you. There comes a point where ignoring their repeated admonitions to quit drinking means that you are choosing your relationship with alcohol over your relationship with them. Putting that much insistence into asserting your right to drink is enough reason to give pause, and to consider exactly why it is so important that you hold onto the behavior.

The decision to defy the wishes of others that you stop drinking may have roots in a sense of stubbornness or desire to run your life in your own way. It may stem from resentment toward those who are asking you to stop. Or, it may have root in the fact that you are genuinely unable to stop yourself from imbibing on a regular basis. Any – or all – of these issues are better addressed in a therapist’s office than through the bottle.

 

Alcohol’s Legality Makes It Harder to Notice You Have A Problem

Alcohol's Legality Makes it Harder To Notice You Have A Problem

It’s important not to try and draw false equivalencies. There’s still a difference between heroin and eggnog. Individually, the damage done by alcohol is (at first glance) much smaller than the damage done by drugs like meth and cocaine, which overpower the senses so completely that they lead to addiction more often than other drugs.

But there’s one factor that heavily contributes to the death toll correctly attributed to alcohol: its ubiquity. Alcohol is legal, and available everywhere – and in our culture, it’s common (and even expected) to drink alcohol at least a few times a year, and often in very large amounts.

The fact that it’s accepted and culturally celebrated, and the subject of a respected industry and long-standing series of traditions means that we easily ignore the facts. The facts are that alcohol directly and indirectly leads to more deaths than any other drug (bar tobacco), and that alcohol continues to have a greater negative impact on society than no other substance, due to its effects on the body, on the mind, and on the next generation.

It’s also a little tougher to convince an alcoholic to get help, because alcohol is such an openly accepted and normal vice. You don’t have to hit rock bottom with alcohol to be completely addicted to it, yet it’s less obvious to someone that they have a problem than if they’d find themselves pining for a less legal substance. All addicts understand that their behavior is heavily stigmatized, and that they can’t help themselves – and that that’s a problem. But someone who struggles with an alcohol problem has any number of possible excuses to cling to.

 

Alcohol is a Dangerous Drug

It’s critical to highlight that, while drugs like heroin and methamphetamine are infamous for the damage they do to individuals, the damage they cause pales in comparison to death toll attributed to drinking. But exactly how is alcohol a dangerous drug?

Consumed by humans since the dawn of civilization (and likely even before it), alcohol is any beverage that contains ethanol, produced by the fermentation of grains and fruits, as well as other sources of sugar (honey, for example). The earliest forms of alcohol used grains such as barley and rice to make beer and wine, and honey to make mead. From the ancient city-states of the Fertile Crescent, to what would eventually become modern-day China; humans all over the world across all periods of history brewed and enjoyed their own brand of drink.

But alcohol’s history does not temper its negative effects on the body, and the brain. Ethanol enters the bloodstream after consumption and leads to what can be generalized as central nervous system impairment. It is what we call a depressant – a drug that slows several functions of the central nervous system, often through interactions with several different neurotransmitters that are responsible for things like motor control and coordination. The neurotransmitters alcohol interacts with include GABA, glutamate, serotonin, and dopamine.

This leads to several things. First, it leads to drunkenness. The state of being intoxicated can be described as a state of lowered inhibition, lowered anxiety, and lowered function. We’re generally slower to react, act clumsily, and struggle with clearly defined speech. Furthermore, high alcohol use begins to have an impact on the body as well. While it’s in our system, ethanol affects fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, causes our immune system to slow in response to infections, leads to slower wound healing, impairs our natural ability to counter shock from blood loss, and so on.

Second, it leads to adaptation. As alcohol use continues, the brain and body adapt by metabolizing it more efficiently. A side effect of this process is that as alcohol use becomes more frequent, the body interprets it as a normal thing – and begins to form a physical dependence. Going sober for too long, then, begins to lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Meanwhile, like other drugs, alcohol becomes a powerful coping mechanism. It’s cheap, doesn’t attract as much stigma as other drugs, and makes you feel either a little better, or a little less worried about your problems. But like any vicious cycle, using alcohol to escape from some problems tends to lead to a host of other issues.

While the body adapts to alcohol use through dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal, it’s important to remember that alcohol is still quite poisonous. Aside from the effects of acute alcohol poisoning, long-term alcohol use is correlated with a much higher chance of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stroke, liver disease, bone disease, and a variety of cancers, from esophageal cancer to pancreatic cancer.

Alcohol also causes deaths and illnesses in others, through alcohol-impaired traffic deaths, homicides, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Like many other drugs, alcohol has a widespread negative effect on individuals as well as society at large. However, it isn’t seen as dangerous – at least not as dangerous as other substances.

 

When a Problem Becomes Alcoholism

Like any form of drug use, there’s a difference between use and disorder. Only a fraction of people who use alcohol are alcoholic, but there are factors that heavily contribute to the development of alcoholism, including frequent binge drinking, using alcohol to overcome emotional stress, drinking at an early age, and inheriting alcoholism from close relatives.

Problem drinking and alcoholism separate each other by both physical and psychological symptoms. While alcoholics have symptoms of alcohol use disorder – including strong withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal symptoms, also known as detox symptoms – problem drinkers can go weeks or months without drinking, but often binge, and struggle with emotional or behavioral problems while drunk, from increased risk-taking to becoming violent or depressed as a result of their drinking.

As with other forms of addiction, treatment is possible – but it’s important to recognize the potential for alcohol use disorder to be a chronic issue. While it is legal, alcohol is still quite addictive, and those who have become addicted to it face an even greater challenge than many other addicts due to alcohol’s ubiquity and general acceptance in the public eye. Prohibition isn’t the way forward for treating the problem of alcohol addiction – but a good first step in the right direction would be taking the drug more seriously including treatment and rehabilitation.

Reminder: You Don’t Need Drugs or Alcohol for a Fun Holiday

Don't Need Drugs or Alcohl for a Fun Holiday

Halloween is one of America’s favorite holidays, and it’s generally known as a kid’s holiday – with as many as 93 percent of kids in the US celebrating it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s just a kid’s holiday. For many former kids who have since grown into working adults, Halloween has transformed from an excuse to get a lot of candy to an excuse to party in costume. It’s become the third biggest party of the year, besides New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl.

But you don’t need to drink to enjoy your Halloween. With the right strategy, you can throw your own amazing Halloween party and have plenty of fun without the need for drugs or alcohol.

 

Hosting Your Own Halloween Party

First things first, you’ll need to know that Halloween presents you with plenty of excuses not to drink. Because it’s such an easy party to theme for, there’s a lot to do and plan without alcohol. Themed parties are always a great way to give your sober party a little flair, and there are ways to spice things up without alcohol, by hosting competitions, providing games, and streaming movies.

 

Focus on the Costumes

If Halloween is known for anything, it’s costumes. And oh boy are there a lot of them. From the customary nurse, to a slew of pop culture characters, to the joke costumes, there are no shortage of great ideas.

However, costume parties with lots of alcohol tend to lead to runny makeup, broken or misplaced props, and a general lack of coherence and composure. By making the party booze-free (or optionally booze-free), you can place greater emphasis on high-effort costumes and even reward the wittiest or most elaborate costume.

If you’re going to throw a proper costume party, then it might not even be a bad idea to book a venue, get an MC, and have an actual competition on-stage to determine the best effort. But with Halloween being as close as it is, it’s better to keep the costumes and plans low-key – focus on wit rather than budget, so your guests don’t feel obliged to splurge on a serious and committed cosplay.

 

Have a Movie Marathon

Halloween is one of those holidays where a movie marathon is more appropriate than ever. Regardless of what kind of Halloween movie you enjoy best – from bloody, thrilling slashers to spooky ghost stories, jump-scare fests, or psychological horror – there’s a countless collection of scary and appropriate movies and TV shows to binge on Halloween night.

While it’s customary to play a drinking game when the movie being watched is less than stellar, alcohol can also take the sting out of a pretty good horror film. Remember, alcohol is a depressant, and as a side effect it temporarily helps reduce feelings of panic and anxiety. When you’re watching a good horror film, those feelings are a calculated part of the experience.

On the other hand, plenty of scary film franchises devolve into a ton of dumb fun when you’re with friends, even without the booze.

 

Carve Without Fear

It’s generally going to be far more dangerous and much less fun to task your guests with carving their very own pumpkin when they’re buzzed, high, or both. While there’s plenty of fun to be had in trying to be coordinated or creative when sloshed, it’s not a good idea to try and tickle your creativity with a large carving knife while drunk or otherwise inebriated.

However, when sober, you can carve without fear. It’s probably been a long time since anyone you know has had to carve a pumpkin, and it’s a surprising amount of fun when done right. Give yourselves a chance to get creative and more than just a little competitive by hosting a pumpkin carving competition. Pick something small as the prize – at the end of the day, the most important win is bragging rights.

Some basic tips, first. Try to make sure everyone gets a proper carving knife, and a cutting board. You don’t want anyone to cut into the table, or themselves. Secondly, pick a variety of pumpkins. Some people might call dips on the narrow one, or on the squat one, or the big round one, depending on the ideas they’ve got. Be sure to prepare your pumpkins before everyone arrives – get them cleaned up, dried, and check them for any soft spots or signs of decay.

You can also get started on removing the seeds and pulp, so your guests only need worry about bringing their artistic vision to life without the leg work. No need to throw out the good stuff – the seeds taste excellent when dried and are a great source of zinc, and the pulp can be mixed with lemon and pureed to add to pies or shakes, worked into a dough for bread, or cooked into a big soup.

 

Remember: Adult Parties Don’t Need to Be Booze-Filled 

Among younger adults, there’s the assumption that every major party you attend after turning 21 is meant to revolve around the consumption of alcohol. You don’t need to booze up to have a good time, and many adults would argue that the best parties are those that are a blast without drinks, as well as with.

There’s a significant number of teetotalers in today’s America. While binge drinking and overall alcohol consumption has grown, many millennials and adult members of Gen Z know how to throw a good party without a drop of alcohol.

Halloween can be a great deal of fun without drinking, but it doesn’t have to be the exception. While it’s probably the one time in most people’s year where cutting into pumpkins, binging horror films and wearing costumes is all appropriate and even encouraged, there are plenty of other ways to spice up sober parties and have a good time at any point in the year without drugs or booze.

 

Why Your Drinking Problem Doesn’t Affect Only You

Why Your Drinking Problem Doesnt Affect Only You

At first, alcohol is fun, and there’s no doubt about that. For as long as we can remember, we’ve had ties to alcohol, and we’ve come up with countless ways to brew and prepare it. But it’s still a poison to the human body and, in the end of the day, not at all good for us. However, responsible drinking is every adult’s right, and aside from potentially cutting a few years off a person’s total lifespan, the odd amount of booze from occasion to occasion is not necessarily a death sentence.

But it is harmful. And in larger amounts, it is particularly dangerous. Alcohol use remains to be a problem across all ages, among men and women alike, both in the form of binge drinking and in the form of the more serious alcohol use disorder. But if it’s every person’s right to drink as much as they legally want to, one might ask: what’s wrong with drinking a little more than most?

The answer is that even without addiction, alcohol is a damaging substance that can lead to pain and anguish not only for yourself, but for those around you – particularly if you have a ‘drinking problem’.

 

What is a Drinking Problem?

A drinking problem is not a medical diagnosis. Alcohol is heavily involved in medical diagnoses, and there is a long list of alcohol-related diseases and causes of death. But a ‘drinking problem’ is a more loosely defined set of behaviors related to dangerous levels of alcohol use, including:

  • Lying about your alcohol use to others.
  • Regularly drinking more than you intended to.
  • Struggling to sleep or relax without a ‘nightcap’.
  • Being forgetful and struggling with blackouts.

Any serious negative consequences caused by drinking too much alcohol constitute for a drinking problem, particularly if you ignore these consequences and keep drinking anyway.

While you are legally allowed to drink as you see fit (with some constraints, such as public intoxication), it’s important to note that there’s a moral cost to drinking much more than you should. It isn’t ‘gluttony’, but rather, the cost of knowing that your behavior is affecting others negatively.

Due to the physical and mental effects of high alcohol use, a drinking problem can lead to:

  • Relationship issues.
    Mood changes and outbursts.
  • Forgetting important things.
  • Putting others in danger due to inappropriate behavior or intoxication.
  • Putting yourself in danger.
  • Accruing vast medical bills and debt due to alcohol-related disease.

 

What If You Can’t Stop? 

A drinking problem becomes an addiction when you try to stop but can’t. Drinking problems vary in definition and severity, from drinking more than is usually recommended by a medical professional, to suffering from frequent blackouts or other side effects as a result of your drinking. Yet while these habits and their negative consequences are one part of the equation, what differentiates a drinking problem from alcohol use disorder is the inability to stop using the drug.

That is very simply tested – by going sober for a length of time. Drinking problems are problems not just for those who have them, but for those they love and care about – maintaining a drinking habit is expensive, and it has a seriously damaging impact on your physical, mental, and even your social health. But addiction is a very different and very severe beast. When you find out that you can’t cut the booze from life, it becomes terrifyingly easy to be overwhelmed by it.

But contrary to what some might believe, you don’t need to spiral out of control and have a moment of stark realization to get sober and stay sober. The rock bottom is not a prerequisite for addiction treatment – showing up to get treated is.

It’s not always on you, or about you – the motivation to get sober is often lacking in people who struggle with drug use and addiction because that is how the brain works, heavy drug use (including alcohol) deals serious damage to several different parts of the brain, including the parts that are dedicated to things like motivation, reward, and pleasure. As evidenced by the many deaths caused by addiction and drug use every year, it’s not easy to treat an addiction.

 

How is Addiction Treated?

It takes a lot of help from those around us, be they professionals, our new sober friends, or our old friends and loving family. Or, ideally, all of the above. On days when you really need a drink, you need a support network to remind you why that isn’t something you should do. And that way, you can make those days more and more scarce through treatment. It’s not easy to treat an addiction – but it can be treated. 

Time is an important factor – particularly, how much of it you spend sober. As research has shown us, the brain is quite malleable in a sense that its experiences help shape it both physically and psychologically. Our mind is very much influenced by things around us, to the degree that high levels of stress or trauma actually cause physical changes in the brain that help reinforce these experiences, like scarred tissue on a different organ.

The brain reacts to heavy drug use by warping in a certain way, no longer responding to old forms of pleasure and relying on the stimulus provided by intense highs. The lack of these highs can cause withdrawal, as the body struggles to normalize and return to a sober state despite the changes made by heavy drug use – in some cases, withdrawal can be the result of experiencing all the damage drug use has wrought without the distracting euphoria of continued use.

But the brain can heal, to a degree, and to do so the body must completely metabolize any remaining drugs and go through the withdrawal process, then refuse the alcohol until it slowly becomes easier, both psychologically and physically, to be sober. That process takes longer for some than for others, and there are many different ways to help it along – from sober living homes, to specialized therapy, alternative treatments, medication, and more.

 

How To Tell If Your Drinking Is Becoming a Problem

How To Tell If Your Drinking Is Becoming a Problem - Transcend Recovery

A majority of Americans have consumed alcohol, and a plurality do so on a regular basis. It’s a cliché at this point: alcohol, when consumed responsibly, is not necessarily harmful.

But there’s often a very fine line between socially acceptable drinking, and a serious health risk. Alcohol is, for all intents and purposes, a poison. There’s no denying that – our system recognizes alcohol as a toxin, and often reacts appropriately.

Yet the dosage is critical, as too much of anything can cause a system shutdown. The difference being that even in non-lethal dosages, alcohol causes serious wear-and-tear.

You don’t have to be an addict to struggle with alcohol-related health issues. Even among heavy drinkers, alcoholism is not a given – it’s a risk, but only an estimated 50 percent of people who drink heavily more than twice a week eventually struggle with alcohol use disorder.

Nevertheless, heavy drinking can constitute a problem, especially for the heart, throat, liver, and brain. While most Americans enjoy a hearty drinking session a few times a year, a minority consumes several times more alcohol than the average person, putting themselves at risk of an early grave.

And if you’re not concerned about mortality, then consider that heavy drinking greatly increases the risk of addiction.

 

What Counts as Heavy Drinking? 

Government agencies and authorities on health generally consider heavy drinking or binge drinking to constitute any drinking session that involves more than four/five drinks a day for a healthy adult man, and more than three/four drinks a day for a healthy adult woman.

A drink constitutes 14 grams of alcohol, typically found in a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of liquor. One is not healthier than the other. When consumed within two hours, the amounts of alcohol described above tend to elevate the average person’s blood alcohol concentration to a 0.08.

As per the CDC, an estimated quarter of all people aged 18-34 engage in binge drinking. Among underage teens, about 17 percent of people are estimated to have engaged in binge drinking.

As the numbers indicate, binge drinking is not uncommon, and not indicative of an alcohol use disorder on its own. However, it is very unhealthy. Some of the health risks associated with regular binge drinking include diseases of the liver and heart, strokes, cancer in the breast, mouth, throat, liver, and colon, as well as cognitive deficits such as long-term memory problems, slowed learning, and more.

Alcohol is often linked to an increase in violence, as well as unintentional deaths caused by injuries, accidents, burns, and poisoning. Binge drinking is also linked to a higher risk of sexual violence, partner violence, and STDs.

Alcohol use becomes a problem when it’s uncontrolled and begins to have a serious negative impact on your life. It’s normal to feel hungover after a big drinking session, but it can become a problem when you’re hungover several times a month.

If your performance at work or your ability to remember things suffer at the hand of your alcohol use, then cutting back is important.

Alcohol use can also cause unexpected weight gain, as alcohol is converted into calories and unspent energy (fat). Due to its effects on the brain, regular heavy use can also lead to mood changes, worsen existing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and affect a person’s relationship to their partner, lowering their ability to perform sexually and be present physically.

While these problems can all occur without a diagnosis of alcoholism, heavy drinking turns into a disorder when the drinker finds themselves unable to stop drinking.

 

Heavy Drinking and Alcoholism

As mentioned previously, an estimated 50 percent of people who binge drink more than twice a week struggle with alcohol use disorder. Even among people who only binge once a month, an estimated 20 percent are addicted to alcohol.

While addiction to alcohol is not caused solely by heavy use, it is one of many factors. Avoiding heavy drinking and limiting drinking (or abstaining entirely) can be a protective factor against developing alcoholism.

Other factors to consider when speaking about alcoholism include family history, workplace and at-home stress, mental health (depression and anxiety are sometimes linked to substance use), and early use. Teens who start binge drinking at an earlier age are much more likely to get hooked on alcohol, as are individuals who have a history of alcohol addiction in the family.

If you’re aware of other factors in your life that might put you at serious risk for developing a dependence on alcohol, it might be a good idea to cut the drink out of your life. If you find yourself depending on alcohol to get through the day or to unwind after a frustrating day, it becomes crucial to seek alternative and healthier ways to cope.

 

High-Functioning Alcoholism

Addiction can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Alcohol use disorder can also be diagnosed among high-functioning alcoholics, who continue to go to work and fulfill their daily duties, but struggle to do so without the ‘crutch’ of a daily series of drinks.

High-functioning alcoholism is something of a misnomer as well, because while high-functioning addicts continue to function, they still do so at a diminished rate. Alcohol’s effects on the brain and body are non-negotiable, and while some bodies are far more resistant to alcohol than others, no one is immune to its long-term effects.

Even with a well-paying job, a busy social life, and a good relationship with your partner, high-functioning alcoholism has many red flags.

Some drink to relax, drinking every day. Some have a track record of struggling with certain responsibilities as of late. And some forget what they were doing, or have entire evenings and afternoons go by without remembering what happened.

High-functioning alcoholism is often characterized by an individual who feels that they’re doing a great job of living a normal life in spite of their heavy use, but are actually in denial of the various ways in which their habit has already cost them trust, health, or time.

Without these red flags, a high-functioning alcohol user is simply someone who binge drinks, without the addiction. But that can still be a problem.

 

Why Too Much Is Still a Problem 

Even without blackouts and memory gaps, long-term alcohol use can greatly increase someone’s risk of death through liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Alcohol kills more than any other drug bar tobacco, claiming several more lives per year than the opioid crisis ever did.

Drinking responsibly is one thing, but not being addicted doesn’t make you immune to alcohol’s dangerous long-term effects.

How Drinking Can Lead to Addiction

How Drinking Can Lead to Addiction

Alcohol is one of the most destructive drugs on the planet. Being the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, alcohol is among the most dangerous substances known to man – not because of its potency, but because of its ubiquitous nature. Despite America’s often hard attitude towards drugs, drinking gets special treatment due to cultural relevance and the failures of the prohibition. But the effects remain staggering.

However, while making alcohol illegal is not an effective way to prevent booze-related deaths and illnesses, it’s still important to have a conversation surrounding the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder is not exclusive to those that drink heavily on a regular basis – while heavy drinking can be precursor to addiction, many misunderstood how much alcohol counts as “heavy drinking”, and how many Americans become addicted without consuming record amounts of alcohol.

While alcohol has been with us for thousands of years, it continues to be something that doesn’t agree with the human body. Alcohol is one of the more damaging drugs in the world due to how rapidly it affects and deteriorates our organs, heavily contributing to the development of heart disease and cancer. Among underage drinkers, alcohol continues to claim over 4,300 lives per year, through poisoning, drowning, falls, and other alcohol-related problems. But why is booze so popular, and why is it addictive?

 

Why Do So Many Drink Alcohol?

Alcohol’s addiction factor is only partially influenced by its own addictiveness – major factors to consider when looking at why alcohol is so popular are availability and user base. More people consume alcohol in the United States than any other drug except coffee, and among teens, partaking in drinking is one of many rites of passage from childhood into adulthood.

Caught up in the moment, many teens opt to drink heavily or binge drink rather than taking alcohol more seriously. Among high school students alone, more than a third of students have had alcohol in the past, while as many as 14 percent binge drank. In 2013, over 119,000 emergency room visits by kids aged 12-21 were related to alcohol.

However, while the fact that it can be bought everywhere and everyone’s doing it is one factor, there are others. Age is a major factor. Teens are going through cataclysmic changes in their lives, often switching schools and encountering new people and new stimuli by the time they first start binge drinking.

Furthermore, teens are more susceptible to taking risks, and are less likely to think things through on average. Their expectancies of alcohol also change dramatically from pre-adolescence to adolescence, moving from viewing drinking negatively to appreciating or placing importance on the arousing effects of alcohol. Kids and teens who share mental health problems or begin drinking at an earlier age are much more likely to develop an addiction as a result of their drinking and may be using alcohol to soothe emotional pain.

Among adults, the issues surrounding alcohol’s ubiquitous nature and low-risk investment also make it the perfect tool for self-medication in times of serious stress and difficulty. Some turn to a drink to “unwind”, until the habit of unwinding becomes unavoidable, and escalates into more frequent drinks.

As for alcohol itself, when consumed, the drug travels through the bloodstream into the brain and latches itself onto our neurons, where it stimulates the release and effectiveness of GABA and other neurotransmitters, causing the effects we recognize as drunkenness. Over time, the body and brain get used to a certain amount of drunkenness and begin to signal panic when you stay sober for too long. This is physical dependence, wherein a person begins experiencing withdrawal symptoms after attempting to quit. Because alcohol is a depressant, its withdrawal symptoms can be quite dangerous and rarely fatal, invoking heart issues, respiratory arrest, and potential seizures.

But long before that happens, regular drinking begins to prime the brain for more drinking, in a phase that doesn’t quite count as addiction but mimics it in the sense that you begin to want to drink more than before.

 

Is There Such a Thing as Responsible Drinking?

When considering how damaging and powerful alcohol can be, it’s also important to recognize that simply trying to curb drinking through legal interventions is more likely to lead to more illegal activities rather than effectively stopping drug use. Yes, there is such a thing as responsible drinking – but there is no good drinking, and no instance of alcohol consumption is ever truly beneficial, neither in the short-term nor in the long-term.

But there is a way to minimize both the amount of alcohol you consume, as well as its effects. Official government guidelines outline a maximum of about four drinks in a day for a grown male, and three drinks in a day for a grown female, with a “drink” counting as roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, or the equivalent of one glass of wine or one bottle beer. However, for a week, that maximum shifts to 14 drinks for men, and seven for women. Research shows that women are more susceptible to the addictive effects of alcohol, hence the disparity in the guidelines.

Anything above these guidelines can count as binge drinking and is shown to be detrimental to a person’s health, as well as posing a potential addiction risk. The question then remains: can you go through an alcohol addiction, “cure” yourself, and then start drinking “normally” again? The answer is that, despite rare exceptions, it’s typically not possible for an individual to be addicted to alcohol, go sober, and then slowly reintroduce alcohol without a full-blown bender. Responsible drinking likely isn’t possible for a person who has struggled with addiction.

Nevertheless, if you aren’t an addict but are a heavy drinker, it’s important to understand that you aren’t guaranteed to become addicted – but you are virtually guaranteed to experience at least one of several long-term physical or mental consequences as a result of repeated heavy drinking, from male impotence and greater risk of dementia to heart disease, various different cancers, and strokes.

What’s the Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism?

Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcoholism

One of the greatest and most complicated misconceptions about drug use and drug addiction is the belief that excessive drug use implies addiction. While it is true that drug use is a sign of addiction, and likely to lead to it, not all first-time drug users end up struggling with physical dependence. This is most evident when exploring America’s drinking culture, wherein nearly a third of the nation engages in excessive alcohol consumption, but only 12% of Americans are addicted to alcohol.

Now, there is no positive argument to be made for alcohol use. Decades of research has culminated in the conclusion that, no, there is no legitimate health benefit to a pint of beer or a glass of wine. When exaggerated past a certain point, the negative health effects begin to pile up.

But even among the country’s heaviest drinkers, rate of consumption is not a clear symptom of addiction. Understanding the difference between drinking and drug addiction is important, especially because it helps demonstrate how drug addiction is in fact a disease, and one that affects individuals differently.

 

Casual Drinking, Problem Drinking, and Alcoholism

Casual drinking, problem drinking, and alcoholism are very different forms of alcohol consumption, each with their own characteristics. While alcohol is an addictive drug, only a fraction of its users get addicted. This is because alcohol does not seem to cause addiction at the same rate as a few other, more dangerous drugs, including powerful prescription stimulants, opioid medication, and methamphetamine.

Despite this, alcoholism is just as dangerous as any other addiction, and can lead to death. Irresponsible alcohol misuse – even without addiction – can also lead to disastrous consequences, ranging from permanent health issues to fatal complications. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, is characterized as a brain disease caused by the interactions between alcohol and the cells in our brain.

At a certain point, the brain begins to change in response to heavy alcohol use, causing cravings and intense withdrawal symptoms in the absence of a fix. Alongside serious changes in cognition and risk management, many individuals leading completely normal lives can find themselves struggling immensely with the consequences of irrational decisions made in the pursuit of another drink, or while drunk. Alcoholism can occur in anybody, regardless of gender, age, or circumstance, and is a debilitating and disabling disease.

Casual drinking, on the other hand, exists on the other side of the spectrum. Where alcoholics cannot control the rate at which they drink, and often drink on a daily basis, casual drinkers only drink alcohol occasionally, feel no internal pressure or craving for a drink, and do not rely on alcohol as a way to deal with stress or reduce pressure. Instead, they may often be ‘social drinkers’, only consuming alcohol around others or when the occasion calls for it.

Heavy drinkers or problem drinkers lie in the grey zone between casual drinking and all-out addiction. Heavy drinkers consume more alcohol than is recommended, and problem drinkers consume alcohol not only out of habit, but either to deal with stress, or to a degree that they begin to regret their drinking. The key difference between a problem drinker and someone diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, however, is the ability to reduce or even stop drinking altogether. A problem drinker might regret some of the things they did while drunk, but they also have the option to simply reduce or even stop drinking for a while. They do not possess the compulsive need to drink daily, and do not struggle with the myriad of physical and psychological symptoms that many with alcoholism struggle with.

Casual drinkers drink occasionally. Problem drinkers regret their drinking decisions at times. And those who drink because they are addicted to alcohol do not only regret their drinking, but are unable to stop or curb the habit, and instead often find themselves staring at the bottom of a glass of booze more frequently as time goes on, and an addiction grows stronger.

 

Why Does Alcoholism Occur?

So, if millions of Americans imbibe in alcohol but only a fraction become alcoholics, how is it that alcoholism occurs in the first place? To understand why some people get addicted to alcohol and others do not, it is important to understand the factors that go into a developing addiction, and why they matter.

The first and most important factor determining a drug’s popularity and use is its availability. The easier it is to get your hands on a drug, the more likely it is to be used. This is primarily why alcohol and nicotine are some of the most abused drugs in the world. However, it is only one of many factors. Internal and external factors determine the rate at which a person becomes addicted, with the most important factors being:

  • Genetics and physiology.
  • Mental health and mood.
  • Circumstances and stress.

 

Is Alcoholism Guaranteed?

You could have the best odds for developing an addiction, drink every now and again, and still not develop alcoholism. Alcoholism is not guaranteed, and while that may have something to do with certain factors we do not completely understand yet – for example, we only have little information on the “addiction gene” – the causes for alcoholism are more useful as a way to inform people of the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, rather than providing a clear cause for any given case of addiction.

 

Alcoholism Treatment

While alcoholism affects 15 million Americans, only a fraction seek treatment. Yet regardless of why treatment doesn’t reach into the lives of most addicts, it is effective for those who do take the plunge and seek help.

Alcoholism treatment centers around providing better drug-free environments for recovering addicts to wean themselves off their addiction and find ways to successfully adapt to a sober life and thrive within it. There are countless paths to finding happiness while sober, which is why addiction treatment is complex, multimodal, and flexible. Alcohol addiction is a terrible disease, but it can be treated and overcome, given time, patience, and compassion.

What to Expect When You Stop Drinking

What To Expect When You Stop Drinking

Alcohol is a particularly destructive drug, both physically and socially. However, a lot of the damage dealt through booze can be reversed, given time and proper care. You’ll find that if you tackle alcohol use disorder head-on and make progress in recovery, life will change fairly drastically.

Before we get into what to expect when you stop drinking, it’s important to take a quick look at how drinking changes life to begin with. Some people don’t remember what it was like to live without booze – a lot of addicts start young, and in many cases, drinking at a younger age contributes to the chance of getting addicted later down the road. But whenever the brain and body first come into contact with an addictive substance, small changes begin to occur. These compound, over time.

Reversing an addiction isn’t easy, but it’s best to start sooner rather than later. The sooner you get into recovery, the easier it is to maintain long-term sobriety and reverse the physical effects of alcohol abuse.

 

Things Can Get Rough

The first thing you can expect after quitting alcohol is the challenging experience of withdrawal. Alcohol and other depressants are the most dangerous drugs to quit abruptly, because the withdrawal symptoms can sometimes kill you if you go into withdrawal without medical help. Unlike other drugs, including opioids, depressants are prone to inducing a variety of complications during the withdrawal period.

Seizures, strokes, heart arrythmias and heart attacks are the biggest culprits and causes in alcohol withdrawal fatalities. While these are not exceptionally common – most withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant, but not fatal – there is the chance that your body might react violently to quitting booze abruptly.

That does not mean you shouldn’t do it – it just means you should seek help, first. You have two options – quit ‘gently’ or go to a medical professional. Most cities in the US have addiction specialists and detox clinics, who will help you get through the worst of your symptoms and refer you to a rehab facility to continue the recovery process after you’re through the withdrawal phase. If you can afford to check straight into rehab, most rehab facilities are also equipped to help people safely go through the withdrawal period without fatalities. As long as you take that first step – looking for help – going into withdrawal is quite safe, and a much better alternative to staying addicted.

 

You’ll Want to Drink

After the most physically unpleasant part is over, the cravings become issue number one. Cravings begin during the withdrawal phase, but they often remain much longer than any other symptom. Your brain will want to drink because the alcohol has hijacked your survival mechanisms and is your primary source of pleasure. Your mind will want to drink because withdrawal sucks, sobriety is hard, and drinking becomes an attractive option to dull the pain. And your body will want to drink, because it too is likely still sore.

Thankfully, a lot of that resolves itself with time. Recovery facilities like rehabs and sober living homes are designed to help you work through everything that makes you want to drink, giving you plenty of reasons not to. It takes a while for the cravings to pass, but they do get weaker over time – not to mention the fact that you get better at handling them over time, as well. That’s when the positives begin rolling in.

 

You Will Make New Friends

As recovery goes on, you learn to forego and forget what used to be a main pastime – drinking and drinking heavily. Alcohol is not only a way to spend the time or cope with pain, but for many addicts, it’s also a way to meet more people. With alcohol, your inhibitions go away and you’re a lot more social. Places where alcohol is in abundance are also places where people typically go to meet. And it’s easier to get the conversational ball rolling when both parties are drunk. But if most of your current friendships are based on hanging out with booze, you might have trouble maintaining those connections while remaining true to your sobriety.

Real friends will work with you to avoid booze in your presence, or at least tone down the drinking and ensure you don’t drink at all. But some might laugh at the idea of sobriety and might encourage you to get back into drinking. Some might just not be all that interesting anymore while sober. Over time, you might realize you look for other qualities in your friends – including joint experiences, and an understanding of what it’s like to go through an addiction and work towards sobriety again. Friendships in recovery are very important as a way to motivate yourself and others to continue working towards a common goal.

 

You’ll Have More Time (and Money)

It’s often overlooked how time consuming and expensive an addiction is. There is a reason why addiction will often render someone bankrupt – drugs and booze are pricey. As the money dwindles, you learn how to score cheaper booze and stretch each penny, but it still takes time and money to be addicted. You now have more time and much more money to spend on anything other than alcohol (and other drugs), and that’s a very long list.

Staving off boredom is an important part of recovery, as you try to figure out what to do with the time you have when you aren’t at work, or otherwise preoccupied with life’s daily tasks. You might also be surprised to find that your mind just works better without the booze. Alcohol is not exactly a cognitive booster and going sober can do a lot to improve your time management, productivity, and general mood.

 

You’ll Feel Better

Alcohol doesn’t just get people addicted – it’s a primary factor in the death of thousands of Americans annually. Alcohol is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer, and stroke, more than all the red meat and butter in the world.

While you shouldn’t trade one vice for another, cutting alcohol out of your life completely will do a lot to improve your health in the long-run, especially if you start incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle instead. You can still enjoy the occasional steak and cook with butter, as long as you’re making sure to eat all your veggies and go for regular walks.

 

You’ll Develop New Interests

Or old ones. With more time and more money comes the opportunity to explore ways to spend both, either with your family and/or friends, or on yourself, investing in a new hobby or pursuing a new career. Without alcohol in your life, a lot of opportunities will present themselves to make use of all your sober time.

Recovery might have a rocky start, but it’s always going to be the better option. And with the right help, you can make an almost seamless transition into sober living.

 

Side Effects from Overuse & Abuse of Alcohol

What Alcohol Does to You

Alcohol, or more accurately ethanol, is secreted when sugars and starches ferment in the presence of yeast producing carbon dioxide and ethanol. Alcohol has existed for most of human civilization. Alcohol can be made from honey, grain, milk, fruits and spices have all been used to develop meads, ales, beers, wines, liquors and other spirits. We’re not even the only species indulging in drink – some other animals are affected by ethanol, and some even seek it out.

But despite its cultural and historic significance, alcohol is, for all intents and purposes, a poor choice of drink. The body doesn’t react favorably to alcohol, treating it as a dangerous substance, and causing heavy nausea and vomiting when you consume too much. It affects the brain and heavy use damages your organs – yet alcohol’s greatest danger is the fact that consistent use can lead to alcoholism, or alcohol addiction.

Some people get addicted to alcohol faster than others, a matter that is mostly decided by genetics and certain other circumstances. Yet in any case, heavy alcohol use can lead to a series of different side effects, many of which are debilitating and/or painful.

 

Struggling with Addiction

First and foremost, alcohol use can lead to addiction. This isn’t the case for most people, as a vast majority of Americans have tried or recently had a drink, yet do not struggle with alcohol use disorder. However, what might start as an innocent hobby or a way to reduce stress can quickly turn into a real problem.

Drinking as a way to deal with stress or habitually drinking to maintain a constant buzz are two surefire signs that a person’s drinking is fast approaching addiction or has already arrived at that stage. While emotional and psychological states can affect the rate at which someone gets addicted, addiction is still mostly a biological phenomenon.

Drugs like alcohol cause the brain to develop a craving for the substance, eventually causing distressing symptoms if a person decides to go “dry”. Someone with addiction will also struggle with severe cravings, to the point that they feel overwhelmingly compelled to seek out a fix despite clear negative consequences, including injury, arrest, and jail time. This coupled with the many other side effects of alcohol (including problems with risk-assessment and decreased inhibition) makes addiction the most dangerous part of rampant alcohol consumption.

 

Damage to the Liver

The most commonly known side-effect of long-term alcohol abuse is liver damage. Think of the liver as the blood’s waste treatment system – as blood passes through the body, the liver sees to it that anything that shouldn’t be there is metabolized and quickly rendered inept and excreted through the endocrine system.

However, every time the liver has to do this, it takes its toll on the organ. On top of that, alcohol is turned into acetaldehyde, a carcinogenic and toxic compound. While the liver is highly regenerative, alcohol overuse can render the organ useless over decades, requiring invasive treatment, including liver transplants.

 

A Chance of Cancer

Alcohol itself is carcinogenic and is metabolized into a carcinogen every time you consume it. Alongside smoking, alcohol is still considered a leading cause for cancer. Common cancers caused by alcohol include stomach/bowel cancer, throat cancer, larynx cancer, mouth cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer.

 

Alcohol and the Brain

Consuming large amounts of alcohol over years affects cognition, and not just when drunk. Research indicates that heavy drinkers have a shrinking brain with less grey matter. Alcohol use also speeds up memory loss and other cognitive effects of aging, and damages certain pathways in the brain. It also affects people behaviorally – addiction is a brain disease after all, and also heavily correlates with feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

 

Mixing with Other Drugs

When you consume ethanol, the substance makes its way to the brain by entering the bloodstream through your intestines after drinking. Due to the size and nature of the substance, it passes through the brain blood barrier and begins affecting your brain’s cells. There, it latches onto receptors in the brain and communicates with them, to increase the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA, and decrease the effects of the neurotransmitter glutamate, as well as increase the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway, a function that links most addictive substances together.

The effects of all this is a combination of decreased inhibition and temporarily decreased anxiety, slurred speech, difficulty balancing and coordinating, swimming vision, slugging movement and difficulty thinking. All in all, these effects worsen until alcohol begins to reach a point in your bloodstream where it becomes poison, causing you to vomit in an attempt to evacuate the ethanol, and go into shock as your blood no longer functions the way it is supposed to.

Every time you drink, your liver starts metabolizing the alcohol that filters through it, rendering it inept. Over time, too much alcohol can cause a massive development of fatty tissue throughout the liver, eventually leading to scarring and debilitating liver cirrhosis. Too much alcohol within a short period of time, on the other hand, will render you dead within a much faster time span, without medical attention.

This danger is compounded when you mix alcohol with other substances. Alcohol is a depressant, and while dangerous on its own, becomes much more potent and accentuates the damage other drugs can do when you start to mix and match.

When taken with other depressants such as tranquilizers, barbiturates, depressants, sedatives and anti-anxiety medication, alcohol can be much deadlier, causing you to pass out and stop breathing, or slowing your heart down to the point that it stops. When taken alongside an opioid, the effects can be quite similar, as opioids also cause a slowdown of the heart and respiratory functions, alongside a disorienting euphoria. Alongside stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines, alcohol can heavily stress the heart, cause an irregular heartbeat, and lead to heart damage. Alcohol overuse in and of itself is dangerous enough – don’t take several different drugs together.

 

The Problem with Casual Drinking After Recovery

Casual Drinking After Recovery

If age makes us grow fond of the things we’ve had around for a long time, and certain traditions transfer from generation to generation, then it would make sense that we revere some of our oldest cultural aspects. Alcohol is an ingrained part of human culture, in almost every culture. It comes to no one’s surprise, then, that most cultures romanticize alcohol or associate it with a good time, from being integral to celebrations to being associated with indulgence.

Beer, wine, and liquor are equal parts revered and abhorred, found in every facet of society, from the ballroom of a corporate event to the firepit at a summer camp. Because it’s so universal, many addicts cite ubiquity as one of the reasons why staying sober is so hard. If some can responsibly enjoy alcohol, then wouldn’t it be possible to re-engage in social, casual, and modest drinking after recovery is over?

The short answer is no. The long answer is still no, but with a thorough explanation. The reason why some people can drink casually, and others will always succumb to their alcoholism is not fully understood, but it has to do with the nature of addiction, and the dangers of dependence.

 

Can You Drink After Recovery?

The reason this question requires an entire article to answer is that there are complications and exceptions, in a sense. It’s generally understood that a person with a physical dependence on alcohol can recover from said dependence through a careful recovery plan built on maintaining sobriety – but if they have even a single drink, they could quickly find themselves unable to stop drinking.

On the other hand, alcoholism – and addiction in general – exists on a spectrum, wherein a person is first at risk of developing an addiction when trying a drug out, and gradually slips into deeper and deeper levels of physical and psychological dependence. Some people stop drinking before they become addicted, but after they realize that they’re starting to use alcohol as a way to cope with their problems. By addressing this psychological dependence and overcoming it, some people have returned to drinking responsibly, indulging in a drink or two on occasion, but abstaining from binge drinking and maintaining a healthy distance from the idea of drinking to relax, or feel better.

On the other hand, someone with a physical dependence goes through an entirely different experience. Being genuinely addicted to alcohol changes the way the brain works, associating the drug with pleasure and reward. The mind without alcohol struggles to function, and withdrawal kicks in. Cravings, then, are memories of prior drinking, fueling the will to drink once again.

If that wish is satisfied, then it’s easy to slip right back into a mindset of needing alcohol to survive and function. You might try to convince yourself that you only need “one drink”, but unless someone is there to enforce that rule, your mind quickly finds ways to subvert it and convince you to go for another, and another, and another.

That’s the short version, for the most part. Recovering addicts cannot control how they relapse, and alcoholism – like any addiction – is inherently out-of-control. The only way to win, in a sense, is not to play at all.

 

Alcoholism is Out-of-Control

The first mistake everyone makes when their drug use starts to become a problem is think that they can control it. But the very point of addiction is that it erodes a person’s judgment, which is why it is treated as a disease rather than a character flaw. Everyone is biologically susceptible to substance dependence, with some individuals being more susceptible than others due to uncontrollable genetic differences. Addiction has nothing to do with a person’s morals, and any addictive substance – including alcohol, cigarettes, prescription medication, and medical marijuana – can cause havoc in a person’s life and lead to dependence.

No one explicitly chooses to be addicted, precisely because no one can choose at all under the circumstances of an addiction. Choice becomes irrelevant.

That can change significantly with time, but the risk is always greater after the first time. To put it in an analogy that can be more broadly understood, the pain of getting hit and breaking skin is quite severe, but the pain of getting hit on an open wound or a deep bruise is even worse. The mind can slowly recover from addiction, but it remembers how it feels, it remembers the changes brought about by continuous alcohol use, and it’s much, much easier to slip back into those changes once they’ve been established – like a memory foam mattress.

It’s important, then, to take a step back and ask yourself why you would want to drink again anyway. To people with no special connection to alcohol, alcohol is nothing more than another aspect of the party – it’s as much a part of celebrating something as dancing, music, and food. But you don’t need it. You can enjoy yourself and take part in celebrations, reunions, parties and events without even a single sip of booze. Learning to have fun while sober is more important than figuring out a way to continue drinking after recovery.

 

Finding Alternatives

Some people fear that alcohol is intrinsic to their social abilities. They feel inept without the aspect of drunkenness, and feel that without a drink or two, things like being able to dance or talk to strangers become impossible. However, that’s not true. Alcohol does not grant you powers, it simply takes away certain inhibitions. But you can learn to build up your confidence and feel secure around others without getting drunk. It just takes a little practice, and some time.

 

Avoiding Drinks

Another fear is the fear of not being able to say no to an offered drink. The first solution, the one most commonly given, is to always have a drink in your hand already. Ordering something non-alcoholic at a party where there’s sure to be a lot of alcohol is a good way to avoid having to say no and struggling with it.

Another good step is to be busy. Get busy. Drinks tend to be offered to those who hang around not doing much, so get hooked into a conversation or try out the food or have some fun and get yourself a refill before someone can offer you one. Just don’t take a chance and drink – it won’t end well.