When Alcohol Abuse Becomes Alcoholism
No one ever really expects to become an alcoholic. Despite the overwhelming evidence around when it comes to addiction, most people think that they can escape the addiction trap. That their drinking is merely social. One word that gets thrown around a lot in the drinking or drugging world is “occasional”. They say they only occasionally drink, so they feel safe from alcoholism. But like a stealthy predator, alcoholism sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
The line between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is very thin. It is easy to cross this line and not even know about it till it’s really late. This makes it extremely necessary to know about the telltale signs that show that your alcohol abuse has turned into an addiction. But before that, let’s look into the factors behind the phenomena.
Why Do We Drink?
Alcohol abuse is basically a drinking habit. Everyone is aware of the harmful effects and potential dangers of drinking alcohol. Despite this, many people do it to varying extents. We drink to adhere to social norms and to gel into our groups. We are expected to drink on several occasions and this is often what leads to a drinking habit. Obviously, this depends on what social setting we are in. Going by that, even binge drinking becomes acceptable. For example, students in college and British adolescents are amongst the biggest alcohol drinkers in the world.
The social and economic environment also plays a role here. Would you still be drinking alcohol as often, if the price of alcohol went up by 10 percent? What about 50 percent? Would you still be drinking if your society was somehow different or didn’t appreciate drinking as it does now? Our society provides us with cues that positively or negatively influence us towards drinking. And it does play a large part in affecting our drinking habits.
However, these cues can still be ignored with enough education and willpower. We do live in a free society that knows about the dangers of alcohol. However, some people lack that willpower. Some are downright impulsive to a fault. These people value the pleasure in the short run more than the dangers in the long run. These people also tend to drink more and more dangerously than other drinkers and are often at higher risk towards alcoholism.
Stress drinkers also fall into the same trap of valuing their current relief over future consequences. For them, alcohol helps them reduce their feeling of anxiety without actually doing anything to the source of anxiety. Thus, creating a vicious cycle that ends in a downward spiral.
A dangerous loop
All of these factors create the feedback loop that causes alcoholism. We value these past experiences on alcohol so much that we become willing to indulge in it again and again. This is also how our brain grows dependent on the use of alcohol and starts craving it. From the very first taste, the brain’s reward pathways have been reprogrammed to think that it is good for them.
Once our brain is convinced, we develop a liking on a more physical level. We crave for the endorphin release that accompanies alcohol intake and slowly it becomes a physical addiction. The irony is that this same endorphin is used by the brain to influence behavior that is beneficial to us. But is now used to trigger a behavior that is but anything else.
We want to have a level of alcohol high at all times. But with the development of tolerance, we need larger and larger doses to get the same effect. And if alcohol is not consumed over a period of time, the body experiences withdrawal, which can very easily have daunting consequences.
A Slippery Slope
So, the bigger problem here lies in finding out when alcohol abuse becomes alcohol addiction. Because let’s face it, alcohol abuse is not stopping overnight. Alcohol abuse for most of us starts in the late teens. Binge drinking has often been blamed, with leading to increased chances of alcoholism later in life.
Binge drinking refers to drinking 5 or more drinks in under two hours. People, especially adolescents do it to get heavily drunk really fast. It is also a form of social drinking. It is often seen in many people who cannot be declared as alcoholics. For many, it is a regular occurrence too. Still, they do not crave alcohol. Their bodies do not experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without drinking alcohol for long durations. And they do go without drinking alcohol for long periods. But due to any of the reasons stated above, they regularly indulge in alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse, and especially binge drinking, leads to a slippery slope. It can turn into a full blown addiction when people least expect it. For them, alcohol’s bad effects come out in full force not just for them, but for all their loved ones. Even alcohol itself neither brings them the pleasure as before nor does it make them feel happy. Instead of being happy, alcoholics become depressed and can even become suicidal during their drunk phase. As an addict, they develop health issues, find it difficult to hold jobs, ruin their finances and their relationships, get into accidents and
reckless activities and sometimes even lose their lives. Their descent is not a pretty sight.
Knowing is Half the Battle
So are you wondering about whether you or someone you know has a drinking problem? Test yourself or them using the CAGE questionnaire. There are only four questions.
- Have you ever felt the need to cut down on drinking?
- Have you ever felt annoyed by criticism of drinking?
- Have you ever felt guilty about drinking?
- Have you ever taken a drink first thing in the morning as an eye opener?
If even two out of four are in the affirmative, then the subject is abusing alcohol. And the problem needs to be nipped in the bud. Since the problem of alcohol abuse is especially prevalent in the age group of 17-24, a youth centric approach is often encouraged.
Contingency management is an approach that has proven to be effective. It works much like the way the brain gets addicted to alcohol, by rewarding good behavior and thereby ensuring that they happen in future too. Patients are asked to leave urine samples several times during the week. These samples are then tested for alcohol or substance use and for every negative test result they get a reward. The rewards can be anything from money to vouchers to movie tickets. Alcoholics Anonymous uses this technique by providing badges and leadership roles for continued abstinence.
Another technique is motivational interviewing. It is a form of counseling that focuses on finding out the root cause behind their alcohol abuse. This is effective as it targets even those who do not feel that they have a drinking problem. These people do not feel the need to tackle their problem or feel that it simply does not exist. This technique exploits the existing knowledge about the bad effects of alcohol abuse present in the mind of the patient. The counselor then uses this and the state of readiness experienced by such addicts to motivate them towards changing their behavior.
Other than these approaches, education about the ill effects of alcohol also helps. So does making and enforcing laws to curb teenage drinking, revoking licenses of alcohol abusers, increasing taxation on alcohol, etc. The fact of the matter is that this needs to be tackled in a more personal manner. If you came to this article, then you have already taken your first step towards recovery. Being aware of the existence of the problem is the most important step to keep alcohol abuse from turning to alcohol addiction.
Are you struggling with alcohol abuse?
If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s time to reach out for help. It’s time to make the decision to put a stop to the drinking once and for all. If you’ve tried to stop drinking before and haven’t been able to be successful, rest assured that professional help is available. There are alcohol detox and treatment centers that you can attend and receive the help you need.
There are inpatient and outpatient centers you can choose from. If you’re able to leave your home for a short period of time, inpatient treatment may be of help to you. If you cannot leave your home due to a job or family, then outpatient treatment may work well for you. Give some treatment centers a call and discuss the best option for you.
There are also support groups you can attend, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. There you will be able to connect with others who are struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism and get some support. There are meetings in many cities across the world, and some online meetings as well. You’ll be able to get a sponsor/mentor and work steps that will help you on all levels.
Know that you are not alone in your struggling against alcohol abuse or alcoholism. There is hope for quitting and creating the kind of life you want. If you’re ready to stop your drinking, reach out for help today and begin to get excited about a life in recovery. You can get a new sense of freedom that will simply feel amazing.