Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Alcohol addiction and abuse occur when drinking becomes problematic. For example, mere social drinking typically is not a sign of a problem, nor is drinking once in a while. Because of genetics, some types of people may be more prone to alcohol addiction, and environmental factors such as growing up in a home where relatives abused alcohol can also predispose a person to problematic drinking. People with mental issues such as anxiety are also at higher risk because they may turn to alcohol to self-medicate. Here is a look at the signs of alcohol abuse, the different types of alcoholism and different ways to treat the condition.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs of a drinking problem abound and can be highly individual. This means that one person’s symptoms might not be another person’s. That said, if the possibility of alcohol abuse concerns you, look at a few issues.

  • You hide the extent of your drinking.
  • Your loved ones worry about your drinking.
  • Your drinking causes you to feel ashamed.
  • You black out.
  • You increasingly need alcohol to cope with life and even to relax.

On a more quantifiable level, you could have alcohol addiction if:

  • Your drinking could cause dangerous situations (drinking and driving, for example).
  • You are neglecting work and family responsibilities, and other responsibilities.
  • Your drinking causes relationship problems (for example, your spouse gets upset when your drinking causes you to forget appointments).
  • You need to drink more and more to relax like you used to be able to (your alcohol tolerance is increasing).
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches or shakiness if you go without alcohol for longer than you are used to.

In short, you could well have a drinking problem if your drinking is negatively affecting your life. If you want to stop drinking but cannot, then you have lost control of your drinking — a prime sign of being addicted. Ditto with constantly thinking about alcohol and drinking at the expense of activities that used to be important in your life.

If you want to stop drinking but cannot, then you have lost control of your drinking — a prime sign of being addicted.

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Different Types of Alcohol Abuse

Just as the signs of alcohol problems differ from person to person, so do the types of alcohol abuse. Knowing which type you or your loved one may be is important because it can lead to treatment that is more effective.

FunctionalThis type of alcohol abuse is relatively easy to go unnoticed for a long time, even years. A functional alcoholic is typically able to hold down a job, even a high-paying one. Functional alcoholics are often well educated, high income and middle aged. They tend to drink at least five drinks a day.
Young AdultAs the name indicates, this type of alcohol addiction occurs among young adults, commonly those in their 20s. They binge drink and may have started down the route of alcoholism before even hitting their 20th birthdays. Often, binge drinking is seen as less problematic than other types of drinking because it may occur, say, only on weekends (on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, for instance) and for only a few hours at a time. However, it is unquestionably still an alcohol problem and not a way of youthful life.
Chronic SevereThis type of drinking problem tends to co-occur with problems such as mental illness. People with this kind of alcoholism are overwhelmingly men and may be homeless. Their addiction is intense and consuming; they often struggle with health problems and may have little semblance of a “normal” life.
Intermediate FamilialThis type of alcohol abuse occurs when someone has a close family member who is also an alcoholic. It frequently occurs along with conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder as well as other substances such as drugs or cigarettes.
Young AntisocialMore than half of people who are young antisocial alcoholics may have antisocial personality disorder. They exhibit behavior such as deceitfulness and lack of remorse. They start drinking as young as their early teens and often participate in binge drinking. Most are male, use other substances and often have close family members with drinking problems.

How to Treat Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Alcohol abuse treatments take several variations, for example, medication, behavioral counseling, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and alcohol treatment centers. If you or someone you know wants official treatment, see a primary care doctor who can evaluate the severity of the problem, create a treatment plan and make referrals. Other professionals who may become involved in treatment include psychologists, psychiatrists, alcohol counselors and social workers.

The medications used to treat alcohol are not addictive, but not everyone responds well to them. Behavioral counseling may include approaches such as intervention, cognitive-behavioral therapy to identify triggers and responses, motivational enhancement therapy, and family and marital counseling.

There are many types of alcohol treatment centers. For example, some may be inpatient only, while others allow both inpatient and outpatient clients. Treatment can be short term or long term, and a client goes through detoxification and works to understand and eliminate his or her alcohol dependency.