Alcohol abuse has existed throughout history. Alcohol abuse can be defined as using alcohol in higher quantities than desired over a long time. Alcohol abuse can lead to changes in behavior, impairment of functioning, decreased or inability to follow through with responsibilities, and serious physical and medical consequences. Commonly, it has been a way for individuals to self-soothe and cope with stressful situations.
Since the COVID Pandemic in 2020, alcohol abuse appears to be on the rise, as many have consumed alcohol to deal with the changes brought about by the pandemic such as job losses, the shift to working from home, and the lack of social interaction.
What are Some Risk Factors for Developing Alcohol Abuse?
Risk factors for alcohol addiction increase with higher levels of stress. Genetic predisposition can also increase one’s likelihood of being more susceptible to abusing alcohol. Growing up in a household where alcohol was abused by a parent or sibling can cause generational trauma, leading individuals to also cope with using substances.
Those that have served in combat are also more likely to develop issues with alcohol abuse. Social pressure also increases the risk factor. In social situations, one may feel pressured to drink by friends or family and have difficulty saying no due to fear of being shamed.
Warning Signs Someone May Be Struggling With Alcohol Abuse
- Changes in behavior with the presence of alcohol– Sometimes, those who use drink excessively may notice a shift in behavior. For some, alcohol may cause them to feel happier, while others may feel more emotional or sad. Some are under the influence of alcohol and are defined as “mean drunks”, meaning they may exhibit aggressive and antisocial traits.
- Changes in behavior in the absence of alcohol and experience of withdrawal– Those with difficulties with alcohol abuse may experience behavior changes when alcohol is not present. For instance, if someone drinks alcohol frequently and in heavy quantities and suddenly does not have access to alcohol anymore, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These can include heightened irritability, and physical symptoms such as tremors, nausea, headaches, and insomnia.
- Challenges with following through on obligations– Those who are suffering from alcohol use disorder, may experience challenges upholding responsibilities. They may begin missing work or school, may not show up to events they previously committed to, or may have trouble fulfilling responsibilities around the house.
- Lying to family members or friends and hiding the issue– Oftentimes, one is dependent on a substance, and they feel guilt and shame regarding their behaviors. Instead of seeking help, they may engage in lying to their loved ones regarding their alcohol use. They may say that they haven’t had anything to drink in days, that they didn’t have an alcoholic beverage when they went out to dinner, or that they are going somewhere else when in reality they are going to the bar. They may also hide empty bottles to keep those they live with from finding them. Those with alcohol use disorder work very hard to ensure that they do not get caught, as the thought of having alcohol taken from them can be daunting.
- Having a strong urge to drink alcohol– In many cases, one may develop a strong urge to drink alcohol regardless of time or place. This could be in situations where it is socially acceptable such as at a bar or it could be at home, midday during the workday when one has a lot of tasks and deadlines to complete. Similar to other addictions, alcohol cravings can occur anywhere and at any time.
The Impact of Alcoholism on Ourselves and Others
Alcohol abuse does not only affect the person that is drinking but also the ones around them. If not properly addressed with a medical professional, it can lead to long-term health effects such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and potential fatality. Alcohol abuse can lead to dependency. Many times, those who have such a high alcohol tolerance get behind the wheel after drinking because they do not think they are impaired.
Drinking and driving is one of the leading causes of death in America and is very preventable. If you or someone that you know may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it is important to get outside support from professional organizations that specialize in alcohol use. Substance abuse counselors can be a great resource for those who want assistance with harm reduction techniques or help in the recovery process.
Finally, support groups are available across the country day and night in person and via Zoom including Alcoholics Anonymous, Women in Sobriety, and Smart Recovery. Alcohol abuse is treatable if one is motivated and desires to seek and make a treatment plan. To prevent possible lethal or dangerous withdrawal symptoms, it is critical to seek appropriate medical help.
Written By: Katherine Cunningham, LPC
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