Many people drink on occasion, and not all drinking is harmful. People can drink alcohol to unwind, to ease social anxiety, and to feel good.
But a surprisingly large number of people become addicted to alcohol, using it on an everyday basis both because they enjoy its relaxing and euphoric effects and because they want to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that would occur if they didn’t drink for the day: agitation, anxiety, insomnia, dysphoria, etc.
However, many people are still able to only have a few drinks a day and keep a job and avoid problems with their family. But what of the remainder?
The remainder, who binge drink and/or drink every day and commonly have more than a few drinks, and do have problems with friends, family, and their ability to be productive in life, are the problem drinkers.
Problem drinkers, also called alcoholics, are so addicted to alcohol that their life becomes filled with problems and is often quite unpleasant. The consequences of their heavy drinking are detrimental to their health, both physical and mental, to their social relationships, to their work productivity, and to their ability to make responsible and ethical decisions.
When a drinker becomes a problem drinker, they stand to benefit greatly from quitting drinking alcohol and stand to lose greatly by continuing along the path of their destructive addiction. So, how do you know if you’re a problem drinker?
Major Signs of a Drinking Problem
First, you need to stop and think about whether your drinking is causing you problems. Try to answer these questions out loud, or in writing.
- Are you becoming excessively drunk on occasion, or even on a regular basis?
- Are you spending too much money on alcohol, more than you can easily afford?
- Do you lose control when you’re drunk and do things you regret?
- Do you ever blackout and have memory gaps?
- Do you find yourself regretting having slept with certain people while you were drunk?
- Do you ever get in fights while drunk?
- Do you drive while drunk and thereby risk disaster?
- Is drinking interfering with your relationships with friends and family, or causing your work performance to suffer?
- Do you drink while you are at work or school?
- Do you depend on alcohol to fall asleep?
- Has a romantic relationship with a significant other ever ended partially or primarily as a result of your drinking or the things you did while drunk?
- Have you physically, verbally, or sexually abused someone while you were drunk?
- Do you wish you were able to quit drinking, but find yourself consistently unable to for longer than a few days or weeks?
- Do you consume 4-6 drinks per day or more?
- Do you binge drink on the weekends and consume very large amounts of alcohol? (for example, 24-packs of beer, entire fifths of liquor, etc.)
- Try to name the things you’ve lost as a result of drinking or being drunk, for example by writing a list.
If you’re answering yes to a lot of these questions, or even to one, or have lost/are losing important things as a result of drinking, quitting drinking may be a very good idea.
But these are just some of the broadest ways to determine if you have a drinking problem. In the following two sections, we will explore the physical and then the psychological indications that you might have a drinking problem.
If the descriptions match you, it may mean you have a drinking problem.
Physical Signs of a Drinking Problem
There are many physical ailments and symptoms connected with excessive alcohol consumption.
They fall into two groups: Those caused by the alcohol itself, and those caused by the withdrawal when there is not as much alcohol in the body as it has become accustomed to.
Those caused by hangovers and withdrawal are often characterized by overstimulation, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, shaking (especially in the hands), agitation, muscular tenseness, restlessness, and insomnia, and bodily discomfort, such as headaches, muscle aches, hypersensitivity to light and noise, nausea, lack of appetite, and diarrhea.
If you are having significant withdrawals from alcohol, including hangovers, you are either addicted or consumed too much at once. Either way, alcohol is causing you a problem, and you need to drink less of it in order to stay healthy.
Many normal drinkers have hangovers from time to time, but if hangovers happen often or are severe, then it indicates a problem. And if you start shaking when you haven’t had a drink in a while, it’s a very clear sign that you are addicted to alcohol.
Physical ailments caused by the drinking itself are vast and can be very serious and even life-threatening. In large quantities, alcohol is toxic/harmful to the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and stomach.
Chronic heavy drinking can cause heart attacks, heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease, and diabetes (pancreas failure). Millions of human beings have died from the cumulative effects of drinking too much alcohol. The best way to determine if you are suffering from organ damage from drinking is by visiting a doctor.
Here are some lists of symptoms of two major diseases caused by drinking, so you can know if you need to visit a doctor. First, there is cirrhosis of the liver. Symptoms of cirrhosis usually don’t show up until the damage is extensive, so if you are a drinker and see these symptoms, you may be in serious danger and should visit a doctor immediately.
- weight loss
- chronically itchy skin
- yellowing eyes and skin
- fluid buildup in the abdomen
- easily bleeding or bruising
- spiderlike blood vessels that you can see through the skin
- and slurred speech.
Some of these are also symptoms of drinking (like nausea), but you should still see a doctor if they are serious.
Second, there is kidney disease and kidney failure. Too much drinking can seriously and/or permanently damage the kidneys. If you see any of the following signs of kidney disease, go see a doctor.
They include waking up often in the night to urinate, blood in the urine, bubbly or foamy urine, dark urine, urinating far too often or not enough, fatigue, swelling in the hands, legs, feet, etc., nausea, rashes, chills and feeling cold (even in warm places), and abdominal pain.
Lesser physical symptoms of excessive drinking may appear/occur while drunk, or in between periods of drinking. The most common ones are nausea and vomiting, dizziness, lack of coordination and balance, speech problems and slurred speech, blurry or double vision, sweating, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, slowed breathing, and loss of consciousness.
If you are experiencing these symptoms often during your alcohol consumption, you may be going overboard and have a drinking problem.
Not everyone who drinks vomits often, and not everyone who drinks has trouble walking. If these things happen on a regular basis, it is a serious warning sign.
Psychological Signs of a Drinking Problem
The psychological symptoms of having a drinking problem include the effects that the alcohol has, the withdrawal effects, and the obsession with drinking that controls the thoughts, words and actions of the problem drinker. We will begin by discussing the symptoms of the obsession.
If you drink often enough or heavily enough, you will develop an emotional attachment to getting drunk and it will become very important to you to get as much alcohol as you want.
Being stopped from drinking will be incredibly frustrating, and you will go to great lengths to ensure that nothing and no one can stop you from drinking. You will use mental tricks to deny how much you have drunk, such as not counting certain drinks because they were of a certain type or consumed several hours ago.
Problem drinkers have a complex system of denial set up so that they can convince themselves and others that they do not have a problem.
If you’re working hard to convince people that you don’t have a drinking problem, it’s likely because you don’t want to admit it because that might mean you have to stop.
A problem drinker often does not want to stop drinking. Not drinking is unpleasant to them and robs them of something they enjoy greatly.
They will ignore the costs of their drinking and focus only on the perceived benefits, essentially claiming that “it’s not a big deal, everybody drinks”. While it is true that drinking is widespread in our society, not everyone has serious problems in their lives because of alcohol.
And if you do have problems because of drinking, you should stop drinking. It’s that simple.
During drinking, a problem drinker will become excessively drunk and lose their inhibitions, often doing risky things that they would not do in a sober state. They may become aggressive/violent and have mood swings, they may have trouble focusing, hearing, and speaking, and they may become sad or depressed.
They may blackout and lose all memory for certain periods of drunkenness. A problem drinker may be out of control while drunk and they may commit crimes or act irrationally. They may be abusive to their loved ones and lash out both verbally and physically. If your drinking causes harm to other people, you have a drinking problem and need to stop drinking.
During periods of withdrawal from drinking, psychological indications that one is a problem drinker include serious anxiety, depression, irritability, confusion and problems thinking, and extreme urges to drink.
The problem drinker will be very uncomfortable and want to drink to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. If you need alcohol to not be in physical and psychological pain, you probably have a drinking problem.
Getting help early can prevent experiencing severe consequences of drinking or disrupting the lives of loved ones.
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