We frequently hear about the opioid epidemic, but rarely do we hear about the alcohol epidemic. While alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, and while most individuals can drink alcohol privately or socially without consequence, alcohol leads to millions of individuals abusing it, becoming dependent to it, having medical issues from it, and dying from it. Approximately 88,000 people in the United States die annually from alcohol-related causes, resulting in alcohol being the third leading preventable cause of death in the US (followed by tobacco and poor diet). 1 in 10 children in the US live with a parent who has a problem with alcohol, and alcohol abuse can lead to emotional, mental or physical abuse and violence towards family members. Alcohol abuse, in its many forms, is not always black and white, and many individuals have difficulty discerning if they or their loved one may have a problem with alcohol. This article serves to help individuals identify signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and provides some tips for getting help.
As mentioned, alcohol abuse is not always black and white, but rather can be looked at as being on more of a spectrum. In fact, Alcohol Use Disorder, the clinical diagnosis for alcohol abuse, was updated to include a spectrum of subclassifications of mild, moderate, and severe. More on those later. Additionally, there are various forms of alcohol abuse such as alcohol dependence, problem drinking, and binge drinking. While an individual who is dependent on alcohol and is a daily drinker may be more identifiable as having a problem, an individual who binge drinks on occasion to oblivion may have a severe problem as well, but may not be as easily identifiable by themselves or loved ones since their indulgent drinking may only happen on occasion. There are also other cases such as simply unwinding at the end of the day with a glass of wine. While having a single glass of wine every night to unwind after taking care of responsibilities may be viewed as acceptable, what if that individual misses their regular glass of wine and begins to have intense cravings and becomes preoccupied with wanting that daily vice. While such an individual may not be clinically diagnosable as having an alcohol use disorder, many might say that the obsession and preoccupation is rather problematic.
There are many other such cases and examples that can make it difficult for individuals and loved ones to discern if there is an alcohol problem. One of the number one question we always encourage individuals to ask themselves or their loved ones if they are questioning if there is an alcohol problem is, does your alcohol use interfere with your life obligations or is it causing you problems in any area of your life? One must do an honest self-assessment and evaluate all areas of life, including mental health, physical health, spiritual health, financial wellbeing, career, sleep hygiene, relationships, family, leisure activities, and other such important life areas. If alcohol is interfering with any one of these areas, we always encourage individuals to take a closer look at their alcohol consumption, and if needed to hire professional help to assist them along the way.
While we always emphasize the importance of seeking out an addiction specialist such as an addiction psychiatrist, psychologist or other such mental health professional who is knowledgeable in substance abuse, and especially never trying to self-diagnose, below are 11 basic criteria that are used to diagnose an individual as having an alcohol abuse disorder. 2-3 symptoms present indicates a diagnosis of mild alcohol abuse, 4-5 indicated moderate, and 6 or more indicates severe. Once again, just because an individual does not meet criteria for a mild diagnosis does not mean that their alcohol use is not problematic, it simply means that they may not be clinically diagnosable. The earlier an individual faces their problem drinking the easier it is to treat, and some may even have a chance of moderation management rather than following a complete abstinence based model depending on the individual. The 11 criteria are as follows:
- Have you had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- Have you more than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Have you spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Have you experienced cravings — a strong desire, or urge, to drink?
- Has drinking or being sick from drinking interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused problems with your career or school problems?
- Have you continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Have you given up or cut back on hobbies, activities, or other areas that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- Have you more than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (examples: driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
- Have you continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Have you had to drink much more than you once did to get the same desired effect? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Have you found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, we encourage you to take a closer look at your alcohol use and to seek out an addiction professional for an evaluation. Understandably it is not easy to ask for help. Having a drinking problem comes with a great deal of stigma, and many have a conjured-up notion of what it means to be an alcoholic. Keep in mind that the word alcoholic is subjective in nature and is not formally used in the field of addiction treatment, addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry. While the terms alcoholic and alcoholism are widely used in society, they can often serve to feed stigma and prevent individuals from seeking the treatment they need. Alcoholism, problem drinking, overdrinking, excessive drinking, alcohol abuse, or whatever you choose to call it comes in many shapes and sizes.
The first step is often the hardest. Making a phone call to set up an initial appointment with an addiction specialist or mental health professional is not easy, and can often feel overwhelming. This is often the most challenging part for many individuals, but once this fear is faced life can improve tremendously through following addiction treatment suggestions. In order to find an addiction professional we always encourage individuals to do research on their addiction specialist or treatment program. Schedule a free consultation call to ask questions such as what their approach to treatment is, how they can help you, what their professional experience in helping individuals like yourself is, will you need medication assisted treatment, how long will treatment be, can their treatment accommodate your schedule, will your family be a part of your treatment, what is the cost of treatment or do they accept your insurance, and other such questions. Once you find a professional you are comfortable with who is knowledgeable in addiction treatment, follow suggestions and put your best foot forward.
Many also benefit from seeking out mutual help meetings for additional support such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery or Refuge Recovery. Mutual help groups can be intimidating, but know that it is ok to simply go to a meeting, not speak, and listen. All are welcome. Meetings in your area can be found via a simple online search. We also emphasize a holistic approach to healing including eating nutritious foods, being physically active, sleep hygiene, meditation, self-care and other such wellness-based behaviors that can significantly improve mental health and make you less likely to crave alcohol.
For more information on addiction treatment, therapy and mental health, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.