Common Symptoms of Alcoholism
Sep 19, 2022
Some people think they can tell an alcoholic by looking at one. That is simply not true. Some people also think that addiction only affects certain people or nationalities. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter what your gender is, race, age, personality, or socio-economic status. The symptoms of addiction affect the person on skid row the same as a person living in a palace.
There are many signs that someone is having problems with their drinking. In this article, I discuss four common symptoms of addiction.
- Alcoholism is a progressive disease. A progressive disease is a condition that is harmful, progressive, and if left untreated, fatal. It may start out subtly, but it eventually takes over every aspect of life. There are four stages: 1) Pre-alcoholic stage, 2) Early-stage alcoholism, 3) Middle-stage alcoholism, and 4) End-stage alcoholism. If you identify with one of the four stages and you continue drinking, you move to the next stage. Getting help and stopping at any stage is recommended because the longer you wait, the harder it becomes.
- Unable to stop. The obsession and compulsion to drink are primary drivers of addiction, defying all logic, common sense, or prior commitments. As the addiction progresses, the consequences have a domino effect in the home, workplace, and community. There is no controlling this, though every alcoholic tries. If you are an alcoholic, you will never be able to control your drinking.
- Denial. The person who is addicted lies to themselves and others and may do a lot of swearing off alcohol and covering up how much they drink. Social drinkers don’t behave this way. Sigmund Freud described three types of denial: 1) Simple denial is when someone denies that something unpleasant is happening; 2) Minimization is when a person admits an unpleasant fact while denying its seriousness; and 3) Projection is when a person admits both the seriousness and reality of an unpleasant fact but blames someone else.
- Gender-based. Women face higher risks and develop alcohol-related problems sooner than men. After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men, and excessive alcohol use is a major contributing factor to sexual violence. Studies show that the risk for liver and other types of cancer is higher for women than men, and the impact on the brain (cognitive decline) also develops more quickly for women -- to name a few.
Criteria for a Substance Use Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5, is the standard text used to diagnose a mental illness, including addiction. The DSM-5 has eleven criteria, or symptoms, for substance use disorders based on decades of research. How many you identify determines whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe substance use disorder:
- Two or three symptoms indicate a mild substance use disorder.
- Four or five symptoms indicate a moderate substance use disorder.
- Six or more symptoms indicate a severe substance use disorder.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you meant to.
- Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from the use of the substance.
- Cravings and urges to use the substance.
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
- Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
- Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
Help is Available
Non-12-Step Support Group (i.e., Life Ring)
Group or individual counselling
Support recovery house
Employee assistance program
Medication-assisted addiction treatment (i.e., Suboxone)
Acupuncture for detox
Outpatient detox program
GendHer® program (this is a program I have developed and launching October 3rd, 2022)
People Can and Do Recover
If you are thinking about quitting drinking, the first step is stepping out of denial and admitting you have a problem. Accepting it. Naming. Facing it head on. And if you think admitting you have a problem means defeat, the exact opposite is true. It is the gateway to freedom!
If you are thinking about quitting and have been drinking large quantities of alcohol for a significant time, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Please talk to your doctor and seek medical care as you go through the detox process. It is important to note that addiction may also mask mental health disorders that someone is drinking to self-medicate, such as depression or anxiety.
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