Alcohol Abuse – Signs, Symptoms, and Effects

In the previous article concerning the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of alcohol abuse, we talked about how this addiction can arise in individuals, how we methodically decide that we are actually dealing with an alcohol addiction, and how we should approach treating the client.  In the current article, we are going to cover the signs, symptoms, and effects of this problem.  There are many reasons we need to be aware of the impending signs of increasing alcohol abuse, the symptoms of current abuse, and how this can effect the patient over the long-term.  The reason for us as substance abuse counselors to be aware of these items is that patients may be court-ordered or otherwise coerced into seeing you, but may lie or not reveal the entire truth about their situation.  It is up to you to be knowledgable and aware of the disorder so you can recognize it despite any mistruths.

The Signs of Alcohol Abuse

As you interview and counsel your patient, there will be obvious signs related to addiction in general, but you can gain a sense of whether the specific substance of choice is alcohol through noticing the subtleties of what comes up in the conversation.  For instance, your patient might be dealing with an alcohol abuse disorder if they mention items such as:

  • Drinking in order to relax, but minimizing the impact it has on their life
  • Drinking in order to relax, and minimizing the number of drinks they have
  • Mention that they get carried away and drink more than they meant to
  • They can’t remember what happens during their drinking episodes
  • Friend and family have expressed concern about their drinking
  • They have anger, guilt, or shame concerning the conversation at hand
  • They lie to you and others about drinking
  • They spend an inordinate amount of time obtaining alcohol, buying only a small amount at a time in order to have control

alcohol abuse symptoms signs effectsThere are many signs like these you can derive simply from conversation with your patient.  The main thing to remember is that not everyone is alike and the main identifying factor is whether or not drinking is a central aspect to troubles in their personal lives.  It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.

Other obvious signs that a person has a drinking problem is if they encounter legal ramifications surrounding their drinking habits.  If they report drinking in environments or situations that are dangerous, there is likely a problem.  Drinking while driving, operating any machinery, or mixing their drinks with prescription medications are some examples of these dangerous situations where a person knows they shouldn’t drink but do anyways.

Finally, if responsibilities are being neglected, there is an issue.  A person may stop going to work, perform poorly in their careers or schooling, stop spending time with their family or missing certain obligations and commitments if there is an alcohol abuse problem going on.

Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

What happens after alcohol abuse continues for a lengthy enough period of time?  Dependence arises.  There are two main steps to becoming dependent upon alcohol that keep you trapped in a destructive cycle.  The first is building a tolerance to its effects.

Alcohol Tolerance

Building up a tolerance happens after repeated exposure to a substance.  This means you are becoming physically, not just psychologically, dependent upon alcohol in this case.  If the client finds that they have to continue to consume more and more alcohol in order to obtain the effects they are seeking, which is feeling drunk and inebriated, then they are building up a tolerance.  Digging into the neurological mechanisms that create this phenomenon are beyond the scope of this article, but the main point is that more and more is needed to get drunk, which is what the drinker is seeking.

Alcohol Withdrawal

The second step that keeps an alcoholic trapped in the cycle of drinking is withdrawal.  Because their body has become physically dependent upon the drink, not having it creates withdrawal symptoms.  This is a literal sickness that can be very dangerous if dealt with improperly.  Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that you can recognize in your client are:

  • Shaking and trembling
  • Delirium Tremens (a severe symptom that requires medical attention!)
  • Sweating and jumpiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression, irritability, and other mood alterations
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines

Delirium Tremens includes hallucinations, seizures, fevers, and cognition impairments such as confusion, agitation, spacial impairment, and more.  If you notice this happening, explain to the patient that they need to see a doctor immediately before any attempts at quitting drinking.  They need medical help to achieve recovery at this point.

The Effects of Alcoholism

What can long-term alcoholism do to a person?  It can do a lot to every area of his or her life!  We understand all of the problems that can occur in relationships and in the general social life, career, and finances of the drinker.  But what happens physically?  Alcohol can affect and harm every organ in your body, but the main worries are your liver, which has to metabolize all of this alcohol, and your brain, which also becomes literally flooded with it.  A person’s thinking and perceptions can become altered irreparably.  The dysfunction caused in the liver can create all kinds of health ailments, but many long-term alcoholics die from liver failure.  It is very serious.

Please continue to read our other articles on alcohol to learn more.  Feel free to share any thoughts or experiences in the comments below.

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