Alcoholism is a progressive disease. If left untreated, it can affect every major organ system, causing chronic health problems and, eventually, premature death. Fortunately, much of the damage of alcohol abuse is reversible if the disease is caught and treated in the early stages. Heavy drinking doesn’t always lead to alcoholism; however, a pattern of alcohol abuse puts you at risk for developing an addiction to this drug.
Heavy Drinking vs. Alcoholism
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as having more than one alcoholic beverage per day (for women) and more than two alcoholic drinks per day (for men). Statistics from the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry, a service of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), indicate that a significant number of Americans exceed these guidelines. Within a 12-month period, NIAAA research shows that 21.9 percent of adult women had three or more drinks on any given day, while 42.3 percent of men consumed this amount.
Not everyone who drinks heavily on occasion will turn into an alcoholic. There are many other factors that contribute to the disease, including family history, psychological stressors and social environment. But if you or someone close to you is regularly drinking a large amount, it’s not too early to get help.
Signs to Watch For
Alcoholism touches every aspect of life, from your physical health and emotional well-being to your social activities. If you’re concerned about your own drinking or a loved one’s alcohol abuse, here are a few key signs to look out for:
- Not being able to limit your drinking. Alcoholics frequently drink to the point of severe intoxication, even if they only planned to only have a few beers or just one glass of wine. If you consistently feel driven to keep drinking after one or two drinks, you may have a serious problem.
- Drinking more than everyone you socialize with. Consistent, heavy drinking leads to a tolerance to alcohol, or the need to consume more of this drug to achieve the desired results. Tolerance can quickly turn into dependence and alcohol addiction. If you consistently drink more than those around you, it’s time to take a careful look at your drinking habits.
- Often drinking before or after social events. Alcoholics often drink before or after events where alcohol will be served, either because they don’t want others to see how much they actually need to drink, or because they can’t stop drinking once they get started.
- Family, friends or coworkers have commented on your drinking. Denial is a powerful component of alcoholism. Your loved ones and acquaintances will probably notice the signs of a serious problem before you’re able to accept the truth about your substance abuse.
- Missing work or school because of a hangover. If drinking interferes with your career or professional life, then alcohol is endangering your security and your future.
- Needing alcohol to stop tremors or soothe an upset stomach. Alcoholics often use their drug of choice to ease the symptoms of a hangover. This habit leads to a cycle that can quickly develop into alcoholism. If you need an eye-opener drink in the morning, you may be in the early stages of alcoholism.
- Spending a lot of time thinking about what, when, where and how much you’re going to drink. Addiction is characterized by an obsession with seeking and using the drug of choice. If you think about alcohol all the time, even when you’re working or spending time with loved ones, you may be in danger of alcoholism.
- Encountering legal problems because of your drinking. If you’ve been arrested for public intoxication, an alcohol-related altercation or driving under the influence, you could be an alcoholic — especially if these legal difficulties haven’t stopped you from drinking heavily.
- Attempting to stop drinking multiple times but you continue to relapse. Relapse is the hallmark symptom of addiction. The relapse rate among recovering alcoholics is very high; however, this doesn’t mean you can’t stop the progress of this deadly disease.
If you’ve tried over and over again to quit drinking without success, you’re not alone. Most heavy drinkers need support from an addiction treatment program before they can achieve true sobriety.
At Black Bear Lodge, a resort recovery center located in the foothills of northern Georgia, we’re ready to give you that support in a safe, serene environment. Our comprehensive rehab program addresses the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of recovering alcoholics. Call our admissions coordinators to learn more about our innovative treatment plan for alcohol recovery.