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7 Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Alcohol use disorder, commonly as alcoholism, affects some 5.3 percent of the American population. That means 14.5 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. At the same time, this disorder, which is characterized by seeking behavior, inability to quit, and uncontrollable drinking, results in over 95,000 deaths in the United States each year. While most of these are indirect, with alcohol resulting in road accidents, liver failure, and heart disease – others are direct, with an average of 6 people dying of alcohol poisoning every single day.
Alcohol is accepted, sometimes expected, and extremely common in social situations. It’s also an intoxicant which can cause addiction, mental health problems, and physical health problems. If you or a loved one is drinking too much, their life could depend on getting help. While the signs and symptoms of alcoholism can vary depending on the person, their health, their personality, weight, etc., alcohol is always bad for you and your health.
1. Tolerance Forces You to Drink More
Whether you’re drinking to have fun, drinking for stress relief, or drinking to be sociable, it’s important to pay attention to how much you have to drink. For example, if you find yourself having to drink more to achieve the same results, you might want to cut back. Tolerance happens when you have alcohol at a frequent enough pace that your body adjusts. If you keep having to escalate how much you drink to achieve a desired effect, you’re drinking too much. Of course, some tolerance is normal. Nearly everyone likely remembers the first time they had a beer and were tipsy. But, if you find yourself consistently adding more alcohol into drinks, you’re likely setting yourself up for addiction and physical health problems.
If you’re drinking regularly during the week, it’s probably a bad idea. Most adults should have more than half to a full beer a day depending on gender, age, and weight. If you’re drinking more than four servings of alcohol in as many hours, you’re binge drinking. And, if you’re doing so regularly, you’re definitely causing yourself health problems.
2. You Hide Alcohol Usage
Almost everyone in the United States drinks. It’s accepted, it’s common, and some people find it shocking when you don’t drink. So, if you find yourself hiding drinking, you’re probably drinking in ways outside the norm. That is always a bad sign for yourself and for your ability to put alcohol down.
For example, if you drink in the morning or during the day. If you drink and drive. Or, if you hide alcohol at work and drink to cope with stress there. You also likely have a problem if you find yourself engaging in behavior like refilling bottles, hiding bottles, or switching to cheaper brands of alcohol so you can continue affording your habit. The more you feel ashamed of drinking, the more likely it is that there is a very real reason for that – and the more likely it is you should reevaluate your drinking habits and consider quitting.
That also holds true if your loved one is hiding drinking. Drinking and then hiding the bottles is not part of normal alcohol use. That holds true whether it’s refilling bottles, so alcohol use goes unnoticed, if it’s hiding bottles behind a couch or another obstacle, or secretly purchasing alcohol and sneaking it into the house. This is not normal or healthy behavior and is almost always indicative of a problem.
3. You Can’t Quit
If you’ve tried and failed to quit, you have a problem. If you’ve considered quitting and keep putting it off, you probably have a problem. And, if you realize that your alcohol use is harmful to you or your relationships but keep finding excuses to keep drinking, you probably have a problem. Alcoholism normally means developing symptoms of substance seeking, compulsive drinking, and cravings. If you stop, you’ll find yourself picking up alcohol out of habit. You’ll experience cravings. Or you’ll keep finding reasons not to quit just yet – even if they’re trivial. E.g., you’ve’ been invited to an office party and you don’t want your coworkers to know you want to quit.
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4. You Drink More than Intended
1 in 6 Americans regularly binge drinks. That’s inherently unhealthy. However, if you frequently find yourself binge drinking when you didn’t intend to, you likely have a problem. This is best exemplified by the idea that you go into a bar or into drinking with the intention to have a few beers or drinks and then go home. You eventually do not and drink significantly more than intended. You might black out or have memory gaps. If you do this consistently when drinking, it’s a very big sign that you want to get help.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally drinking too much. But those incidents should be once or twice a year at most.
5. You’re Preoccupied with Drinking
It’s normal to occasionally look forward to going out drinking with friends. But the alcohol should never be the primary attraction of doing so. If you spend significant amounts of time planning to drink, thinking about drinking, or craving alcohol, it likely means you have a problem. Normally, people will spend some attention on alcohol, especially if they are into craft or other special alcohol, and then will enjoy it, typically with friends. If you’re set on drinking, no matter what it is, that is a completely different story. For example, if you skip meals so you can drink more without impacting your diet or so that you get drunk faster. If you spend significantly more on alcohol than intended. Or, if you drive out of your way to acquire alcohol.
People with alcohol use disorders spend time thinking about alcohol when stressed, when at work, when in social situations, etc. People without alcohol use disorders will rarely think about alcohol during these situations.
6. You Allow Alcohol to Harm Your Life
Drinking is a social activity, and it should be a way to have fun or to relax when used correctly. If you find yourself drinking to the point where you’re experiencing negative consequences, that is unlikely to be the case. For example, if you drink to the point of having a hangover that impacts performance at work. If you drink at work or before driving. If you drink to the point where family and friends are upset at you. If drinking causes your mood to change, which impacts your relationship with family members.
Eventually, if you realize alcohol is negatively affecting your life and you continue drinking anyway, you have a problem.
7. You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
If you fee hungover, sick, or down when you don’t drink, it’s likely withdrawal symptoms. People who drink regularly often confuse these symptoms with a hangover. Then, they drink more alcohol too quickly for symptoms to escalate or for them to notice the symptoms don’t go away. But, if you consistently experience general malaise, cold and flu symptoms, tremors, and anxiety when you don’t drink for any period of time – you have a problem. These symptoms require medical evaluation and often medically supervised alcohol detox. In fact, if there is a case in which you find it unusual that you don’t drink for any period of time, you likely have a problem.
Millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. Millions more abuse alcohol regularly. If you’re struggling, there is help and it is accessible, covered by insurance, and available in formats designed to fit into your lifestyle. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism ruin lives, they ruin your health, and they create risks for you and your family. Getting help works – allowing you to get treatment for underlying problems, to build coping mechanisms, and to build a better and healthier life for yourself.
How to Live with an Addict in the House
If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it can be devastating to your home and family life. That’s true no matter how old they are, whether you have kids, or what their relationship to you is. If you’re reading this article, chances are, you’ve also made up your mind to stay and to attempt to continue living with them as much as possible. While that won’t always be possible, taking the steps to make that work out in a way that is mutually beneficial and healthy is important.
Today, an estimated 18.5 million Americans struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. That means that 1 in 16 couples has a spouse who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. And, 1 in 8 children lives with a parent or parents with a substance abuse problem. If your child, parent, or partner is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you’re far from alone.
Hopefully, these tips get you started on making a healthier life for yourself with your loved one.
Making Space for Mental Health
Living with someone with a mental health disorder like a substance use disorder is exhausting, emotionally draining, and potentially traumatic. People living with others who struggle with a substance use disorder experience significant elevations in stress, mood disruption, increased housework and chores, and in domestic disputes. Someone with a substance use disorder is unlikely to hold to commitments, unlikely to be reliable, and highly likely to lie or manipulate. They’re also more likely to behave irritably and with anger, even to small provocations, making it more and more difficult to live in a way that is comfortable for either. In some situations, they may even blame their substance abuse on fighting or nagging them to stop using or drinking. All of this can result in significant stress and significant deterioration in mental health. Many people cope in different ways. For example, many people struggle with codependency, where they throw themselves into taking care of their partner and it becomes an addiction in itself. In other cases, you might be overwhelmed with trying to pick everything up for your partner and to continue “business as usual”. If nothing falls through the cracks, nothing is really wrong – even if you’re doing anything. That can be exhausting and can result in a burnout, without the constant drain of having someone in the way constantly. And, that’s even worse if you have children.
Making space for mental health means setting aside time to do nothing, it means learning to walk away instead of having fights, and it means to ask for help. You can do that by reaching out to a therapist and discussing your and their problems. You can also join and attend meetings by AlAnon or a similar group. Al-Anon is designed to provide support to the family members of addicts, so that you have an outlet, peers who understand experiences, third-party perspectives, and assistance should you need it.
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Boundaries are a crucial part of living with anyone. But, when your loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, it becomes more important. Individuals with drug or alcohol use problems are much more likely to engage in manipulative, abusive, and exploitative behavior. In fact, they may deliberately manipulate you to get you to continue staying with them while they use. They might also do so non-deliberately by lying but also while in denial to themselves.
Setting boundaries can help you to live in a way that is less stressful, that requires less work, and which puts less responsibility on you. For example, you might decide that you are not willing to accept being talked to in a certain way. You might decide you are not willing to pick up after their chores. You might decide you are not able to tolerate them spending rent or mortgage funds on drugs or alcohol. Boundaries should include hard and soft boundaries with repercussions, and when those boundaries are broken, the repercussions should happen.
Things to set boundaries around include:
- I will not spend money on you and I will get a separate bank account if we don’t have one already
- You will transfer money you owe towards rent and bills immediately on receiving your paycheck
- I will not lie for you nor will you ask me to
- I will not tolerate being yelled at. If you approach me aggressively, I will leave the room. If you behave in an angry fashion, I will leave the house. The same applies to angry or aggressive behavior at children
- You will not drink or use around children. If you take opioids, you will do so with Naloxone on your person
- You will not bring friends home to drink or do drugs, or myself (and children) will stay at a hotel
- If you do not handle your chores, you will hire a maid to take care of them so I do not have to
The idea is to remove stress from yourself, to limit behavior that causes hurt and upset, and to create repercussions when those boundaries are crossed. For example, if you have a clear alternative action when things are bad (e.g., go stay with parents), you have a way out that has been communicated and shared.
Ask them to Get Help
Chances are, you’ve already asked your loved one to get help. Make sure you keep trying. On your side, that often means committing to learning about addiction. It means checking with insurance and making sure your policy covers the drug addiction treatment you want. It also means researching a rehab clinic so that you know where to go and how to get your loved one there if they do decide to go.
Sometimes asking someone to get help will result in denial. That can mean lies, it can mean tears, it can mean manipulation. It can also mean anger and violence. Choose your time and your moment carefully based on what you know about them. And, if you have no luck on your own, consider staging an intervention with friends and family.
Take Care of Yourself First
Your mental health and safety should always take priority over taking care of your loved one. That’s important, both because only you can take care of yourself but also because if you burn out or start to struggle, neither of you have anyone to help. It’s important to stick to your boundaries, to make time for yourself, and to create opportunities to have fun and to enjoy life anyway. That can be immensely difficult when you’re literally watching someone you love fall apart. But, you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of them.
Living with someone with a substance use disorder is not easy. You may eventually decide to move out, even temporarily. You may also decide to ask them to move out, at least a few days a week. And, you should always have the option to ask for help, with housework, childcare, and with getting your loved one into treatment.
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