We’ve all heard of the saying ‘one more for the road’, which is a harmless expression some cultures use to encourage someone to have another drink before leaving a party or other social gathering.
Most people who drink alcohol do not have an alcohol use disorder and have no problem sticking to just a few glasses of whatever drink tickles their fancy.
On the other hand, some people cannot simply take or leave alcohol – their relationship to drinking is entirely different from someone who can stick to having just ‘one more for the road.’
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism
Moderate drinking is usually harmless and not a cause for concern.
However, problems arise when a person’s harmless drinking and alcohol consumption veers out of control, where the individual finds themselves on a destructive path towards alcohol addiction.
Statistics of alcohol abuse
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 17 million US adult citizens have an alcohol use disorder.
In the United States, another study illustrated that out of 855,00 American adolescents between 12 to 17 years old suffer from alcohol dependency disorders.
The problem with alcohol
One of the vital things to remember with substance abuse, including alcohol addiction, is that it tends to be a slow-burner disease.
Indeed, alcoholism doesn’t happen overnight; it unfolds from long-term alcohol abuse.
That said, people must know the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse to get the help and guidance they need before things get entirely out of control.
Five stages of alcoholism
Research on alcoholism states that alcohol addiction occurs in five stages.
First stage: Occasional binge drinking and abuse
During the first stage, most people experiment with different types of alcohol.
Such individuals are usually inexperienced drinkers who are just getting introduced to different forms of alcohol and are likely seeking to test their limits.
Within this group, binge drinking is rife – where people frequently engage in episodes of drinking large quantities in small time-frames.
Moreover, while those who binge drink may not drink all the time, they consume enormous amounts of alcohol in one go.
Addiction specialists have categorised binge drinking into two subtypes according to gender:
- Women that consume four or more alcoholic beverages within two hours
- Men that consume five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours
Teenagers who binge drink usually exceed the above amounts, mainly at social gatherings or parties where drinking alcohol is the main activity.
Binge drinking can be dangerous.
You may think that binge drinking is harmless and safe when you only engage in it every once in a while.
However, consuming excessive quantities of alcohol in a short time – frame can be incredibly dangerous and may lead to severe health complications and even death.
Additionally, people who binge drink may also become addicted to the sensations they get from drinking alcohol, where they may notice these episodes starting to increase over time.
Second stage: Increasing the amount you drink
During the second stage, a person progresses from occasional drinking to more regular alcohol consumption.
For example, instead of drinking at the occasional social function such as at a party, a person may begin drinking every weekend.
Addiction specialists describe the emotional attachment people often assign to their drinking in the second stage.
Whereas an occasional drinker may enjoy a cold beer or glass of wine with their evening meal, a regular user drinks alcohol to forget about their daily stresses or use alcohol to feel better.
Kristin Cheeney, PhD, medical researcher and author, says that regular alcohol use differs from moderate drinking.
‘There is usually a higher emotional attachment to regular drinking.
As increased drinking continues, the person becomes more dependent on alcohol and is at risk of developing alcoholism’ (Kristen Cheeney, PhD).
Reasons for higher alcohol consumption
Cheeney reports several reasons for increased drinking. They include:
- Drinking excessively to manage stress
- To alleviate boredom
- To feel numb or to cope with loneliness or sadness
- Using alcohol as an excuse to be social or to get together with friends
Third stage: Issues with problem drinking
Regular drinking can very quickly oscillate to problem drinking, where a person begins to experience the effects of chronic drinking.
With an alcohol abuse issue, any form of alcoholism is ‘problematic’.
However, Cheeney states that problem drinking refers to an individual experiencing the implications of alcohol abuse but doesn’t discontinue their usage.
Alcohol abuse can also affect other areas of a person’s life.
They often feel unwell from heavy drinking but continue the cycle because of how fantastic alcohol makes them feel.
Additionally, drinkers in this stage are more likely to engage in risky behaviours such as drink-driving.
Other ways that alcohol abuse can severely impact a person’s life are through relationship problems, reduced social life because of volatile/erratic behaviour, and a sudden change in the person’s social circle.
Fourth stage: Alcohol dependency
Those in the fourth stage of alcohol abuse have developed an attachment to alcohol that takes over their regular routines.
People in this stage are profoundly aware of any adverse effects of their drinking but do not have control or agency over their alcohol consumption.
Cheeney describes the two main aspects of alcoholism; dependence and addiction.
According to Cheeney, a person can be dependent on alcohol without having an addiction.
Broadly, in the alcohol dependence stage, a person’s alcohol tolerance is significantly increased, meaning that they need larger quantities of booze to feel any ‘buzz’ or to get drunk at all.
Withdrawal is another facet of alcohol dependence.
As a person becomes sober, they may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Body shakes or tremors
- A racing heart
- Difficulty sleeping
Fifth stage: Alcoholism and addiction
The last stage of alcohol abuse is addiction.
Here, an individual experiences a physical and psychological need to drink.
Those in the fifth stage of addiction physically crave alcohol and cannot be comforted or consoled until they drink.
It is common for those with alcohol addiction to have other substance abuse addictions (such as drugs).
When someone has a drinking problem, they are likely to engage in compulsive behaviours and often drink whenever they feel like it.
Long – term prognosis
The prognosis of alcohol addiction depends significantly on the person.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of alcohol addiction for most people is their inability to recognise that they have an addiction problem.
Physical and mental health complications
There are many physical and mental health implications associated with alcohol abuse, such as:
- Liver damage
- Issues with nutrition
- Heart disease
- Brain damage
- Mental illness, such as depression, anxiety and other co-occurring disorders
Addiction specialists believe that alcohol abuse awareness and identifying the signs of substance abuse early on can help prevent addiction and dependence.
The above treatments aim to detoxify the body of substances whilst identifying the psychological roots of addiction.If you think you may be experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, please contact one of our addiction specialists at White River Manor, who can help.