Addiction? It is not easy to put a number on alcoholism. When is the amount of alcohol problematic? When do we consider something to be alcoholism? Can I no longer have a drink with friends?
Many questions arise when we think about an alcohol addiction or alcoholism. Furthermore, not everyone agrees as to what amount of alcohol is problematic.
How does drinking become a habit?
When you drink alcohol, you likely have certain habits around drinking alcohol. You might drink every day, or only when you go to see a soccer game. The reason behind the drinking can differ, too. Some people start to drink when they do not feel good in their own skin. Others drink when they are stressed. Just like with other behavior, alcoholism and drinking in itself are parts of a habit. People are creatures of habit, so they like sticking to certain habits.
However, if you drink 'too much' during an extended period of time, it is possible that you start to notice all kinds of effects of this. Despite the discussion regarding what amount is too much, it is good to research at this time why these symptoms occur. Alcohol and alcoholism can namely cause a depression or even anxiety. If you do not work on this, chances are that these symptoms add up and that they start affecting your daily functioning.
Alcohol addictions? The different types of alcohol addiction
You would think that all types of alcohol addiction or alcoholism can be traced back to the same foundation. However, this is not the case. Just as there are different causes, there are also gradations and types of alcohol addiction or alcoholism. We sum them up below.
Type 1: Excessive alcohol consumption
With this type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism we mean that you drink more than is good for you during a certain period of time. Your excessive use can thus affect your health in the long term. At first, this type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism is not harmful and appears to regard use during a certain period of time. In many cases these periods are paired with stress or loss. Increasing your alcohol consumption can be one way to deal with these periods.
Furthermore, in those times we speak of a heightened risk behavior. With this, we mean the endangerment of others or yourself during a dis-inhibition as a result from alcohol use. An example thereof is getting behind the wheel while drunk.
In many cases, this type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism solves itself. If this is not the case, however, this type often is paired with problems in the physical, mental, and social departments.
Type 2: Problematic drinking or misuse
This type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism forms the next stage of excessive drinking. It thus is worse than the past type as described above. In this phase you already experience the consequences of the alcohol use, especially on the physical, mental, and/or social level. Although you experience the disadvantages of your alcohol use, you continue drinking.
This type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism is often formed as a result of a problem. One thus drinks in order to numb the problem or the pain, the regret,... which comes with the problem. Since you no longer can see the disadvantages of your drinking behavior, drinking can be seen as a type of solution for the problem; it becomes a coping style, as it were, for dealing with problems. This way, the addict ends up in a vicious cycle, where problems are frequently linked to the alcohol abuse, while they continue to consume alcohol since drinking is considered a solution.
With this type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism you thus need alcohol to remain functioning. As a result, we consider this stage and anything beyond it an alcohol dependency.
Type 3: Binge drinking
With binge drinking we mean the consumption of a lot of alcohol in a short period of time. This type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism is furthermore linked to drinking on an occasion. With binge drinking we thus mean the consumption of at least 6 glasses over a period of 2 hours for men. For women, this is at least 5 glasses over a time period of 2 hours.
Binge drinking is characterized by the following pattern: during the week you drink very little or not at all, but during the weekend you drink large amounts of alcohol. Other patterns can also develop, however. For example, you might only drink at night. During the day you barely drink, but as soon as evening comes around you consume large amounts of alcohol.
Binge drinking is not far from being dependent on alcohol. It derails quickly; weekends extend to Mondays, and soon they fall over the entire week. Furthermore, this type of alcohol addiction or alcoholism is harmful to the body. Binge drinking has many consequences:
- Cognitive slowing
- Increased blood pressure
- Risk of alcohol poisoning and blackouts
- Risk of organ damage
- Increased impulsivity (sexual and aggressive urges)
Type 4: Alcohol dependency
This final form of alcohol addiction or alcoholism is an alcohol dependency which can be both mental and physical. You are no longer free in the choice of whether you want to drink or not. You are addicted to drinking. In this stage you thus often no longer enjoy drinking alcohol. This is because there no longer are any brakes on your behavior, which puts you in a type of intoxication which makes you become less aware.
In this stage it can happen that your body gives the signal that you need to drink in order not to feel sick. When your body becomes used to drinking, the dependency might make it so that your body gives the signal that it needs the alcohol. When you then try to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms occur. The type and intensity of these symptoms can vary from person to person, however. Withdrawal symptoms can, for example, include the following:
- Feeling nauseated
- Being anxious
- Being restless
- Being confused
- Being somber
Your body furthermore builds up a tolerance to alcohol. This means that you need to consume more and more alcohol in order to experience the same effect.
What are the risks of an alcohol addiction?
When excessive alcohol use takes place over a long time, this can have severe mental and physical consequences. We sum up some of the most frequent consequences of long-term alcoholism below:
- Memory problems
- Korsakov syndrome
- Continuous aggressive behavior
- Specific types of cancer such as throat- and mouth-cancer
- Organ damage, such as liver damage
- Weakened immune system
- Reduced intellectual capacities
- Tremors, for example hand tremors
- Heart issues
Breaking free from an alcohol addiction?
Breaking free from alcoholism is not easy, since an addiction is characterized by countless vicious cycles.
Firstly, there is a physical vicious cycle, which is characterized by physical dependency on alcohol, tolerance, and loss of control. You have the feeling that you need to consume more to experience the same effect, experience little to no joy, and do no longer seem to have a say in your alcohol consumption. This, in turn, increases the tolerance and the loss of control, completing the vicious cycle.
Secondly, there is a social vicious cycle. Drinking often occurs together with friends. If the drinks no longer are there, there is little left which keeps a group of friends together. Furthermore, the social vicious cycle of alcohol goes beyond that. It namely also has a large influence on a marriage or a relationship. We often see that the partner of an alcohol addict starts to become a partner in crime in the alcohol addiction. He/she comes up with excuses for his/her partner, calls the partner's boss,... Despite the fact that these behaviors are meant to help his/her partner, the partner also reinforces the alcoholism with this.
Finally, alcohol and alcoholism have a large influence on the mental well-being of a person. Alcohol is often used to suppress a major traumatic experience and the depressed feelings that come with this, but it often has an opposite effect. When you are somber, the feelings continue to come back up, and because of the dependency it can also have certain social, physical, and psychological consequences which worsen the situation. Furthermore, they can cause and strengthen feelings of anxiety and depression.
Alcohol and alcoholism furthermore can make you a person you no longer recognize. Examples include frequent fighting, hitting your partner, driving drunk,... Because of the dis-inhibition of alcohol and other consequences, you feel like you no longer recognize yourself, which of course has a poor influence on your mental well-being. This then leads you to consume more alcohol in order to deal with this, closing the vicious cycle.
Treating an alcohol addiction?
There are many different ways of treating alcoholism. One of the options is following the online self-help program 15 Minutes 4 Me. The online self-help program 15minutes4me.com was developed by doctors and psychologists and guides people for fifteen minutes per day in treating and handling their addiction. Step by step you learn, using solution focused and cognitive therapeutic techniques, to recognize the behavior which helps you to break through an addiction, and to learn about what maintains your addiction.
Thus, build every day on your healing process by dealing with the symptoms of your addiction, step by step! You furthermore learn what other ways there are for you to handle difficult situations/stress/anxiety/..., so that addiction is no longer seen as a solution, but as a part of the problem.
Finally, we work with you to recognize the symptoms of addiction and the building up of resistance, so that your addiction has less of a chance in the future! You can also invite a buddy, if you want, who can support you during this process.
Alcohol addiction? Take the free self-test?
Would you like to know whether you suffer from depression, stress, and/or anxiety; factors which can be both a cause or a consequence of alcoholism? Then take the free self-test by 15 Minutes 4 Me here!