A successful recovery can be achieved most effectively with the early identification of, and response to the first warning signs of alcohol addiction. Waiting until someone reaches rock bottom for most only means a more challenging climb out of addiction. Whether you drink currently, or notice the signs of symptoms of early alcohol addiction in others, the awareness can mean the difference between a challenging and destructive path and one that circumvents the negative health, social, financial, and emotional influences of alcohol addiction toward a successful recovery.
Alcohol addiction is still a taboo subject, but in reality, the disease of alcohol addiction is as serious as a cancer diagnosis. If you or your friend discovered a lump beneath their skin, you’d seek out or encourage them to seek medical attention immediately. While it may seem uncomfortable, if someone you love appears to be crossing the line from social drinking to an addiction, your early intervention may not only help them achieve an early recovery; it might just save a life.
Social Drinking And Alcohol Addiction
Social drinking isn’t necessarily a sign that someone has a problem with alcohol, though drinking more than one drink in the period of two hours can indicate a level of heavy drinking with long-term negative health effects. Where social drinking becomes a warning sign for alcohol addiction is when you or someone you love drinks to relieve stress, for example after work or after an argument with your spouse, when a habit of drinking in certain company and with regularity begins. A drink after work once a week is one thing, but associating a stressful day or event with a need for an alcoholic drink, can mark the beginning of the process of sensitization that is the hallmark of early addiction.
Sensitization is a process that unfolds in the early stages of addiction. When someone drinks alcohol, they benefit from a release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers of the brain. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s quite beneficial, but with the introduction of addictive substances, this process is turned into a dangerous and deceptive force.
When someone first begins drinking, the release of dopamine does not go unnoticed by the brain. Early man, upon discovering a nutritious food source was rewarded by this same process. The brain carefully maps the individual’s surroundings, taking note of everything from patterns in the landscape, to associations with other people, smells, sounds, etc. This makes relocating the substance or food that much easier. Unfortunately, for the alcohol-addicted brain, it means the brain now associates places, people, and other external stimuli with the substance that generated those early dopamine releases. Someone who goes into a bar with no intention of drinking might develop a subtle craving for alcohol and order a drink without a second thought.
Warning Signs Of Early Alcohol Addiction
Once sensitization occurs, the individual suffering from an early addiction to alcohol might be well-intended, ordering just one drink, then finding themselves leaving the bar or social gathering having had many more. They may drink past the point of being in control, black out, or wake up with no memory of what occurred the evening before. Someone with these symptoms is likely in the grip of early alcohol addiction.
People in the early stages of alcohol addiction may mask their drinking from family and friends, hide alcohol in the house, and become somewhat preoccupied with the thought of from where their next drink will come. They might also schedule events around access to alcohol or hang out with friends who drink.
Progressive Alcohol Addiction
As alcohol addiction progresses, signs of the disease become more evident to those close the the individual. Someone in this stage of alcohol addiction may miss work or grow isolated from close friends and family. They might also make poor decisions like drinking while driving, attending social or work functions while drunk, or drinking while caring for their children.
At this stage, the individual may develop significant mood changes that include irritation, depression, anxiety, and unprovoked violent outbursts. Cravings for alcohol may be strong if they are denied access to a drink and can involve severe flu-like withdrawal symptoms. These changes are indicators of a physical addiction to alcohol.
Other physical symptoms include changes in appetite (weight loss or gain), frequent illness due to reduced immunity, flushing in the face, bloating, and general fatigue. At this stage, it is critical that an alcohol-addicted individual receive medical treatment to address the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Long-Term Alcohol Addiction
At a point of decidedly long-term addiction to alcohol, not even the most attentive parent or well-behaved and gentle soul has any control over the disease raving their system. Someone who has been drinking long-term will likely choose alcohol over basic needs like food and making decisions that will afford them a place to live. They may have lost custody of their children, a career, a spouse, and may have distanced themselves from close family and friends. Physically, a person abusing alcohol long-term is likely to appear gaunt, they may appear lethargic and depressed, and drinking at this point is mostly to stave off severe and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Typically, the long-term alcohol-addicted person will show significant changes in weight, suffer frequent illnesses, may appear belligerent about getting help, or appear to reach out for help only to relapse frequently. At this stage, the full support of family, friends, and a comprehensive treatment plan are essential in helping the individual make a full and complete recovery. Medical support including nutritional supplements, medications to uphold the withdrawal process, and ongoing, long-term emotional support is necessary to help the alcohol-addicted individual achieve sobriety.
Long-term alcohol addiction is linked to a host of issues relating to physical and mental health. Serious medical ailments of long-term alcohol use include a variety of cancers, compromised immunity, cardiomyopathy and irregular heart rhythm, high blood pressure, stroke, diseases of the liver, pancreatitis, grey and white matter shrinkage in the brain, memory loss, and changes in skin.
When possible, a person at this stage of alcohol addiction should be closely monitored and not left alone with their drinking, so that a medical response to an accidental alcohol overdose is possible. Additionally, someone who ceases drinking “cold-turkey” at this stage may experience seizures, symptoms of delirium, loss of consciousness, and even death, so medically-supervised detox is recommended.
Signs of Progressing Alcoholism
- Social drinking that involves more than one drink in a two hour period
- Unable to control how much alcohol is consumed after just one drink
- Blackouts or memory loss
- Changing habits to accommodate drinking
- Drinking in secret or hiding alcohol
- Preoccupation with next drink
- Alcohol addiction becomes evident to others
- Drinking at inappropriate times, like while caring for children or driving
- Physical changes
- Mood changes
- Strong cravings for alcohol
- Drinking to stave off alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Wants to stop, but appears out of control
How To Help Someone With Signs Of Alcoholism
The best way to help someone suffering with the signs of alcohol addiction is to encourage them to get help immediately. Waiting for “rock bottom,” for many may be too late. If someone is in denial of their addiction, be patient and persistent. An intervention involving a professional interventionist, close family, friends, and co-workers may be necessary. Most importantly, remember that the alcohol- or drug-addicted person is no longer in control of their thoughts or actions the way a healthy individual is. Use language that is non-judgemental and indicates a level of commitment to your friend or loved one.
If your struggling loved one has children or has lost their drivers license, it can be hugely helpful to make a commitment of help with childcare or rides as the person transitions into recovery, keeping in mind to only make promises that can be kept.
Professional Help For Alcohol Addiction
AlcoholTreatment.net is an online resource that can connect you with the comprehensive, evidence-based treatment options and professional support to help you or a loved one achieve long-term sobriety. Contact us today and discover a rewarding life in recovery.