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Identifying the Signs of Alcoholism: A Guide to Understanding & Helping

You know something is wrong. You can feel it in your gut but you can’t quite place your finger on what it is. Your loved one is acting differently. Their mood swings back and forth erratically and they’re prone to bouts of sickness and isolation. Alcoholism is a complex and pervasive disease that affects millions of individuals worldwide. Despite its prevalence, identifying the signs of alcoholism can be challenging, especially in the early stages. However, recognizing and treating the early stages of alcoholism can be the difference between a slight struggle and prolonged battle. In this blog, we'll delve into what alcoholism is, how to recognize its signs, and offer guidance on how to help those in need.


What is Alcoholism?


Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, and, if left untreated, ultimately fatal disease. Medically classified as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), it is characterized by the inability to control the consumption of alcohol despite repeated negative consequences. These consequences are often physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial. Alcoholism is not merely a matter of drinking too much on occasion; rather, it is a pattern of compulsive alcohol use that once started, cannot be stopped. It leads to physical dependence, tolerance, and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. An alcoholic is not someone with a moral deficiency. They are people sick with a disease that require professional medical treatment.


Spotting the Signs


Recognizing the symptoms of alcoholism requires careful observation and an understanding of both behavioral and physical signs. Here are some common things to keep an eye out for:

  • Increased Tolerance: Alcoholics require more alcohol to achieve the same effects once experienced with smaller amounts. They will drink in greater and greater amounts over time. 

  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Someone with alcoholism will experience withdrawal symptoms once they stop drinking and begin to sober up. Tremors, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, anxiety, and irritability are all common withdrawal symptoms. Severe alcoholics may experience seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens in withdrawal. Alcohol is one of the few drugs whose withdrawals can kill you. If you suspect a loved one is experiencing alcohol withdrawal it is important to contact a medical professional immediately. 

  • Loss of Control: Alcoholics find it difficult to limit their alcohol intake or stop drinking once they've started, even if they want to.

  • Preoccupation with Alcohol: Alcoholism is a pervasive disease. It consumes your every waking moment. Constantly thinking about alcohol, planning when to drink, or finding ways to obtain it can indicate a problem.

  • Neglecting Responsibilities: Alcohol addiction can lead to neglecting work, school, family, or social obligations in favor of drinking.

  • Changes in Behavior: Mood swings, secrecy about drinking habits, and engaging in risky behaviors while intoxicated are all red flags.

  • Physical Symptoms: Long-term alcohol abuse can manifest in physical symptoms such as liver damage, weight loss, slurred speech, and poor coordination. It can also exacerbate underlying medical conditions. 


How to Help


If you have a loved one that is struggling with alcohol abuse, it's essential to approach the situation with empathy and support. Here are some steps you can take to help them:

  • Express Concern: In a non-confrontational manner, share your concern about their situation. Use "I" statements to communicate your observations and feelings without placing blame. Come from a place of love instead of judgment.

  • Offer Support: Make it clear you are speaking up to offer your support so they don’t feel they are alone in this fight. Encourage them to seek professional help and offer to accompany them to appointments if needed.

  • Avoid Enabling Behaviors: It can be easy to want to avoid confrontation or seek to make everything better. This is called enabling. Don’t make excuses for their drinking or cover up the consequences of their actions. Set boundaries and stick to them. This is much more helpful in the long run. 

  • Encourage Treatment: Alcoholism is a serious condition. Strongly encourage seeking help from an addiction or medical professional. If they are thinking about detox, they should be admitted into an alcohol detox program for their own safety. 

  • Be Patient & Understanding: Recovery from alcoholism is a journey that takes time and effort. Be patient, understanding, and supportive throughout the process, even if there are setbacks along the way.

  • Take Care of Yourself: Supporting someone with alcoholism can be emotionally taxing. Remember to prioritize your own self-care and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed.


What Now?


You’ve read the blog and know the signs. The next step is to touch base with a residential treatment facility with any questions or concerns. It’s a good idea to have a trusted treatment location in your back pocket should the immediate need arise. Call us today at Holland Pathways and we can help you figure out a plan for your loved one.