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Causes & Effects of Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

While many adults partake in the casual consumption of alcohol, there are those individuals who abuse alcohol, go on to develop an addiction to this substance, and experience adverse effects as a result. The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes the criteria for an alcohol use disorder as including the following:

  • Consuming alcohol in larger amounts in order to garner the desired effects
  • Failed attempts to decrease one’s usage of alcohol
  • Spending a great deal of time seeking out, drinking, and recovering from the use of alcohol
  • Intense cravings for continued usage
  • Failing to adhere to role expectations or responsibilities because of alcohol use
  • Continuing to use alcohol despite adverse effects
  • Continuation of alcohol abuse despite awareness of adverse effects
  • Drinking in situations that prove hazardous to oneself or others
  • Giving up things that were once enjoyed in order to drink alcohol
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

Individuals who are experiencing a combination of the previously mentioned criteria are likely battling an alcohol abuse problem. These same individuals are those that can greatly benefit from treatment as this type of care can help people with an alcohol abuse problem regain control over their lives. By engaging in chemical dependency treatment, individuals with this type of addiction can gain the tools needed to achieve lasting sobriety, decrease the chances for the long-term health risks associated with an alcohol addiction, and realize a life in which drinking is not the center of one’s universe.

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Estimates show that nearly nine percent of adults in the United States abuse alcohol. Additionally, it is believed that nearly 17 million adult men and women are currently battling an alcohol abuse problem. Considering the high prevalence rates of alcohol abuse, researchers believe that alcohol is more widely abused than illicit substances and tobacco.

Causes and Risk Factors for Alcohol Abuse

Research cites genetics and certain environmental factors as being highly influential in the development of an alcohol abuse problem. In addition to other risk factors, the following are widely agreed upon concepts by experts on addiction and alcohol abuse:

Genetic: Extensive research has produced findings that conclude that a person’s genetics can be at work with regards to the development of an alcohol abuse problem. This conclusion was made when it was realized that alcohol abuse runs in families and that those battling an addiction to alcohol frequently have a family history of such a concern. In fact, those with a family history of alcohol abuse are three to four times more likely to abuse alcohol at some point in life. In sum, it can be said that genes play a significant role in determining who is more susceptible to abusing alcohol.

Environmental: The environment in which a person spends most of his or her time can influence the development of an alcohol abuse problem. Should an individual be exposed to ongoing abuse of alcohol, it is likely that he or she will eventually abuse this substance as well. Additionally, those who have been be victim of crime, trauma, abuse, and/or neglect have an increased risk for abusing alcohol as being under the influence can offer temporary relief from such turmoil.

Risk Factors:

  • Pre-existing mental health condition or conditions
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Poor socioeconomic status
  • Being male
  • Family history of alcoholism or other types of substance use disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

There are several factors that can influence the apparentness of an alcohol abuse problem for a given individual. Depending on the longevity of the abuse, the amount of alcohol consumed, and the level of disruption caused by a chemical dependency concern of this kind, the telltale signs of alcohol abuse can vary. The following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms are those that suggest a person is battling an alcohol addiction:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Unprovoked aggressive outbursts
  • Alienating friends and family members
  • Lying about one’s drinking habits
  • No longer engaging in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Hiding alcohol
  • Drinking alone

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramping
  • Shaking
  • Distorted vision
  • Profuse sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Sleep disturbances

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory disturbances
  • Inability to concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Excessive anger
  • Chronic depression
  • Increased anxiety
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Frequent changes in mood

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Battling an addiction to alcohol and not seeking treatment for such a concern can render a number of harmful effects for an individual. The following effects are those that are known to occur in the lives of those who regularly abuse alcohol:

  • Damage to one’s heart and/or cardiovascular system
  • Weakened immune system
  • Brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Aggressive outbursts when under the influence
  • Discord among friends and loved ones
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Familial strife
  • Job loss
  • Interaction with law enforcement as a result of alcohol abuse

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals who abuse alcohol often struggle with mental health concerns. Whether a person possesses a mental health disorder prior to abusing alcohol or if the symptoms of a mental health condition become more apparent when an individual is in the throes of an alcohol addition, the following disorders carry the potential to be present at the same time as an alcohol use disorder:

  • Impulse control disorders
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of alcohol withdrawal: Should a chronic abuser of alcohol abruptly cease his or her drinking of alcohol, withdrawal symptoms are known to occur. These symptoms can come about anywhere from 24 hours to 72 hours after an individual’s last alcohol beverage and can include a number of uncomfortable and life-threatening symptoms. If you or your loved one displays any of the following withdrawal symptoms, it is necessary to consider chemical dependency treatment in order to achieve a sober and healthy life:

  • Feeling ill
  • Rapid heartrate
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Changes in skin color
  • Disorientation
  • Excessive levels of anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Confusion
  • Tremors or incessant shaking

Effects of alcohol overdose: The regular overconsumption of alcohol greatly increases a person’s risk for overdose. An overdose on alcohol happens when an individual drinks alcohol to a degree that his or her body is unable to metabolize it. Should an individual display the following signs of overdose, it is imperative that emergency medical attention is sought in order to prevent a grave outcome:

  • Delayed reflexes
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Extreme confusion
  • Violent vomiting
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Loss of skin color
  • Losing consciousness
  • Becoming unresponsive
  • Seizures
  • Incoherent speech

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