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Signs, Types, and Causes of Alcohol Addiction

Updated on June 16, 2017
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I am currently working on a B.S. in counseling specializing in substance abuse. I am also a volunteer counselor.

Alcoholism

What is alcoholism? According to many scholars, doctors, counselors, etc., alcoholism is a disease. This disease can cause cravings for the drug. It can cause the user to have total loss of control to the point where the individual cannot stop using once they've begun. It also causes physical dependence that can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Eventually the individual will build up a tolerance, meaning that he or she will need to consume more and more alcohol in order to feel "normal."

Being an alcoholic can cause many different kinds of problems:

  • Social, behavioral, academic, and professional problems at school, work, and/or home.
  • Alcoholics may find themselves in dangerous situations due to their lifestyle.
  • Physical health consequences; for example, damage to the liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and other organs. If a woman is pregnant and drinks, the baby can be born with defects (medineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html).
  • Mental health consequences; for example, depression, anxiety, panic, suicidal ideation, lowered inhibitions, manic behavior, loss of concentration, and paranoia.

Five Shades of Alcoholism

There are five types of alcoholism: young adult, young adult antisocial, functional, intermediate familial, and chronic severe. You may know some of these individuals and/or you might be one of these individuals. So let's take a further look into the types of alcoholism.

  1. The Young Adult: This type of alcoholic is the largest group within the United States; these individuals make up 32% of alcoholism. Users typically start by twenty years of age and by the time they reach twenty-four, they are full blown alcoholics. Twenty years old is a common time for individuals to begin drinking, and if not treated it can lead to alcohol dependency. The individuals in this group may have/had members of their family that are/were alcoholics. Some might argue that this is learned behavior, hereditary, and that the person might be predispositioned to use. One thing to note about this group is that they are not "daily drinkers", they tend to be "binge drinkers" This means that they consume a large amount of alcohol at one sitting; often on the weekends, in social settings, in celebratory settings, as well as alone. It is noted that individuals in this group rarely seek help for their addiction (projeckknow.com/research/types-of-alcoholics/).
  2. The Young Antisocial: This group of individuals makes up 21% of US alcoholics. They tend to start drinking at about age 15 and are full blown alcoholics by the age of 18. The average age of the individuals in this group is 26. They typically have members of their family that are alcoholics, but unlike group one; this group also has antisocial disorders(s) that might lead them to use. Due to the disorder(s), they typically do not seek treatment due to fear, shame, guilt, rejection, etc. It is important to know that members of this group are at risk of using others drugs such as: cocaine, opioids, marijuana, etc. Overtime, it is estimated that around 33% of these individuals will seek help.
  3. Functional Alcoholics: What is a functional alcoholic? A functional alcoholic is an individual that drinks on a daily basis; consuming several drinks throughout the day, but the person is still able to function, maintain relationships and a job. This group is typically made up of middle-aged people, but it can also consist of people in the thirties and even younger. Although these individuals can function while drinking, that does not mean that they will not fall to the same illnesses and psychological disorders that the other groups do. According to projectknow.com, "this group comprises 19 percent of all alcoholics, and about 19 percent of functional alcoholics end up getting help."
  4. Intermediate Familial Alcoholic: This group consists of 19% of alcoholics in this particular study. By the age of 30, these people are alcoholics but they began around 17 years of age. It is probable that they also experimented with others drugs, and that they suffer from severe depression; and some are often diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The individuals in this group (around half) are immediate relatives that are alcoholics. It is noted that approximately 25% of individuals in this group seek help for addiction.
  5. Chronic Severe Sub-type: The individuals in this category are rare, and make up 9% of alcoholics within the US. If you know one personally, know that this group tends to reach out for help at a rate of 66%; there is hope. The members in this group tend to be male, have family members that are alcoholics, have a high divorce rate, and around half of this group has a personality disorder or other type of mental illness (projectknow.com/research/types-of-alcoholics/).. Some may turn to alcohol in order to cope or self-medicate, this will be discussed in detail later.

Reference: Types of Alcoholics (2016). projectknow.com/research/types-of-alcoholics/).

How Can You Help: Knowing the Signs of Alcoholism

One may assume that all alcoholics openly consume large quantities of alcohol and exhibit the typical behaviors of an alcoholic, but this is not always the case. There are several other signs that one can look for. Perhaps you drink and you want to know if you are an alcoholic, here are eleven signs of alcoholism.

  1. Cravings.
  2. Loss of control.
  3. Becoming dependent.
  4. Drinking alone or in "anti-social situations".
  5. Unable to control the amount of alcohol that you consume.
  6. Loss of interest in things that once brought you pleasure (hobbies, going out, intercourse, etc.).
  7. A desire or compulsion to drink/use.
  8. Finding yourself aggressive and/or irritable when you need a drink.
  9. Hiding alcohol is odd places (in the garden, at work, in the car, in your locker, at the gym, in the back of the toilet, etc.)
  10. Finding that you are having problems at work, at home, with relationships, finances and possibly legal issues.
  11. Physical and mental withdrawal when not using.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, know that alcoholism is a disease and that you can get help. It is important to know yourself, as well as your body. If you are gaining weight in the stomach and no where else, if your skin is yellow, if you drink and feel "normal", or make excuses as to why you drink ("I had a rough day", "They just don't understand", "I'm alone", "I just need to unwind", "I just want the pain to go away", "I just need a bit to sleep", etc.; please seek help; it's out there. One good source is: addict-help.com. Alcohol takes a toll on the body, mind, and spirit; it is important to have regular check ups to make sure that you are mental and physically fit.

What Makes a Person Turn to Alcohol?

There are a multitude of reasons why an individual may choose to turn to alcohol. Today, we'll discuss nine reasons why.

  1. Self medication: This means that individuals with mental and physical disorders may turn to alcohol in order to medicate themselves because they do not understand why they feel a certain way. For instance, a person with bipolar disorder may not understand why they have feelings of rage, aggression, overly sexual behavior, depression, suicidal ideation, and mania. They may find that drugs and/or alcohol help them to feel better since drugs can suppress some of the symptoms associated with disorders.
  2. Product of their environment: If person grows up in a household where one or more individuals were alcoholics, it may seem like "the norm" to use. They may also hang out with individuals that use and through peer pressure, curiosity, or desire they chose to use as well.
  3. Boredom: It is believed that people may become bored with life and choose to use and/or drink in order to create excitement. If it works for them, this creates a cycle of use which leads to alcoholism.
  4. Stress relief: Perhaps work is hard, your marriage has issues, school is difficult, etc. For some, alcohol and/or drugs seems to relieve stress and make them feel better at first. Because of this, they continue until they have a problem.
  5. Pain: Sometimes when people are in pain and cannot afford or receive help, they may turn to alcohol and/or drugs. Alcohol has been known to kill pain (however it is only temporary), so people continue to use it in order to feel better.
  6. Coping Mechanism: For some, alcohol and/or drugs is a means to an end. When a person suffered traumatic experiences in their life, they may look for "an out" and find it in drug use. While they may feel better at first, eventually it will stop working and they will start finding other excuses to use.
  7. Peer Pressure: We all know it, we've all seen it, we've all fallen for it at one point or another. You want to fit it so you follow the crowd.
  8. Chasing the High: When you first start to use, you love how you feel. Once you use to the point of tolerance, you are simply chasing the high and this where trouble comes in. You will never get that first high, EVER. It is a viscous cycle and very hard to break.
  9. Hereditary (predisposition): This idea is controversial. Many believe that if you are one or more parents that use, at least one of the children will use. As an example, imagine a home where the father is a raging alcoholic and the mother is a heavy social drinker. They have three children, two boys, one girl, and all three children struggle with one or more forms of addiction. The oldest son experimented with several drugs and alcohol, the middle son did as well, and the daughter did as well but she was also highly sexually active. When they were children the father reached out and stopped drinking, but the mother kept on socially drinking. The kids grew into adults. The oldest son smoke marijuana from time to time, but he is a raging alcoholic just like his father was. The middle son could not get enough of any type of drug, and continues to use marijuana since he kicked alcohol and opioids, the sister is a heavy social drinker and very open about sex. The addiction carried from parents to children, but some would say "give me proof". Well let's look at the parent's parents. The father's parents were both alcoholics, and the mother's parents were both heavy social drinkers. If we continue to look back, we will see a long line of drug and/or alcohol use in this family tree. So it is highly possible that some people are predispositioned to be addicts due to their genes.

Are you, or someone you know?

Are you or someone you know an alcoholic? If so, have you reached out for help?

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Help is out there!

While it might be scary, or you may feel shame, doubt, etc., just know that there are others like you, and there is help. Here is a list of organizations that work with individuals addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  2. Alcohol Rehab Guide: 1 (844) 883-4129
  3. Al-Anon and Alateen
  4. Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
  5. Women for Sobriety

Please reach out—you are not alone.

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