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Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol has long been a regular part of our society. While most people enjoy a drink or two here and there, or become drunk only on rare occasions at parties, there are some people who have more of a problem with the use of alcohol. Alcohol problems (known as alcohol use disorders) fall into two main categories: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. These are, in fact, clinically considered two different problems, with different warning signs.

Alcohol use disorders

Alcohol use disorders are used to describe people who go beyond “normal” alcohol use. While most people are content with one or two drinks, or even getting drunk very occasionally for “special occasions,” alcohol use disorders are characterized by regularly consuming more than one or two standard drinks. A standard drink is one that has right around 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Depending on the type of alcohol, a standard drink comes in different sizes:

  • 12 oz. of beer or cooler
  • 8-9 oz. of malt liquor
  • 5 oz. of table wine
  • 3-4 oz. of fortified wine
  • 2-3 oz. of cordial, liqueur or aperitif
  • 1.5 oz. of brandy or spirits

Someone who habitually binges on more than one or two standard drinks, or someone who enjoys drinking alone more than a couple of drinks, could have an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse is characterized by the over-use of alcohol. It may be used to self medicate inappropriately when one is feeling low. Alcohol abuse goes beyond the bounds of mere “social drinking” and moves into the realm of several drinks, binge drinking and drinking more than one or two drinks alone. There is distress on the part of the alcohol abuser, and significant impairment to some of his or her activities. He or she may show signs of depression and an above-normal interest in alcohol. However, alcohol abuse does not entail an actual physical dependence on alcohol, and withdrawal symptoms are minor.

Alcohol dependence

Alcohol dependence is beyond alcohol abuse. This entails a physical dependence on alcohol. The body actually needs it to function. When the alcohol is removed, withdrawal symptoms are clearly seen. While alcohol abuse takes place in addition to normal activities, one of the warning signs of alcohol dependence is a neglect of normal activities. Instead, the alcohol dependent person seeks to drink in place of activities he or she normally enjoys. Additionally, alcohol dependence is characterized by continued drinking, even though the person may acknowledge that psychological and physical problems are resulting from the behavior. Both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence can go years without treatment. And, in the case of alcohol abuse, the abuser may not even be aware that he or she has a problem. Many people with alcohol dependence are aware that there is a problem, or at least aware that he or she needs alcohol and cannot stop because of the severe withdrawal symptoms. However, if not treated, both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence can lead to long-ranging mental and physical health problems.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse Main source material:

  • “Fact Sheet: Alcohol,” Information/FAQs. Screening for Mental Health. [Online.]

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