Alcohol consumption is tolerated in most countries. The majority of people who engage in this activity will only ever drink moderately and so will never suffer problems as a result. It may even be that their consumption of alcohol is producing some health benefits. There are other individuals who do not stick to the recommended levels for alcohol intake, and they suffer negative consequences as a result. These problem drinkers can suffer from a wide range of difficulties that interfere with their ability to enjoy life.
The term problem drinker refers to those individuals who are having difficulties in their life as a result of their alcohol intake. In some definitions the term problem drinking is used to refer to people who have not yet developed full blown alcoholism, but it most usually refers to all types of alcohol abuse. There is a stigma associated with the word alcoholism, and there are many individuals who prefer the term problem drinking when referring to their difficulties.
Alcohol problems can vary in severity. The most common patterns of alcohol abuse include:
* Binge drinking refers to a situation where people drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. This is a particularly dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption, and it is common in most western countries – particularly among young people.
* Alcohol abuse refers to a situation where the individual is starting to get into trouble as a result of their drinking, but they are not physically or psychologically dependent.
* The heavy drinker is someone who regularly consumes more than the safe levels of alcohol intake. This individual may be able to do this without having noticeable problems in their life, but they are almost certainly damaging their health.
* Alcohol dependence/ alcoholism is where the individual has experienced physical or mental changes that reinforce the drinking habit.
It is also possible to divide alcohol consumption into four levels which would include:
* Social drinking – the individual sticks to the recommended levels for safe drinking- 2 drinks per day for adult men, 1 drink per day for adult women, and 1 drink per day for those over 65 years of age ( here a drink is a standard beer, a shot of spirits, or a standard glass of wine).
* Heavy drinking is where the individual drinks above the recommended level for safe alcohol consumption.
* Problem drinking is where the individual begins to experience difficulties in their life because of their alcohol intake, but they persist with the behavior.
* Dependence means that the individual has developed a physical or psychological dependence on alcohol – usually both.
Binge drinking refers to a pattern of alcohol consumption where the individual deliberately sets out to become intoxicated. It can also be described as episodic excessive drinking. Men who drink more than five standard drinks in one sitting and women who drink more than four standard drinks would be considered to binge drinking. The binge drinker may only engage in this behavior occasionally, but it can still cause them a great deal of harm. The dangers of binge drinking can include:
* Those people who drink excessively in a short period of time are at risk of developing alcohol poisoning. It is possible for the individual to die as a result of such overindulgence if they fail to get prompt medical attention.
* There is a close connection between binge drinking and suicide. When people are inebriated they are more like to act impulsively and make bad decisions – alcohol is also a depressant that causes the symptoms of depression to arise.
* Binge drinking can easily lead to alcoholism. In fact most alcoholics will have started off as binge drinkers in their early years and progressed from there.
* This pattern of alcohol consumption increases the risk of people having accidents.
* If people drink excessively in this way it can lead to blackouts. This means that they will have no memory of their actions during a period of time when they were inebriated – people have actually committed murder during the middle of a blackout yet cannot remember it.
* Those individuals who engage in this type of drinking pattern will often make bad decisions while under the influence. They may go on to regret these decisions for the rest of their life.
* This pattern of drinking is likely to lead to hangovers. These unpleasant physical symptoms can mean that the individual will be unable to fulfill their work, social, and family responsibilities the next day.
* Binge drinking encourages dangerous sex liaisons and increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
* Alcohol is a toxin and binge drinking can cause damage to every organ in the body. It is not necessary for the individual to develop full-blown alcoholism in order for them to begin to develop chronic conditions such as alcoholic liver disease
There are people who drink above the recommended levels of alcohol consumption for many years yet do not seem to suffer too many problems as a result. These may be individuals who rarely become intoxicated and behave in a social manner when they drink. The reality of the situation is that these people may be doing a great deal of damage to their body and mind. It can take many years for problems such as liver cirrhosis or alcoholic dementia to produce symptoms. It is also possible for the heavy drinker to cross over into alcoholism at any stage – all it might take is the right circumstances in their life. Anyone who regularly drinks above the recommended safe levels is taking a risk, and it is not recommended.
The most serious type of problem drinking is alcohol dependence – otherwise known as alcoholism. The individual develops a physiological or psychological dependence on alcohol, and in most cases they will develop both. The two classic symptoms of physical dependence are increased tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. To say that somebody is psychologically dependent means that they feel unable to cope without the substance.
The symptoms of alcohol dependence can include:
* If the individual attempts to cut down or stop drinking altogether they will experience withdrawal symptoms such as body tremors, vomiting, insomnia, body aches, and maybe even convulsions.
* The individual has an increased tolerance for alcohol. This means that they need to drink more in order to get the same result.
* They have lost interest in things that they once enjoyed.
* The individual continues to drink alcohol even though it is obviously causing problems in their life.
* They are failing to manage their work, family, and social responsibilities.
* The individual feels the need to hide the full extent of their drinking.
* Those who are dependent on alcohol will often feel anxious about going places where there is not going to be any alcohol available.
* They have financial or legal problems as a result of their drinking.
* Their physical health has deteriorated as a result of their drinking.
* They become defensive when anyone expresses concern about their alcohol consumption.
* They may need to drink as soon as they wake up in the morning.
* They will often suffer from memory blackouts.
* They experience mood swings.
* Many alcoholics suffer from symptoms of depression.
* The individual will spend increasing amounts of time thinking about, consuming, and getting over the effects of alcohol.
* Those who develop alcohol dependence will usually suffer deterioration to their life and health over time. The longer they stay dependent the more harm they are likely to endure.
These are just some of the symptoms that those who are alcohol dependent will experience. It is not necessary for the individual to have all of these symptoms for them to be considered an alcoholic.
There are some types of alcoholic that are able to hide their dependency on alcohol so well that they would not even be considered problem drinkers. The high functioning alcoholic may not fit into the stereotype of an alcoholic at all; instead they may:
* Have a good job.
* Be considered successful in life.
* Be well respected by their peers.
* Be well respected in the community.
* Never show signs that their alcohol intake is out of control.
* Appear to be outwardly happy.
* Have a loving family.
* Have a high degree of motivation to achieve things in life.
The high functioning alcoholic is so skilled at hiding their addiction that they may suffer a great deal of physical and mental damage before their excesses become more apparent. Many of these individuals will crash and burn eventually because it is almost impossible to hide their addiction indefinitely.