Most adults in the US drink at least occasionally, and many do so on a regular basis. Some individuals drink almost every day. It can be easy to assume that drinking that much means someone is addicted, but addiction is more complicated than the frequency of intake. If someone drinks a glass of wine with dinner every night and it’s not enough to get them intoxicated, is that person an alcoholic? Not likely.
Addiction is classified as a chronic brain disease. It involves both physical and psychological components. In the case of alcohol, it involves building a tolerance to the substance to the point that the person experiences withdrawal symptoms if drinking stops or is significantly reduced. It also involves emotional experiences including cravings and distress that can include depression and anxiety if there is no alcohol within reach.
If you’re drinking alcohol regularly, even if you don’t think you have a problem, it’s a good idea to be aware of the signs of alcohol addiction. Alcoholism is a very difficult illness to overcome and exposes victims to a wide range of serious health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 18,146 people died of alcoholic liver disease in 2013.
Most people will get a hangover after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol due to dehydration and the toxins in the substance. This, however, is not withdrawal. Even experiencing withdrawal symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’re addicted to a substance, but it is a strong indicator.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Shaking hands
- Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
In extreme cases, alcohol withdrawal can progress to a condition called delirium tremens. These severe symptoms tend to be a result of years of heavy drinking and are almost certainly the result of addiction.
Delirium tremens symptoms include:
- Severe anxiety
- Profuse sweating
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Low-grade fever
- Severe tremors
- Intense visual hallucinations
Delirium tremens can be fatal. Anyone who has been drinking heavily on a daily basis for an extended period of time should consult a doctor before attempting to quit.
Signs of Addiction
Psychological signs of addiction are often universal. Regardless of whether it’s a legal substance like alcohol or an illicit drug like heroin, the progression and the behaviors tend to be remarkably similar.
Signs of alcohol addiction include:
- Hiding alcohol around the home
- Changes in social circles
- Changes in hygiene and grooming habits
- Lying about the amount of alcohol ingested
- Secretive behavior
- Drinking to get through the day
- Avoiding situations in which alcohol is unlikely to be available
- Distress at the idea of not having access to alcohol
- Changes in personality
- Changes in the effects of alcohol on the individual
- Refusal or inability to stop drinking
These signs combined with the emergence of withdrawal symptoms are a heavy indication of addiction. Due to the fact that alcohol is so hard on the body, it’s important to get an addicted person into treatment as soon as possible. Alcoholism is a severe medical condition that cannot be overcome alone. Medical supervision is required for alcohol withdrawal, and professional help is needed to address the issues related to alcohol abuse.