Alcoholism is a disease involving uncontrollable physical dependence and emotional reliance on alcohol. The sufferer is unable to stay away from drink even when faced with dire consequences in all areas of his life - marriage, work, financial health. It is a chronic disease and often progresses to the point, if untreated, it becomes fatal.
The term "alcohol abuse" is used to describe a state less severe than true alcoholism. As an alcohol abuser, you may drink to excess and suffer social and health consequences, but never completely lose your control over the substance as you would in full-fledged alcoholism.
Just because it's not as bad as alcoholism, abuse is by no means a safe way to use alcohol. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says 18 million Americans abuse alcohol. Alcohol plays a part in almost half of all traffic fatalities in the United States. The loved ones of these victims put very little stock in the difference between an alcohol abuser and an alcoholic when the driver at fault drank more than he should have.
Although it's not always easy to diagnose the true alcoholic, there are indications that can be recognized. Not everyone suffering from alcoholism suffers all these symptoms. In addition, because they tend to be secretive about it, it will be difficult to discover in another. Here's what to watch for:
1. Keeping drinking secret from friends and family; drinking alone a lot; hiding the alcohol in unusual places.
2. Being unable to stop drinking once started.
3. Experience full or partial "blackouts," where your memory of events while drinking isn't complete.
4. Becoming annoyed when a regular drinking ritual, like having a drink after dinner, is interrupted.
5. Leaving behind former hobbies and pleasurable activities.
6. Drinking becomes a compulsion or a need.
7. The more time without a drink, the more signs irritability are shown.
8. Gulping strong drinks to achieve the drunk feeling as fast as possible.
9. Tolerance levels are reached making it necessary to drink even larger amounts to achieve the needed feeling.
10. Relationships, work, financial troubles increase, sometimes involving legal actions.
11. When no alcohol has been consumed for a while for whatever reason, experiencing symptoms of physical withdrawal - shaking, sweating, and nausea.
If you haven't reached the stage of true alcoholism, but are instead an alcohol abuser you may suffer some of the same symptoms, with the exception of the compulsion to drink and the withdrawal symptoms when not drinking. Alcoholism is also more suspected when a tolerance to alcohol has been built up and when an inability to stop drinking is observed.
Have you ever wondered if your own alcohol consumption has crossed the line into either alcohol abuse or alcoholism? Ask yourself the following:
- What's the first thing you think of when you get up in the morning? If having a drink ranks in the top 1 or 2, there could be problem.
- Do you feel guilty enough to hide how much you drink from those who care about you? From your boss?
- Do you often think about how you should cut back on the amount of drinking you do? Have you made failed New Years' Resolutions to stop?
- Do you get annoyed when others mention or, heaven forbid, criticize your special relationship to alcohol?
A yes answer to any of these questions could indicate at least alcohol abuse and possibly even alcoholism. Seek help!