Alcohol is incorporated in the social fabric of many societies. Be it a special occasion like a wedding, party, graduation or just hanging out with friends or colleagues, many of us like to consume alcohol to relax and enjoy.

The media has also contributed to its popularity by adding a touch of glamour to drinking. It is precisely these reasons that many people find it hard to notice when their drinking has gone from moderate to being problematic. At first, consuming alcohol makes you feel good. However, with time, increasing amounts of alcohol have to be consumed to get the same feeling, paving the way for alcoholism and alcohol abuse. In Australia, the major cause of deaths on the road is alcohol-related. It is also the second biggest cause of drug-related deaths in this country. This is why it is important that you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and how to cut down on this abuse.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction, is defined by psychologists as “an illness characterized by significant impairment that is directly associated with persistent and excessive use of alcohol. Impairment may involve physiological, psychological or social dysfunction”.

Alcoholism can be considered a disease rather than just a bad social habit that hampers your health, social life, work and family responsibilities. Regardless of these problems, alcoholics will keep on drinking. In doing so, they not just affect themselves but also their families, friends and the general population.

Apart from the health hazards like liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure and depression, there is a higher incidence of divorces, domestic violence, unemployment and legal problems among alcoholics. Studies have shown that almost half of all violent crimes are caused by alcohol.

Difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Alcohol abuse does not involve the person experiencing symptoms of withdrawal or persistently increasing the amount of alcohol consumed. There is some lack of control on drinking but it doesn’t involve being physically dependent on alcohol. Alcoholism is a very rigorous type of alcohol abuse, as described above.

What leads to alcoholism?

Following are some of the risk factors that can lead to alcohol abuse and dependence:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Alcoholic parents
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Antisocial manners
  • Any stressful change like losing a job, death of someone close, relationship breakups

Signs and symptoms

Alcohol abuse

The following symptoms can tell whether you or your loved one has an alcohol abuse problem:

  • Overlooking responsibilities related to work, home or studies.
  • Using machinery or driving while drunk
  • Using alcohol to take medicines
  • Continually getting into legal problems due to excessive drinking
  • Getting drunk to relieve stress
  • Strained relationships due to excessive use of alcohol

Alcohol dependence

Being an abuser of alcohol puts you at a huge risk of being an alcoholic, which is made apparent by the occurrence of three or more of the following symptoms, within a span of 12 months:

  • Tolerance: this occurs when, with time, you need persistently increasing amounts of alcohol to get the desired effect or you start drinking more than others without getting drunk.
  • Withdrawal: When you experience typical withdrawal symptoms like the ones below and take alcohol as a relief from them.

These symptoms include:

  • Trembling
  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Losing appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Hallucinations and delusions (in extreme cases)
  • Drinking more and more alcohol than was intended
  • Making several unsuccessful attempts to curb the use of alcohol
  • Decreasing social activities because of the use of alcohol
  • Continuing its use despite knowledge of the problem with alcohol use and its effects
  • Denying that this problem even exists

Recovering from alcoholism

Once you are ready to admit that you have an alcohol abuse or dependence problem, there are numerous treatments available to treat this. The stepping-stone in this process is to face this problem head on.

A treatment plan in which the alcoholic fights this ugly habit with the assistance of strong will power and persistence called 12-Step recovery process has proven to be very successful. It provides the basis for recovering from alcoholism, not just for the alcoholic but also for his/her friends and family. These steps include:

  1. Honesty: admitting that alcoholism is a serious problem that has to be dealt with.
  2. Faith: having firm faith in you that you can control this problem and curb it, with the help of a greater power.
  3. Surrender: turn over everything to the care of a higher power and believe in it.
  4. Soul Searching: Making a moral record of our wrongdoings.
  5. Integrity: Admitting to everyone what we have done wrong. This is one of the most difficult steps in this process and has great growth potential.
  6. Acceptance: accepting your flaws and be willing to rectify them.
  7. Humility: ask the higher power for help in correcting your situation that cannot be done alone.
  8. Willingness: this is the part where you become willing to make amends by making a list of all the people you have harmed.
  9. Forgiveness: making amends to people who have been hurt.
  10. Maintenance: maintaining spiritual progress during this process is very important.
  11. Making contact: Seeking the power to carry on with this recovery, through prayer and meditation and improving contact with God meanwhile also cultivating mindfulness.
  12. Service: practicing whatever we have learnt in our daily affairs and spreading the message to other alcoholics.

Do you or someone you know suffer from alcoholism or alcohol dependence? If so, Australia Counselling links you with professional alcohol abuse counsellors and psychologists in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane and country areas of Australia. Visit our Addictions- Including Substances page to find a counsellor near you.