Most of us know people who consume alcohol on a regular basis. We might even do it ourselves. We go out on the weekends with friends and have a few drinks at the local bar, or we stay in and have a beer or a glass of wine on an almost-nightly basis.
But you might know someone who takes things a bit further than they should. Maybe they have a few too many drinks when you go out, requiring you to step in and take care of them to ensure they get home safely. Or maybe your spouse has multiple drinks every night.
How can you tell whether these behaviors constitute an “alcohol abuse problem?” And what steps should you take to help them recover?
Alcohol Consumption vs. Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol is a drug. It just happens to be a commonly accepted one. Most of us can consume a bit of alcohol on a periodic basis without health consequences or social ramifications. But in excessive amounts, it can turn into a larger problem.
Alcohol abuse refers to someone who drinks to an extent that it results in some kind of problem; it may be a risk to their health or interfere with their daily life. If alcohol abuse is persistent, it could turn into alcohol dependence – a physical addiction to the substance. A person with alcohol dependence, also known as alcoholism, will be almost unable to get through the day without alcohol.
Still, alcohol abuse is tricky to define, for a few reasons:
- Alcohol affects everyone differently. First, everyone reacts differently to alcohol. For one person, a few beers have almost no perceptible cognitive effects. For another, a single glass of wine can make them feel buzzed. You can’t judge someone’s internal state based on how much or how frequently they’re consuming alcohol.
- Some people occasionally engage in alcohol abuse without a lasting problem. Have you ever had a night where you drank too much and regretted it the next day? Many of us have. Some of us have had a few nights like this – but it never became a habit, and these nights were few and far between. This could technically be considered “alcohol abuse,” but it never turned into a serious, lasting problem.
- It’s hard to evaluate someone else’s behavior. Do you know for sure how much your loved one is drinking? Can you tell how “drunk” they are? It’s hard to evaluate another person’s habits and behaviors, and we certainly can’t understand their internal mental state for sure.
What Are the Signs Your Loved One Has an Alcohol Abuse Problem?
If you suspect your loved one may have an alcohol abuse problem, look for the following signs:
- Frequent drinking. For most people, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink alcohol once or twice a week, even if they’re doing it every week. But if you drink every day, without fail, it could be the sign of an alcohol abuse problem.
- Drinking more than a responsible amount on a regular basis. A bit of alcohol can help you relax and feel more comfortable socializing. But if you drink heavily, your speech will slur, you’ll find it difficult to stay coordinated, and your ability to judge situations and make decisions will suffer. You may also have a difficult time remembering things and engage in risky or problematic behaviors. For some people, it takes two drinks to get to this level of drunkenness. For others, it takes five or more. In any case, if you exceed a responsible amount when drinking on a regular basis, it’s a sign of a problem.
- Strong cravings for alcohol. Does your loved one seem to experience strong cravings for alcohol? In other words, do they turn to alcohol to satiate an internal need, almost like thirst or hunger? If so, it may be a sign of a problem. Alcohol should be a conscious, responsible decision.
- Signs of tolerance or dependence on alcohol. Drinking alcohol heavily often leads to tolerance, requiring the person to consume higher and higher volumes to achieve the same effects. Eventually, this could turn into dependence, making it hard for the person to function without consuming alcohol.
- A lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol. Pay attention to this person’s mannerisms when they start drinking. Do they seem to impulsively seek more alcohol, rather than making a conscious decision to have more? People struggling with an alcohol abuse disorder often find it difficult to control their actions.
- Lying or sneaky behavior. If a person is aware of their bad alcohol habits, they may lie to you or attempt to furtively conceal their alcohol consumption. This is especially true if you’ve expressed your discontent with their habits. If you catch them lying or sneaking out to get a drink, it’s time to take the problem seriously.
- Abandoning plans or activities to drink alcohol. Does this person abandon plans they’ve made or ignore social opportunities so they can stay home or go to the bar and drink? When alcohol starts to interfere with their life this way, it becomes a problem.
- Relationship or work problems due to alcohol. Perhaps most importantly, alcohol abuse is a problem if it impacts the person’s social relationships or career. If they’re frequently late to work or if they don’t show up because of their heavy drinking, or if your relationship with them has suffered, it’s important to step in and help them on the path to recovery.
Are You Or A Loved One Suffering From An Alcohol Abuse Problem?
Do you want to be supportive, but don’t know what to do next? The first step is to have a frank conversation with them about the problem. Try to work together to curtail the habit and get them to a better place. If that doesn’t work, they may need more help – like an alcohol abuse rehab program.