Alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction is a complex condition which can be difficult to overcome. In the UK, alcohol is a legal and socially acceptable substance, which can make alcohol abuse especially easy to develop. In the UK in 2019, a staggering 358,000 hospital admissions were linked to alcohol consumption. This figure has been steadily increasing year on year, so if you are worried about alcohol dependence, you are not alone.

Due to alcohol being consumed legally by so many people every day, signs of alcoholism can sometimes go unnoticed. We will share how to spot the signs and symptoms of alcoholism in more detail below, so you can recognise the problem before it spirals out of control.

Alcohol addiction glass of whiskey

Understanding alcoholism

Alcohol addiction is the compulsion to drink alcohol because a person relies on it in their daily life. When somebody has an alcohol addiction, they cannot control their compulsion so cannot stay sober for very long, and will be fixated on their next alcoholic drink. They cannot control the levels of alcohol that they consume, and disregard the health and safety risks associated with drinking heavily.
The dangers of alcohol addiction can be often overlooked because it is a substance used by so many to have fun and celebrate. However, as with all types of addiction, alcoholism is an illness. It impacts physical and mental health and has no limits on who it will victimise. It affects people of all ages no matter what background a person is from.

Why do people develop alcohol addiction?

Addiction to a substance such as alcohol is often used as a form of self-medicating a different problem. A person may have a higher tendency to become dependent on alcohol if they have other issues in their life that they want to mask, or hide away from. Some common examples of risk factors associated with alcoholism include:

  • Mental health problems
  • Childhood trauma
  • Family history of alcohol addiction
  • Living in a chaotic environment

However, just because a person may experience one or more of the factors above, does not mean that they will always become addicted to alcohol. Alcohol addiction can also be influenced by lifestyle factors and social pressures.

When does alcohol addiction start?

At what stage does ‘having a drink’ turn you into an alcoholic? This can be extremely difficult to distinguish because alcohol is associated with positive social events. People initially drink alcohol to have fun with friends and experience pleasure. During consumption, alcohol can make you feel happy and confident by boosting the levels of the dopamine hormone in your brain.
When everybody is having a good time whilst drinking alcohol, the signs of alcohol addiction can often go unnoticed. It may just be viewed as a person being more sociable or a person binge drinking, or just drinking heavily. We’ve outlined a table below with signs of heavy drinking and signs of alcohol addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms from drinking alcohol

Someone with an alcohol addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms for the time they are not drinking alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms are physical and psychological reactions from the body adjusting to having no more alcohol in its system. Some examples include:

  • Vomiting
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucination
  • Seizures

Alcohol addiction man with headache

As the body becomes used to functioning with large amounts of alcohol, it has to adjust to functioning without alcohol. The withdrawal symptoms can range in duration and severity depending on a person’s tolerance to alcohol; and alcoholics often require professional support to get through this stage. This is often a large contributing factor to why alcoholics continue to drink alcohol; because they do not want to feel their body go through the withdrawal symptoms.

Signs of an alcoholic

Alcohol also affects a person’s behaviour. If you are concerned about a loved one becoming alcohol dependent, you may notice changes to their behaviour first. We have included some common signs of alcohol addiction below:

  • Mood swings
  • Reduced work activity
  • Unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Aggression and violence
  • Binge drinking during social events
  • Being regularly under the influence of alcohol
  • Fluctuating weight, weight gain, or weight loss
  • No longer being interested in activities that don’t involve alcohol
  • Only associating with friends that drink alcohol

If you have been drinking alcohol a lot more frequently than usual, you may notice the following signs of alcohol addiction in your own behaviour:

    • Not being able to say no to an alcoholic drink
    • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink alcohol
    • You have tried to quit alcohol but have been unable to
    • You notice that your lifestyle has changed to focus on alcohol
    • You need alcohol for confidence or to feel ‘normal’

Alcohol addiction man with alcohol

The health implications of alcohol addiction

Over time, alcohol will consume all areas of a person’s life, and be at the forefront of a person’s mind. This can impact on behaviour and decision making because life is now about ensuring the person can get their next drink, regardless of how it is damaging their life and body.

Alcoholism causes damage to internal organs (such as the heart, liver, and nervous system), increases risk of heart attacks and strokes, and generally weakens your immune system. This means that as your drinking progresses, you will become more prone to any form of illness harming the body.

Moreover, alcohol is a depressant, so if you are already experiencing symptoms of depression, the alcohol will exacerbate this. This is a big cause of alcohol abuse; because people want to mask the withdrawal symptoms so that they do not feel them. However, by doing so causes a cycle of alcohol addiction where you become increasingly dependent on the alcohol. An alcohol detox can help you break the cycle of addiction, work through the withdrawal symptoms, and get sober.

How to overcome alcohol addiction

It can be hard for an alcoholic to notice the signs of their alcohol abuse themselves. Most of the time it is not until their loved ones point this out to them, that they start to overcome their denial and address that there is a problem. Although it can be difficult, being open and honest with your loved one about their alcohol addiction as soon as you notice this can help them to make positive changes sooner. There is ample support available to help battle alcohol addiction, such as alcohol rehab. This is a safe place that addresses all areas of alcohol addiction, with around-the-clock support.

Frequently asked questions

Is alcohol addiction the same as alcohol use disorder?
‘Alcohol use disorder’ is the medical term used to describe alcohol addiction. This term can also be used interchangeably with ‘alcoholism’.
How many drinks per day is considered alcohol abuse?
Men and women are advised to drink no more than fourteen units of alcohol per week. Those that consistently abuse this limit are considered to be abusing alcohol.
Who is at risk of being an alcoholic?
Anyone can be impacted by alcoholism, regardless of age, race, background or creed. However, lifestyle factors can contribute to the likelihood of a person becoming an alcoholic. People that have experienced trauma in the past may turn to alcohol if they have not addressed these issues, which can develop into addiction if not addressed at an early stage.

Those who have grown up surrounded by alcoholics are also more likely to develop a problem with alcohol in adult life.