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Do I have a problem with alcohol?

Dr. Elizma van der Smit August 2017

· Mind,Relationships,Life Skills

A few mild symptoms — which you might not see as trouble signs — can signal the start of a drinking problem. It helps to know the signs so you can make a change early. Doctors diagnose an alcohol use disorder when a patient's drinking causes distress or harm.

But what is excessive drinking? There are two types:

  • Heavy drinking – For men under age 65, heavy drinking means having four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks in a week. For women and men over age 65, heavy drinking is more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks in a week.
  • Binge drinking – Binge drinking is drinking a large amount of alcohol at one time. For men, it’s defined as five or more drinks within two hours. For women, it’s four or more drinks in that same time frame.

Signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Heavy drinking or binge drinking once in a blue moon might not be a problem for you. But some behaviors are indicators that things are getting serious. Signs to look out for include:

·      Neglecting responsibilities

This might look like low performance at work or in school, not paying attention to your kids, or skipping commitments because you’re drunk or hung over.

  • Taking risks and encountering legal problems or using alcohol in situations where it’s physically dangerous

Driving or operating machinery while intoxicated, mixing alcohol with medication, getting arrested for driving under the influence and putting your life and others’ lives in danger is a sign that something is seriously wrong.

·      Drinking to de-stress

Some cultures make it seem normal to drink after a long workday or after an argument with a loved one. But this can turn alcohol into a need.

·      Drinking in spite of relationship problems

If you find yourself drinking by yourself or with your buddies even though you know it upsets your spouse, or if you find yourself fighting with family who criticize your drinking habits, there may be a bigger problem at hand.

  • Tolerance

Do you have to drink a lot more than you used to in order to get buzzed or to feel relaxed? Can you drink more than other people without getting drunk? These are signs of tolerance, which can be an early warning sign of alcoholism. Tolerance means that, over time, you need more and more alcohol to feel the same effects.

  • Withdrawal

Do you need a drink to steady the shakes in the morning? Drinking to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms is a sign of alcoholism and a huge red flag. When you drink heavily, your body gets used to the alcohol and experiences withdrawal symptoms if it’s taken away. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or jumpiness
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
The path from alcohol abuse to alcoholism

Not all alcohol abusers become full-blown alcoholics, but it is a big risk factor. Sometimes alcoholism develops suddenly in response to a stressful change, such as a breakup, retirement, or another loss. Other times, it gradually creeps up on you as your tolerance to alcohol increases. If you’re a binge drinker or you drink every day, the risks of developing alcoholism are greater.

The first step to getting help for a drinking problem is actually recognizing that you have one.

Facing the facts 

Facing up to the fact that you might have a problem takes courage. Deciding to take control and get some help is a really brave move, and if you do feel you have a problem, getting help can be the best thing ever.

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This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.