Alcohol plays such a prevalent part in our culture, especially in how we socialize and spend time with one another, that it may be difficult to recognize the difference between drinking responsibly, and potentially doing harm to yourself. If you have begun to look back on your own habits and trends in your drinking, then you may come to ask the question if you are really engaging with alcohol in a responsible and safe way. Here, we’re going to look at what alcohol misuse is, signs that you might be engaging in it, how it can harm you, and what you can do about it.
What is alcohol misuse?
Alcohol misuse, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism are all terms that can be used interchangeably, even though there may be some distinction of worth between them. However, in general, if you are engaging with and using alcohol in a way that is harmful to you or others, whether in specific instances or through a pattern of misuse over time, that is something that you should be concerned about and something that you should seek to stop however you can. We will break down some of the long-term effects it can have on you, but here we will look at the signs that alcohol is playing a negative role in your life.
You find it difficult to function without alcohol
One of the clearest signs that you might be dealing with issues with your alcohol consumption is that you begin to find it difficult to get on with your daily life without alcohol. This can happen as a result of withdrawal symptoms after drinking but usually is most closely tied to a sense of psychological independence. If you feel like you need to have a drink before you go to work, before you meet with people, or even before you can get out of the door, then you likely have an issue. Alcohol is often used as a form of informal self-medication to help deal with issues like anxiety, depression, or stress, but it always does more harm to our mental health, in both the short-term and the long-term.
Alcohol becomes more important to you
When you become more dependent on alcohol, you can suddenly find yourself thinking about it a lot more often. It can be difficult to identify the line between someone who likes to drink socially, to party, and to enjoy the effects of alcohol, and someone who is becoming dependent on it to the point that they have difficulty thinking about anything else, but it is crucial to ensure that you recognize that distinction. If you spend your time thinking about when you can get your next drink, making plans that include stopping for a drink every day, or otherwise simply finding that alcohol is preoccupying your thoughts, then you need to think about treating your relationship with alcohol as something that needs to change.
Not drinking affects how you behave with others
Just as alcohol misuse can change your behaviour in how it relates to alcohol, it can also change how you act when you’re not able to access alcohol. In particular, you might find that your behaviour and attitudes change for the worse when you don’t drink. This can include feeling anxious, sad, irritated, or even having bouts of anger. If you start experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like sweating, nausea, and shaking, then that is a clear sign of physical dependence.
You drink despite your awareness of the negative consequences it has on your relationships
One of the many ways that alcohol can affect your life is through your relationships. People do not like to see others do harm to themselves and may express concern if they think they are drinking too much. Furthermore, alcohol changes the way that you react, as well, as mentioned above. If you’re irritable, quick to anger, or otherwise behave negatively or even abusively to other people, then it can affect your relationships with them. If you can see that your relationships are being damaged, but are unwilling to deal with one of the root causes, then that should indicate an attachment to that root cause that is very unhealthy, and well worth taking the time to treat.
How alcohol dependence works
Alcohol dependence can often grow out of alcohol misuse. It can happen quickly to those who become prone to misusing alcohol on a regular basis, but for more people, it tends to develop slowly out of long-term habitual use. This dependence tends to come in two types that, while different, tend to operate together. Physical dependence comes as a result of the body beginning to need and crave alcohol, and it can make you feel ill or even have withdrawal symptoms without alcohol. On the other hand, psychological dependence develops when it feels like you need alcohol to maintain your emotional or mental state. Both are dangerous, and both should be treated.
The physical effects
There are a lot of ways that heavy drinking, both in limited, specific bouts, as well as in a more chronic sense, can affect your physical health. The worst of the health risks tend to affect the liver, leading to issues like cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Alcohol misuse also increases the risk of heart disease, by raising the dangers of blood clots, as well as increasing fat and cholesterol content in the blood. There are links to alcohol abuse and a whole range of other health impacts, including cancer, the development of seizures and epilepsy, infections, gout, and even digestive problems. After all, if you have been to the doctor lately, you have likely heard them ask how many drinks you have a week. It’s important to answer this honestly so that you can get an honest answer about how likely alcohol is to play a role in the issues affecting your health.
The mental effects
Alcohol is also greatly linked to the worsening of mental health in a variety of ways. While some people use it to self-medicate, it doesn’t do anything to help with your emotional state, it just worsens it. Alcohol makes you more prone to depression, to stress, can make existing mental health issues worse, and the negative consequences of actions made while under the influence can cause guilt, self-loathing, and a host of other negative effects. Going to rehab for alcohol often involves treating the mental side of addiction and the emotional health issues tied up with it, just as much as it addresses physical dependence. Treating both is often the best way to recovery.
The life-threatening effects of alcohol misuse
Aside from all of the health, social, and emotional impacts that alcohol misuse can have, it is important to remember one thing: alcohol can kill. Not only can alcohol poisoning be a serious and deadly result of drinking too much alcohol at the moment, and alcohol misuse can put you into several situations that could be potentially harmful to your life, but the long-term effects of alcohol misuse, especially if sustained over a long period of time, can do irreversible damage to your body. Cirrhosis of the liver is one such result, which is scarring due to long-term damage of the liver, that comes with a life expectancy of just over 15 years. Damage to your kidneys by reducing their ability to function can have serious impacts on your health, too.
If you are reading the above and applying it to your own situation, it may already be evidence enough that you need to rethink your relationship with alcohol. Hopefully, the information here helps you do that.