Do I Have an Alcohol Use Disorder?
As harmless as drinking may seem to some, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, regular drinkers accounted for 51.3 percent of the American adult population in 2012. While some people may never fall prey to alcohol’s addictive effects, many may well find themselves battling an alcohol use disorder in the near future.
People who reach a point where they’re questioning the seriousness of their drinking are likely noticing certain changes taking place in their day-to-day lives. As alcohol use disorders develop gradually over time, it can be difficult for drinkers to recognize the warning signs.
Changes in drinking patterns, frequent hangovers and an overall loss of control over the amount of alcohol consumed may all point to signs of a developing alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Use Disorders
Alcohol use disorders encompass a spectrum of excessive drinking behaviors, from heavy drinking to binge drinking to full-blown alcoholism. Since each person is different, some people may be able to maintain a certain level of functioning throughout, though alcohol’s damaging effects will likely be seen in different areas of a person’s life.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, four factors contribute to the development of alcohol use disorders –
- Increasing tolerance levels
- Ongoing cravings for alcohol
- Inability to limit alcohol intake
- A growing physical dependency
Compulsive Drinking Behaviors
While compulsive drinking behavior most typifies alcohol addiction disorders, alcohol’s effects in the brain make it possible for compulsive drinking behaviors to develop. What starts out innocently enough as a source of relaxation and calm can quickly evolve into a habitual behavior.
With ongoing use, alcohol reconditions the brain’s reward and learning systems to seek out alcohol’s effects. In the process, brain cells become increasingly less sensitive to alcohol’s effects. These mechanisms drive the alcohol abuse cycle.
Over time, the brain becomes physically dependent on alcohol, which marks the first step towards compulsive driving behaviors.
Alcohol interferes with normal brain chemical processes whether consumed in small or large amounts. Mild to moderate drinking behaviors allow the brain time to recover from alcohol’s effects. Heavy drinking behaviors cause brain chemical imbalances to take root.
As alcohol use disorders develop, withdrawal effects happen more and more often while increasing in severity along the way. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, withdrawal effects typically take the form of –
- Feelings of fatigue
- Fluctuations in mood
- Bouts of depression
- Excess sweating
Loss of Control
People struggling with serious alcohol use disorders have essentially lost control over alcohol’s influence in their lives. As addiction takes hold, alcohol assumes top priority in a person’s life. The ability to reason and make good judgments disappears, driving a person to compromise work, family life and financial security for the sake of alcohol.
While not everyone will follow this progression, the physical effects of alcohol on the brain can weaken even the most strong-minded of individuals when copious amounts are consumed on a regular basis.