Alcohol is the most readily available drug to society, and as such, it has long been used and abused. If it were to be invented today, it would likely be banned and criminalised.
Alcohol has been used as a social lubricant for millennia, but that’s not to say that it does not come with any detrimental effects. On the contrary, to abuse alcohol or any substance means to reach a point at which all control is lost over the amount consumed.
International family psychotherapist, Fiona Yassin, says: “Even if the abuse begins to affect a person’s life in negative ways, denial will often enable a user to continue, blindsiding them to the chronic situation in which they now find themselves. As a result, the physical effects are often ignored until it is too late.”
Warning signs of alcohol addiction
So how do you know that you might be heading towards a habit that is hard to break and has ramifications that can quickly spiral out of control? What does it mean to become addicted?
Yassin, founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, continues: “Whether an addiction relates to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or even smoking, it is a physical or psychological need to engage in something to a stage where it becomes harmful to you or those around you.”
Signs that may indicate an addiction to alcohol can often go ignored and include
- An overwhelming concern relating to where your next drink is coming from
- Organising events, whether social, work or family related, around the consumption of alcohol
- Realising that once you start drinking, it is difficult to stop
- Physical withdrawal symptoms, such as excessive sweating, nausea and shaking
- Feelings of anxiety and depression
How to get help with alcohol abuse
Even though heavy drinking results can wreak havoc on both the mental and physical state, many people suffering from such an addiction choose to ignore these facts, often taking on the attitude that it couldn’t possibly happen to them.
Physically speaking, excessive consumption of alcohol can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, liver disease and weight gain, while mental health issues include anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Yassin says: “Realising that you may have developed a dependency on alcohol is often a hard truth to face. Consider your habits; do you drink alone? Do you find yourself craving alcohol or relying on it to ease your stress?”
“Have you created situations that make drinking more acceptable, such as rewarding yourself with alcohol as it is a certain time of day or because you’ve finished a task and ‘deserve a drink?”
“If you are concerned about your drinking habits, keep a diary of what and when you drink. Write down how much you are spending. Seeing such facts in writing often opens your eyes to how much you drink and depends on its effects to deal with daily life.”
“Admitting to any issue that causes you or others concern is the first step in taking back control. There is no shame in admittance. It is important to speak with someone who you trust. Seeking professional help to overcome addiction is imperative to overcoming its grip.”
Physical effects of alcohol abuse
Common long-term effects of alcohol abuse on the body include liver disease, nerve damage, erectile dysfunction, permanent brain damage, vitamin B deficiency, ulcers, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach walls), malnutrition, cancer of the throat and mouth, high blood pressure, stroke, pancreatitis, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections.
“It is abundantly clear that alcohol can cause major problems physically if abused long-term. Large quantities over an extended period of time will inevitably take their toll. And once the damage is done, a full recovery, in most cases, may never be possible,” says Yassin.
Mental health impact of alcohol abuse
In addition to the physical problems caused by alcohol abuse, long-term users may suffer from mental or psychological issues caused by the effects of alcohol on the mind.
Mental health or psychological issues caused by the effects of alcohol can range from blackouts and memory lapses (while intoxicated) to feelings of depression and worthlessness.
Yassin says: “It is widely known that despite alcohol’s reputation as the bringer of joy and the recognised ‘social lubricant’ of choice, it is a depressant. Depressants are a class of drug that inhibits the function of the central nervous system.”
According to Drinkaware: “Regular drinking lowers your levels of serotonin – the brain chemical that helps to regulate your moods’. This can cause a vicious cycle in which someone may drink in the mistaken belief that it will medicate the depression caused by the abuse of alcohol itself.”
“Calculating the risks to one’s own health and well-being is problematic when in the throes of chronic addiction. Unfortunately, it is often those closest to you that will first notice the devastating and detrimental effects that addiction is causing to the user’s life.”