Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Experts Reveal How to Spot Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Your Loved Ones During the Festive Period

Experts Reveal How to Spot Signs of Alcohol Abuse in Your Loved Ones During the Festive Period

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Prolonged hangovers could be a sign of problematic alcohol use, new advice has revealed.

According to Google Trends data, searches for “alcoholism” are up 160% in the last 12 months in the UK, indicating that many are struggling with their alcohol consumption. Also, during the festive period last year (December 2021 and January 2022), there were 33,100 searches for information on “Dry January” in the UK. However, Google Trend data shows that searches are continuing to drop year on year.

Dr Samantha Miller, MB CHB – medical contributor at DrugHelpline, commented that “people who are addicted to alcohol may be in denial and unable accept that they have a problem. In this case, it can fall on family members and friends to spot the warning signs of problematic alcohol use or addiction and get help. Early signs of alcohol abuse can be difficult to spot.

“The user may start to prioritise activities involving alcohol consumption or being unable to engage in social activities without drinking. There may be noticeable behavioural changes, such as becoming more withdrawn and secretive or changing who they spend time with. If an alcohol habit is creating a financial burden, look for signs of not spending money on other things, or finding other sources of income, (such as selling personal possessions or crime). Also look out for alcohol paraphernalia, such as empty alcohol bottles or cans.

“The motivation to consume alcohol can come from various factors, including past experiences, personality factors, life circumstances and coping social norms, and environmental factors (to name just a few), and it is often a combination of psychological and social factors that leads to the transition from occasional social alcohol consumption to problematic alcohol use and addiction.

Dr Samantha Miller continued to say that “the physical signs of alcohol use disorder may include alcohol withdrawal, which can manifest as mood swings, including aggression or violent outbursts, appearing agitated, shaking or seizures. There may be a noticeable weight loss due to loss of appetite or lack of funds to buy food. A person may exhibit physical neglect, e.g. poor dental and personal hygiene, as their habit takes over their life and becomes an addiction.”

If you are worried about a friend or family member, then listed below are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder:

  • The person is drinking more or longer than intended
  • There is an inability to stop drinking despite the desire to quit
  • The person is spending a lot of time either drinking or recovering from the effects of alcohol
  • The person wants alcohol so badly that it’s all they can think about (cravings, urges to drink)
  • Drinking is interfering with major obligations at work, school, or home
  • The person continues to use alcohol despite having persistent or recurrent impacts on interpersonal relationships caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol
  • The person has given up or reduced important activities (including social, occupational, or recreational) because of alcohol use
  • The person continues to use alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving under the influence)
  • The person continues to drink despite negative health or psychological consequences
  • The person develops tolerance, which can show up as either: needing to drink much more than before to achieve intoxication or the desired effect; or finding that the same number of drinks has much less effect than it once did.
  • The person experiences withdrawal, which can show up as either: When the effects of alcohol are wearing off, having symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, a seizure, or sensing things that were not really there; or using alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) in order to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

If a person has had 2–3 of the above symptoms within the past 12 months, their alcohol use disorder is considered “mild”; 4–5 symptoms are “moderate”; and 6 or more symptoms are considered a “severe” alcohol use disorder.

The health risks of excessive drinking can be divided into short-term and long-term effects. Short-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking (consuming more than 4–5 drinks on one occasion), result in impaired judgement, meaning the user is more likely to engage in dangerous activities and increases the risk of accidents.

Excess alcohol consumption can result in alcohol poisoning, which can interfere with basic bodily functions such as breathing, placing the user at risk of choking, coma, and death. Long-term health risks of excessive drinking include damage to most body systems, including the heart, brain, nervous system, liver, pancreas, and immune system.

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, depression, dementia, and several types of cancer.

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