By Erica Spohr

“Among the 138.5 million people who were current alcohol users, 61.6 million people (or 44.4%) were classified as binge drinkers, and 17.7 million people (28.8% of current binge drinkers and 12.8% of current alcohol users) were classified as heavy drinkers” (2020 NSDUH).

Alcoholism is a real and prevalent issue that affects the lives of millions of people; the more awareness we bring to the topic, the more people will seek help. 

Different Types of Alcohol Abuse 

Three common types of alcohol abuse are problem drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism.

Problem drinking is classified as uncontrolled drinking causing social, psychological, and other biological problems. Someone who is a problem drinker may show some signs and symptoms of an alcoholic; however, problem drinking is often seen as a lesser alcoholic syndrome. Another type is binge drinking; it is the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single session, a male consuming five or more drinks in two hours or a female consuming four or more drinks in two hours. Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse; the person is unable to go about their daily function without drinking. Alcoholics will experience a high tolerance for the effects of alcohol and withdrawal when it is not consumed. 

What is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, is a type of substance dependence classified by one becoming physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol. 

Physical dependence occurs when the body incorporates alcohol into its normal functioning. Dependence then leads to tolerance, where the body adapts to the alcohol and needs a higher quantity to achieve the same effects. An alcoholic will experience a strong desire to partake in consuming alcohol, which is called craving. Craving is followed by addiction, where one becomes physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol. Lastly, a person may start experiencing withdrawal when they stop consuming alcohol. Withdrawal includes undesirable physical and psychological symptoms from the body’s dependence on alcohol. 

Key signs of alcoholism: 

  • Inability to limit the amount of alcohol you consume 
  • Failing to cut down or stop drinking 
  • Consuming alcohol in situations such as driving 
  • High tolerance, needing more to feel the same effect
  • Withdrawal, including nausea, sweating, or shaking

Key risk factors for alcoholism: 

  • Family history of alcoholism 
  • Depression and other mental health problems 
  • Trauma
  • Extended periods of drinking

Can Stress Influence Alcoholism? 

High stress in a person’s life may lead to the development of alcoholism. People who experience many adverse, or negative life events, prolonged stressors, and little to no social support are more likely to develop alcohol dependence. Feeling as though one is not valued at work is also a contributor to alcoholism. 

When people face stressful and adverse situations, some find it more beneficial to turn to alcohol as a source of relief. Instead of feeling the negative effects of life stressors, consuming alcohol is a way to achieve a positive experience or mood. Social support is a crucial part of stress management, but excessive drinking with others can provide that social outlet for someone experiencing stress. Alcohol can become a dangerous coping mechanism for those experiencing high stress, becoming an addictive outlet. 

Impact of Alcoholism on Families 

Not only does alcoholism significantly affect the lives of those who suffer from it, but it also causes serious problems in families and marriages. Alcohol abuse can put a considerable financial strain on a family as a large portion of their income will be spent purchasing alcohol. In addition, someone who is regularly intoxicated will often forget to do essential duties such as chores around the house or taking care of the children. An alcoholic may sleep through their work shift or wake up too hungover to go about their day. Family activities and bonding experiences may be overtaken by withdrawals or the desire to drink, straining relationships between family members. Communication problems and frustration can build up between spouses leading to a potentially hostile environment. 

Children can be particularly affected by an alcoholic parent as well. A child may experience guilt thinking they’re the cause of their parents’ drinking problem. A child may also experience anxiety and depression and develop an inability to form close relationships as a result of their alcoholic parent’s neglect. Children of alcoholics are more likely to develop alcoholism in the future and experience difficulties in school and social withdrawal. 

Next Steps and Treatments 

If you suspect that you or a loved one are displaying signs of alcoholism, there are steps you can take to get treatment. Peer support groups are an excellent option for individuals to connect with others facing similar problems. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can also treat alcoholism; in this type of therapy, you will focus on the feelings and situations that may contribute to heavy drinking. In CBT, you will learn to change your patterns of thought surrounding heavy drinking and learn coping mechanisms to help with everyday situations that may trigger the need to drink. 

Marital and family counseling is also an option for those who want to include their family in the treatment process. In this therapy, you will discuss as a couple or family ways to manage drinking habits and come up with solutions to limit alcohol consumption. 

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), a comprehensive form of treatment for mental health disorders and substance use disorders is also a great option. Here is one contact that you can get started on your recovery journey: American Addiction Institute of Mind and Medicine in Santa Ana, CA.

References:

Aacap. (n.d.). Alcohol use in families. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx 

Authored by Editorial StaffEdited by Amelia SharpLast Updated: April 4, 2022. (2022, April 4). What are the problems & effects of alcoholism on Families & Marriages. American Addiction Centers. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/family-marital-problems 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, July 11). Alcohol use disorder. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243 

Samhsa’s national helpline: Samhsa – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline 

Taylor, S. E., & Stanton, A. L. (2021). Health psychology. McGraw-Hill Education.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics