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Alcohol abuse symptoms and steps for support

Alcohol abuse is when a person drinks excessively and misuses alcohol in a way that is harmful to themselves and the people around them.

If you are worried about your drinking, we understand that this can be a difficult realisation to come to and is likely something that you want to take steps to address. Within this blog, we have outlined common alcohol abuse symptoms that can be indicative of a person having a problem with drinking. We have also put together information on the support and treatment that is available at Priory Group to help with your unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Common alcohol abuse symptoms

If you have been abusing alcohol, you may have noticed some of the following changes to your body:

  • You don’t feel the effects of alcohol as easily as you once did - if you have started to drink more in order to feel the effects of alcohol, this can point to an increased tolerance
  • Your appetite has changed and you are gaining or losing weight - as alcohol can increase or reduce your appetite, you may have noticed weight fluctuations
  • You get regular headaches - alcohol is a known diuretic that leaves people dehydrated
  • You experience memory loss and blackouts – if you drink heavily in a single session, you may have memory loss where you can’t remember snippets of an event or an event in its entirety
  • You get injured more regularly – drinking heavily can leave you at greater risk of getting injured, as alcohol consumption impacts your coordination, decision-making skills, reaction time, concentration as well as your vision and hearing
  • You have less energy – you may have noticed that you have less energy and that it has become harder to motivate yourself
  • You experience tremors – if you’re drinking more alcohol or are drinking more frequently, your body can become dependent on alcohol. This can result in you experiencing tremors or shakes when you haven’t drunk - for example, when you wake up in the morning

It is important to note that alcohol abuse not only impacts the body. As it can also affect how you behave, act and think, you may have also noticed the following alcohol abuse symptoms:  

  • You turn to drink to relax, sleep or deal with stress - you may have found that you are using alcohol as a way to self-soothe, quieten your thoughts or deal with difficult emotions
  • You are forgoing certain responsibilities – you may have started to forget about or miss certain responsibilities as a result of your alcohol abuse. This could include childcare, work, meetings or your education
  • Your relationships are changing – when you are drinking heavily, this can seriously affect the people around you. You may have started to notice that some relationships are becoming strained, there may be more arguments or you may be seeing certain people less often as you begin to isolate yourself
  • You have been drinking alone – if you have been abusing alcohol, you may have started to do so alone, out of fear of judgement. You may have also tried to hide your drinking from certain groups of people who would be concerned
  • You find it difficult to stop – you may have tried to unsuccessfully quit or cut down your drinking in the past
  • You find it hard to control your emotions – when you drink heavily, you may find that you experience extreme emotions that you wouldn’t otherwise. Alcohol impacts our ability to think rationally and process information. It also affects the areas of the brain associated with controlling our emotions. This may result in you feeling angry or anxious more often
  • You do things you wouldn’t otherwise do – if you drink heavily, you may find that you act in ways that you typically wouldn’t when sober. This may include gambling, having unprotected sex, being verbally or physically aggressive or getting arrested
  • Your mental health has worsened – for people who have or are predisposed to mental health conditions, alcohol abuse can have an impact on these disorders and cause symptoms to worsen

Alcoholism is a form of alcohol abuse

When someone abuses alcohol to the point of physical dependency, this can result in them experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This is because when the body becomes so accustomed to functioning with alcohol in its system, it becomes impaired when these alcohol levels dip.

The alcohol abuse symptoms associated with withdrawal include:

  • Stomach pain, nausea and vomiting
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Shaking, shivering, tics and tremors
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue, vivid dreams and insomnia
  • Irregular or increased heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhoea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings, irritability and agitation
  • Confusion and impaired concentration
  • An intense craving for alcohol
  • Hallucinations in severe circumstances
  • Seizures in severe circumstances

It is important to note that alcohol can have a devastating impact on your life, and the lives of the people around you, even if you aren’t physically dependent on it. If alcohol is causing problems to your health, career, relationships or finances, it is likely that you do have a problem with drinking that does need to be addressed.

Treatment for alcohol abuse

Just as there are different forms of alcohol abuse, there are different types of treatment for problem drinking. The right programme for you will depend on your present circumstances, including how much alcohol you drink. 

Residential treatment

When someone has a dependency or a serious issue with alcohol, we often recommend a stay within one of our residential facilities.

For people with a physical addiction, the process initially focuses on safely detoxing and ridding the body of alcohol with the support of our on-site medical and nursing staff. 

A residential stay then gives people the time, space and professional support that they need to start addressing and recovering from their problems with alcohol. Through group and one-to-one therapy sessions, psycho-educational workshops and seminars alongside individual reflection time, you have the opportunity to put the right steps in place for you to live your life in recovery from alcohol addiction.

Day facilities 

At a number of our Priory Group sites, we also provide people with the opportunity to attend therapeutic sessions for full or half days without staying overnight. This is most suitable for people who need our care and support to help with their alcohol abuse, but who don’t require intense 24 hour treatment.

Therapy sessions

Weekly therapy sessions are also available at Priory Group. The type and combination of therapy techniques and formats that are used will be something that you work cohesively on with your therapist, so that you receive the support that you need in order to address the problems that you have with alcohol. This may mean exploring how you will achieve abstinence from alcohol or collaborating with your therapist on how you would like to cut down your alcohol use going forward.

Page medically reviewed by Sam Hickey (BA (Hons) in Counselling), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

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