Drinking alcohol is a mainstream activity in our society, so it’s easy to lose sight of the harm it can do. You may think that your drinking is similar to everyone else around you, so it isn’t that bad. Or is it? If alcohol has become a large part of your life, you may be turning a blind eye to the negative consequences and direction your drinking patterns may take you. Here we’ll explain some indicators of a serious drinking problem, how mental health issues may play a role, and how getting help can teach a person to live a full life without alcohol.
Types of harmful drinking patterns
The amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies depending on the alcohol content. Twelve ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor each count as a standard drink. Here are some of the harmful drinking patterns people can fall into.
Heavy drinking is defined differently for men and women because of how each body type absorbs alcohol. Men typically have more body water than women of the same weight, so alcohol is less concentrated in the bloodstream. For women, heavy drinking is considered eight standard drinks or more per week, or more than three drinks in one day. And for men, it’s fifteen or more drinks per week, or more than four in a day. A pattern of heavy drinking may include five days of binge drinking per month.
A person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. A person with .10% BAC has one part alcohol for every thousand parts of blood, and in most states, a person is considered legally intoxicated when their BAC reaches .08%. Binge drinking drives a person’s BAC up to .08% in one sitting. This can happen when men consume at least five drinks, or women consume at least four drinks in just a few hours. Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women are, but research suggests it may take less binge drinking to cause negative consequences for women.
Alcohol dependence and abuse
Alcohol use disorders fall on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe. This type of dependence is sometimes known as alcoholism or may also be called severe alcohol use disorder. It’s a harmful drinking pattern that persists despite many harmful consequences. Alcohol abuse is problematic drinking that doesn’t necessarily escalate to addiction. Despite the potential harm from these disorders, evidence-based treatments help many people recover.
Indicators of alcohol abuse or misuse
Alcohol abuse occurs when a person’s drinking habits harm their health and well-being. A person who abuses alcohol finds ways to keep using it, even after repeated negative consequences. These red flags may emerge in their drinking habits and the way they perceive their alcohol use.
Behavioral and emotional signs
- More times than not, a person ends up drinking more or for longer than they intended to.
- A person may wish to cut down their use or have tried multiple times in the past. But they can’t stop or change the way they drink.
- They spend a lot of time drinking, looking for opportunities to drink, and recovering from drinking.
- Feeling like they need to drink to be social or have fun.
- They continue drinking despite feeling physically ill, having strained relationships with friends or family, facing consequences at work or feeling depressed or anxious from drinking.
- They develop a tolerance, noticeable when they need to drink more to get the same effect from lower amounts of alcohol.
- Feel strong urges or cravings for alcohol, enough that they seek alcohol at times when it doesn’t seem appropriate.
- They experience withdrawal symptoms when going too long without alcohol and sometimes drink specifically to avoid those symptoms.
How does mental health play a role in a person’s drinking habits?
People who drink heavily may use alcohol to cope with emotional discomfort or symptoms of a mental health disorder. When they start feeling lonely, worthless, or highly anxious, the intoxicating effect of alcohol can be distracting. They may feel more relaxed or less concerned about their distress for a short time, but their self-medicating approach may set them up for a harmful cycle of alcohol abuse. Here are some common examples of how mental health and drinking habits become entwined.
Coping with stress
Chemical processes prepare your body for stress and help you relax when the problem resolves. When you cope with stress in healthy ways, your mind and body often recover quickly. But if you rely on substance use to handle stress, your body becomes less resilient and more easily distressed over time. Despite the perception that alcohol helps you unwind from a stressful day, ongoing alcohol use worsens the effects of stress over time.
Soon after drinking alcohol, a person is seven times more likely to attempt suicide. And heavy alcohol use increases this risk to 37 times. Also, the presence of an alcohol use disorder doubles the chance of a person developing depression. If their symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated, their alcohol use may worsen their condition.
Social anxiety disorder is fairly common, affecting about 7% of the United States adult population. About 20% of those individuals also develop an alcohol use disorder, often due to misusing alcohol to cope with their anxiety symptoms. Alcohol can have a short-term calming effect, but many people experience worse symptoms a few hours after they’ve stopped drinking or the next day.
Get help with alcohol use disorder now through outpatient treatment
Intensive outpatient alcohol treatment can help you understand and manage your alcohol use disorder. No matter how mild or severe your condition, many research-backed treatments can help you start recovery. Alcohol use disorders are deeply connected with emotions and thoughts. Because of this, it’s sometimes hard to step back and see how your alcohol use impacts your life. This first step of recognition can be challenging, but it’s an essential part of helping you live a healthier life in recovery. And if you’re concerned about the cost or time commitment of rehab, take a closer look at intensive outpatient treatment in your area. You may be able to keep working, stay involved with family, and keep up with important obligations while starting your recovery. Here are some of the key benefits an intensive outpatient program can provide.
Avoiding long-term health impacts of alcohol misuse
Excessive alcohol use stresses the body over time, increasing your risk of developing several chronic health conditions and health emergencies.
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- High blood pressure
- Liver damage, including cirrhosis, hepatitis and a fatty liver
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Cancers of the neck, head, liver, breast, colon and esophagus
Treatment can help you stop drinking so your body can heal and recover, setting the stage for better long-term health.
Understanding your triggers
Your alcohol use triggers put you at risk for relapse. So understanding them and how they affect you is essential for recovery. These triggers may be reminders of painful emotions or difficult times, especially if you used alcohol to cope with your distress. But they can also be things that create feelings of happiness and safety. You may associate drinking with celebrations with friends and loved ones, or you may believe you don’t deserve happiness and feel guilty when good things happen to you. In treatment, you’ll learn to identify what makes you crave alcohol and seek it out. Then you’ll learn to counter these urges with coping methods that safely soothe your emotions and reduce your chances of drinking.
Opening up to another person’s experiences
Alcohol use disorders can amplify feelings of worthlessness, making you feel isolated and rejected. Over time, you may become lost in your misery and lose empathy for others. In treatment, you can learn to feel safe opening up to others. You can share your emotional burdens while helping others bear theirs. As you become more aware of similarities between you and others in treatment, you may feel less alone with your struggles. You can also play a vital part in supporting another person’s recovery.
Learning healthy ways to live without alcohol
Treatment exposes you to many different ways of coping with painful emotions. You’ll experience support from a social network, learn to address negative thoughts and understand how to replace destructive habits with healthier ones. Learning to live without alcohol may be a challenge, especially if you’ve relied on it for a long time. But in time, the people you meet in treatment and the specialists that work with you will help you learn to live life in new ways. You’ll get emotional support while exploring a life without alcohol.
Intensive outpatient alcohol treatment – Reach out today
Whether your alcohol use has been a problem for years or you’ve just become concerned, it’s never too late to reach out for help. If you still aren’t sure about treatment, our caring staff members at the P.A.T.H. program are happy to answer your questions without judgment. Call us today at 1-888-622-7809.