Alcohol Abuse Self Assessment
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse can be difficult to recognize, especially when it is a legal substance and alcohol use is considered socially acceptable. Alcohol affects each individual differently, and there are various factors that determine a person’s tolerance to the substance. Frequent or excessive alcohol use is considered substance abuse, and any time alcohol use interferes with daily activities is problematic. Alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, which has vast negative health effects and is a very serious disease. There is a large spectrum for alcohol use disorders, and many people may insist that they do not have a drinking problem whatsoever.
How to Recognize an Alcohol Abuse Disorder
There are some simple, online alcohol use disorder identification tests and screening tools that you can take to help you determine if you are abusing alcohol. The only way that these tests will be an effective diagnostic, though, is if the user responds with complete honesty and accuracy. Because substance use disorders are heavily stigmatized, people may be hesitant to admit that they have a drinking problem or the extent to which it’s affecting their everyday lives. If an individual is taking an alcohol assessment in the first place, it’s likely that they are experiencing some form of an alcohol problem.
Some warning signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Cravings for alcohol
- Having a hard time stopping after one or two drinks
- Alcohol use disrupts daily activities like work or childcare
- A growing tolerance to alcohol, where the individual consumes more to achieve the same effect
- Drinking frequently during the week
- Hiding drinking habits from family or coworkers
Many of the signs of an alcohol abuse disorder are behavioural, where the individual may be wrestling between the decision to have another drink or to stop. If they recognize that they are drinking more than usual, they may try to hide this behaviour and act more standoffish or beg off from spending time with friends and family in order to drink. Physical symptoms may be present in cases of alcohol abuse, but in milder cases, can go unnoticed by both the individual themselves as well as spouses or other family members.
Mental health can play a large role in why individuals abuse alcohol. Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse, where an individual drinks excessively for a short period of time, but may otherwise abstain from alcohol consumption or not be considered a heavy drinker. Using alcohol as a means to soothe symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depressive episode can be risky, because if an individual is using alcohol as a solution to something, the likelihood of developing dependences dramatically increases. Alcohol abuse is common amongst individuals experiencing PTSD after a traumatic event if it is left untreated. Temporarily delaying mental health symptoms with alcohol abuse or drug use may seem like a convenient solution, but the risks of developing a substance abuse problem far outweigh the benefits.
Drug abuse is commonly linked with alcohol abuse. When an individual is under the influence of alcohol, their ability to make decisions is impaired, which may lead them to do something that they would not do in normal circumstances. An individual may also seek out different substances to achieve the same effects, as they begin to develop a higher tolerance to alcohol. The use of drugs can quickly lead to a drug problem if individuals are continually trying to achieve a new high, and have lost the reasoning process as to what is acceptable and what is not. Similar drug abuse screening tests and self-assessments are available if an individual is unsure whether or not they’re experiencing drug abuse.
Here are some examples of questions you might find on a screening questionnaire:
- Do I often drink more than I plan to?
An individual who has a healthy relationship with alcohol can limit themselves to one or two drinks in a social situation – especially if they are responsible for someone else, or if they are driving themselves home. Besides social settings, an individual may plan to have one alcoholic beverage while cooking or eating dinner at home and find themselves having more than they planned. Alcohol abuse isn’t only in the form of hard liquor but extends to beer and wine as well.
- Do I prefer drinking to activities that I once enjoyed?
Activities like recreational sports leagues, crafts, or cards provide excellent social stimulation and can be a rich and rewarding aspect of an individual’s life. Many people build routines around these activities and they become a weekly ritual. If an individual suddenly loses interest in something that they once looked forward to each week, and has more interest in drinking alcohol, it can be an indication that they have a substance abuse problem.
- Is drinking, or are the results of drinking, causing me health issues?
If an individual is experiencing mild alcohol abuse, they may not exhibit too many physical symptoms. However, increased use contributes to an elevated heart rate and blood pressure and stress on the liver. Heavy drinking also interferes with sleep patterns, as the body is working hard to clear out the toxins, so an individual may feel tired and irritable the following day. If hangover symptoms are preventing an individual from performing their usual tasks, this is a sign of alcohol abuse.
- Do I put myself in danger when I drink?
Sometimes, when an individual is attempting to hide their behaviour, they will take opportunities to have a drink that is not safe, such as while driving a car or at work. If the desire to hide the behaviour is stronger than the desire to be safe and to keep others safe, an individual is likely experiencing alcohol abuse.
- Have I tried to quit in the past, but failed?
When an individual recognizes that they are showing signs of alcohol abuse, and attempts to stop drinking but fail, it can be a dangerous path towards alcohol dependence. A brief intervention is a good step, but if the individual is unable to sustain sobriety, they should seek medical advice. Additional help may be required, through counsellors or primary care providers who can make referrals for treatment providers.
A self-assessment quiz is meant to establish an idea of the severity of the individual’s alcohol abuse. The average online diagnostic questionnaire is 10-15 questions long and requires a simple yes or no answer. If an individual answers yes to only a few questions, they may have a mild alcohol abuse disorder. Answering yes for more than half, or the majority of the questions indicates a much more serious alcohol abuse scenario, and could in fact be alcoholism. These alcohol screening questionnaires are not intended to be taken in place of medical advice but rather to encourage the individual to honestly examine their behaviour patterns, and seek additional resources and treatment practices when necessary.
Alcohol abuse and dependence are not the same. Abuse issues left untreated can lead to dependence, which is much more difficult to treat. It’s important if an individual is experiencing heavy drinking, or more regular drinking, to take an honest assessment of their situation to recognize if they are experiencing harmful alcohol consumption. Someone who is abusing alcohol still has control over their actions and may be able to hide their condition and appear to be completely functional.
After a period of prolonged alcohol abuse, the body physically and mentally becomes dependent on the substance. The need to drink is completely consuming and takes control of an individual’s actions. Signs of alcohol dependence include:
- Needing to have a drink upon waking up
- Failing to fulfill obligations like work, childcare, plans with family or friends because of alcohol use
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms once drinking stops, such as shaking (delirium tremens), sweating, nausea, insomnia, and restlessness.
Alcohol dependence carries serious health risks, including liver damage, high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, heart disease and damage to neurotransmitters in the brain. It can be very difficult for an individual to quit drinking “cold turkey,” which was once seen as the only method to get sober. A supervised detoxification process is highly recommended, where healthcare providers will be able to intervene if necessary. Additional treatment options, such as therapies and counselling are necessary for treating addiction after the medical detox, to give an individual the best chance to modify their behaviour and lead a sober life.
Alcohol Abuse Treatment
There are a wide variety of treatment options for alcohol abuse since it isn’t as immediate of a threat to the individual’s health as dependence. In mild alcohol abuse cases, an individual may experience an episode where they either felt physically ill, embarrassed, or ashamed of their actions and this may be a breaking point for them where they feel the need to take control of their behaviour. Lifestyle improvements may be the only necessary treatment to end their abuse cycle. A self-assessment quiz is a good place to begin, however, should not be taken directly as medical counsel.
Others, who experience more intense cravings for a drink, may benefit from treatment programs or a stay in a rehabilitation facility. Addiction treatments can vary depending on the individual’s needs, but therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help the individual to reframe their thinking, helping to curb addictive behaviours and tendencies while they are getting sober. An initial assessment from clinicians will have various screening instruments to determine where on the alcohol abuse spectrum the individual finds themselves, and a treatment plan can be developed accordingly.