Even when alcohol is consumed in moderation, it wreaks havoc on our mind and body over time. So why do people continue their long-term relationship with alcohol? Since the pandemic we have seen an acceleration and progression in alcohol use and abuse, here Lee Hawker-Lecesne, Lead Therapist and Addiction Counsellor at The Cabin looks at the differences and dangers between social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
There are three main categories that users of alcohol fall into: social drinker, alcohol abuser or alcoholic. Most people who drink alcohol will not have any problems with their consumption; however, for those who do have a problem handling it, oftentimes, their problem will gradually worsen.
- A social drinker is a person who drinks on an occasional basis and will not have any problems or negative consequences. They may go out to have a few drinks and are able to handle their alcohol intake without experiencing a loss of control. Alcohol does not occupy their thoughts and they do not need to set limits when they drink. They are not prone to extreme mood swings, fighting or being violent.
- An alcohol abuser is someone who begins to take their alcohol consumption too far. Their social drinking becomes more frequent, often with heavy to extreme consumption. An alcohol abuser’s drinking habit may become physically harmful to themselves and others around them. They may begin to put work and family obligations to the side. Alcohol may begin to occupy their thoughts; the abuser may begin to feel like they need to have a drink more often. An alcohol abuser’s family and friends may start to notice changes in their attitude and their daily behaviour. The social drinker has become an alcohol abuser, but still has a sense of control and is not yet an alcoholic.
- An alcoholic means that a person has an addiction to alcohol. When a person becomes an alcoholic, they are unable to control or set limits for their consumption. Most alcoholics start as a social drinker and then move on to an alcohol abuser. An alcoholic will have developed a tolerance and will need to drink more alcohol to get the same original effects. Once they are an alcoholic, they will have developed an even greater tolerance from when they were only an abuser. Alcohol addiction is considered to be a disease; it has changed chemicals in the addict’s brain and has made alcohol the most important thing in their life. Unlike the social drinker or alcohol abuser, the alcoholic will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. These symptoms will vary from person to person, but in any case, they are physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, and sometimes overwhelming.
Understanding the difference
From social drinker to alcohol abuser and then to alcoholic, each type of drinker is different. Most people will remain either completely abstinent or remain a social drinker, but for those who do end up becoming an alcohol abuser or alcoholic, they must understand how harmful and even deadly their consumption can be.
With alcohol being readily available across most of the world, It’s popularity and cultural significance can often mask its true identity – a highly addictive and toxic drug with devastating long-term effects, diseases, and disorders. In large doses over prolonged periods of time, alcohol can be severely detrimental to a person’s mind, physical state, and quality of life.
Our Dysfunctional Relationship with Alcohol
Once ingested, the body processes alcohol quickly and sends it to the brain where it stimulates the production of dopamine, a chemical associated with the desire and reward area of the brain. Endorphins are also released which tell the brain that alcohol is good. All this can occur within the first 10 minutes of consumption and one drink can lead to another and then another. The next day begins with a hangover and promises to never drink again, but there’s a twist. The brain now thinks of alcohol as a ‘reward’ and so eventually, you will most likely reach for more. Every time you drink, you may be training your brain to want more the next time and so, a vicious cycle begins. Avoiding further descent into this cycle is the best thing you can do to avoid serious, long-term damage to your body and mind.
Alcohol and Long-Term Damage to the Brain
Even small amounts of alcohol affect our emotions, judgement, memory, speech, and anger levels. Excessive drinking and long-term consumption can kill brain cells. Drinking affects both the frontal cortex, which is used for planning, forming ideas, and making decisions, and the hippocampus, which stores our memories. Once the hippocampus is damaged, you may experience difficulty learning new things and retaining new long-term memories. Prolonged consumption of alcohol causes the brain to shrink, resulting in difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions. This contracting of the brain further causes confusion and irritation.
Alcohol Destroys Body Organs
Alcohol is carried by the blood and travels throughout your body to your organs. Each organ is necessary for life and any deterioration can alter its function and health. Long-term use of alcohol ravages your most vital organs, particularly the heart, liver, pancreas, and kidneys.
Alcohol on Your Nerves
Long-term alcohol use is toxic to nerve tissue and causes nerve damage. Nerves transmit signals between the brain and the body, and when this system is damaged over time, symptoms will appear. This damage can also be attributed to nutritional problems linked to alcohol such as vitamin deficiency and malnutrition. It is heart breaking to know that alcohol induced nerve damage is often permanent.
It is important for someone who has addiction issues to get help, reclaim their life and get out of the vicious cycle of addiction. The sooner you or your loved one gets help, the better their chances are of recovery which is why it’s important to seek help at the very first signs of addiction. The Cabin Chiang Mai have helped thousands of people break free from alcohol dependence and addiction.