Symptoms of AUD can include trembling hands, numbness, loss of memory, hallucinations, and dementia.
Even with these symptoms present, people who consider themselves ‘functional alcoholics’ often believe they are still able to fulfil their responsibilities and will frequently give different reasons for why they drink, such as relieving stress.
“Some of the warning signs of AUD include appearance changes, weight fluctuations, mood swings, secretive behaviour, and aggression,” Msane said. “People who suffer from AUD might sometimes borrow money from colleagues, friends, and family or they will start to distance and isolate themselves from friends and family.”
“If a loved one lies about their drinking, or their behaviour and drinking patterns change, or they often experience a hangover or blackouts, this kind of pattern and behaviour requires an intervention,” advised Msane. “This intervention should create an opportunity to address the matter and get help.”
Keeping a record of the person’s drinking behaviour will assist in getting professional help for them. Employers should look out for absenteeism and the inability to stick to deadlines often as these could be signs that the person is struggling with AUD.
“This type of monitoring enables a family or employer to access the proper referral channels if they need to resort to involuntary admission for the co-occurring disorder,” said Msane. “Involuntary admission should be pursued if the alcoholic can no longer help themselves and they are at risk of endangering themselves or others.”
Keeping an eye on the behaviour patterns of loved ones must start from an earlier age than most people think. According to Msane, many children start experimenting with alcohol from as early as ten years old.
“AUD happens in stages, and if children start to drink this early in life, they are at risk of progressing from mild to severe alcohol abuse disorder by the time they are in their twenties,” Msane warned.
While it is illegal in SA for people under eighteen years of age to purchase or drink any form of alcohol, peer pressure often leads to the start of experimenting with alcohol at a much younger age.
Msane advised those who consider themselves ‘functional alcoholics’ to weigh up their behaviour with the health consequences of alcohol dependency: nerve and liver damage, arthritis, gout, larynx cancer, heart failure, and irreversible brain damage.
The incidences of AUD in SA are not well recorded due to a variety of complex reasons. One of these reasons is that the stigma assigned to addiction prevents those suffering from substance use disorders to seek help.