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Alcohol Addiction

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This article was medically reviewed by Patricia Williams, PhD on 12/4/2018

Reading Time: 10 minutes

What is Alcoholism?

When drinking becomes a regular part of your life and results in negative consequences, there could be a severe problem. For you to be considered a ‘heavy drinker’ or someone who ‘abuses alcohol,’ you don’t have to drink a bottle of booze a night. Alcohol abuse and alcoholism may be more in line with your habits than you are inclined to think.

Moderate drinking that does not result in adverse consequences is generally considered safe. When drinking results in trouble with the law, legal problems, relationship problems, or lowered productivity at work, home, or school, however, there could be a potential problem at hand.

Alcohol consumption ranges from moderate to heavy use:

  • Moderate drinking
    • Women – one drink per day
    • Men – two drinks per day
  • High-risk drinking
    • Women – eight or more drinks per week
    • Men – fifteen or more drinks per week
  • Binge drinking
    • Women – four drinks in two hours or less
    • Men – five drinks in two hours or less
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
    • Men & Women – Binge drinking five or more days in the past month

What are the Risks of Alcoholism?

Alcohol claims over 88,000 lives in the U.S. per year, making it the third deadliest cause of preventable death. Over a third of all driving fatalities are caused by alcohol, making it a risky substance for non-drinkers as well. Alcoholism also accounts for huge economic and health burdens to the United States, causing major diseases, and strain on the economy for treatment.

Long-term alcohol abuse is linked to:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cancer

Some people are at a greater risk of falling victim to alcohol addiction than others. American Indians and Native Alaskans tend to have an increased risk of alcohol addiction as do those who come from a family with a background or history of alcoholism. Individuals who suffer from certain forms of mental illness such as depression or anxiety are also at an increased risk of becoming addicted to alcohol because of their intended use of the substance as a means of self-medication.

What are the Side Effects of Alcoholism?

There are many signs and symptoms that you can learn to look out for, helping you to be better prepared to recognize alcohol addiction early on and stop this dangerous problem in its tracks. The first step to healing from any addiction is to understand what it is, what causes it, how to recognize it and how you can get help.

What are the Signs of Alcoholism?

Do you:

  • Drink so much that you forget what happened while you were drinking?
  • Drink more than you originally intended on a regular basis?
  • Feel as though you need to drink to relax, have fun or be part of a group?
  • Feel ashamed of your drinking, yet drink anyway?
  • Feel guilty about your drinking, yet drink anyway?
  • Hide your drinking habits from others?
  • Lie about how much or how often you drink?
  • Miss obligations due to drinking or recovering from drinking?

Alcohol addiction is a more severe form of alcohol abuse that is paired with a physical dependence on the substance which causes adverse reactions when the individual does not drink. Those who are addicted to alcohol will continue to drink despite the known consequences that result from their drinking, and they may suffer dire consequences within their family relationships, career, legal record, and financial statuses as a result of their compulsion to keep drinking. For the addict, these negative effects are just another burden of their addiction.

How to Recognize the Signs of Alcohol Abuse

  • Risky behaviors while drinking: Alcohol abusers tend to take part in a promiscuous activity, dangerous activity or otherwise improper activities while they are drinking. Most would not partake in such activities if they were not drunk.
  • Using alcohol at work, school or while performing important duties at home: Many alcohol abusers will drink while they are at work, school or while they are supposed to be handling important activities at home such as caring for their children or handling other commitments that should not be addressed while under the influence.
  • Drinking in dangerous conditions: Alcohol abusers will often drink and drive or drink and perform other dangerous activities such as operating heavy machinery.
  • Drinking and fighting with family members or loved ones: Alcohol abusers often drink despite their loved one’s request for them not to drink and these actions often result in fighting between one another. Getting drunk despite the known relationship stress that will come is a sign of alcohol abuse.
  • Getting in trouble while drunk: Many alcohol abusers will drink and drive which often results in DUIs. Other legal problems that could result from alcohol abuse include charges of disorderly intoxication, disorderly conduct or related legal problems.
  • Spending money that was meant for bills on alcohol: Alcohol abusers will often make up excuses as to why they can afford to spend money on alcohol, despite the fact that the money was intended to pay bills.

The following symptoms are present when an individual is addicted to alcohol:

  • Tolerance: prolonged use of alcohol will lead to the need for more and more alcohol to have the same effect. Tolerance is one of the first signs of alcohol addiction and results when you need more alcohol to get buzzed or drunk than you used to.
  • Cravings: If you are addicted to alcohol, you will feel powerful cravings to continue drinking, especially in response to an attempt to quit or cut down.Lack of control:Do you lose control over your drinking? If you can’t control the amount of alcohol you drink despite your good intentions or the intentions of those around you, then you are addicted.
  • Withdrawal symptoms:When you wake up in the morning, are you shaky? If you feel shaky or unwell until you have a drink, this is a sure sign of a physical dependence on alcohol which is considered addiction.
  • Can’t Quit: Have you thought about the negative effects that your drinking is having on your life and decided to quit, but you find that you keep drinking? If you’ve tried to quit drinking before and you are consistently unsuccessful in your efforts, then you have an alcohol addiction.

Alcohol addiction is a more severe problem that often results from alcohol abuse. Alcohol addiction resembles alcohol abuse in many ways except that the consequences are typically more severe, and they are combined with a physical dependence on the alcohol that makes it difficult for the addict to stop drinking even when they want to.

What to do if Someone You Love is Addicted to Alcohol?

If someone you love is drinking more than they should, they may be in denial. Educate yourself on some of the misconceptions surrounding alcohol abuse:

Myth: Alcohol is not physically addictive.

Fact: Alcohol is one of the most physically and psychologically addictive substances available. When used with other drugs, alcohol can lead to overdose and other physical health problems. When used long-term, alcohol can lead to several withdrawal symptoms that are painful and difficult to cope with.

Myth: Alcohol addiction only affects those who lack the willpower to quit drinking.

Fact: Alcohol is a highly addictive substance that can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Even people who are strong-willed and who want to quit drinking may have trouble stopping due to the withdrawal symptoms that are present with alcohol addiction.

Myth: Alcohol addiction only affects those who don’t have a good job.

Fact: There are hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from alcohol addiction and still hold onto a good job. Many of these alcoholics are what is known as “functioning alcoholics” and, although they do function and work, are still addicted to alcohol.

Myth: I drink responsibly, so I am not addicted to alcohol.

Fact: Alcohol addiction is not always the result of being irresponsible, and just because you are responsible, you don’t drink and drive, or you don’t get in trouble when you drink, does not mean that you cannot still be suffering from an addiction to alcohol.

Once you realize that you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol, it is time to seek professional help for alcohol addiction. Many different forms of addiction treatment are available, and the right rehab for your needs is out there. If you’re ready to stop drinking and you’re willing to change, you can and will recover from alcohol addiction.

Which Treatment Options are Available for Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol Detox

The first step of any alcohol addiction treatment program will be alcohol detox. During detox, the individual will begin to experience the withdrawal symptoms that are associated with the physical dependence that the body has developed to alcohol. Not everyone will have to go into a medically supervised alcohol detoxification program, but some will require this care to ensure their safety. Long-term, heavy drinkers are likely to require medical supervision during the early days and even weeks of alcohol addiction treatment when detox is taking place. For those who are not heavy drinkers, or who do not suffer from extreme physical dependence on alcohol, inpatient detox in a medically supervised facility may not be necessary. These patients are often able to detox on an outpatient basis or in an alcohol treatment center that provides limited medical monitoring during this difficult time. Certain medications may be prescribed to help prevent medical complications during detox and to alleviate withdrawal symptoms or at least make the symptoms more manageable for the patient.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Once you decide to quit drinking, you will be faced with many withdrawal symptoms that can be difficult to cope with and could lead you on a quick path to relapse if you aren’t prepared to deal with the experience. Medical supervision is advised for anyone wanting to detox from alcohol; it will make you feel stronger and more comfortable throughout withdrawal, while also ensuring your safety in the event of any serious health complications.

The most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Shakiness, tremors or Delirium tremens
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Bad dreams or nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweats, cold, clammy skin
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Poor appetite

The following symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are considered severe and should be monitored by a healthcare professional to ensure the safety of the recovering addict:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens
  • Fever that spikes rapidly
  • Seizures
  • Extreme agitation or anger
  • Confused mental state

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

The method of treatment for alcohol addiction that works best for you will depend on several factors. One important thing to remember is that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment program that works for everyone. Alcohol addiction treatment typically includes counseling and therapy. Support groups are widely used to help patients find social support gain new life and social skills, rebuild relationships, learn how to listen to others and be compassionate, and reintegrate into society post alcohol addiction.

When you decide to get treatment for alcohol addiction, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Alcohol addiction treatment should be customized to your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for alcoholism, so it’s important to make sure that any alcohol addiction treatment program that you take part in is tailored to your individual needs. This may involve incorporating additional support, mental health counseling, medical care, or other methods of treatment to provide you with a rounded approach to recovery.
  • Treatment must address your health, lifestyle, and addiction. Many treatment programs provide only treatment for the addiction, and this is not always effective as addition is often the result of underlying health, relationship, social, lifestyle or other issues. It’s essential that your alcohol addiction treatment focus on helping you in every facet of your life so that you are better prepared to develop a completely new way of life that will reduce your risk of relapse.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment is often necessary.If you have any other medical or mental health conditions, it’s important to seek help for these conditions in addition to the alcohol addiction. Often, alcohol addiction is the result of a desire to self-medicate some underlying health condition such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or pain. Recovery from alcoholism is contingent upon the patient receiving treatment for both their addiction and any co-occurring health conditions.

Types of Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Depending on your addiction, your lifestyle, and other factors, one of the following types of alcohol addiction treatment will likely be beneficial to you:

  • Inpatient Treatment this method of alcohol addiction treatment takes place in a facility that is similar to a hospital and which houses patients while they receive counseling, support, therapy and medical treatment for their alcohol addiction. Treatment is rather intense during the day, and patients are required to live in the facility for the duration of the alcohol addiction treatment program which typically lasts 30-90 days
  • Outpatient Treatment these programs provide counseling, therapy, and support to patients daily, weekly or semi-weekly as needed. Most outpatient treatment programs are for 24 weeks or more and include substance abuse counseling, group counseling and in many cases weekly attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in conjunction with the services provided by the outpatient treatment program.
  • Sober Living sober living facilities provide a smooth transition for the recovering alcohol to move from a residential alcohol treatment program on to sober living. Sober living homes typically house other individuals who are in recovery and provide a supportive environment for recovering addicts who are not ready to return to their own home for various reasons.