What Is Alcohol Addiction And How It Is Treated?
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol abuse, is one of the most common global afflictions. Because it is a substance, which is readily available as well as being legal in most countries, it is one of the easiest substances to abuse. Having an alcohol addiction means individual is either drinking too much, too frequently or both. if left untreated, it usually leads to an inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed or an uncontrollable craving for alcohol in order to get through the day. In other words, it creates a dependency on alcohol or alcoholism.
This is not to say that every person suffering from an alcohol addiction will go on to become an alcoholic but the risk of developing the disease is much higher for an abuser. Sometimes it can develop gradually, taking years to reach the level of dependence and other times, it can be triggered suddenly by a stressful or traumatic event. In either case when the addiction reaches the dependency stage, treatment and recovery becomes more difficult and challenging.
Most people don't realize just how harmful alcohol is for the body or how big a problem alcohol addiction is. Some quick facts on alcohol addiction:
- Around 1 in every 12 adults suffers from the illness. This is not counting the millions of people who are consuming alcohol in a reckless manner thereby putting themselves at risk for abuse problems down the road.
- More than 50% of the adult population deals with a problem of alcoholism in their household;
- 3rd leading cause of death in North America is due to alcohol abuse;
- 40% of the beds occupied in hospitals across the United States are being used by patients who suffer from health conditions related to their alcohol use;
So why do people keep drinking alcohol or become addicts?
Causes of Alcohol Addiction
An addiction to alcohol can be caused by numerous factors, and the people who fall under these categories are typically at a higher risk for developing an addiction to alcohol or another substance. The causes of alcohol addiction are largely grouped under the following factors:
- Psychological: When an individual suffers from a mental illness like depression, anxiety or PTSD or they are going through a difficult phase in their life, drinking alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism. Initially, alcohol may help to keep the emotions experienced by the illness in check or at bay. But over time alcohol will make those problems worse.
- Social: Most social occasions call for a drink and peer pressure or being in situations where people drink a lot or all the time can lead individuals to eventually develop an addiction. For example, young adults in high school and college who go out a lot, have parties, go clubbing etc. Binge drinking - defined as consuming an excessive amount of alcohol over a prolonged period of time, i.e. five drinks for men and four drinks for women over a period of two hours or less; is very common in these types of settings. Media influence from television, celebrities, singers etc. can also push young people to drink at a young age.
- Genetics: Research has shown some individuals - especially those with a history of addiction in their families - are more prone to be genetically susceptible to addiction and abuse. Ingesting or abusing any kind of substance is particularly dangerous for these people. Age can also play a role in how alcohol affects an individual's body.
- Environment: Addictions are often rooted in an individual's childhood experiences or upbringing. For instance suffering a traumatic event or growing up in a household where parents display unhealthy and irresponsible drinking patterns.
One or more of the factors above can lead to an addiction and eventually alcoholism. Over time and regular use, the chemicals in the brain are steadily affected and emotions such as pleasure, judgment, control etc. become altered leading to the lack of control, impaired judgment and needing to drink more in order to get buzzed.
Health Risks of Alcohol Addiction
Drinking too much alcohol has a direct and negative effect on the brain and the physical well being of the individual. Alcohol can lead to numerous health problems such as:
- Liver Cirrhosis
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - if pregnant
- Weaken Immune System thereby increasing risk of infections like pneumonia or other diseases like HIV / AIDS
- Can cause complications or exacerbate pre-existing conditions such as depression
Finally, alcohol can also be extremely life threatening and binge drinking, especially when mixed with other drugs and medications, can be particularly harmful and lead to a coma or death.
Aside from the numerous health issues, alcohol addiction can also have severe social consequences for the addict and for others around him / her. According to the CDC, on average 28 people (meaning one person every 51 minutes) die every day as a result of drinking and driving. 10,265 deaths were related to alcohol related impairment in 2015. Other problems can include:
- Performing poorly at school;
- Loss of employment;
- Heavy financial losses because of money spent on substance;
- Engaging in criminal activities or becoming the victim of a crime, for instance being so drunk that someone rapes the individual or robs them;
- Engaging in dangerous activities (for example drinking and driving) because inhibitions are lowered.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
Denial or downplaying the problem is a common theme amongst individuals suffering from alcohol addiction. Since alcohol is readily available at almost any type of event, activity or gathering and so socially acceptable (even expected at times), it can often be difficult to determine when someone goes from social drinker to abuser.
The following are some common signs and symptoms, which may be present in an individual who is drinking too much:
- Exhibiting feelings of shame or guilt associated with their drinking habits
- Large periods of time are spent on purchasing, consuming or recovering from drinking bouts
- Being secretive or lying about drinking habits to others
- Friends and family have expressed concerns about drinking habits, sometimes repeatedly
- Can only function properly or get through day to day activities by drinking
- Need to have a drink in order to feel better or de-stress
- Have no memory of events while drinking
- Slurred or slow speech
- Neglecting every day activities or responsibilities in order to drink
- Drinking alcohol throughout the day, even when it is not appropriate to do so, for instance at school or at work
- Drinking habits is having a negative impact on responsibilities at home, school or work and affecting relationships with friends and family
- Getting in trouble with the law because of too much alcohol consumption, for instance a DUI or disorderly conduct
Some of the symptoms mentioned may be obvious while others are harder to pick up on. These symptoms also do not mean someone is an alcoholic. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, some of the symptoms which are present when addiction starts to turn into alcohol dependence are:
- Experiencing feelings and signs of withdrawal when alcohol is not consumed
- Unable to control the amount or timing of drinks
- Increased tolerance of alcohol, needs to drink more in order to get the same buzzed effect
- Unable to stop drinking even though they wish to and even though it's causing problems
Because the abuser will be in denial, it is often on loved ones to discover the problem and broach the topic. Professionals recommend the best way of doing so is with an intervention made up on a handful of people who care deeply for the individual. Because drinking alcohol is something individuals initially choose to do, it can be difficult to not feel exasperated and anger towards the addict.
And it can be hard to understand why they can't just stop drinking! But it's important to remember alcoholism or addiction is not just a bad habit or a lack of self-control or willpower. It is in fact a chronic mental illness and a physical disease and as such it needs to follow a proper course of treatment.
Can alcohol addiction be treated?
Although there is no permanent cure to fix an alcoholic, it is a condition that can be treated effectively. Many addicts and alcoholics go on to live very happy, fulfilling and successful lives. Rehabilitation programs (at both in patient and out patient facilities) for alcohol addiction and dependence is one of the most effective treatment methods. Although the rate of relapse is anywhere from 40% to 60%, it is still useful to go through rehab to treat an addiction. Relapsing is a common pitfall during treatment and it usually takes
Relapsing is a common pitfall during treatment and it usually takes an individual several cycles of rehab, relapse, rehab again before they gain the confidence, the skills and the understanding to fight their cravings and control the disease. Addiction is not a curable illness, unfortunately it is a struggle most people live with for the rest of their lives but going through an addiction rehabilitation program helps them regain enough control to manage and keep the illness at bay.
It's very important to seek treatment with the help of a doctor. In approximately ten percent of people suffering from addiction, the withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening and can even result in death. A detox is best done under the supervision of medical professionals.
It can be challenging to realize or accept that you may have an addiction.
- Have you ever found yourself questioning your drinking habits?
- Has a loved one has expressed some concerns or questions?
- Has drinking affected any part of your life or caused you grief?
- Have you on more than occasion been unable to remember what happened the night before?
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, it might be time to make an appointment with your doctor. The first emotion you may experience is denial and you may not have an objective view of your drinking habits. So speak to people who know you and love and ask them to give you an honest opinion. Consider going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and hear what others have to say. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can recover.
With the help your doctor, you can decide the best course of treatment for your case. Alcohol addiction is usually treated using a combination of rehabilitation and drugs. The first step is to go through a detox, which invariably leads to very strong withdrawal symptoms. This can take anywhere from two to seven days or even longer, depending on the situation. Once all the alcohol has been cleared from your system, treatment can begin. Your doctor will likely recommend some individual counseling sessions, group therapy i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous,
Once all the alcohol has been cleared from your system, treatment can begin. Your doctor will likely recommend some individual counseling sessions, group therapy i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous, medication that decreases cravings and psychological help to treat any underlying disorders. In addition your doctor may also encourage activities like yoga, exercise, meditation etc. and advise you to stay away from certain environments in order to help maintain sobriety and continue living a healthy life.
Your addiction may be something you struggle with throughout your life but your addiction does not have to become dependence or take over your life. Get some help today! If there's no one in your life you can turn to, call an Alcohol Addiction Hotline, help is available 24 hours a day.
If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts or feel that you might need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital.
Sources: WebMd, MayoClinic, American Addiction Centers, NCAAD, CDC