When considering addiction and all the damaging effects it can have, for many people, alcohol does not even register on the scale, especially amid all the media coverage of the opioid crisis. But alcohol is one of the top public health issues in the United States, with roughly 1 in 8 Americans reported as having alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol is everywhere in the United States, from sports stadiums and movie theaters to supermarkets and gas stations. Ads promoting alcohol and the consumption of alcohol are in print, TV, and the internet. Its use is so normalized that many people do not understand the dangers of excessive alcohol use until it is too late. Unfortunately, they suffer the physical, mental, social, and legal consequences that come with alcohol dependence.
Alcohol use disorder cannot be taken lightly. If you recognize the signs of AUD in either yourself or someone else, checking into alcohol rehab for detoxification and further addiction recovery treatment is imperative to prevent any more damage to not only yourself but the people around you as well.
Alcohol addiction can affect your family, friends, and even strangers if you choose to engage in risky behavior under the influence, such as drunk driving.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
The specific medical diagnosis of an addiction to alcohol, or alcohol use disorder, is described as a chronic brain disease marked by compulsive use, a negative mental and emotional state when not using, and a lack of control over alcohol intake. So what can mark the transition from drinking alcohol to abusing it and eventually becoming dependent on alcohol to function to the point where it has become an alcohol use disorder?
Unfortunately, there is no single or easy answer to this question as there are, in fact, several factors involved when it comes to determining what triggers an alcohol use disorder in any given individual.
Just a few of the factors to consider include:
Admittedly though, some of these factors have been proven through research to have more of an impact than others. For example, if someone’s parent has an alcohol use disorder, then they are three to four times more likely to develop one themselves than they would be otherwise.
Alcohol use among children, teens, and young adults also frequently plays a major factor in the development of an alcohol use disorder. People who begin drinking before age 15 are as much as six times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than those who wait until they are at least age 21.
But being of legal drinking age doesn’t necessarily protect someone from the risk of alcohol addiction. Whether it’s due to peer pressure or the lack of restraint that comes with their first taste of real, adult freedom, some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse are from students on college campuses.
Currently, 32 percent of Americans with alcohol use disorders fall under the “young adult” demographic, making them the largest subtype of alcohol-dependent individuals in the country.
Mental health disorders can also be an impetus for both alcohol abuse and dependence, as people suffering from disorders such as anxiety or depression may use alcohol as a means of self-medication and coping.
Unfortunately, while it at first feels like alcohol dulls the symptoms associated with certain mental health issues, over time, it only serves to make them significantly worse.
And finally, while there is, as of yet, no such thing as an “alcoholism gene,” what scientists have found is that some people carry genes that can reduce the impact of a hangover as well as strengthen someone’s reaction to alcohol.
The combination of a more intense feeling of intoxication without having to feel as much of the effects that usually accompany heavy drinking can put someone at a higher risk of falling into a pattern of alcohol abuse that can escalate to an alcohol use disorder.
Who’s at Risk of Developing Alcohol Use Disorder?
While alcohol use disorder does not have a clear pattern of inheritance, many of those affected have a family history of problems with alcohol or other substances. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, children of individuals with alcohol use disorder are two to six times more likely than the general public to develop alcohol problems.
The increased risk is likely due in part to shared genetic factors, but it can also be related to the environment, lifestyle, or other nongenetic influences shared by members of a family.
Personality also factors into those who are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. Individuals who are likely to disregard risk are more likely to engage in binge drinking, as are those with lower inhibitions.
Similar to genetics, personality factors are complex, and someone who wants to be the life of the party may become a heavy social drinker to be perceived as more likable when drunk, and someone shy may drink heavily to reduce their anxiety in social situations.
Psychological conditions can also impact the likelihood that someone can develop alcoholism. Someone who struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, or social anxiety have a higher chance of developing an alcohol use disorder. More than 40 percent of those with bipolar disorder are dependent on alcohol, and another 20 percent of those with depression are dependent on alcohol.
Many of those with psychological illness turn to alcohol as a means to cope with their illness. Some who have schizophrenia say alcohol silences the voice in their head, and those with depression claim alcohol can enhance their moods.
How Dangerous is Alcohol Use Disorder?
In spite of the previously mentioned skewed public perception of alcohol as a relatively safe substance, especially in comparison to other, harder drugs, alcohol abuse comes with a host of negative consequences, many of them deadly.
Alcoholism contributes to roughly 88,000 deaths per year and is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Even just in the short-term, alcohol abuse can cause serious health issues, including:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Sexually transmitted diseases due to risky, inebriated sexual behavior
- Falling, drowning, burns, fighting, and other potentially fatal injuries resulting from intoxication
- DUIs or even deadly car accidents caused by drunk driving
- Either physical or sexual violence, as well as domestic abuse
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, if a woman is abusing alcohol while pregnant
And the effects of alcohol abuse only get worse the longer someone engages in excessive drinking, including:
- Disruptions in the brain’s communication pathways, which can lead to learning and memory problems as well as impaired coordination
- An increase in mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Major heart problems like high blood pressure, arrhythmia, heart disease, and stroke
- An increased risk of throat, liver, breast, mouth, and esophageal cancers
- Severe liver damage from fibrosis, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis
- A substantially weakened immune system that is much more likely to allow for infections and diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
What are the Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder?
Many signs point to clear and present alcohol abuse that can dangerously blossom into full-blown dependency and addiction, including:
- Drinking to the point of blackouts and memory lapses
- Drinking in the morning
- Spending a substantial amount of time recovering from drinking
- Frequent injuries resulting from excessive alcohol consumption
- Feeling the need to conceal or hide drinking
- Willingness to drink while driving
- Being unable to make it through a social activity without drinking
- Allowing drinking to interfere with work, school, or other responsibilities
Another means of diagnosing an alcohol use disorder involves a brief series of questions known as the CAGE Questionnaire. These questions can either be asked by a doctor to a patient or be used to self-diagnose as well.
The CAGE questions are as follows:
- Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
- Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (an Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
While this is a very simple questionnaire, answering “yes” to at least two of these questions points to a growing dependency on alcohol.
As someone’s alcohol abuse progresses to addiction, other signs are quite serious and difficult to ignore, including:
- Domestic disputes, which can turn violent
- Arrests and other legal issues
- Job loss
- Child welfare concerns
It is essential to seek out professional help and treatment before these signs, and the severe repercussions that go along with them, manifest. Alcohol rehab is the only real way to get control over an alcohol use disorder and learn to properly manage it to achieve long-term sobriety.
Addiction is a chronic and progressive mental health disorder. This means there is no cure, the condition will continue to manifest in your life, and it will only get worse as opposed to better.
Alcohol Rehab for Alcohol Use Disorder
While it’s true that some people who abuse alcohol may be able to stop drinking on their own, it is typically the case only if they have been drinking to excess for a very short time and have not yet developed a dependency. Otherwise, it is nearly impossible, and even dangerous, to try to quit drinking without professional medical help.
Luckily, alcohol rehab at accredited addiction recovery treatment centers makes it possible for those struggling with alcohol use disorders to successfully get sober and, with addiction education, therapy, and a commitment to your recovery, stay that way.
The first step in not only alcohol rehab but also almost any addiction recovery treatment program is medical detoxification, otherwise known as detox. Detox is the process by which alcohol and its accompanying toxins are removed from the body to relieve intoxication as well as stem the physical and psychological damage caused by chronic alcohol abuse.
Through the use of gradual tapering off alcohol as well as professionally administered medications, medical detox can effectively cleanse the body of any alcohol and prepare it for the next level of treatment.
Recovery cannot begin without detox because someone cannot enter recovery while they are still intoxicated or have alcohol in their system. Attempting to focus on recovery while struggling with withdrawal symptoms is extremely difficult and unnecessarily uncomfortable.
Detoxing from alcohol before entering ongoing treatment leaves your body free of alcohol and your mind able to focus on the task at hand.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are among some of the most uncomfortable and potentially dangerous substance withdrawals, though the severity of the symptoms directly depends on the intensity of abuse as well as how long someone has been engaging in alcohol abuse.
The milder end of the range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
More intense but still quite common side effects of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Excessive sweating and increased body temperature
Then, there are the most intense and potentially life-threatening symptoms, which are associated with a severe and protracted alcohol use disorder and when someone attempts to quit using alcohol all at once or “cold turkey,” which is incredibly dangerous should never be done, especially without any kind of medical intervention on hand. Some of these symptoms include:
- Intense confusion
- Chest pains
- Delirium tremens
Delirium tremens only affects about 5 percent of people who become dependent on alcohol, but the symptoms include the aforementioned seizures and hallucinations as well as suicidal thoughts and behavior and the danger of being comatose.
These symptoms only serve to highlight how vital it is that someone planning to undergo alcohol rehab and detox do so under the careful monitoring of an experienced medical professional at a detox treatment center. It could very well mean the difference between not only a successful detox and relapse but also life and death.
Once someone has completed their alcohol detox, it is of the utmost importance that they continue to the next step, which would be ongoing alcohol rehab treatment. Depending on the severity of their alcohol use disorder, outpatient treatment may be enough, or they may require the more intensive treatment provided by an inpatient or residential program. Either way, what matters most is that they choose one and stick with it. Otherwise, relapse back to alcohol use is all but guaranteed.
Typically, someone’s treatment program will be somewhat customized based on what is deemed the most effective combination of therapies for them. Placement in a program is decided in a collaboration between the client and their therapist or counselor. The recovery treatment plan will likely include at least some mix of the following:
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Stress management
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Motivational interviewing
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Holistic therapy (meditation, yoga, etc.)
- Addiction education classes
- Relapse prevention planning
The length of alcohol rehab needed will vary from person to person, but it is important to remember that alcoholism is a chronic condition that will require lifelong management. Still, relapse does not mean that someone has failed; it is a sign that it’s time for the person in question to rethink their addiction management techniques and coping skills to make them more effective and avoid future relapse.
A wide variety of post-treatment resources and support groups are available, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups, as well as treatment center alumni programs, which allows those who bonded through shared experience during their time in alcohol rehab to remain in contact and continue lending each other support.