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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a ubiquitous substance that is found just about everywhere in the United States culture. Advertisements for beer, wine, and liquor can be found in every nook of life, from sports arenas to billboards spotted while driving down the street. When it comes to alcohol, triggers are one of the significant issues for people who attempt to stop drinking, and those temptations can be found on every street corner. These images are often portrayed as fun, fresh, or classy in modern advertising. 

Alcohol self-medication is often lauded in television shows or movies and normalized with phrases such as “I just need a drink” during stressful situations. Happy hour, drinking games, and taking shots at parties have all contributed to a culture where heavy drinking has become the norm. In fact, on most college campuses, having a high tolerance is viewed positively.

While it is an addictive and potentially harmful as some prescription and illicit drugs, almost every adult in the United States has experimented with alcohol. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health highlights that 86.4 percent have tried alcohol at some point in their lives. The normalization of alcohol as a recreational drug is primarily because it’s legal and has been since the prohibition. It’s necessary to point out that not everyone who drinks alcohol is going to become addicted to it, but its widespread availability and legality contributes to the high rates of alcoholism.

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In 2015, nearly 15 million adults met the qualifications for an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which accounts for 6.2 percent of Americans over the age of 18. Alcohol poisoning, alcohol-caused car accidents, and medical complications from long-term alcohol abuse continue to cause health issues to the general public. 

While the opioid epidemic has stolen the headlines from other drugs such as alcohol, this silent killer continues to rage on and kill tens of thousands of people each year. Though alcohol addiction is a chronic disease, it is very treatable. The longer someone abuses alcohol, the higher the likelihood they can cause harm to themselves or others because of its profound effects. It’s imperative that someone abusing the substance seeks treatment immediately.

What Is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, is a reference to chemical or emotional dependency on alcoholic beverages. It is a problem that has been around since alcohol was created in human nature. Today, it rivals all drugs as one of the most heavily abused substances on the planet. Studies indicate that more than half of all Americans consume alcohol. Not everyone who drinks will become addicted, but the fact that it is so prevalent means it contributes to the significant numbers of those with alcohol use disorders.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that affects the reward center of your brain, and it occurs after a period of excessive or heavy drinking. During this time, a person can become chemically or psychologically dependent on the substance. There are cases where someone can use and even abuse alcohol for lengthy periods without developing an alcohol addiction, which is a reason why not all college binge drinkers will become alcoholics. There are varying factors that can lead to alcoholism, such as genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.

How Alcoholism Works

Alcoholism starts with the abuse of alcoholic beverages, either through binge drinking or excessive regular use. As the body adjusts to the levels of alcohol in your system, it acclimates to its psychoactive effects. As you get used to the impact, you will require more alcohol to achieve the same results. It is a phenomenon known as tolerance, and in the culture of drinking, tolerance is often a point of pride. The less you are affected by significant amounts of alcohol, the more you can drink, and the more you establish dominance over those who can drink less. It may seem immature, and that’s because it is.

A high tolerance, however, indicates that you are growing dependent on alcohol. Your brain and body require alcohol to balance brain chemistry, and stopping the substance suddenly will cause the nervous system to rebound in a way that causes withdrawal symptoms or potentially deadly side effects.

Signs of Alcoholism

If you are worried that you or a loved one is developing an alcohol use disorder, several signs can indicate the presence of growing alcohol addiction. The beginning stages of substance abuse produce subtle signs, but as the problem grows, the symptoms will become much more apparent.

General signs to look out for if you are concerned about alcoholism are:

  • Drinking as a way to forget about problems
  • Drinking outside of social settings or regularly drinking alone
  • Feeling the need to lie or avoid the truth about drinking habits
  • Feeling irritable when you haven’t had a drink for a while
  • Losing memories of time frames and events while drinking

As a pattern of drinking continues, it may start to manifest in more severe alcohol addiction symptoms such as a growing tolerance and needing more alcohol to achieve the same effects, feeling withdrawal symptoms such as shaky hands, irritability, or intense cravings for alcohol. One of the most significant signs of alcoholism is needing a drink in the morning. The effects of alcohol last between six and 12 hours.

Other helpful indicators for alcohol follow the acronym CAGE as a way to assess your likelihood of alcoholism. The letters in CAGE stand for:

  • Cutting down. Feeling the need to cut back on drinking may indicate that you may overuse or abuse alcohol.
  • Annoyed. Feeling annoyed or irritated when criticized or confronted about your drinking.
  • Guilt. Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?
  • Eye-opener. Have you felt the need to drink in the morning (a drink referred to as an eye-opener)?

Other behavioral signs that you can observe in someone dependent on alcohol include:

  • Sudden decline in work or school performance
  • Alcohol-related DUIs or arrests
  • Continuing to drink despite the legal, social, or medical consequences
  • A sudden change in mood or personality
  • Engaging in risky behavior because of drinking (like getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated)
  • Isolationism

What Is Involved in Alcohol Addiction Treatment?

Alcohol addiction treatment requires the full continuum of care starting with medical detoxification. Alcohol is a chemically addictive drug, which means you likely will go through withdrawal symptoms when you abstain from using it.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as one night of sweating as portrayed in movies or television, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be downright dangerous. If you have been chemically dependent on alcohol for long enough, you may have already experienced the beginning stages of withdrawal in between times of drinking.

Once detox is completed, your road to recovery is far from over. As a disease that affects the reward center of your brain, more extensive time in treatment is required to overcome your addiction. Residential or outpatient treatment should be tailored to your specific needs, which will teach you how to cope with triggers, cravings, and co-occurring mental health issues you may experience alongside your alcoholism.

Alcohol addiction treatment must last a minimum of 90 days to be effective. It will involve meeting with clinicians and therapists who specialize in treating addiction. They will sit down with you, and create a treatment plan that meets psychological, medical, emotional, vocational, and financial needs.

Once treatment is complete, you may want to consider 12-step programs or sober living homes that can hold you accountable and help you to prevent relapse. If you are looking for treatment, look no further—Desert View wants to help.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics

  • About 1 in 7 teens participate in binge drinking. Binge drinking is the act of consuming large amounts of alcohol at one time as opposed to chronic, steady drinking.
  • Every 51 minutes, someone in the U.S. is killed in a drunk-driving incident.
  • 623,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
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