What Is Alcoholism?
Drinking itself is not harmful when done occasionally or in moderation. But drinking becomes problematic and even dangerous when it puts people at risk of developing diseases or worse, an addiction. In Australia, alcohol is used more than any other addictive drugs.
The abuse of alcohol results in health problems and safety risks. Unhealthy drinking may also lead to distress and problems in an individual’s life including their work, school and/or their relationships.
Alcoholism refers to a disorder that involves difficulties in controlling alcohol consumption, continued use of alcohol despite the problems it causes, increased alcohol tolerance and withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit. It also involves putting individuals in risky and dangerous situations, such as driving, swimming or working in hazardous conditions whilst drunk. Alcoholism may involve efforts to quit drinking but the individuals often fail on their own.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcoholism may result from various contributing factors. Excessive and regular drinking may lead to alcoholism. Starting at an early age also increases the risk of developing the disorder. The risk of alcoholism is also higher in individuals who have parents or close relatives with similar alcohol issues.
For others, alcoholism may develop as a result of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Studies also suggest that people with a history of emotional trauma are more predisposed to developing alcoholism.
Social and cultural backgrounds are other major factors that could lead to alcoholism. Drinking is very much part of our social lives. Parents, partners or friends who drink regularly could influence individuals to start drinking or to drink excessively. Although drinking alcohol does generally not lead to a disorder, those who are predisposed to alcoholism may find it difficult to manage or to quit.
Why Is Alcohol Addictive?
Individuals are influenced by different genetic, psychological and emotional factors that may determine how alcohol affects them. Addiction theories indicate that alcohol affects individuals differently, and that alcohol has a stronger impact on some people which could lead to an alcohol use disorder.
Excessive and prolonged alcohol intake affects the normal functioning of the brain area associated with pleasure, judgment and control. This may cause individuals to drink more alcohol to feel better, and as a result, they enter into a cycle to feel better about themselves or a situation.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to distinguish the difference between alcoholism and habitual drinking. Here are some of the most common signs that family and friends may notice:
- Individuals are ashamed or in denial about their drinking habits
- Alcohol and drunkenness are the highlights of an individual’s life, and they disregard other facets of their lives
- Individuals lie about their drinking
- Family and friends always express concerns about an individual’s drinking
The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence
Simply put, alcohol abuse refers to excessive and frequent alcohol consumption, whereas alcohol dependence is an individual’s inability to stop drinking. People suffering from alcohol abuse often cannot fulfil their everyday responsibilities at home, school or work. When an individual drinks excessively and consistently they often cause themselves physical harm. This pattern may eventually lead to alcohol dependence.
In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are merged into a single disorder called alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Addiction Symptoms
Clinicians diagnose people who drink excessively with alcohol use disorder. It is a chronic and relapsing disease of the brain. Here are some of the symptoms of alcohol addiction:
- Drinking alcohol compulsively
- Drinking to combat withdrawal
- Avoiding work duties or family responsibilities
- Behaving recklessly, which causes problems with loved ones
- Using drinking as a coping mechanism
The Pathway from Alcohol Misuse to Alcoholism
Not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholism, but many eventually do. Alcoholism may develop suddenly when a person experiences extremely stressful events. In other cases, alcoholism may develop gradually. For instance, occasional drinking may lead to binge drinking. People who develop a high tolerance for alcohol, may frequently consume greater amounts which could lead to alcoholism.
Individuals who have developed a dependence on alcohol may find it hard to quit drinking because of the withdrawal symptoms that negatively affect their everyday functioning.
The Link Between Drinking and Smoking
Alcohol and tobacco are some of the top causes of preventable deaths, and these substances are often used together. Studies show that individuals struggling with alcoholism are three times more likely to be smokers.
This link between drinking and smoking has possible and dire implications for individuals who are both heavy drinkers and smokers. They are at high risk for complications, such as cancers, respiratory diseases and heart diseases.
Alcohol poisoning is a serious complication caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. This condition may require hospitalisation, as without medical intervention, it may lead to death.
Alcohol poisoning can be prevented by drinking in moderation and by not drinking on an empty stomach. But when individuals drink too much and too quickly, their breathing, heart rate, temperature and gag reflex are affected, which can lead to a coma, and even death.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, pale skin, confusion, seizures, low body temperature, slow and irregular breathing, and unconsciousness. It’s important to call 000 when noticing these signs and symptoms, to get help and prevent the adverse effects of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Treating alcoholism can be a very challenging task, but there are many effective, scientifically proven ways to help individuals recover. Although most people suffering from alcohol addiction may deny the problem or downplay the consequences of excessive drinking, it’s necessary to address the problem, as drinking not only affects their family and loved ones, but also their overall health. Addressing the issue as early as possible can also contribute to an easier recovery process.
Treatment options available to individuals include cutting back on alcohol consumption and minimising situations where drinking is possible, under the guidance of counsellors.
For others, a medically administered detoxification process is necessary prior to counselling and rehabilitation therapy.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when the use of alcohol is heavy and prolonged, and suddenly reduced or stopped. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms present between an hour and about five hours after alcohol consumption.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Trembling hands
- Sleeping difficulties
- Faster heart rate
- High blood pressure
Different techniques exist for managing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. While milder cases are not treated with medication, but in more severe cases medication and sedatives are used. Deciding the type of intervention needed to address withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of the individual’s withdrawal and their overall health, so a thorough assessment and medical evaluation are needed.
Becoming familiar with Australia’s guidelines for low-risk drinking habits can serve as a preventive measure against alcoholism. Parents should be more open to talking with their teenage children about mental health, alcohol and the perils of binge drinking. Likewise, setting an example can also help discourage children from drinking.
But because alcoholism is a multi-factor disease, such precautions may sometimes not be enough to prevent yourself or loved ones from drinking.
Medically administered detoxification involves the use of medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who undergo detox, gradually learn to stop alcohol use, while receiving these medications. Although detox alone isn’t an effective treatment, it’s a crucial first step for individuals to recover.
Patients have to undergo thorough medical assessment, for doctors to understand the extent of the condition. Aside from a physical exam, clinicians will also do a thorough assessment of an individual’s psychological state.
Detoxification also involves follow-up care for recovering patients, due to the potential risk of relapse, when they return to normal life.
Rehabilitation is yet another step towards the recovery from alcoholism. It involves behavioural treatments, also known as counselling, under the guidance of health professionals, that help change the attitudes, emotions and behaviours that led to alcoholism. Behavioural treatments help patients develop the skills and attitudes to reduce or to stop drinking. These treatments also provide a strong social support system, establish realistic goals, help patients cope and avoid the triggers that may lead to a relapse.
At DayHab, recovering patients undergo behavioural therapy, where they talk one-on-one with a psychiatrist or they have counsellor guided group sessions. Behavioural therapy helps recovering patients to identify the past thoughts and experiences that may have led to alcoholism. The goal of this form of therapy is to manage triggers and alter thought processes, that led to heavy drinking, and to provide recovering patients with ways to cope with everyday problems.
DayHab also uses a clinically guided approach that promotes empathy and promotes a person’s connection with self, self confidence, self esteem and self care.
Living Life Alcohol-Free
In early recovery, individuals may deal with situations that will prompt them to drink again. Unlike illicit drug use, drinking is generally interwoven in everyday life—such as celebrating and unwinding with alcohol—and some friends and family might have difficulty empathising with the person in recovery and what they are going through. Recovering individuals will need to re-learn how to think, act and feel without using alcohol as their crutch. At first, the process will be extremely difficult for them.
That is why, after completing the treatment program, most patients need continuous support to maintain their recovery. One of the most valuable ways to do this, is by engaging in support groups, where recovering patients can share their worries and concerns, struggles and victories, under the supervision of empathising professionals and clinicians. This is part of the aftercare planning that DayHab provides.
Teens and Alcohol Misuse
Studies show that 18 to 29-year-olds have a higher risk of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, than any other age group. Underage drinking is a family problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Parents need to express their concerns to their children, to help prevent teenage alcoholism.
With the right intervention program, teenage alcoholism, and the issues that may lead to it, can be promptly addressed. Early medical assistance leads to a higher chance of immediately resolving and treating teenage alcoholism cases.
DayHab offers family education programs to assist families dealing with alcoholism. This program aims to equip families with the knowledge they need, to better understand what their family member is going through. As tools for support, the program also offers counselling to the family members, so they’ll know the right kind of action to take, and how to better support their loved ones.
Medical treatments and behavioural therapies are the best treatment options for treating alcohol addiction and for preventing the onset of relapses. Counsellors will also address the underlying issues that contributed to alcoholism. The success of the treatment depends on the consistent and continuous therapy, the individual’s commitment towards recovery, and the support of family and friends.
Alcoholism greatly affects an individual’s personal, social and psychological well-being. DayHab offers personalised treatment options to help patients on their journey towards recovery.
We offer a 2-week outpatient addiction treatment program, that provides patients with the best practices regarding addiction treatment. Another is the residential program, a 28-day or 90-day program, that provides round-the-clock support for recovering patients.
DayHab also offers a range of forensic services, such as assessments, court assistance and rehabilitation, as an alternative to jail-time.
To know more about the available treatment options for overcoming alcohol addiction or to get advice from the DayHab team, contact us today.