Are you worried that someone you know has an alcohol addiction?
Most of us don’t know when drinking has become problematic and dangerous. Although most who consume alcohol are moderate drinkers, there’s a staggering number of people with alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Around 14.4 million adult Americans have AUD, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In Australia, 1 out of 6 people consume alcohol at levels that put them at risk of disease or injury. Knowing the harmful effects of alcohol addiction, you have every reason to be worried.
Here, we’ll delve into the definition of alcoholism. We’ll also go over the most common signs of alcohol addiction that you need to watch out for.
Drinking itself is not harmful when done occasionally or in moderation. However, it does become 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 drug.
The abuse of alcohol results in health problems and safety risks. Excessive alcohol consumption may also lead to distress and problems in different aspects of an individual’s life, including work, school, and relationships.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to distinguish the difference between alcohol dependence 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 the other facets of their lives are disregarded.
- Individuals lie about their drinking.
- Family and friends always express concerns about an individual’s drinking.
Recognizing Alcohol Addiction
An alcoholic is a person who suffers from alcohol use disorder or has a severe problem drinking. Alcoholism comes in many forms. A person with an alcohol addiction doesn’t always fit the stereotypes. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish a habitual drinker from a person with alcohol addiction.
People with alcohol addiction may be aware of the negative effects of alcohol in their lives. However, their awareness won’t get them to stop drinking. Even when their work or relationships suffer and despite awareness about their increased risk of liver disease, heart problems, diabetes, and cancer, they will struggle with ending their excessive drinking habits.
They regularly feel a strong urge to drink. And once they’ve started, it’s hard for them to stop. Most of them feel irritable and anxious when they can’t quench their cravings, while others experience withdrawal symptoms. To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, they would seek more alcohol.
Most of the time, people with alcohol addiction are in denial of their dangerous drinking habits. When they get out of hand, they lie about it to a loved one or an employer.
To help a person diagnosed with alcohol abuse, start a brief intervention. Educate him or her on the dangers of alcohol addiction.
Causes of Alcoholism
Alcohol dependence may result from various contributing factors. Excessive and regular drinking may lead to alcoholism. A person who started consuming alcohol at an early age also has an increased risk of developing the disorder. The risk of alcohol dependence 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 disorders. 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 also lead to alcoholism. Drinking is very much part of our social lives. Parents, partners or friends who drink regularly could influence individuals’ alcohol consumption habits. Although it doesn’t always 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 that’s associated with pleasure, judgment, and control. This may cause individuals to drink more alcohol to feel better about themselves or a situation, and as a result, they enter into an unhealthy cycle.
Moderate Drinker or Alcoholic?
How much alcohol is too much? Women who have one drink per day and men who have two drinks per day are considered moderate drinkers.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in terms of alcoholism definition, a person is consuming alcohol excessively if they’ve been binging on it regularly, for a minimum of five days, in the last month. Binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is having at least four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) within two hours. Both binge drinking and heavy alcohol use can raise a person’s risk of developing AUD.
The NIAA’s alcoholic definition is someone who meets 2 of the 11 signs of alcohol addiction within a 12-month time period.
The Pathway to Alcoholism
Not all heavy drinkers develop alcoholism, but many eventually do. Alcohol dependence may develop suddenly when a person experiences extremely stressful events. In other cases, it may develop gradually. For instance, occasional drinking may lead to excessive alcohol consumption. People who develop a high tolerance for alcohol may frequently consume greater amounts, which could lead to alcohol dependence.
Individuals who have developed a dependence on alcohol may find it hard to quit consuming alcohol because of the withdrawal symptoms that negatively affect their everyday functioning.
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 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.
Effects of Alcoholism
Alcohol addiction can lead to a myriad of health problems. Whether you have casual drinking habits or a serious alcohol addiction, you will see short-term struggles or long-term consequences.
Let’s find out how your drinking habits affect your body.
Short-term health risks of alcohol addiction
Binge drinking comes with short-term health risks. Alcohol poisoning is one example. It’s a serious and often fatal consequence of drinking. It occurs when people drink too much alcohol within a short time. People who have alcohol poisoning may feel nauseous, confused, or hypothermic. They may experience difficulty in breathing, cyanosis, or seizures.
Other short-term effects include loss of coordination, poor social judgment, raised blood pressure, and mood swings.
Long-term health risks of alcohol addiction
Over time, chronic heavy drinking can lead to an increased risk of long-term health conditions. Liver disease and heart problems are a few of the more severe medical consequences that people with alcohol addiction have to be concerned about.
Alcohol addiction can also affect a person’s mental health. Excessive drinking, over time, can heighten pre-existing mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Beyond the effects of alcohol on the body, people who drink excessively tend to have problems with their interpersonal relationships. Alcohol abuse, for instance, impedes one’s ability to carry out responsibilities at home, school, or work.
Alcohol poisoning is a serious complication caused by ingesting excessive amounts of alcohol. This condition may require hospitalization as, without medical intervention, it may lead to death.
Alcohol poisoning can be prevented by drinking in moderation and by not consuming alcohol 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, irregular breathing, and unconsciousness. It’s important to call 000 when you notice these signs and symptoms. Get help and prevent the adverse effects of alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol Abuse Vs. Alcohol Dependence
People often use the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” interchangeably. Although these two terms share some overlaps, they aren’t quite the same. They have distinct identifiers and characteristics. Knowing the difference between the terms will help you understand the severity of the addiction and the most ideal methods of treatment.
So, what is alcoholism and how does it differ from alcohol abuse?
Alcohol abuse doesn’t significantly disrupt a person’s life the way alcohol dependence does. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s free from negative consequences. According to the Centres for Disease Control, alcohol abuse is damaging to people’s health, their interpersonal relationships, and their capacity to perform work.
People who abuse alcohol do it to a point that results in negative consequences, but not enough to turn into an addiction.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines alcoholism as the “excessive or compulsive use of alcoholic drinks”. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism calls it a chronic relapsing brain disease, which lasts a lifetime. It affects every part of a person’s life, often influenced by genetic, as well as environmental factors.
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 Treatment
Treating alcohol dependence 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 it 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.
Many who suffer from alcohol addiction and severe drinking make efforts to quit. However, not everyone succeeds in overcoming alcohol dependence, especially when they attempt to overcome it on their own.
Treatment options available to individuals include cutting back on alcohol consumption and minimizing 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 occurs when the use of alcohol is heavy and prolonged, and suddenly reduced or stopped. Symptoms usually surface an hour to about five hours after a person’s last alcohol consumption.
Here are some of the symptoms:
- 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, more severe cases sometimes require medication and sedatives. Deciding on the type of intervention needed to address withdrawal symptoms depends on the severity of the individual’s withdrawal and on 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 excessive alcohol consumption. Likewise, setting an example can also help discourage children from embracing bad habits.
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 a 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.
To minimize the potential risk of relapse, detoxification also involves follow-up care for recovering patients after 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 ward off 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 identify 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 excessive alcohol consumption. It also aims 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 in celebrating and unwinding. Some friends and family might have difficulty empathizing with the person in recovery and what they are going through. Recovering individuals will need to relearn 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 empathizing 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 in 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.
Whether you’re a friend or a loved one of a person who’s struggling to overcome alcohol use disorder, or you are personally attempting to overcome alcohol abuse, you will most likely feel upset, guilty, and helpless all the time. However, never lose hope. The right intervention program, as well as early medical assistance, can increase one’s chances of resolving alcohol addiction.
DayHab has exceptional family education programs that provide families with the resources to fully understand the addiction. They also have highly-experienced, professional counsellors who can offer families much-needed support to handle their loved one’s addiction to alcohol.
Treatment options depend on the individual’s level of alcohol dependence. If you or a loved one has any of the symptoms of alcoholism, your drinking habits are most likely a cause for concern. Time is of the essence, especially when you have most of the symptoms of addiction mentioned.
At DayHab, we can provide personalized treatment programs to guide patients through their road to recovery. With time, effort, and commitment, we can help our patients regain control of their life.