In this country, alcohol consumption is at the center of almost every social activity imaginable. People gather to drink after work. They drink champagne to celebrate the start of a new year. They drink beer at sporting events. They might make a drink at home to unwind after a long day or fix a nightcap to usher on sleep. Whatever the case, more than six in 10 Americans consume alcohol. Since drinking is a legally sanctioned pastime, it is about as mainstream as going to a movie.
However, just because it is legal, does not mean it is safe. The mere act of social drinking can morph into abuse and full-blown addiction. When you become dependent on alcohol, it can wreak havoc on your body just like any illicit drug.
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Alcohol addiction can cause devastating health complications and impair decision-making, which leads users to take part in activities that are risky and life-threatening. This is why it is imperative to seek professional recovery treatment if you have an alcohol addiction.
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Alcohol Addiction: Symptoms and when to Seek Treatment
As the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S., alcohol has levied a considerable toll on society.
Alcoholism is the third-leading, lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. Alcohol-related incidents claim the lives of 88,000 yearly. More than 10 percent of U.S. children live with a parent that has alcohol problems.
The medical term associated with alcoholism is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), a brain disease characterized by compulsive use, loss of control over consumption and the negative emotional state that results from not using.
There are a variety of factors that determine whether someone becomes alcohol-dependent. They can be genetic, psychological, social or environmental. Some factors outweigh others. Family history is one overriding factor.
If you have had a parent or close relative who has had trouble with alcohol, then you are likely to develop AUD. The same is true if you have a history of trauma, depression, or other mental health problems.
How Addiction Develops
One common pathway to addiction is exposure to alcohol as a child. If you started drinking before the age of 15, you would be four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in your life. Underage drinkers also hinder their brain development and are more likely to have trouble with the law.
Problems with alcohol abuse can also begin in college, where drinking has become an unofficial rite of passage. In college, students binge drink, drive impaired and suffer alcohol-related sexual assault and date rape. Their academics suffer from drinking. They also succumb to accidental death because of alcohol. From 1998-2005, 1,825 college students, ages of 18 and 24, died from motor vehicle crashes, alcohol poisoning, and other alcohol-related unintentional injuries. When young people drink, it is usually in larger, more dangerous amounts.
Studies show that young people between ages 12 and 20 consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks during a single occasion for women and five or more for men.
Mental illness can also be a factor in whether you develop a problem with alcohol. People with existing mental illness consume 38 percent of all alcohol. Those who have ever had a mental illness in life consume 69 percent of all alcohol.
There is no gene that scientists can identify that predisposes someone to alcohol abuse. Genes are only responsible for half the risk for AUD.
However, scientists have identified one gene that determines whether people are more likely to abuse alcohol or not, but there is no definitive set of genetic data currently available.
If there is one commonality among all people who have an alcohol addiction, it is the compulsive behavior they display in procuring and drinking the substance
What Are the Signs of Alcohol Addiction?
If you think your alcohol use has morphed into abuse or full-blown addiction, here are some signs to be aware of:
- Drinking gets in the way of your job, school, etc
- Engaging in driving, boating, etc while intoxicated
- You have blackouts and/or memory losses
- You get into accidents or sustain injuries after drinking
- Drinking despite negative health consequences
When abuse devolves into addiction, your body will crave more alcohol to experience the same effects as before. You may also begin to exhibit the following signs and behaviors:
- You lose control over how much you drink
- Experience withdrawal symptoms when you go without drinking
- Giving up hobbies or favorite pastimes to drink
- Spend the majority of your time drinking
- Drinking even though it harms your family, friendships, career
- Beginning your day drinking, drink alone, stay drunk for long periods
- Hiding your drinking and making excuses
- Turning to alcohol to relieve stress or solve problems
- Unable to quit drinking despite repeated attempts
- Making sure you have alcohol on hand always
Another gauge you can use to determine whether you display alcoholic symptoms is the CAGE Questionnaire:
Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye-opener)?
If you answer “yes” to two or more questions, then that typically indicates dependency. Professional help and treatment are necessary to halt this cycle of destruction before it consumes your life.
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One of the most common mistakes people make is to assume they can stop drinking on their own. The fact is, going “cold turkey” without professional help can be harmful. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can endure. Although they typically appear within eight hours of your last drink, symptoms can appear days later. They usually peak by 24 hours to 72 hours but could endure for weeks. Whatever the case, the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal are dangerous. They include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- Unclear thinking
You may also experience other symptoms, such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Sweaty, clammy skin
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the hands or other body parts
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pallor (pale and unhealthy pale appearance)
Additionally, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs), can occur and cause these symptoms:
- Severe confusion
If you have an addiction, it is highly recommended that you seek professional treatment to jump-start your recovery.
What Is Involved in Alcohol Addiction Treatment?
Once you have made that pivotal decision to acknowledge your alcohol dependency, the first treatment step is to undergo a medical detoxification. We offer medically supervised outpatient detox, which gives you the freedom to seek treatment without pausing your life. Our outpatient detox is performed over a four- to six-week period. This will allow your body and brain neurochemistry to adapt to the change while minimizing the discomfort and risks that come with alcohol dependence.
If inpatient treatment is the best solution to your addiction, we can direct you to one of our sister sites in South Florida where you will live at a treatment center and be supervised 24 hours a day as you get well.
The amount of time you need in treatment will depend on the severity of your addiction. However, since alcoholism is considered a chronic condition, lifelong management is necessary. People typically relapse at a rate of 40 percent to 60 percent, but that does not mean failure. Instead, relapse is an opportunity to refine your treatment and management programs for sustained success and to avoid a future relapse.
With both options, a licensed and experienced medical staff will rid your body of the toxins that come from alcohol. After your supervised detox, you have the option of participating in the following addiction therapies:
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- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Nutrition guidance
- Exercise therapy
- Relapse prevention plans
- Support group work
How Dangerous Is Untreated Alcoholism?
If left untreated, alcohol abuse can have a litany of consequences on your life, from your health and relationships to your physical safety and mental well-being. Alcohol addiction is the third-leading cause of death for a reason. Among the most concerning effects of alcoholism is the devastation long-term use inflicts on your body.
These grave outcomes often result from long-term addiction:
- Learning and memory problems
- Depression and anxiety
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (for pregnant women)
Because alcohol compromises cognitive functions, it causes you to act aggressively, drive drunk, or cause harm to family and friends. The ripple effect of alcohol-fueled decisions often lead to hard, real-world consequences such as:
- Domestic disputes
- Car accidents
- Arrests and imprisonment
- Job loss
- Child endangerment
- Sexually transmitted infections
Alcohol Abuse Statistics
- 17.6 million people, or 1 in every 12 adults, struggles with alcohol abuse or dependence.
- In 2014, alcohol contributed to more than 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions like alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and injuries, according to the World Health Organization.
- Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential lost life annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life for each death.
- 86.4 percent of people age 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
Your Recovery Journey Can Begin Today
An alcohol addiction can hijack your life and subject you to harmful consequences, but that does not have to be your story. At Family Recovery Specialists, we can help you or a loved one struggling with addiction create a new narrative of sobriety and hope. Our team of doctors, mental health professionals, counselors, and therapists are ready to help you on your road to recovery.
Alcohol Use Disorder. (n.d.). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
Alcohol use disorder. (2018, July 11). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. (2018, October 23). from https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html
CDC - Fact Sheets-Alcohol Use And Health - Alcohol. (n.d.). from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
Gallup, Inc. (2017, July 19). Beer Remains the Preferred Alcoholic Beverage in the U.S. from https://news.gallup.com/poll/214229/beer-remains-preferred-alcoholic-beverage.aspx
Genetics of Alcohol Use Disorder. (n.d.). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders
Links Between Addiction and Mental Illness: Myths vs. Facts. (n.d.). from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2016-09-07/links-between-addiction-and-mental-illness-myths-vs-facts
Wilcox, S. (n.d.). Facts About Alcohol. from https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol