Alcohol Addiction: Everything You Need to Know
According to the most recent studies, one person in six has an alcohol problem or alcohol addiction. This means that millions of American families are affected by alcoholism and alcohol dependence each and every day. Many do not receive the addiction treatment they need to live a sober life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcoholism is important for family, friends, co-workers, religious leaders, teachers, and medical professionals.
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Alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, binge drinking, alcoholism – these are all words that are often used interchangeably. In reality, they are actually quite different.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
We hear a lot about the heroin epidemic and fentanyl but we hear very little in the news about alcohol addiction. It could be because it’s a legally controlled substance that has caused us to be numbed to it’s dangers. Alcoholism, and addiction to any substance, is a chronic relapsing disease. It’s incredibly common, affecting over 17 million Americans each year.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse means that the person may not be physically dependent on alcohol, but it is causing problems in their life. Alcohol abuse is one of the early warning signs that a person is heading toward alcohol dependence and alcoholism.
What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is when a person drinks an excessive amount of alcohol in a very short amount of time. What constitutes excessive drinking? Well, it differs between men and women. Binge drinking for men is consuming 5 or more drinks in about two hours, and for women it’s 4 drinks.
The CDC says that binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 26.9 percent of people aged 18 and older participate in binge drinking. It’s incredibly common. However, most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent meaning that they don’t typically need to consume alcohol in order to function on a day to day basis.
Am I an Alcoholic? If you have to ask, you might have a drinking problem. Take our assessment here.
Why is Alcohol Addictive?
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.”
What does this mean, exactly?
It means that addiction is a disease that has major affects on the structure and function of the brain. Like other diseases such as diabetes or cancer it is very complex but it begins with something simple; pleasure.
The Pleasure Center and Addiction
Pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex a.k.a the brain’s pleasure center.
The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether it’s derived from eating chocolate, exercising, or sex. All drugs of abuse cause a powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. However, there is a big difference between doing things that generate dopamine naturally versus substance-induced dopamine. Certain drugs can release 2 to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards such as eating and sex do.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
Some signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence and alcoholism are the same:
- A person has a strong urge to drink
- It may be hard or impossible for a person to stop drinking once they begin
- More and more alcohol is needed to reach the same high or effect that the person drinking wants (this is called a tolerance to alcohol)
- When a person stops drinking intentionally, or because they can’t obtain any alcohol, they begin to have uncomfortable physical symptoms (withdrawal)
- Risky behaviors while drinking, such as unsafe sex and driving while drinking
Side Effects of Alcohol Addiction
What does withdrawal from alcohol look like?
Symptoms of withdrawal can be mild to life-threatening. This is a physical response from the body’s need to have alcohol. Both someone with alcohol dependence, and someone with alcoholism, can experience withdrawal symptoms.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Racing heart
- Tremors and shaking
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and irritability
- Seizures (convulsions)
When a person uses alcohol frequently, their body (and brain) gets used to having it in the body. This is a physical dependence.
You Could Be Addicted to Alcohol If You:
- Drink alone
- Try to hide your drinking
- Increasing legal, work, and relationship problems
- Financial troubles increase
- Keeping alcohol in the car or work desk
- Gulping drinks quickly or always ordering doubles
- Becoming anxious or irritable if feeling that alcohol may not be available or something will interfere with getting a drink
- Starting the day with a drink in order to feel “normal”
- No longer enjoying activities that were once important
- Having blackouts when drinking, and not remembering promises made or events
How to Treat Alcohol Addiction
There are many different ways that people have conquered their addiction to alcohol. Some work, some don’t, and for most it merely boils down to preference. These types of therapy, however, are evidence-based and have been proven time and again to be the most effective.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
- Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Psychodrama Therapy
What about Alcoholic’s Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous (also known simply as AA), is a fellowship of men and women who have all had problems with alcohol. There are thousands of meetings all over the world – it’s available basically anywhere. It’s a completely unbiased and judgement free space where anyone who is struggling with addiction – and wants to do something about it – can come to listen and share.
There has always been a lot of controversy over AA and whether or not it’s an effective way to treat alcoholism. However, many people have credited their sober life to the fellowship. We use the 12 step model as part of our treatment programs here at The Discovery House and have seen many success stories come to fruition as a result.
Addiction Information for Family and Friends
It can be difficult to know the best way to help the people we love when they are struggling with alcoholism. It tears families apart every day and wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone involved. But families can have an incredible impact on the recovery of their loved ones. In fact, families which are more involved with their loved one’s recovery tend to see higher success rates.
There are many ways you can help your loved one to quit drinking. From learning how to stop enabling your loved one to getting yourself involved in support group meetings so you can take care of yourself. Addiction is a family disease, so let’s recover together.
Stories of Recovery
When you’ve lived life through the throes of addiction, the stories of recovery from those around you contribute greatly to you figuring out your own story. These stories can lift you up and inspire you but also they can force you to learn lessons you never knew you needed to learn. Whether you laugh or cry, these stories are about connection – which is a vital component to any person’s recovery.
Get Sober and Stay Sober, Like These People Did
Jennifer is originally from Youngstown, Ohio, a state that is stricken with heroin abuse. She was abandoned by her mother who is still in active addiction to this day. In addition, she always felt like she was different from everyone else. After trying with no results to control her substance abuse, she decided to reach out to to The Discovery House for help.
Nick’s substance abuse started innocently enough with just a few drinks hanging out with friends. It took a lot for Nick to realize that he had a problem with alcohol, including a car accident, broken relationships with his family, and countless blackouts. He even began to contemplate suicide before he reached his bottom and decided to come to us for help.
Joseph’s drug use began with simply wanting to fit in as a teenager. After being kicked out of middle school for his drug use, his behavior escalated to the point in which legal authorities were involved. When he was 18 he spent 3 years in prison for robbing houses, which he did to sustain his drug addiction. But he recovered.
Finding Alcohol Addiction Treatment
When someone has been an alcoholic for a long period, they may already have some permanent physical and mental damage. However, this does not mean they are without hope.
Alcohol addiction treatment programs should be started as early as possible. Like with many diseases, prevention is best, but this does not always happen. This is a strong reason for action when signs and symptoms of alcoholism, or dependence, are noticed by family or friends. Getting someone to admit that they have an alcohol problem can be a difficult task.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, we can help. Call us at (818) 666-3083 to learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment programs.