Most people are able to have a drink or two without developing any problems. They’re able to have drinks with friends after a long day at work and go home without suffering any adverse consequences. Other people, however, have developed a problem with drinking and their alcohol use has led to a number of problems in their lives. While it’s common to hear the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol abuse” used interchangeably, these two terms have very different meanings. Alcohol abuse is a chronic, debilitating disorder in which a person is unable to stop consuming alcohol despite the negative effects on their work, interpersonal life, education, or health. Alcoholism, the more severe of the two disorders, is a highly destructive pattern of alcohol usage that involves a physical tolerance and the presence of withdrawal symptoms if alcohol consumption is cut back or stopped.
Contrary to what some think, those who abuse alcohol or have developed alcoholism are not drinking because they lack self-control or are weak. Alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and addiction are disorders that one cannot simply walk away from, even if they seriously want to stop drinking. However, with proper treatment, detox, and therapies, those who struggle with alcohol abuse or alcoholism are able to successfully overcome their addiction and lead happy, healthy, sober lives.
Alcohol addiction statistics
In the U.S., alcohol abuse and alcoholism affect about 10% of women and 20% of men, most of whom begin using alcohol during their teen years. About 15 million people are affected by alcoholism or alcohol abuse. The mortality associated with alcohol abuse and alcoholism is astounding. Nearly 2,000 teens under the age of 21 will die in any given year as a result of alcohol use. In 2011, the number of alcohol-induced deaths (excluding homicide and accidents) was nearly 26,000 individuals. That very same year, nearly 16,000 people died as a result of alcohol-induced liver disease.
Causes and risk factors for alcohol addiction
Researchers tend to agree that addiction to alcohol and drugs is not a disease caused by a single cause or factor, but rather by a number of different factors working together. Some of the most common causes and risk factors related to addiction and alcoholism include:
Genetic: People who have first-degree relatives who struggle with addiction are at a higher risk for developing an addiction themselves. However, not all who end up engaging in problematic drinking have a family history of addiction.
Physical: The process of becoming addicted to – and dependent upon – alcohol occurs slowly. Chronic alcohol consumption can change the normal balance of chemicals and nerve pathways in the brain associated with pleasurable sensations, judgment, and the ability to exert control over behaviors.
Environmental: People raised in an environment in which addiction is the norm or where drugs or alcohol are used to cope with life stressors are more likely to develop a problem with addiction. Additionally, people who begin drinking at an early age are at increased risk of developing addiction later in life.
- Having a partner or close friend who drinks regularly
- Presence of depression and other mental health disorders
- Steady drinking over time on a regular basis can produce a physical dependence upon alcohol
Signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction
The symptoms of alcoholism and alcohol abuse are different from one person to the next and depend upon individual genetic makeup, amount of alcohol used, frequency of use, and presence of other drugs. Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol use and abuse include:
and abuse include:
- Drinking alone
- Inability to limit the amount consumed
- Cravings for drinking
- Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Unusually passive
- Drinking with the intention of getting drunk
- Hiding alcohol in odd places around the house
- Becoming irritated when unable to obtain alcohol
- Violence and aggression
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Heightened libido
- Smell of alcohol on breath or skin
- Flushed skin
- Bloodshot eyes
- Deterioration in physical appearance
- Poor hygiene
- Impaired coordination
- Sexual dysfunction
- Slurred speech
- Increased urination
- Passing out
- Decreased attention span
- Memory loss
- Challenges with cogitation
- Slower brain activity
- Low self-esteem
- Altered emotions
Effects of alcohol addiction
The effects of alcoholism and alcohol abuse depend upon a number of different factors, including individual characteristics, amount used, length of abuse, presence of other drugs or alcohol, and the frequency of use. The most common effects of chronic alcohol use and alcoholism include:
- Strained personal relationships
- Loss of employment
- Financial problems
- Consequences of risky behaviors
- Car accidents
- Legal problems
- Bone loss
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Increased involvement in violent crimes
- Domestic abuse
- Child abuse
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Increased risks for cancer
- Weakened immune system
- Irregular menses
- Thymine deficiencies
- Dementia and confusion
- Acute pancreatitis
Effects of alcohol overdose & withdrawal
Withdrawing from alcohol can be very dangerous and should always be done under the careful supervisions of a trained medical personnel to prevent complications. While the symptoms of withdrawal are usually unpleasant, if not properly managed, symptoms can quickly become life-threatening. Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin within 12 to 24 hours after the last drink and may include:
- Mild anxiety
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, are serious and need immediate medical attention as they can rather quickly result in death. The most common symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Clammy skin or bluish tint
- Dulled reflexes
- Difficulty maintaining conscious
- Trouble with breathing
- Slowed heart rate
Types of alcohol addiction treatment
Treatment teaches our clients that in order to grow as a person, treatment must include developing healthy expression of emotions, community involvement, teamwork, openness to alternative viewpoints, and accountability for one’s own actions. Once an assessment has been completed, we will be able to determine your exact needs and what your treatment plan should include.
Individual therapy can help you unearth the reasons that caused you to start abusing alcohol in the first place and what led to your addiction. Also, by addressing the negative ways in which you view the world you can learn to make healthier choices and engage in better behaviors in the future. We will also take the time to work through dealing with triggers and relapse prevention.
Group therapy it allows you to work with others who are struggling with addiction. Together you can work on learning better coping mechanisms, social skills, how to identify relapse triggers, and how to support each other throughout the whole process.
Family therapy can help you and your loved ones begin to mend any bonds that may have been broken due to your problems with alcohol. Since addiction is a family disorder we will also educate your loved ones about addiction, the recovery process, and ways that they can be supportive. We will also provide time for your loved ones to share the ways in which your addiction has affected their life.
In addition to standard therapies we offer a variety of experiential methods designed to complement our other therapeutic interventions.
Helping a loved one get treatment for alcohol addiction
If you’ve been watching your friend or loved one slowly lose themselves to alcohol abuse or addiction, you are likely experiencing a wide range of emotions. You are worried about what the future holds for them, but you may also be struggling with feelings of anger, wondering why they can’t just stop destroying their life. While you may have come to realize that your loved one’s drinking has gotten out of hand, you may not know exactly what you can do to help. Here are a few things you can do:
- Understand addiction: Addiction is a complex disorder of the brain. Repeated use of psychoactive substances actually changes the structure and functioning of the brain. While initially your loved one voluntarily started drinking, the repeated use has actually changed the way their brain works. Attend an A.A. or N.A. meeting to see what living with addiction is truly like.
- Speak up: Approach your loved one and tell them how concerned you are about them, without being critical or judgmental. Offer help and support but be prepared to be met with denial and excuses about their alcohol usage.
- Take care of yourself: Do not get so caught up in your loved one’s alcohol problems that you forget to take care of your own needs. Reach out to trusted others whom you can talk to or join a support group for family members of alcoholics. Above all make sure to keep yourself safe and don’t place yourself in any dangerous situations.
- Avoid self-blame: While you can provide your loved one with support and encourage them to get the treatment they need, there is nothing you can do to force them to change. Let your loved one accept responsibilities for their own actions because you cannot control their decisions.