Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a growing problem in the United States, with nearly 15 million Americans falling under the definition of having AUD in 2019. Of these, only 10 percent received treatment, according to a national survey.
People who misuse alcohol are at risk for an array of health issues including liver disease, heart disease, brain and nerve damage, and much more.
Due to the risks associated with excessive drinking, people are highly encouraged to seek the help of a rehab program if they feel they can’t quit drinking, or experience withdrawal symptoms when they do attempt to stop.
What Causes Alcohol Addiction?
There is not one answer to the root cause of alcohol addiction. Certain factors, however, will contribute to developing an alcohol use disorder.
When a person drinks, their brain releases the reward-system chemical called dopamine. This results in positive feelings and motivates your brain to seek more alcohol.
As you use more alcohol over time, an addiction may develop. You will eventually become tolerant to alcohol and need to drink more to achieve the same pleasurable experience.
Signs Of Alcohol Abuse
According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 26 percent of people ages 18 and older reported engaging in binge drinking in the past month.
While binge drinking does not necessarily indicate an alcohol addiction, it is a sign that you may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and may be at risk for developing a dependence on alcohol.
Additional signs of abuse include:
- finding yourself unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- feeling strong cravings or urges to drink
- failing to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to alcohol use
- spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from alcohol use
- continuing to drink even though it’s causing problems at work or at home
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, and shaking when you don’t drink
Risk Factors For Alcohol Addiction
There are several risk factors that may contribute to the development of alcoholism, and not all of them are directly related to how much or often a person drinks.
Internal and external risk factors include a family history of addiction, genetics, psychological conditions, cultural norms, environment, and others.
Effects Of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol misuse can have detrimental effects on a person’s mind and body, both in the short term and long term.
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
The short-term effects of alcohol will largely depend on how much alcohol is ingested at a given time, and the physical condition of the person drinking.
Effects of alcohol consumption may include:
- slurred speech
- breathing difficulties
- impaired judgment
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
There are many long-term effects when a person drinks in large amounts over a long period of time.
Some long-term effects may include:
- weight gain
- sexual problems
- nerve damage
- unintentional injuries
How Alcohol Overdose Happens
Alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, may occur when there’s too much alcohol in the bloodstream. As a result, your brain begins to shut down.
While the liver is adept at filtering alcohol’s toxins from the body, when too much of the substance is ingested at once the liver can’t keep up, and alcohol overdose can happen.
Symptoms of alcohol overdose include:
- poor coordination or stumbling
- damp, clammy skin
- bluish or pale skin
- no gag reflex
Alcohol poisoning puts you at increased risk for brain damage or death. It’s imperative to call 911 if you suspect someone drank too much.
Co-Occurring Disorders And Alcohol Use
Co-occurring disorders and “comorbidities” refers to the presence of any two or more illnesses in the same person.
These conditions can be medical or psychological in nature, including alcoholism and drug use disorders.
People with co-occurring disorders may self-medicate with alcohol to help ease their physical or emotional anguish. This practice only exacerbates their addiction and does nothing to address their underlying health problems.
Co-occurring disorders can be treated in a dual diagnosis treatment program at a rehab facility. This type of treatment will address both of the ailments in tandem to help you fully recover.
What Is Alcohol Intolerance?
People intolerant to alcohol may feel immediate, uncomfortable reactions after drinking. Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body cannot break down alcohol efficiently.
Symptoms of alcohol intolerance can include red, itchy skin, stuffy nose, low blood pressure, nausea, facial redness, and diarrhea.
How Alcohol Withdrawal Occurs
Alcohol withdrawal refers to the mental and physical issues you may face after severely cutting back on how much alcohol you drink after long-term alcohol use. Symptoms can range from mild to serious.
Withdrawal occurs due to how the central nervous system adjusts to the depressive effects of alcohol in the body constantly.
When the alcohol level suddenly drops, the brain remains in a keyed-up state, and withdrawal begins.
Withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, headache, nausea, insomnia, hallucinations, seizures, and fever.
It is highly recommended to seek medical supervision when detoxing from alcohol to avoid potentially life-threatening side effects.
Detoxing From Alcohol Addiction
In an alcohol detox program, you will be medically monitored until the alcohol is completely flushed from your body. Detoxification typically takes one to two weeks after the last drink is ingested.
Several different medications may be used to treat uncomfortable alcohol withdrawal symptoms and help keep the body’s chemicals in balance.
Medications used during alcohol detoxification include:
- benzodiazepines such as Librium and Valium
The most severe and painful withdrawal symptoms usually subside 10 to 30 hours after the last drink.
After detox is complete, people may continue their recovery at an inpatient or outpatient rehab program.
Health Conditions That May Arise From Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can not only damage your relationships and reputation, but may also result in potentially deadly health conditions.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol over time is extremely taxing on the liver. There are three types of alcoholic liver disease including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
Alcoholic-induced cardiomyopathy occurs when your heart changes shape due to long-term heavy alcohol use. This can eventually lead to heart failure and other severe problems.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
FASD are a group of conditions that may arise in people who were exposed to alcohol before birth. The effects may be physical, cognitive, or behavioral in nature.
There are three types of FASDs including fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), and alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD).
Abusing alcohol can cause inflammation of the inner lining of the stomach, also called gastritis. Over time, the stomach lining will degrade and be worn down.
People who consume alcohol regularly may experience mild to moderate symptoms including indigestion, tiredness, anemia, loss of appetite, and mild abdominal pain.
Alcohol-induced pancreatitis arises when the pancreas is forced to repeatedly digest alcohol. This damages the pancreatic ducts and may lead to severe pain and life-threatening complications.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse
Addiction treatment centers for alcohol abuse can help you or your loved one get the evidence-based treatment necessary to achieve long-term sobriety.
Inpatient Treatment Programs
Inpatient or residential treatment programs for alcohol abuse offer 24-hour intensive behavioral therapy for people who want to stop drinking alcohol.
Treatment services may include group or individual counseling, psychiatry services, trauma-related therapy, and dual diagnosis treatment plans.
Outpatient Treatment Programs
Outpatient treatment offers many of the same services as an inpatient program, but does not require people to live in residence at the facility.
People in outpatient care for alcohol recovery can continue living at home, going to school, and working while attending alcohol rehab multiple times a week.
Building a peer support network is an important aspect of the recovery process. One way to build a network of supportive peers is by attending support groups for alcohol addiction.
Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous implement a 12-step process to help people with AUD come to terms with their addiction, admit their powerlessness against it, and build the coping mechanisms necessary to maintain sobriety.
Find Alcohol Treatment At A Rehab Program
Alcohol addiction can cause serious damage to your life, but help is available in the form of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs located throughout the country.
Call our helpline today for more information on treatment providers for alcohol dependence. Our team can also provide you or your family member a referral for medical advice.Article Sources
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
- The National Institute of Health (NIH) — Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM) 5: A quick glance
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)