Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction
Enjoying the occasional glass or two of alcohol can be harmless and may even be healthy. There is some evidence that certain types of alcohol – especially red wine – may be beneficial to your health when consumed in moderation. Alcohol abuse, however, can lead to physical and mental health problems.
Alcohol abuse isn’t always easy to notice, but if you’re drinking as a coping mechanism or to avoid feeling bad, it’s best to speak to an addiction therapist, because you may have entered dangerous territory. A drinking problem can sneak up on you without you even noticing. It’s important to know if you’ve crossed a line, and then to monitor and reduce your intake. Understanding the problem can help you to cut back or quit altogether before long-term complications develop.
Despite its legality in the United States, irresponsible use of alcohol still has the potential to lead to alcohol abuse. If a person experiences cravings for alcohol and cannot stop consuming it, they are likely experiencing alcohol addiction, otherwise known as alcoholism. Alcoholism is a medical disorder. Fortunately, drug addiction rehab is proven to treat it effectively.
"In 2013, 139,000 deaths from alcohol abuse were recorded globally, while another 384,000 people were diagnosed with liver cirrhosis as a result of excessive consumption of alcohol."
If you suspect you have a drinking problem or know a loved one who does, don’t wait for things to get worse. Contact a substance abuse counselor, who can provide effective and confidential addiction treatment to help you kick your habit and get your life back on track.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a beverage made by fermenting grains, fruit or even honey. Ethyl alcohol — also known as ethanol — is the consumable form of alcohol. When consumed, ethanol acts as a depressant that alters brain chemistry, causing side effects such as slurred speech, difficulty walking, impaired motor skills, and a greater willingness in risky behavior. This is formally called intoxication and more casually described as “drunk” or “buzzed.”Alcohol comes in many forms, including:
- Spirits such as vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila and gin
- Alcoholic energy drinks
There is a wide variety of slang for alcoholic beverages. Any of the following terms may refer to some type of alcohol, or alcohol consumption method:
- Cold one
- Hard stuff
- Liquid courage
Different types of alcoholic beverages vary in alcohol content:
- Beer has roughly 2–6 percent alcohol
- Wine can have 8–20 percent alcohol
- Liqueurs can have 15–60 percent alcohol
- Tequila, gin, rum, brandy, whiskey and vodka typically have 40–50 percent alcohol
Alcohol distribution and consumption are big business in America. In 2015, alcohol sales in the U.S. reached $219.52 billion. The legal status and aggressive marketing of this drug have no doubt contributed considerably to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Although it is legal to manufacture and consume alcohol, alcohol is still a potentially dangerous drug.
Do You Have a Drinking Problem?
You might find it difficult to realize that you have developed a drinking problem, or you might suspect, deep down, that you have a drinking problem but not want to face up to it. As drinking is a common feature of many cultures around the world and because alcohol affects each individual differently, it can be tricky figuring out when you’ve crossed the line between social drinking and problem drinking.
Consider whether you have experienced or displayed any of the following:
- Feeling ashamed or guilty about your drinking, and feeling the need to hide the habit
- Lying to others about your drinking
- Friends, family or others raising issues about your drinking
- Feeling an urge to drink in order to feel better
- Experience blackouts after binge drinking
- Drinking in dangerous situations, such as whilst driving or operating other machinery
- Drinking in higher quantities and more frequently than you intend
Simply put, if your drinking is causing problems in your life (or causing problems for those closest to you), you probably have a drinking problem.
Recognising the Onset of a Drinking Problem
Compulsive and obsessive drinking is often heralded by a variety of changes in your personality and the way you think. If you or a loved one have begun developing substance dependence from alcohol abuse, you will likely notice the following symptoms:
- An inability to control how much you drink in a single sitting.
- An inability to control when you drink, which will lead to you abusing alcohol at all times of the day, including inappropriate environments.
- Experiencing uncontrollable urges to drink.
- An increased tolerance for alcohol, which leads you to drink higher quantities before you can achieve the desired effect.
- Feeling that you can’t function normally without having a drink so that you drink to feel ‘normal’ or ‘good’.
- Hiding alcohol around the house, in your car, at work, or other locations you frequent.
- Drinking alone in secret.
- Severe irritability when you can’t get a drink, especially at moments when you are experiencing strong cravings.
- Continued abuse of alcohol, even though you are aware that it is negatively impacting your personal or professional life.
- Abandoning activities you once enjoyed, in favor of drinking.
- Experiencing blackouts – periods of time following drinking bouts when you can’t remember what you did or who you were with.
What Causes Alcohol Abuse?
Because of the pleasant feelings this beverage can create, countless people struggle with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse involves consuming considerable amounts of alcohol on a regular basis. Abuse can often lead to alcohol addiction, also called alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is a medical disease in which a person feels an uncontrollable need to consume alcohol. Despite the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, people who suffer from this disorder are often unable to stop drinking. Alcohol abuse can result in many physical, psychological and social effects, from weight gain and liver dysfunction to domestic violence, loss of income, inability to keep a job, and damage to unborn children. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2012, there were 17 million Americans aged 18 and older who had an alcohol use disorder. Of these individuals, approximately 11.2 million were men and 5.7 million were women.
Who Is at Risk for Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol addiction is a medical disorder. It can affect any person, regardless of their age, sex, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, region, education level or profession. Scientists are still unsure why addiction affects some people and not others. The following characteristics are some factors that may increase an individual’s risk of alcoholism:
- Family history of alcohol use disorder
- Mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
- Pressure from peer groups
- Low self-esteem
- Regular binge drinking
- Underage alcohol abuse
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse is a behavior that involves:
- Excessive drinking, despite associated social, legal or interpersonal problems
- Harmful use of alcohol that results in mental or physical damage
- Alcohol consumption to cope with psychological or interpersonal problems
- Choosing to continue drinking, despite alcohol-related illness or other physical problems
Alcohol Addiction: Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of alcoholism can differ from individual to individual. The symptoms can be separated into physical and psychological, and some of the more commonplace include:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to quit or control drinking
- Increased aggression
- Decreased inhibitions, leading to risky behaviour
Signs of Alcoholism
In addition to the actions associated with alcohol abuse, alcoholism (also known as alcohol use disorder) involves:
- Dependence on alcohol
- Lack of control/inability to stop drinking in excess
- Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption ceases
- Increased tolerance for alcohol
Stages of Alcoholism
Alcoholism often results from a gradual decline into alcohol dependency. Alcoholism typically develops through several stages:
Early-Stage Alcoholism: Drinking goes from being a casual, social activity into something you feel you cannot do without. It becomes a daily habit, which you use to cope with anxiety, stress or other personal issues.
A clear symptom of early-stage alcoholism is an increase in the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption. There may be few other obvious signs, although when challenged about your drinking, you may deny it or become defensive.
As consumption increases, your liver adapts to cope with higher levels of alcohol, leading to an increase in your tolerance.
Middle-Stage Alcoholism: As addiction progresses to the middle stage, your drinking increases further as you become dependent on alcohol to function normally. Controlling your drinking becomes very difficult, as you experience powerful cravings for a drink and might physically need it to stave off painful symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms may occur within six to 24 hours after your last drink and can include tremors, restlessness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia. Psychological symptoms such as mood swings, depression, and feelings of guilt or shame can also occur.
You might begin drinking early in the day and hide alcohol in secret places, where it can be easily accessed. Middle-stage alcoholics are also prone to irritability or anger when confronted about their drinking habits.
End-Stage Alcoholism: This stage of alcoholism is extremely dangerous. A full recovery from addiction can still be made at this stage, but it is more difficult. Also known as the deteriorative stage, in this phase alcoholics have become consumed by their drinking and suffer severe mental and physical damage. Drinking is round-the-clock and quitting feels impossible. Professional intervention, detox, and rehabilitation are required because withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening if such an addict tries to quit ‘cold turkey’.
Late-stage alcoholics may be homeless and have lost their family and job. Severe damage is likely to have been sustained to the stomach, liver and brain.
At any stage of alcoholism, compassionate specialists can help you make a full recovery.
Effects of Alcoholism on Families
The effects of alcohol are many, and they can extend far beyond the users. Families and friends often end up with a front-row seat to the chaos that it creates. People engage in alcohol abuse for various reasons, and many are unaware that their drinking affects their loved ones. Alcohol can have such power over an individual that it overshadows everything else in their lives. Sadly, many loved ones suffer far more than the alcoholics themselves. The following are just a few examples of the many effects that alcoholism can have on families:
- Children: Children of parents with an alcoholism diagnosis suffer in a number of ways, with many developing depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Some may also blame themselves for their parents’ alcoholism or develop the same disorder as adults.
- Unborn babies: Drinking while pregnant can be extremely dangerous for the unborn child. The risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and preterm labor increase dramatically when alcohol is used during pregnancy.
- Spouse: As someone who shares a home with someone with alcoholism, the spouse is often the person who is most affected. Alcoholism in marriage can lead to marital abuse, increased anger and other issues — all of which can lead to resentment or divorce.
Health Problems Associated with Alcoholism
Aside from physical disorders caused by the abuse of alcohol, your drinking habit can also put you at risk of injuries and brain damage. It can also lead to birth defects in the case of pregnant women.
Alcohol abuse reduces your inhibitions, which can lead to you participating in risky behaviour that may result in physical harm or causing accidental harm to others. This is especially likely if you are operating a vehicle, heavy machinery or dangerous equipment whilst intoxicated.
Injury stemming from alcoholism can also be brought about by deliberate self-injury whilst intoxicated. This might be inflicted by burning or cutting oneself, pulling out hair, hitting walls with bare fists or exhibiting other forms of harmful behaviour.
Alcohol abuse over time can cause mild to severe damage to the brain, due to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol on the brain. Some of this brain damage may recover over time, once a person quits drinking, but some may be irreversible. Brain damage can lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, dementia, psychosis and confusion.
Women who abuse alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause physical abnormalities and developmental difficulties. Foetal exposure to alcohol can adversely affect brain development and even cause miscarriage. Associated defects can include developmental problems for the brain and nervous system, the eyes, lungs and heart.
Alcohol and Medicine Reactions
Different types of medication (including herbal remedies) can react negatively with alcohol. This is why it’s generally recommended to avoid taking alcohol at the same time as medication. Common medicines (including over the counter drugs) that interact badly with alcohol include:
- Anxiety or depression medicine
- Cold and allergy medicine
- Cough syrup
- Pain medication
- Sleeping pills
If alcohol is mixed with contraindicated medication, it can lead to problems such as:
- Abnormal behaviour
- Changes in blood pressure
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
There may also be complications such as liver damage, heart problems, depression, impaired breathing and internal bleeding. Some drug-alcohol reactions can be fatal.
Alcohol Addiction in Women
Women become more impaired than men when drinking the same quantity of alcohol. Women generally weigh less and have a higher percentage of body fat than men, which increases the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream after drinking.
Research has also shown that women become more easily intoxicated one to three days before the start of their menstrual period. Another reason why alcohol affects women more intensely is that, compared to men, they produce less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down alcohol before it gets into the bloodstream, so having less means that more alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Alcohol Addiction in Older Adults
As you age, your body’s tolerance for alcohol significantly reduces. Older adults, therefore, experience the effects of alcohol more quickly than if they were younger. This places older adults at higher risk of injury if addicted to alcohol. Aside from injury, there’s also the increased risk of health problems.
Some health problems that older alcoholics might face include:
- Damaging interactions with medication
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
- Memory problems
- Mood disorders
Inpatient Alcohol Rehab
Alcoholism affects people all across the United States. A 2015 survey revealed that about 86% of people ages 18 or older have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives, and an estimated 15 million people in this same age group meet the criteria for an alcohol addiction. Chronic alcohol abuse can have detrimental and even fatal results. Approximately 88,000 individuals die from alcohol-related causes each year.1 These deaths are highly preventable. If you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism, detox and rehab can help you on the road to a clean and healthy life.
If you have developed an alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), understanding your options for treatment is important. Alcohol rehab centers can offer you the medical attention and support you need to obtain and maintain sobriety.
Alcohol rehabilitation centers offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is appropriate for people who have a mild to moderate addiction, strong social supports, and reliable transportation to the facility. Individuals with a severe alcohol addiction, a dual diagnosis, a medical condition, or previous complicated withdrawal experiences should seek treatment from an inpatient treatment facility.2 Inpatient rehab provides patients with around-the-clock monitoring and treatment. Many people benefit from inpatient since they are separated from their using environment and can focus solely on their recovery.
What Happens in Alcohol Addiction Treatment
All alcohol rehab centers offer confidential treatment, so you don't need to worry about whether someone will find out about your addiction or not. These centers do everything they can to make your stay as private and comfortable as possible. If you are concerned about having a roommate during treatment, be aware that many clinics require this. However, this helps promote positive behavior and keeps patients from becoming isolated during treatment.
Inpatient alcohol rehab centers provide an environment free from the temptation to drink, which makes the inpatient setting very preferable for some people. Treatment occurs in periods of 30, 60 and 90 days. Longer stays can be accommodated, if necessary. Treatment duration varies depending on an individual's needs. It's important to find a treatment center that creates a treatment plan based on your unique situation and addiction.
When you first enter treatment, you will receive a medical and psychological evaluation. You must be honest about your alcohol consumption and other drug use. The physician or mental health professional will use the information gathered to build a treatment plan designed for your needs. After you are admitted, you will begin the process of detox, if that inpatient alcohol treatment facility offers detox. Alcohol detox involves professional management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms while the body eliminates alcohol from its system. Since alcohol withdrawal can potentially be fatal, due to grand mal seizures, the treatment team will utilize detox medications, such as benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium, etc.), to ensure your safety during withdrawal. Once you achieve a medically stable, alcohol-free state, the treatment team will prepare you to transition into a comprehensive alcohol addiction treatment program. Although detox is extremely effective and helpful for someone looking to quit drinking, it isn't a replacement for rehab.
After detox, you will begin treatment in an appropriate rehab setting for you. Inpatient treatment can occur in a number of different programs, such as luxury, executive, standard, holistic, faith-based, etc. It's important that you communicate with your detox team about the types of services and amenities you prefer so that you can find a program that's best suited for you. Regardless of the type of program, most inpatient treatment will include:
- Individual therapy.
- Group counseling.
- Family therapy.
- Medication, if applicable.
- Peer support meetings.
- Aftercare planning.
Individual therapy typically involves learning to recognize and cope with stressors and drinking triggers so that you can avoid relapse in the long run. The therapist will address the underlying issues that drive your alcohol abuse and teach you to make healthier choices. In group therapy, a licensed mental health counselor facilitates a session in which patients learn sober social skills and can practice the relapse prevention and coping strategies they learn in individual counseling.
Choosing between alcohol rehab centers can be difficult. It is important to find a clinic at which you feel comfortable. Many clinics offer specialized care for certain religions, ages, genders, orientation, or other groups.
Paying for treatment can seem overwhelming, but many insurance plans cover some of the cost of rehab. If insurance does not cover enough and you cannot afford the rest of the bill, many alcohol rehab centers offer financing options.
Mental Health Issues and Alcohol Use Disorder
Mental health disorders and alcohol addiction co-occur frequently. Surveys have shown that compared to non-alcoholics, the odds of developing an anxiety or a mood disorder is 2.6 and 3.6 times higher, respectively if you are dependent on alcohol.
The co-occurrence of mental disorders and alcoholism has far-reaching implications, which involve:
- Greater risk of interpersonal, psychological, and social problems
- Impaired decision making
- Increased risk of relapse
- Increased risk of self-harm (including the risk of suicide)
- Poor response to therapy
A co-occurring disorder also increases the likelihood of polydrug abuse; that is, abusing multiple substances simultaneously. Polydrug abuse often occurs as addicts try to self-medicate to achieve relief from the symptoms of a psychiatric illness or reduce the adverse effects of medicines used to treat mental or behavioural disorders.
Tips for Selecting Alcohol Treatment
A variety of factors should be taken into consideration when selecting alcohol treatment. To pick the treatment that best suits your unique circumstances, think about:
- Cost of treatment
- Duration of treatment
- Location of treatment facility and how much privacy it offers
- The treatment environment
- Types of treatment available (look for individualised treatment)
- Aftercare services
Options for Alcohol Treatment
At a good rehab facility, you should have access to some or all of the following types of treatment:
- Traditional rehab – uses medication and psychotherapy to address addiction
- Holistic alcohol treatment – typically doesn’t use medication
- Teen-specific treatment – designed to care for adolescents suffering from substance dependence
- Executive alcohol rehab – designed for executives and businesspeople who want to overcome addiction
- Dual diagnosis treatment – cares for addiction alongside co-occurring disorders
- Luxury rehab – features first class convenience and pampering for addicts in recovery
- 12-step programmes – such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
I Want to Find an Executive or Luxury Rehab Center
If professional concerns have stopped you, a family member, or a friend from getting assistance for a drug or alcohol issue or behavioral addiction, executive rehabilitation programs may be what's needed. Executive rehabs are designed to allow you to continue working while seeking recovery from an alcohol addiction. These programs give you access to private work rooms, high-speed Internet, cell phones, and computers.
Often, luxury alcohol rehabs feature the nicest amenities you would expect in 4 and 5-star hotels, with your comfort and enjoyment being of great importance. From gourmet chef-prepared meals and fine linens to private rooms and gym facilities, you can get the greatest alcohol addiction treatment for yourself, your family member, or your friend while relaxing in an upscale environment. If you're looking for the perfect luxury treatment facilities for alcohol addiction, you can search through our treatment directory.
Information to Prepare Before You Call
When you call our helpline, you'll want to have as much relevant information as possible so that you can adequately answer the admissions consultant's questions. Examples of info you'll need include:
- Your insurance plan and policy number.
- How long the alcohol abuse has been going on (if calling for a loved one).
- How severe the alcohol addiction is.
- If any other substances are being abused, and if so, list them.
- Any medical concerns or limitations.
- Any co-occurring mental health conditions.
- How you or your loved one will travel to the facility.
These details may help the admissions consultant guide you toward appropriate treatment options.
If you'd prefer to do your own research, you'll want to call around to various facilities. Before you call a treatment center, you'll want to create a list of questions to ask them to ensure that they are a match for you. You will also want to have your insurance card in front of you so that you can check if they take your insurance. If you don't have insurance, it's important to ask what type of sliding scale or financing options the alcohol rehab offers.
Some common questions you'll want to consider include:
- What type of insurance do you accept?
- What is your treatment philosophy?
- How long is your program?
- What types of amenities do you have?
- What types of therapy do you use?
- Do you provide medical care?
- What certifications do your staff members have?
- Is your rehab accredited?
- Do you offer alcohol addiction medications?
- Do you offer any grants or scholarships?
- What is your visitor policy?
- Do you offer detox?
- Do you create individualized treatment plans?
- Do you create aftercare plans
- Do you offer Alcoholics Anonymous meetings?
- Do you have an alumni program?
You will probably come up with many more questions on your own, but allow this to serve as a baseline for your phone calls.
Making Treatment Work for You
If you are seeking treatment for alcoholism, you need to try and decide exactly what you want to get out of it. One important decision is where you will attend your rehab. Many people choose to attend rehab at a local center in order to stay close to home with family close by. Others may want to get away from the triggers around them at home and start fresh on their own. Whatever accomplishes your treatment goals is most important.
"Joining Alcoholics Anonymous is a popular and effective way of continuing treatment."
When seeking treatment, you must be sure you are ready to commit to getting better. If you are fully committed to quitting drinking and healing yourself both physically and emotionally, your treatment is more likely to be successful. When you decide you are ready to tackle your alcoholism, learning as much as possible about addiction and treatment can help make the process less of a shock on your body and mind. Learning about detox and therapy options can help you decide on what alcohol treatment centers would be best for you. Being prepared for a sober lifestyle can also make all the difference.
If you are concerned about an alcoholic loved one, holding an intervention for your relative could help convince them of their problem. Showing them your support, concern for their well-being, and love could mean the difference in them continuing with drinking or making the decision to quit.
Regardless, recovery doesn't end when rehab ends; it is an ongoing process. As you reach the end of your treatment program, your treatment team will create an aftercare plan for you. Aftercare consists of ongoing support that can help you remain sober. Examples of aftercare services include sober living homes, step-down treatment, such as partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient, individual therapy, group counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), non-12-step programs, and alumni programs. Much like your treatment plan, your aftercare plan will be highly individualized and may include any combination of the above services. Committing to long-term recovery will help you avoid relapse even years after attending treatment.
It is also important to reaffirm aspects of your life that were neglected by your drinking. You can spend time with your family and pick up new hobbies that will help you build a life without alcohol. Many people benefit from AA or a non-12-step program like SMART Recovery, because of the sober support system they find in these meetings. It may be difficult to attend social gatherings with your friends who still drink, which is why finding friends in recovery can be so valuable.
No matter what, you need to know that it is never too late to get control of your addiction. Beating an addiction to alcohol could be the most important thing you do in your life. It will allow you to be a better spouse, parent, friend and person.
1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol facts and statistics.
2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.) Alcohol's Effects on the Body.