Alcohol abuse and addiction can begin with any form of alcohol. In addition to beer and wine addiction, a person may become dependent on the most frequently abused liquors or distilled spirits such as:
While some people begin drinking socially or to relax and later develop a problem, other people self-medicate with alcohol.
Self-treating a physical or mental health problem, such as chronic pain, depression, or anxiety is considered alcohol abuse. Any of these behaviors can lead to alcohol addiction.
Understanding Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
Today, the term alcohol use disorder is used to describe a range of problematic drinking behaviors that include mild, moderate, and severe disorders. However, the terms alcohol abuse and alcoholism are still frequently used to describe these problems.
Each person who drinks may be affected by alcohol differently, however, certain risk factors do increase the odds that a person will develop a drinking problem or alcoholism.
- alcohol abuse at a young age
- chronic, heavy drinking
- cultural influences
- family history of alcoholism
- mental health problems
- traumatic experiences
When casual drinking becomes more frequent, a person’s mental and physical health can begin to suffer. At this time, tolerance and dependence may occur and draw an individual into addiction.
One of the most common forms of alcohol abuse is binge drinking or drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.
Many people who binge drink may not realize that their behaviors are actually considered abuse. What makes binge drinking far too common and dangerous is that it’s often encouraged in social settings.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking occurs when a person’s blood alcohol concentration rises to 0.08 g/dL roughly over the course of two hours.
- for men, this happens after five or more drinks.
- for women, this happens after four or more drinks.
In these circumstances, one drink isn’t necessarily one bottle of beer or one mixed drink. A standard drink has about 14 grams of pure alcohol in it.
Many of today’s popular microbrews or cocktails may contain two or even three times this much alcohol. With this in mind, a person could binge drink after consuming what appears to only be two drinks.
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When a person frequently binge drinks, specifically on five or more days in a given month, it is considered heavy drinking.
When abuse accelerates into the more compulsive patterns of alcoholism, signs of addiction often emerge as a person’s life begins to deteriorate from abuse.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
As a socially acceptable and legal drug, alcohol abuse or addiction can be difficult to spot. Not everyone who drinks alcohol has a drinking problem, however, those who struggle with abuse often experience significant harm from this drug.
Drinking alcohol can cause fairly immediate, short-term physical, mental, and behavioral side effects. As drinking occurs more often, a person may develop long-term side effects from alcohol abuse as well.
Some of the most common short-term physical and mental signs of alcohol intoxication include:
- the breath smells like alcohol
- impaired coordination
- impaired judgement
- mood instability
- memory problems
- poor attention
- slurred speech
- uncharacteristic behaviors
- unfocused eyes
Quite often a person may try to hide their alcohol consumption from their loved ones or be in denial that they have a drinking problem at all. This can be especially true if a person is a functional alcoholic.
When alcohol takes a greater hold over a person’s life and drinking becomes more chronic, the signs of alcohol abuse and addiction become more clear.
Long-term effects and major signs of an alcohol use disorder include when a person:
- drinks alcohol more frequently or in a higher dose than they planned.
- struggles to quit or cut back on their drinking, even after trying several times.
- gives up large amounts of time to drinking or feeling sick from it.
- experiences overwhelming urges and cravings to drink that override other thoughts.
- begins to struggle at home, in relationships, at school, or at work due to drinking.
- keeps drinking even though it’s hurting their relationships.
- chooses drinking over favorite hobbies or important responsibilities.
- puts themselves in risky situations, such as driving under the influence or having unprotected sex, while drinking.
- keeps drinking even after it’s caused anxiety, depression, memory blackouts, or physical health problems.
- develops a tolerance and consumes larger or more frequent amounts of alcohol in order to create a feeling they once felt on a smaller dose.
- becomes sick and goes into withdrawal if they drink a much smaller amount or quit drinking cold turkey.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction can assist loved ones as they try to get their family member the help they need.
Alcohol Abuse: The Risks And Dangers
Alcohol abuse can endanger a person’s health and life even after a single drinking session. When a person begins to drink more frequently and in higher quantities, the risks and dangers of alcohol abuse climb.
Both binge and heavy drinking can cause major health problems, including damage to the heart, mental health problems, and changes to the way the brain functions.
The cognitive problems caused by drinking may lead to unsafe sex, falls and injuries, automobile accidents, and alcohol-related violence.
Individuals who drink heavily for long periods of time have a higher likelihood of developing serious medical problems, such as brain damage, liver damage and disease, pancreatitis, and Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome, which is sometimes called “wet brain.” It can also cause an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
Further, alcohol abuse or addiction during pregnancy may lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
Mixing alcohol with other drugs can be extremely hazardous. This is especially true if alcohol is mixed with other central nervous system depressants like opioids or benzodiazepine drugs. Combining alcohol with a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine can be highly dangerous as well.
Alcohol Poisoning And Overdose
Alcohol overdose is more commonly called alcohol poisoning. When a person consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time their blood alcohol concentration can rise to dangerous levels.
As this occurs, they will likely exhibit physical and mental side effects, some of which can be dangerous. The higher a person’s blood alcohol concentration, the greater the side effects and risk of overdose.
Since alcohol is a depressant, an overdose from alcohol can cause critical life support systems to slow. This can result in decreased body temperature, slowed or irregular breathing, and a slowed heart rate.
Additional signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning or overdose can include:
- clammy skin
- loss of gag reflex
- pale or bluish skin
- slurred words
- stomach and intentional bleeding
- stomach pain
In the most severe of cases, alcohol overdose could cause a person to experience seizures, slip into a coma, or develop long-term brain damage.
Alcohol poisoning can be a medical emergency. Overdose from alcohol can be deadly, but with prompt medical help, a person’s life could be saved.
Alcohol Withdrawal Signs And Symptoms
Frequent episodes of drinking can cause a person to become dependent on alcohol. In this state, a person may go into alcohol withdrawal and become sick if they suddenly quit drinking. Alcohol withdrawal can also happen if a person drastically reduces the amount they consume.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically set in eight hours after a person has last consumed alcohol. They generally last for one to three days and may include:
- cloudy thoughts
- nausea and vomiting
- shaking of the hands or body
- shifting moods
While alcohol withdrawal can produce painful or uncomfortable symptoms, it can also cause death. This potentially life-threatening state is referred to as delirium tremens, which is commonly called DTs.
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal: Delirium Tremens
Delirium tremens occurs most frequently in heavy drinkers and in those who have drank chronically for long periods of time. This risk also increases if a person has experienced alcohol withdrawal multiple times before.
During delirium tremens, a person may develop seizures. Some people may fall into a deep sleep for a day or more.
In addition to the general signs of alcohol withdrawal, a person may experience the following:
- energy surges
- rapidly shifting moods
Delirium tremens can also change the way a person experiences the world around them. This may result in delirium, hallucinations, intense feelings of fear, and increased sensory stimulation.
Though delirium tremens is not always deadly, it is considered a medical emergency. If there is any concern that a person is in this state or may go into it, prompt medical attention should be sought. For this reason, treating alcohol withdrawal without professional help can be dangerous.
Alcohol Detoxification Treatment
A detoxification program for alcohol works to reduce or alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so that a person can begin focusing on their recovery. Alcohol withdrawal treatment is commonly accomplished by the aid of medications.
While some people may be treated for alcohol withdrawal in an outpatient setting, an approach known as ambulatory detoxification, others need a more intensive level of care.
People who do not have an active support system, individuals who have experienced chronic withdrawal, or those who are severely addicted may be best treated in an inpatient alcohol detox program.
A medically supervised inpatient detoxification program provides 24-hour oversight and support in a safe and supportive environment.
During this time, medications will likely be administered to help a person be more comfortable. These medications can also prevent withdrawal symptoms from becoming life-threatening.
Once a person has successfully detoxed from alcohol, the next step of treatment focuses on treating the psychological addiction.
Alcohol Abuse And Addiction Treatment Options
As a person is selecting an addiction treatment program for alcoholism, it’s important to find a rehab center that offers comprehensive substance abuse treatment for alcohol addiction.
Many residential alcohol treatment facilities offer detox and rehab under one roof, allowing a person to seamlessly transition from one service to the next.
In many cases, the most successful programs use individualized treatment plans that are tailored to each client’s needs.
Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy help clients build positive thoughts and behaviors that support an alcohol-free life.
To maximize a person’s chance of recovery success, therapy is often supported by medication, an approach known as medication-assisted treatment.
Medication-assisted treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction commonly uses the following medications to help a person find and/or maintain sobriety:
People who have a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety may find greater success in a dual diagnosis alcohol addiction treatment program. Without this help, symptoms of these and other mental illnesses can act as a relapse trigger for alcohol abuse.
With the right combination of treatments and therapies, freedom from alcohol addiction is possible. Contact DrugRehab.org today for more information on alcohol abuse, addiction, and treatment options.Sources
Mayo Clinic - Alcohol use disorder
MedlinePlus - Alcohol Withdrawal
MedlinePlus - Delirium Tremens
MedlinePlus - Ethanol Poisoning
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effects on the Body
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Drinking Levels Defined
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - What Is A Standard Drink?
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)