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Like with any other consumable when taken in excess, alcohol can prove to be more disastrous than you thought. Although it has been shown to improve heart health when taken in moderation, this popular beverage can wreak havoc to anyone who fails to draw the line between a sip and binge drinking.
In the guide below, you will learn everything there is to know about alcoholism - causes, effects, signs, intervention, and treatment. Read on to find out more:
At its most basic, alcoholism can be defined as an uncontrollable urge to consume alcohol. Those who are affected tend to value their drinking over all other responsibilities in life - including but not limited to family, relationship, friendships, and even work. With time, they develop a physical tolerance to drinking which compels them to consume even more alcohol. Similarly, most alcoholics who try to curb the habit end up experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
Otherwise denoted as alcohol dependence or addiction, alcoholism is somewhat different from harmful drinking. Whereas the former affects your relationships, the latter is occasional in nature and might prove detrimental to your overall health and wellbeing.
Harmful drinking tends to occur within social contexts - such as during a gathering of friends or at a party. The drunk then risks injuring themselves or others through their actions or words.
With time, this pattern might culminate into full-fledged alcoholism especially if the drunk takes up drinking more frequently or turns it into an everyday habit to deal with issues in their personal life - such as boredom, depression, and the like.
Recent NIAAA statistics show that 7% of all American adults suffer from one type of alcohol use disorder or another. For the affected, alcoholism causes them to consume too much alcohol, too frequently, and in ways that end up harming their relationships, happiness, health, and chances of success and optimal performance.
In such cases, an intervention is required. Families and friends can come together and talk about the consequences of alcoholism on the affected party, thereby convincing them to enroll for treatment, rehabilitation, and detoxification programs.
At the treatment center, the alcoholic receives professional help in a bid to help them recover. This help is multifaceted and usually comes in the form of detoxification, support group work, relapse prevention coaching, and counseling sessions.
Since the rates of relapsing back into alcoholism ranges from 40% to 60%, it is imperative that the patient continues seeking treatment over the course of their lifetime. This is the only way to protect themselves from resuming a habit as dangerous and unnerving as alcoholism.
For a large majority of the adult population the world over, the end of the workday (or work week) signals relaxation, fun, and unwinding. As a result, most people fall back on the setting sun and the cooling of the environment to open an alcoholic beverage, sit back, relax, and enjoy their drink.
Since social norms permit evening drinking, it is inevitable that most people choose to spend this time indulging in their liquor of choice. From vintage wine to local beer, the choices are endless.
Whereas some take a single drink a day, others simply can't seem to stop once they get started. In fact, a predisposition to alcoholism might cause you to end up drinking into the wee hours of the morning - forgetting that you have work and other responsibilities the following day.
For the 7% of all adult Americans who fall within the bounds of alcoholism, alcoholic drinks change from being viewed as pleasurable beverages into an obsession to be worshiped and thought of at all times of day and night.
If you are suffering from alcoholism, therefore, the chances are that you will have difficulties focusing on the daily pleasures that life presents. However, once you decide to get help, the ongoing support and right treatment program will address, amend, and resolve your case.
So, when does alcoholism start? What causes people to cross the line from pleasurable drinking to sheer alcohol abuse? Many factors increase your risk of abusing alcohol.
For instance, you might fall prey to alcoholism when you choose to turn to alcohol for seemingly harmless reasons only to end up developing a dependency on the habit. For instance, if you choose to imbibe alcohol to deal with difficult times - such as a loss of income or the passing of a loved one - it is highly likely that you might soon be battling alcohol abuse.
That said, the following are some of the common reasons why most people start consuming alcohol:
If you turn to alcohol whenever you are stressed out, the chances are quite high that you will end up as an alcoholic. This is on account of the fact that alcohol is a sedative and a depressant. As such, when you drink it, it will give you incredible pleasure.
The sad thing about this turn of events is that alcohol isn't the solution to your stress. As alcoholics learn during rehabilitation sessions, there are other ways of confronting stress that have nothing to do with alcohol.
In fact, if you go down the road towards alcoholism by drinking frequently, your body will build tolerance. After some time, you will need to drink even more alcohol to get the same pleasure you enjoyed when you started drinking. This will present a new source of stress in your life - alcoholism.
Some people start drinking to get a reprieve from the reality of daily life. In these cases, alcohol provides a sense of relief that takes your mind away from any underlying issues that you are trying to run away from.
To this end, if you continue using alcohol to get through a tough week or a mundane day, then you might end up battling chronic alcoholism.
If you lose a loved one, you will suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally. Taking alcohol in these situations will ease your grief and help you get through the tough time.
However, your dependency on alcohol can easily spiral into an even more severe problem - one you might not even foresee coming until it is almost too late to avoid slipping into the alcoholism trap.
Some people are simply anxious. As a result, perpetual worry is second nature to them. When these personality types drink alcohol, their inhibitions are lowered, and they feel more comfortable - particular when in a social context. With time, however, this kind of drinking will only cause addiction in the form of alcoholism.
That said the never-ending craving that is caused by alcoholism makes abstinence quite difficult. This problem is further compounded and complicated by feelings and thoughts of denial.
In fact, most alcoholics sink even further down the drain because they adamantly refused to admit that their dependence on alcohol has gotten out of hand. This guilt/denial bars them from taking the steps required to seek and receive help.
The problem of alcoholism becomes even more alarming when you consider that most doctors only screen about 15% of patients walking through their institutions for alcohol-related disorders. As such, the vast majority of the cases go completely undetected.
Within the social context, problems related to drinking alcohol were pegged on personality weaknesses and a flaw in character. However, experts are now coming to the conclusion that chronic alcoholism is a serious issue that can affect just about anyone.
Among the young, binge drinking seems to be acceptable. In fact, most teens start drinking socially, such as among their friends. Others use drinking as a pleasurable activity not tied to anything apart from fun.
However, older people are more prone to deciding to drink alone. Older people, you should keep in mind, also have co-morbidities or take medications which make their dependence on alcohol even riskier. Both of these situations can make it incredibly hard to spot a problem drinker.
The world over, adults have a legal right to buy and consume alcohol. It is for this reason that beverages containing alcohol tend to be readily available almost everywhere you look. After all, adults take full advantage of this right.
Seeing as how alcohol use is common, it is hard to decide who has a drinking problem and who doesn't. To help you determine whether you have an inclination to alcoholism, or a loved one does, consider the following key signs:
This is the first, most obvious sign of a drinking problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as the process of consuming alcohol to simply get as drunk as possible. For women, this would involve taking more than 4 drinks in 2 hours while for men it entails drinking 5 or more servings within the same duration.
Binge drinking is quite evident making it is relatively easy to spot. Those affected sit down and try to take in the greatest amount of alcohol possible. This intent is, therefore, quite hard to hide.
Other signs include:
These patterns of drinking are all different from each other. However, they are somewhat similar in the sense that those who are drifting towards alcoholism have lost control over how much they can consume.
With time, alcohol starts driving their behavior. Initially, it looks like a subtle distinction. However, those who are unable to deal with the problem from the get go might end up suffering from their dependence on alcohol.
The more difficult the drinking pattern, the easier it is for the brain to experience a shift in electrical activities. When this happens, the affected party has little to no control over the amount of alcohol they can take in, or when they choose to drink. When occasional use shifts from being troublesome to becoming compulsive, then addiction is imminent, and alcoholism occurs.
Apart from the above, the NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) reports that the following are the most common signs of alcoholism:
To discern whether you have a problem with alcohol consumption, it is imperative that you first understand the most common types of alcoholics. Most of these people share a couple of characteristics with each other. When they do meet, they tend to have a lot in common by way of conversational topics.
However, this is not to mean that everyone suffering from alcoholism is the same. Research released by the National Institutes of Health shows that there are 5 broad categories of alcoholics.
a) Young Adult Subtype
This is the first type of alcoholic. It typically comprises young adults who drink but do not have co-occurring mental illness or family histories of chronic alcoholism.
b) Young Antisocial Subtype
This category of alcoholics includes young adult drinkers with a family history of chronic alcoholism. Most of them also have co-occurring mental illnesses as well as addiction to other substances.
c) Functional Subtype
Among the functional alcoholics, you will find relatively successful middle-aged people with stable jobs and supportive families. However, they tend to have a history of depression as well as a family history of chronic alcoholism.
d) Intermediate Familial Subtype
This category comprises middle-aged people with prior depressive episodes as well as a family history of chronic alcoholism.
e) Chronic Severe Subtype
Among chronic alcoholics are the middle aged with addiction to other substances, history of poor mental health, as well as familial history of alcoholism.
The causes behind alcoholism depend on the sufferer. In most cases, the underlying cause is a blend of social, environmental, psychological, physical, and genetic factors. Since these factors tend to vary from one person to the other, it can be difficult to generalize on the main reason behind the alcoholism.
However, you would do well to note that people with parents who are alcoholics are three to four times more at risk of developing alcoholism. That said, some of the children of alcohol abusers have also been known to overcome this hereditary pattern by opting to never drink.
People with alcoholism hardly ever strive to get diagnosed. After all, no one wants to have to struggle with alcohol-related issues over the course of their lives. The problem arises in the sense that alcoholism is sneaky. It tends to creep up on people in ways that are seemingly harmless, quite subtle, and easy to go unnoticed. This happens in the following ways:
a) Peer Pressure
A good example is the fact that alcoholism tends to arise from peer pressure. Most drinkers never go out of their way to start drinking. In fact, some are averted to the taste, smell, and look of alcohol.
However, when peers poke, prod, and prompt you, the chances are that you end up taking your first drink. With time, you continue complying with requests from your peers to meet up and "pop a cold one." Eventually, you will lose all control over your ability to decide when, how, and to what extent you should consume alcohol.
b) Mental Illness
For some people, alcoholism is caused by mental illness. In these cases, the patient starts relying on alcohol as their DIY remedy for such mental health concerns as anxiety or depression.
Although the drinks will seem to work in the early stages, the effectiveness of alcohol to keep your symptoms under control is not permanent. With time, alcohol will augment the sway these illnesses hold over your life, actions, thoughts, and conversations.
c) Genetic Inclination
Research conducted by the NIAAA has also suggested that alcoholism might also stem from your genetic composition. While scientists haven't yet discovered this specific gene linked to alcoholism, it is clear that there are some genes that are known to boost the hold of alcohol while reducing the impacts and pangs of hangovers.
People with such gene combinations tend to get bigger highs when they drink. However, they won't feel sick or ill after a long night of serious drinking. This is because their bodies are naturally primed to take alcohol abuse lightly. With time, such people have higher chances of developing chronic alcoholism.
Last but not least, parents and guardians have been known to contribute to the alcohol problems of their children. This is particularly so when the children ape their parent's drinking problems.
In this case, the children grow up in a home where alcoholism is seen as a norm rather than an exception. If the parents drink to cope with anxiety or stress, then the children might end up doing the same.
Here, alcoholism among the children does not stem from their genetic composition. Rather, it is created from the behavior modeled after parents.
Even as you strive to help loved ones battling alcoholism, it is imperative that they understand how their dependence might negatively affect their health.
Most of the patients affected by alcoholism tend to drink too much either long term or on any given occasion. This will take a serious tool on their health. In some situations, the alcoholism might even prove to be life threatening.
In the same way, the short-term effects of depending on alcohol are just as dire as the long term effects. For example, overdrinking will affect your reaction time, and slow down your coordination and reflexes.
This is why we are constantly warned against drinking and driving. Getting behind the wheel while under the influence distorts your perception of distance and speed. This might put you and others at serious risk of bodily harm or death.
The short-term effects of alcoholism and acting under the influence include:
On the other hand, abusing alcohol over the long term will take a toll on your health and wellness. Although some of these side effects will take a while before surfacing, they will soon become clear.
Due to these adverse side effects, you need to seek proper medical help for diagnosis and treatment.
Below are some of the health conditions caused by alcoholism over the long term:
If a loved one displays signs of alcoholism, you might have a difficult time discerning what you should do. In most cases, you will feel worried about their situation. Similarly, you will be frustrated that they do not need help from you. In dire situations, you might even feel frightened by them or for them.
These feelings are quite normal and should be accepted as they are. However, instead of focusing on yourself, you should take the steps required to steer your loved ones in the right direction - towards rehabilitation from alcoholism.
The first step is communication. Sit down with the affected loved one and talk to them about their dependence on alcohol. Then, try and persuade them to meet up with a medical professional so that they can be evaluated.
Although it is difficult for most alcoholics to accept that they have a serious problem going on, you can steer them in the right direction. All you need to do is be open and supportive, and remain non-judgmental so that they accept the situation, feel safe, and start the journey to recovery.
Where possible, take it upon yourself to accompany them to an appointment. Then, ask the doctor for a simplified explanation and relay it to your loved one. Inform them about their illness, the symptoms, as well as the long-term effects of alcoholism in case they refuse to seek help.
Then, provide them with some options they can adopt so that they can recover. If possible, you can also ask them if and how they would like for you to support them.
If you think you are an alcoholic, the chances are that you are right. Don't wait until the situation gets out of hand before you try to remedy it. Remember, a common symptom of alcoholism revolves around the patient's inability to amend or curb poor drinking behaviors.
Therefore, you might desire change while simultaneously feeling that you are unable to take the steps required. In other cases, you will also feel like you can never keep away from alcohol because it simply isn't possible.
For people like this, an intervention will prove useful. The idea behind an intervention is to help you see that alcoholism is a real problem. The participants will also gang up to motivate you to seek medical assistance. In these situations, interventions will shed light and give you hope to keep pushing towards recovery.
Interventions work best when they are hosted by loved ones immediately after the affected experienced a terrible episode due to alcoholism. Since most alcoholics are reeling out of control, it should not be hard to spot such situations.
Consider the following instances where an intervention would be appropriate to help a friend suffering from alcohol abuse:
Once the intervention ends, the stage should have been set to enable the loved one to get into a treatment program to deal with the problem. Luckily, there are so many options in the marketplace that you shouldn't have a hard time finding the right solution.
Whereas some facilities offer inpatient treatment for alcoholics, others take an outpatient route. For inpatient treatment, the program will give you an opportunity to take a step back from your daily concerns.
In this situation, you will tackle your addiction and dependence around the clock until you are completely healed. The tight focus provides the perfect setup to steer you towards healing.
Outpatient centers, on the other hand, will prove useful if you feel that you need to remain within familiar surroundings in the presence of your family. When you enroll in such a program, you will count on your loved ones to help you fight your alcohol addiction.
As an alcoholic, the biggest decision you will ever have to deal with is choosing to be proactive about getting help. Luckily, the options available for those who seek help are endless. This means that you should be able to find the perfect one for you. Most treatments are based on the severity and frequency of alcohol abuse.
Remember, however, that rehabilitation and recovery from addiction to alcohol is a long-term process. To this end, it will continue long after you are discharged from alcoholism treatment program you signed up for.
You might also be required to commit to practicing and applying the techniques you learned from rehab, support groups, counseling, and the other kinds of therapy that were provided to help you.
Although recovery plans vary from individual to individual, the secret is that these plans are effective particular if they have been tailored to meet your specific needs. Still, treatment tends to follow a given structure which can be broken down into the following:
This is the first stage to recovering from alcohol addiction. As far as possible, you should undertake this phase with the help of highly trained and qualified medical professionals. This is because there is a potential for uncomfortable, serious, and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
In most cases, the practitioners will give you medication to alleviate the pain and angst created when your body tries to withdraw from alcohol dependence.
As mentioned above, rehabilitation from alcoholism comes in two forms: inpatient and outpatient. In an inpatient rehab, you will sign up for an intensive treatment program where you will be required to stay in a facility for a given period (30 to 90 days).
For outpatient rehabilitation, you will participate in the recovery program (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) while going about your daily life as normal.
Discuss with your primary medical practitioner until you understand all the treatment options available to you. Then, make an informed decision about the form of recovery that will best suit you.
Recovery from alcoholism will not stop after you are done with rehabilitation. Rather, sobriety over the long haul will require that you count on support groups, ongoing therapy, counseling, further detoxification, and a number of other recovery resources.
Take a proactive step towards maintaining your resistance from alcoholism and you will increase your chances of living healthy and happy for many more months and years after you checked out of rehab.
Q: How long does recovery from alcoholism take?
A: According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), recovery and treatment vary from one person to another. The length of time will depend on how long one has been addicted as well as the peculiar circumstances surrounding such addiction.
Q: How much does rehabilitation cost?
A: Some insurance companies cover certain aspects of care from addiction. As such, their contributions will reduce how much you end up paying out of pocket.
Every facility dedicated to combating alcoholism comes with its own pricing structure. Most base their fees on the amenities they offer, the characteristics and qualifications of their staff, as well as their success rates.
Q: How is alcoholism treated?
A: According to the NIAAA, 10% of those addicted to alcohol tend to experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. To this end, it is imperative that withdrawal from alcoholism is properly and professionally handled. It is for this reason that all recovery teams provide medical detoxification before applying the right therapies.
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