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Article Summary

A Guide To Alcohol Addiction

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), alcohol, and related conditions such as alcoholism and alcohol abuse, is among the leading causes of preventable death the world over. Luckily, most people with alcohol use disorders improve through treatment - although less than 10% of the entire population with these disorders receives treatment.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of the condition and social stigma prevent most alcoholics from seeking assistance that could help them lead sober, happier, and healthier lives.

In the United States alone, over 7% of all adults have one form of alcohol use disorder or the other. Among these are those who drink too often, too much, or in ways that are harmful to their relationships, happiness, and health.

However, interventions can help push such people to seek treatment. Once there, support group work, therapy sessions, and relapse prevention coaching can support their recovery.

In the guide below, you will learn more about alcohol, as well as its uses, effects, side effects, potential for addiction, dangers, and more:

Understanding Alcohol

Alcohol is a legally controlled substance that lowers social and emotional inhibitions and anxiety. However, it is also accompanied by a host of side effects - from slurred speech to loss of coordination.

That said, not everyone who partakes of the substance is an alcohol. Still, those whose lives have been affected negatively by alcohol on a regular basis can be said to have one form of alcohol use disorder.

In many cases, alcohol is consumed on such forms as hard liquor, wine, and beer. Among users are binge drinkers - including women who take 4 or more drinks and men who consume 5 or more drinks over a 2 hour period.

Although most infrequent binge drinkers might be able to stay away from alcohol without any help, those who are addicted to this substance may want to quit but fail to do so unless they get the required assistance. Among these include those who engaged in prolonged binge drinking until it developed into full-blown alcoholism.

On the street, alcohol is referred to as shine, the good stuff, hard stuff, juice, cold one, chug, brew, or booze while its scientific name is ethanol.

Alcohol Uses

Most people take alcohol because of the intoxicating effects it causes, and how it changes the way they act or think. The substance enables most people gain confidence, while helping others relax. However, it may also diminish judgment and coordination.

People also use different drinks to forget about their problems, to have fun, or to unwind and relax after a stressful event or day. Others take it in social situations to help them interact more freely.

The social acceptance and prevalence of such consumption has created the misconception that alcohol is safe. However, drinking it may cause you to start abusing the substance - leading you to develop alcoholism.

Alcohol Effects

Alcohol causes a variety of effects on different people. These effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Blackouts
  • Brain damage
  • Headaches
  • Immune system obstruction
  • Impaired judgment
  • Liver disease
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Risk of certain cancers
  • Slurred speech
  • Thiamine deficiency
  • Vomiting

In many cases, alcoholism might also cause a slew of severe social consequences on the abuser's life. For instance, if you are always hung over or drunk at work, you may lose your job and leave yourself and your dependents in financial trouble.

Similarly, abusing alcohol may lead to isolation from your family and friends, legal problems, marital conflict, and domestic violence. These social effects tend to be worsened if you have a co-occurring medical condition, such as bulimia or anorexia.

Alcohol Side Effects

Abusing alcohol or becoming addiction to it may also create a variety of side effects. However, many alcoholics will attribute these medical complications to other conditions in an attempt to dissociate themselves from the consequences of frequent drinking.

These side effects may include:

  • Birth defects
  • Brain damage
  • Cancer risk
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis (especially among women who drink heavily or frequently)
  • Sexual problems
  • Stomach problems
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Ulcers
  • Vision problems

Alcohol Addictive Qualities

Alcohol abuse refers to having dangerous or unhealthy drinking habits, including drinking too much of the substance at one time or drinking on a daily basis. In many cases, such abuse may harm relationships, destroy your career trajectory, or cause legal problems like drinking while intoxicated.

Most addictive substances, such as alcohol, affect the reward and pleasure center of the brain - the part that motivates you to partake in those activities that benefit your survival (including socializing, having sex, and eating).

The brain's reward system also makes you feel happy and excited by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine whenever you engage in such activities. Therefore, dopamine leads to happiness and causes the brain to remember those experiences that cause happiness. In the process, the brain programs itself so that you start desiring a repeat of these experiences.

Alcohol is psychologically and physically addictive because it effectively manipulates the brain's reward system. It helps you let loose and relax in social situations, which makes it psychologically addictive. It also causes your brain to release more endorphins (another pleasure neurotransmitter).

By affecting the chemical balance in the brain, this substance will cause you to feel sleepy, get excited, or lose coordination. The brain, on the other hand, quickly adapts to these alterations for normal functioning when you drink alcohol. This is referred to as tolerance.

With time, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol, a condition referred to as alcoholism. At this point, you will be both physically and mentally addicted to it and you might have a craving (or strong need) for alcohol.

Alcohol Overdose

At times, you might reach a level of alcohol intoxication that is life threatening. At this point, you would be said to be suffering from alcohol poisoning. The condition may cause you to stop breathing because it will suppress your respiratory system.

Alcohol poisoning is accompanied by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Brain damage
  • Choking on vomit
  • Death
  • Hypothermia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Severe dehydration

In most cases, alcohol poisoning is caused by binge drinking. Whatever the situation, if you start showing any of the above symptoms (or a loved one does), the best thing you can do is seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Long term alcohol abuse and alcoholism may put you at risk of suffering serious consequences if you decide to stop drinking without proper medical treatment, advice, and supervision.

In most cases, these withdrawal symptoms are an indicator of advanced addiction and should never be dismissed or taken lightly. They may include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Clammy skin
  • Convulsions, or uncontrolled shaking of the entire body or just the hands
  • Delirium tremens (DTs), accompanied by seizure, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations (DTs is life threatening)
  • Extreme agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Persistent insomnia
  • Profuse sweating (even when it's cold)
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Most of these symptoms mostly occur 48 to 96 hours after you last consumed alcohol. Dependence, on the other hand, leads to addiction and makes it difficult for you to quit.

Alcohol Dangers

Several factors post a danger among those who take alcohol on a regular basis, in large quantities, or repeatedly. These include:

  1. Binge Drinking

    The most visible and immediate risks of drinking large quantities of alcohol include a high risk of engaging in such reckless behavior as having unsafe sex, fighting, jumping off buildings, or drunk driving. It may also increase your chances of blacking out as well as suffering alcohol poisoning.

  2. Heavy Drinking

    Drinking heavily, on the other hand, will cause side effects that are quite similar to alcoholism. These effects include mental health problems, organ damage, and increased risk of cancer. It may also increase your risk for addiction.

In many cause alcohol use disorder damages the liver and leads to such complications as:

  • Birth defects
  • Bleeding in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract
  • Bone loss
  • Changes in mental health, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome accompanied by memory loss, vision changes, and confusion
  • Damage to the cells of the brain
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Diabetes complications
  • GI tract cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher risk of developing cancer
  • Nerve damage
  • Pancreatitis
  • Sexual problems
  • Suppressed immune function
  • Ulcers
  • Vision problems

Abusing alcohol in the long term may also increase your risk of such problems as relationship conflicts, exposure to violence, unemployment, firearm injuries, falls, and traffic accidents.

If taken during pregnancy, alcohol might harm the fetus. The related conditions are commonly referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Although some of these conditions (and their accompanying symptoms) can be eased, there is no way the damage can be reversed.

Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse

Those suffering from alcohol use, abuse, tolerance, and dependence may not always display similar signs and symptoms. Rather the symptoms you will experience will depend on your medical history and background, among other factors.

Although these symptoms vary from one individual to the next, they tend to include:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • A husky voice
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Black/tarry or bloody stools
  • Blacking out, or experiencing lapses in memory after drinking too much
  • Broken capillaries on and around the face
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Clumsiness
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Flushed skin
  • Illnesses (including alcoholic ketoacidosis with dehydration-type symptoms and cirrhosis)
  • Incoherent or slurred speech
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Oversleeping
  • Poor balance
  • Redness on the face during and after consuming alcohol
  • Stomach pains
  • Trembling hands
  • Tremors or involuntary shaking the morning after you drink too much
  • Vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is cut out
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Depression
  • Emotional issues
  • Headache
  • Increased lethargy
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Mood swings
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Temporary blackouts
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • An apparent lack of the typical symptoms of a hangover
  • Avoiding contact with friends and loved ones
  • Avoiding situations where no alcohol will be available
  • Becoming abusive, aggressive, or violent toward others
  • Becoming preoccupied with drinking
  • Breaking rules and curfews
  • Changes in friendships in favor of people who drink heavily too
  • Continuing to use alcohol to feel normal, deal with your problems, cheer yourself up, or relax in spite of the negative consequences such drinking causes
  • Decreased involvement and interest in extracurricular activities
  • Dependence on alcohol for normal, everyday functioning
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in the morning
  • Erratic behavior
  • Feeling guilty after you drink
  • Having and keeping alcohol paraphernalia.
  • Hiding alcohol in and around your environment
  • Hiding while drinking
  • Inability to control how much you drink
  • Increased frequency or quantity of use
  • Legal problems, such as an arrest
  • Looking forward to occasions where alcohol will be present
  • Loss of interest at home, school, and work
  • Lying
  • Making illogical excuses for your alcohol use disorder
  • Professional problems, such as loss of employment
  • Recurrent conflicts, fights, or arguments with friends and family members
  • Smelling of alcohol
  • Spending copious amounts of time getting drunk or recovering from drinking
  • Stealing alcohol from your family and friends
  • Stealing money to fuel your drinking habit
  • Taking alcohol even at inappropriate times or places, such as at work or in church
  • Trying to hide how much you drink by buying alcohol from different sources
  • Violent behavior
  • Worrying that you may not have enough alcohol for a weekend or even an evening

Treatment For Alcohol Addiction

Overcoming alcoholism and alcohol use disorders may be tiresome but it is possible. At times, you may feel like giving up and continuing with your alcoholic lifestyle. However, once you decide (or are forced to decide) to quit, there are treatments available to help you out.

According to NSDUH (the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) most people who seek alcohol abuse treatment do so from therapy sessions and inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.

The first step to recovery usually involves detoxification to purge your system of alcohol and all associated impurities. Detox also gets rid of your physical dependence on this substance while treating withdrawal symptoms.

After detox, you will undergo therapy and counseling to prevent a relapse, all the while learning how to live without alcohol. The most common forms of therapeutic treatment tend to include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Multidimensional family therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Motivational incentives

Overall, finding treatment is well within your grasp. You just need to decide that you are done with alcohol and look for a center to help you quit, deal with your addiction, and continue living sober forever.

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