Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a clinically diagnosed disease that affects people from all walks of life. The medical field has tried to pinpoint factors like genetics, gender, race, or socioeconomics that may urge someone to alcohol addiction; however, it has no single cause. Psychological, genetic, and behavioral factors can all contribute to having the disease.
Being addicted to alcohol is a real thing and impacts the person suffering from addiction and their family, friends, and day-to-day lives. At the very least, alcoholism can cause changes to the brain’s chemistry, which can ultimately cause a person with an addiction to alcohol, an inability to control their actions.
Regardless of what addiction looks like to you, a person is generally considered an alcoholic if they rely heavily on drinking and cannot stay sober for an extended period.
If you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol, read on to find out the symptoms, risk factors, prevention, and possible treatment plans.
Alcohol addiction is a challenging condition to understand, and unlike a drug addiction to cocaine or heroin, alcohol is legal, widely available, and accepted in most cultures. Alcohol is usually the “popular girl” in social situations and can be closely correlated to celebrations and enjoyment. Drinking is a part of life for many people. When it is common in society, it can be hard to tell the difference between someone who likes to have a few drinks now and then and someone with a real problem.
Symptoms of alcohol addiction are:
Increased quantity or frequency of use
High tolerance for alcohol, or lack of “hangover” symptoms
Drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or places like church or work
Wanting to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
Changes in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink heavily.
Preventing contact with loved ones
Hiding alcohol, or hiding while drinking
Dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
Increased lethargy, depression, or other emotional issues
Legal or professional problems such as an arrest or loss of a job
As an addiction tends to worsen over time, it’s essential to look for early warning signs. If identified and treated early, someone with an alcohol addiction may avoid significant disease consequences.
If you’re worried that someone you know has alcohol addiction, it’s best to approach them in a supportive way. Avoid shaming them or making them feel guilty. This could push them away and make them more resistant to your help.
The cause of alcoholism is still unknown. Alcohol addiction develops when you drink so much that chemical changes in the brain occur. These changes increase the pleasurable feelings you get when you drink alcohol. This makes you want to drink more often, even if it causes harm.
Eventually, the pleasurable feelings associated with drinking alcohol go away, and the person with alcohol addiction will engage in drinking to prevent withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can be quite unpleasant and even dangerous.
Alcohol addiction typically develops gradually over time and is also known to be genetic and run in families.
Although the exact cause of alcoholism is unknown, certain factors may increase your risk of developing this disease.
Known risk factors include having:
More than 15 drinks per week if you’re male
More than 12 drinks per week if you’re female
More than five drinks per day at least once a week (binge drinking)
An alcoholic parent
You may also be at a greater risk to become addicted to alcohol if you:
are a young adult experiencing peer pressure
have low self-esteem
experience a high level of stress
live in a family or culture where everyday alcohol use is accepted
have a close relative with an alcohol use disorder
Alcohol addiction can result in heart disease and liver disease. Both can be fatal. Alcoholism can also cause:
Increased risk of cancer
Suppressed immune function
If someone with an alcohol addiction takes dangerous risks while drinking, they can also put others at risk. Drinking is also associated with an increased incidence of suicide and homicide. These complications are the reasons why it’s important to treat alcohol addiction early. Nearly all the risks involved with alcohol addiction may be avoidable or treatable.
You can prevent alcohol use disorder by limiting your alcohol intake. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women shouldn’t drink more than one drink per day, and men shouldn’t drink more than two drinks per day.
It is essential to see your doctor if you begin to engage in behaviors that are signs of alcoholism or if you think that you may have a problem with alcohol.
Other ways to prevent alcoholism are to:
Don’t keep alcohol at home - If you don’t have alcohol at home, you can’t drink it. Being unable to go to the cupboard or the fridge to grab a drink can keep you from developing an alcohol use pattern that can quickly grow into abuse or addiction. Restricting access to alcohol at home can also work to prevent you from emotional drinking or boredom. Only drinking in social settings helps you maintain some accountability as well.
Know your limits - Low-risk drinking for women means no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three in one day. For men, no more than 14 drinks per week, no more than four per day. If a person chooses to drink, the suggested amount is one per day for women, two for men. These recommendations are not for people who already have an alcohol use disorder or have completed a substance abuse program. These recommendations may also vary for people who have health problems or different body types. There is often the argument that no one drinks that little. However, the NIAAA has found that 35 percent of people do not drink at all, 37 percent always drink at low-risk levels, and only 28 percent are heavy drinkers.
Surround yourself with non-drinkers - Going out with co-workers to have multiple drinks during the week and then going out with friends on the weekend and drinking more than 3-4 drinks places you at a 50/50 chance of developing an alcohol use disorder. There are people you can spend time with, and places you can go where alcohol is not the focal point. If you spend time with people who don’t drink or don’t drink often, you will be less likely to drink as well. Socializing does not always mean going to the bar, playing drinking games, doing shots, or partying. Making friends who engage in various activities without drinking can help you control or avoid drinking altogether.
Talk to loved ones - If you believe your drinking to be problematic, or if you would like to cut down on the amount of alcohol you consume, tell someone. Putting those intentions out in the world can help you be more accountable. Additionally, having the support of those who care about you can also help you maintain your goals. Overall, it is up to you to make the changes you feel should be made in your own life. Surrounding yourself with people who support those changes will help you stay focused on the life you want.
Treating alcohol addiction can be complicated and challenging. For treatment to work, the person with an alcohol addiction must want to get sober. You can’t force them to stop drinking if they aren’t ready. Success depends on a person’s desire to get better. The recovery process for alcoholism is a lifetime commitment. There isn’t a quick fix, and it involves daily care. For this reason, many people say alcohol addiction is never cured.
Admitting that you have a drug addiction can be scary, but once you or someone you love comes to the honest realization that help is necessary, you can start on the yellow brick road to recovery. It is always important to talk to your doctor before beginning any treatment plan, especially if it requires prescription drugs.
There are many ways to get help for your drug addiction. Some of these include:
Online counseling has become wildly popular in 2020; with the hit of COVID-19 and Shelter-In-Place ordinances, seeing a Licensed therapist became quite impossible. Online counseling gives patients similar and just as significant counseling opportunities, making it easy and convenient to seek alcohol addiction treatment. Online counseling offers you the ability to talk to a therapist specializing in alcohol addiction from the comfort of your own space. There is also no travel time, no need to arrange for a babysitter if you have children, and one of the best benefits is that you can speak to an online therapist at any point during the day.
A few online therapists include:
Those suffering from an addiction to alcohol tend to do best when supported by others who are also experiencing addiction and on the road to recovery. This makes group therapy an ideal course of action, so addicts can find a group focused on alcohol addiction, helping them realize that their problems are not unique. This realization can help ease the shame, guilt, and remorse they feel about their addiction.
This type of care focuses on the individual's problems. After one person shares, other people in the group are encouraged to share their similar thoughts and experiences, leading to a mutual understanding that other people also struggle with alcohol addiction -- that you don’t have to face this journey alone.
Group therapy options include:
Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment Centers (Rehabilitation Centers)
If you have a severe addiction, you may need hospital-based or residential treatment. Residential treatment programs combine housing and treatment services. Finding the right treatment center depends on many things, such as where you live or whether or not your insurance plan will cover some or all the cost.
A standard initial treatment option for someone with alcohol addiction is an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation program. An inpatient program can last anywhere from 30 days to a year. It can help someone handle withdrawal symptoms and emotional challenges. Outpatient treatment provides daily support while allowing the person to live at home.
Someone with an alcohol addiction who has remained sober for months or years may find themselves drinking again. They may binge drink once or drink for some time before getting sober again. But a relapse doesn’t indicate failure. The person must get back on track and resume treatment.
Ultimately, sobriety is the responsibility of the person who has an alcohol addiction. It’s essential not to enable destructive behaviors and maintain appropriate boundaries if the person with alcohol addiction is still drinking. This can mean cutting off financial assistance or making it difficult for them to fulfill the addiction.
As a loved one of someone with alcohol addiction, try to be encouraging and provide emotional support.
If you’re not sure where to start, know that you’re not alone and that there is hope for a full recovery. With the proper treatment, you can live the life you desire, alcohol-free!