Currently, one in every twelve adults in the US suffers from alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction affects physical and mental health of the person, and leads to the multiple dangerous consequences in private, social, and professional life. This substance is the third leading cause of death in America. In 2009, one out of the six Americans had a drinking problem.
What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction (a.k.a. alcohol dependence or alcoholism) is a condition in which alcohol users are physically and emotionally dependent on the consumption of the alcohol-containing beverages. Alcoholism is characterized by continuing the use of the alcohol, despite experiencing the negative consequences.
Craving is a primary symptom of alcohol addiction. For example, when you or your loved one feel a strong need to consume these drinks to the point where you feel anxious and irritable without it.
Most of the admissions to the alcohol rehab centers are associated with the alcohol abuse.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse refers to an excessive use of alcohol without the ability to stop. In a nutshell, alcohol abuse is drinking too often or too much. It is at the point where alcohol damages one’s relations and everyday functions. As a result, alcohol abuse will lead to alcohol dependence known as alcoholism.
Below are some of the most common symptoms of the alcohol abuse and addiction:
- You cannot stop drinking or control the number of drinks you consume
- Every time you drink, you need more alcohol to feel the effect
- Drinking problems affect your relations and your job
- You find it hard to cut back
- Drinking affects your health
- Having more than three drinks at a time
- Drinking in the morning
- A feeling guilty
- Having blackouts
Alcohol and its Effects
Alcohol is generally formed through a fermentation process. As yeast and bacteria break down sugars naturally present in the fermenting substance, they produce alcohol as a result. The longer the fermentation, the higher the alcohol content.
When consumed, alcohol acts a depressant on the central nervous system. Respiration and blood pressure may lower, and drinkers may feel relaxed and confident. It is often consumed to make social situations easier because it lowers inhibitions and can make even someone who is normally socially awkward or shy into a social butterfly. Some users also report feeling drowsy, sleepy, or euphoric after drinking as few as one or two beverages.
If consumed in excess, alcohol can become an addictive substance. Drinkers can develop a tolerance to alcohol, meaning they need to drink more at once to achieve the same physical results. Over time, this leads to an addiction, where the body experiences withdrawal symptoms if alcohol is not consumed regularly.
Many people falsely assume that social drinking cannot lead to an addiction, or that you have to drink every day to have a drinking problem. The fact is, any alcohol consumed in excess, or as a form of self-medication is a problem. Binge drinking, or consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a two-hour span for men, or three for women, is also a serious problem, even when done infrequently.
The negative effects of alcohol misuse are widespread. As a result, it leads to physical problems and social problems. In addition, it also leads to educational, vocational, and mental health problems. Despite its devastating effects, alcohol continues to be widely available. Even more, we accept and even promoted it culturally. We portray its use and misuse throughout American society. In this case, people see it as a social tool, a rite of passage, a status symbol, and a coping mechanism.
Alcohol not only leads to addiction, but it may also cause numerous short-term side effects. These can include:
- Slurred speech
- Violent outbursts
- Extreme mood swings
- Impaired mental function and slowed reaction times
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Coma and (or) Death
The day after someone drinks, he may experience what is known as a “hangover,” which can cause symptoms such as a headache, nausea, sensitivity to sound, and malaise.
What Qualifies as an Alcohol Addiction?
At what point is someone considered addicted to alcohol? In the sphere of public opinion, it depends on who you ask. First, it can be anything that causes interference in one’s life. Second, it can be an impairment of functioning. Thirdly, it is something someone can’t walk away from on their own. You can consider them all to be an addiction.
However, in the substance use treatment community, the word “addiction” is falling out of favor. This is in terms of labeling someone who struggles with alcohol misuse. Why? A physical dependence upon a substance is a perfectly acceptable definition of addiction. On the other hand, addiction insinuates an inability to control behavior. This can relate to a substance and clinical treatment is all about recovery. The new definition of recovery focuses on empowering people who struggle with substances. Therefore, calling it an “addiction” removes that sense of empowerment.
The definitions related to addiction changed with DSM-5 in 2013. Before, the diagnosis criteria relied upon determining abuse or dependence. Now, they place substance use on a continuum of disorder rated on a level of severity. They are basing this upon the number of clinically significant impairments exist. Part of the reason is to expand the treatment options available. However, that is a discussion for another article. For our purposes, everyone’s pathways into substance misuse are different. Also, a diagnostic continuum allows for the pathways to recovery to be unique to the person seeking treatment. Depersonalizing “addiction” also removes the diagnosis from the person. We need to remove the diagnosis from the inherent characteristics of a person. As a result, it becomes a problem that we can solve rather than something someone has no control over.
Types of Alcohol
Alcohol can be present in anything in which fermentation has taken place. There are three main classifications of alcohol, however: beer, wine, and liquor. Abuse of any of these substances can lead to alcohol addiction.
Beer – This beverage is usually made using barley, wheat, yeast, and hops. All are allowed to ferment with sugar and other ingredients, a wide range of flavor profiles are possible. Beer usually contains a low to moderate amount of alcohol – from 2% to 12% by volume. A serving of beer is about 10-12 oz, although this depends on the brew. There are numerous big name beer makers (Budweiser, Coors), but many smaller craft beer makers have also emerged as major players, even with the “higher class” patrons. Beer is commonly enjoyed in social situations, such as at sporting events, clubs, parties, or just hanging out at home.
Wine – Made from fermenting grapes, wine is often considered a “classy” drink, making it widely socially acceptable in expensive restaurants or used to celebrate special occasions. Wine tends to have a higher alcohol content than beer by volume, with a serving of wine being around 4-6 oz., each of which contains about the same alcohol content as a 10 oz. beer.
Liquor – Most other alcoholic beverages are considered liquor, which is a blanket term used to describe virtually any harder alcoholic drink. These, too, are made from fermenting certain ingredients, such as agave, grains, and fruit. A serving of liquor is generally one and a half ounces, and it is usually served combined with juices or cocktails, or taken all at once as a shot.
While some contain more alcohol than others, all alcoholic drinks are addictive when consumed in excess.
Who Becomes Addicted to Alcohol?
The most dangerous thing about alcohol is that it is widely consumed, and often considered socially acceptable. This can make it hard for some people to realize they have a problem until it’s too late, and it also may make it harder for loved ones to recognize an addition. Some people start off drinking to celebrate or during social events, but they may spiral into binge drinking or using alcohol to cope with daily stressors. When this happens, addiction is only a step away.
Can social drinking lead to addiction?
Yes, social drinking can lead to addiction, especially if the drinker is consuming large amounts of alcohol over short periods of time. Social drinking can be a problem even if done occasionally.
Can anyone become addicted to alcohol?
Yes, anyone can become addicted to alcohol. Certain groups, however, are more prone to alcohol addiction than others. These groups include veterans, teens, college students, professionals, and pregnant women.
There are also certain groups who may be more prone to alcohol abuse than others:
Veterans – Veterans, especially those who have been through combat, are more likely to use alcohol to cope with negative emotions related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Active military members are also more likely to drink than the general population.
Teens and college students – Drinking games and wild parties are almost synonymous with the college experience. Unfortunately, some college students will find themselves addicted to alcohol before they graduate. In addition, teens are more likely to attend parties that are unattended by responsible adults, where alcohol is frequently consumed.
Professionals – Happy hour is a must for all too many working professionals, and many become addicted before they realize what it happening. Many continue to hold down jobs and appear normal from the outside; at least for a while. These high-functioning alcoholics may take longer to seek help, because they often do not realize or don’t care to admit they have a problem.
Pregnant Women – Although pregnant women are not necessarily more likely to use alcohol than others, doing so can prove more dangerous for their unborn children. There is no known safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and abstinence is ideal during that time.
Getting Help for an Alcohol Addiction
If you find that you need a drink to get through the day, or you feel sick or tired or worse if you don’t have your daily shot of something, then you may have a serious problem. Luckily, there is help available. Inpatient facilities exist that can get you on the track to recovery using a combination of medical interventions, counseling, and peer to peer support. Ongoing therapies are also available to keep you on the right path.
How to treat alcohol addiction?
There are many alcohol addiction treatments available. There are inpatient facilities that provide medical interventions, counseling sessions, and support groups to help an alcoholic recover from addiction. Other therapies and options exist that can help addicts get back on the right track.