Alcohol is one of the oldest substances of abuse—it’s been around for centuries, and has been a popular substance of abuse for just as long. Even with new drugs becoming readily available all the time, alcohol remains one of the leading substances of abuse and addiction. Why?
Alcohol produces a relaxing effect on the brain and body. It’s a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it suppresses function of certain organs and systems within the body which results in the relaxing effect. However, drinking too much can cause problems, health-related and otherwise, in both the short- and long-term.
It can be all too easy for people to fall victim to alcohol abuse, especially if they suffer from one or more risk factors which lead to abuse. The problem is that once you fall into alcohol abuse, it’s hard to get out of it without help. As the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains, alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
We can always be doing more to change this trend, and it begins with knowing about alcoholism, from risk of abuse to signs of addiction, and how to get help in treatment.
What Is Alcohol?: History And Current Use
Exactly how long has alcohol been around? Ancient Egyptians had fermented drinks, and evidence has been found of alcoholic type drinks in China as early as 7000 B.C., according to Drug Free World.
Alcohol has been abused for as long as it has been around. With such a heavy presence and history in our culture, alcohol is an easy target of abuse. But we also live in a world that offers better treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism than ever before. In past centuries, there wasn’t a real solution for people with problems of alcohol abuse, which wasn’t good for them or their societies.
In current day, we have the option of getting help for alcohol abuse problems, and offering help to those who need it. Raising awareness of the health risks of alcohol abuse, available treatment, and proper use of alcohol in social settings are all key components to stemming the tide of alcohol-related overdose and deaths.
Definition Of Alcohol Abuse
Many people drink regularly with no problem, never drink more than they should, and don’t fall into addiction. In fact, the NIAAA reports that moderate drinking (up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) can have some health benefits. These include decreased risk of heart disease, and death due to heart disease, decreased risk of certain types of stroke, and decreased risk of diabetes.
It’s when you go beyond moderate drinking that abuse happens. Alcohol abuse can happen slowly over time, or from binge drinking on occasion but regularly enough to cause damage, or even from picking up drinking as a habit quickly in a short period of time.
So what exactly separates alcohol abuse from simply drinking? You may be abusing alcohol if you can say that you have experienced one or more of the following:
- You drink more often or larger amounts than you used to
- When you have been unable to get alcohol, you have drank things with effects similar to alcohol
- It now takes longer to feel the effects of alcohol when you drink
- You get mild withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- You drink more than moderately: more than one to two drinks at a time, more often than a few times per week
As the U.S. National Library Of Medicine states, “with alcohol abuse, you are not physically dependent, but you still have a serious problem.” Alcohol abuse, or problem drinking, can also manifest as binge drinking. This entails drinking five or more drinks on a single occasion for men or four or more drinks for women, according to Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Some binges can also last anywhere from five to 30 days, and people who engage in this kind of problem drinking can go on long binges, then go up to weeks without drinking. While this isn’t addiction, it still puts your health at risk and can cause consequences.
What’s The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism?
If you’ve heard the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” (also known as alcohol use disorder or AUD or alcohol addiction), you may have wondered about the difference between the two. What’s important to remember is that alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism.
Alcohol abuse becomes the habit that can lead to dependence which causes addiction (alcoholism). It’s addiction to alcohol that causes the long-term problems and consequences in your life. While even small consumption of alcohol can cause any number of health effects, addiction is dangerous in that you fall into it, and your life becomes ruled by alcohol.
With alcoholism, you begin the day drinking and your entire life revolves around it. This can affect relationships, jobs, finances, personal record, and more. To fight addiction, we must treat not just alcohol abuse that’s turned into addiction, but problem drinking at its earliest stages.
Signs Of Alcohol Addiction
If you suspect someone you know may be suffering with alcoholism, here are some signs you may recognize:
- You drink more often than you used to, or for longer periods of time, or much greater amounts
- You have tried to stop drinking, and failed
- You’ve lied about your drinking
- You spend a lot of time drinking, or it cuts into a lot of your day
- You get sick after drinking or spend a lot of time recovering
- Drinking has interfered with your personal or home life
- Drinking has interfered with school or work
- You’ve done things while drinking that you shouldn’t, like driving
- No longer have an interest in things you used to like or love
- You know you should quit drinking but continue to do it
- You have anxiety, depression, or health issues from drinking but continue to do it
- You’ve experienced withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as headache, irritability, and nausea
People who suffer from drastic consequences to their personal and social lives as well as their health are not the only ones who have succumbed to addiction. There are also the high functioning alcoholics, who may believe they have their addiction under control. People who seem to be high functioning can binge drink at night or during the day and carry on with life, seemingly normal.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as having addiction under control while still drinking and not seeking help. Sooner or later, the effects of addiction will take their toll, whether in your personal life through consequences or due to the vast health effects caused by prolonged abuse.
Risk Factors: Who Is Affected?
We know that drinking for an extended period of time, and drinking too much, can lead to addiction, but do other factors put you further at risk? Some factors may affect whether you develop addiction. These include:
- Age: if you began drinking at an early age, or engaged in binge drinking in the past, you’re at heightened risk for alcohol addiction
- Family history: if a parent or other close relative has a history of alcohol abuse, your risk increases
- Mental health issues: though mental health issues do not necessarily lead to alcohol abuse or alcoholism, many people with these issues seek use of alcohol for its sedative effects, and subsequently have problems with addiction
- Social and cultural environments: who and what you’re surrounded by greatly affects your risk of developing addiction. Influence of friends and family members, or peers and role models for youth, can have a vast impact on your decision to start or continue drinking
Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol begins to affect your body immediately; it enters your bloodstream when you take the first sip. The more you drink, the more concentrated your blood alcohol content level (BAC) becomes. The higher the BAC, the more impaired you are.
At first, you’ll really feel the effects. Other factors also affect how much you feel the effects of what you drink, such as height, weight, age, and how long you’ve been drinking. Amount of body fat is also a factor, and women overall tend to have more body fat, and feel the effects of alcohol faster than men.
Short-term effects of alcohol abuse include:
- Breathing issues
- Impaired motor functions
- Reduced inhibitions
- Slurred speech
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble with memory
- In extreme cases, coma or death
Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
Drinking for a prolonged period of time really takes a toll on your health. First, alcohol affects a number of organs, including the brain, liver, pancreas, and heart. With time, the damage caused to these organs from alcohol abuse can be extensive.
Here is a list of ways alcohol can affect your health, of both body and mind, long-term:
- Birth defects: drinking while pregnant may lead to miscarriage, and can also affect birth weight, or cause fetal alcohol syndrome which can lead to physical and/or developmental defects that are permanent.
- Bone damage: prolonged drinking and heavy drinking can affect your body’s ability to produce new bone, which can lead to weakening of the bones, or osteoporosis and risk of fractures. Bone marrow damage and low platelet count can also result.
- Brain and nervous system: heavy drinking greatly affects the nervous system, and can lead to a feeling of numbness in hands and feet, disorganized thinking, short-term memory loss, or even dementia.
- Diabetes troubles: if you have this illness, heavy drinking can disrupt the release of glucose in your liver, resulting in extremely low blood sugar levels. This can be very dangerous for people with this condition.
- Digestive issues: inflamed stomach lining, and ulcers in the stomach and esophagus, can occur from too much drinking, as well as problems with absorbing B vitamins, and damage to or inflammation of the pancreas.
- Eyesight and vision: involuntary rapid eye movement, weakening or paralysis of the eye muscles, and slowed communication between the optic nerves and brain are all possible effects.
- Heart troubles: heart disease, heart failure, and stroke are all possible effects, and heart arrhythmia can occur from even just a single binge drinking session.
- Immune system troubles: with time, alcohol causes decreased ability to resist disease, making you more susceptible to certain conditions, such as pneumonia.
- Liver disease: fatty liver disease, inflamed liver, hepatitis, and irreversible damage to the liver tissue over time are unfortunate side effects of prolonged, heavy drinking.
- Menstruation issues: excessive drinking can affect women’s cycles.
- Sexual dysfunction: excessive drinking can decrease sexual functioning abilities in men.
In addition, prolonged drinking also increases your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast, colon, liver, mouth, and throat. If you’re on medication, alcohol may also affect how it works, impede it, or render it dangerous for you.
Excessive drinking, whether over time or in a short period, is known as alcohol abuse and may lead you to become addicted. Once you become addicted, it’s hard to stop drinking, even if you want to. This is especially true if you develop tolerance and physical dependence.
Tolerance causes you to not feel the effects of alcohol when you drink, tricking you into thinking you’re not impaired. You begin drinking more to try to feel the effects, further increasing your BAC level and risk of alcohol poisoning. The body can only digest so much alcohol in any given time frame, so even when you don’t feel the effects, alcohol is impairing your body and mind.
Physical dependence occurs when you have become addicted and experience adverse symptoms when not drinking. These can range from moderately uncomfortable to severe, and are known as withdrawal.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms can occur after weeks, months, or years of excessive drinking, can affect you as early as two hours after your last drink, and can last for weeks, according to WebMD. The degree of withdrawal symptoms you experience may depend on several factors, such as how long you’ve been drinking, how much you drink on a regular basis, and how often.
Symptoms can range in severity from moderate to extreme, and may include:
- Shaking hands
If you struggle with alcoholism, or prolonged abuse, you may also experience hallucinations about 12 to 24 hours after the last drink. These hallucinations tend to subside after 48 hours. You can also experience seizures which can occur 24 to 48 hours after stopping drinking.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous parts of alcohol withdrawal is Delirium Tremens, or DTs. This is a severe form of withdrawal that tends to happen to people who have a history of alcohol withdrawal. DTs usually occurs 48 to 72 hours after you quit drinking.
Symptoms can be severe and cause quick changes to your nervous system. It’s for this reason and other health concerns, such as monitoring heart and breathing rates, that alcohol detoxification shouldn’t be attempted alone. Medication assisted therapy helps ensure you detox safely.
Symptoms of Delirium Tremens include:
- Agitation or irritability
- Body tremors
- Changes to mental functioning
- Delirium, or extreme confusion
- Energy surges
- Extreme and quick mood changes
- Falling into a deep sleep that lasts for a day or more
- Feelings of excitement or fear
- A sensitivity to light, touch, and sound
Consequences Of Alcoholism
When you struggle with alcoholism, everyone around you suffers, too. Even if you think you have your drinking under control, your addiction touches your life in ways you may not realize.
Addiction to alcohol can affect your personal relationships with partners or children or family members. It can cause you to fall behind at work, or lose your job after coming to work under the influence or hungover too many times.
Before long, alcoholism can also take a toll on your finances, your personal record, and even impair your decision-making. Most of us wouldn’t knowingly cause an auto accident, but drinking impairs your judgment and your ability to properly function. This is just one of many ways drinking can affect not only your life, but the lives of others.
Some possible indirect consequences of alcoholism are:
- Auto accidents
- Other accidents caused by impaired judgment due to drinking
- Risky behavior, such as engaging in unsafe sex acts
- Violent behavior
Alcohol Poisoning: Risk And Symptoms
Alcohol poisoning is exactly what it sounds like: poisoning by alcohol. It happens when you drink too much alcohol in too short a time. Our bodies can only process so much of any substance in a specific time frame. When we drink too much alcohol in just a few hours (or less), our bodies can’t process it, and may not be able to make waste of it yet. This results in toxic buildup of alcohol in the body.
Alcohol poisoning may happen more often than it should because of tolerance. Even when you don’t feel the effects of alcohol, it’s still affecting your body and your health. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic,
drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, gag reflex and potentially lead to a coma and death.
You’re more at risk for alcohol poisoning if you don’t eat before you drink, drink too many drinks in a two-hour time period (one drink per two hours is moderate, in most cases). If you’re worried you or someone you know is at risk of alcohol poisoning, here are some symptoms to watch for:
- Blue coloration to skin or nails
- Decreased body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
- Slowed breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
In all cases, alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and should be treated as one. Contact emergency medical help right away, and seek treatment for alcoholism as soon as possible after medical care is completed.
Scope Of Alcohol Abuse
The NIAAA reports that, as of 2015, 86.4 percent of adults ages 18 and above in the United States reported drinking in their lifetime, with 70.1 percent of these people having drank in the last month. Of these numbers, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 and above reported binge drinking in the past month, and 7 percent reported heavy drinking in the past month.
As you can see, alcohol still has a heavy presence in our culture and as a substance of abuse. Unfortunately, only a small percent of people receive treatment for alcoholism—in 2015, only 1.3 million adults received treatment for an alcohol use disorder. This number represents just 8.8 percent of those who needed treatment.
Further, it’s estimated that about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year in the United States. Addiction to alcohol may be one of the driving factors behind one of the top causes of death in our nation, but it’s completely treatable when you seek proper help.
If you’re ready for help, and to change your life for the better, we at AlcoholTreatment.net can help you every step of the way.
How To Treat Alcohol Addiction
Treatment for alcoholism begins with detoxification. Because withdrawal can be severe, this process requires medical care and possibly medication assisted therapy. Our rehab centers offer excellent care during this time, monitoring vital signs and helping you to safely manage withdrawal.
Treatment begins after detox, and may integrate multiple methods. A multidisciplinary approach ensures greater chance of success in recovery. Each person brings different needs to treatment. That’s why it’s best to find a program that works with your specific needs, and our rehab centers do just that.
Some treatment modalities work to improve behavior, which helps you build a substance-free life. Others teach you ways to deal with thoughts and emotions that can be overwhelming during treatment and after. Still, others teach you skills that will help you cope with addiction triggers, and learn to live a fulfilling life free from the bonds of addiction.
There are therapies to help treat any preexisting mental conditions or other substance use disorders you may have, as well as nutrition and exercise guidance. Our rehab centers also offer warm, welcoming environments. They integrate the beauty and serenity of nature so you can find hope in healing while feeling at peace.
Some of our best, evidence-based treatment methods include:
- Adventure therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Medication assisted therapy
- Mental illness treatment
- Nutrition and exercise guidance
- Support in aftercare
The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment
Alcoholism can affect your mind, body, and spirit. It can infect your life, and the life of everyone around you. It can cause you to make decisions that you know you would never make if you were sober.
If you’re ready to get out of the pull of addiction, we can help. Our rehab centers are filled with supportive, experienced medical professionals who are waiting to help more people succeed in healing. Contact us today at AlcoholTreatment.net to learn more about alcoholism, treatment, and the best rehab centers available.
- National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- Centers For Disease Control And Prevention — Alcohol And Public Health
- Drug Free World — Alcohol: A breif history
- Drug Free World — What Is Alcohol?
- Mayo Clinic — Alcohol Poisoning
- National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism — Alcohol Facts And Statistics
- National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism — Alcohol’s Effects On The Body
- National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism — Alcohol Use Disorder
- National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism — Overview Of Alcohol Consumption
- National Institute On Drug Abuse — Drugs Of Abuse: Alcohol
- Psychology Today — Alcohol Use Disorder
- Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration — Alcohol
- U.S. National Library Of Medicine — Alcoholism And Alcohol Abuse
- WebMD — Alcohol Withdrawal