Alcohol addiction doesn’t happen overnight and it isn’t a conscious choice someone makes. Like cancer, alcohol addiction is a disease that spreads undetected in the brain and body until the hold is evident. Consequences of alcohol addiction include the loss of one’s social circle, family, spouse, children, the loss of a career, and physical and mental deterioration. Someone addicted to alcohol at the end stages may suffer from any number of co-occurring diseases and illnesses, organ failure, among the running risk of alcohol poisoning and suicide.
Risk Factors, The Social Drinker, And Drug Sensitization
Alcohol addiction can affect anyone, especially those with certain risk factors including a genetic predisposition toward addiction. Genetics can play a huge role in both the likelihood and severity of addiction, making someone more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Someone who drinks socially may unwittingly be affected by alcohol disproportionately to anyone else in their group of friends.
Apart from genetic predisposition, mental disorders including depression and anxiety, socioeconomic factors, environmental factors including a history of alcohol addiction in the family or exposure to alcohol addiction in the home, can all contribute to a higher risk toward addiction. In fact, a child of someone who struggles with an alcohol addiction is eight times more likely to experience addiction. Knowing these risk factors is one preventative measure in stopping an addiction before it starts.
Risk Factors for Alcohol Addiction
- Genetic predisposition (“runs in the family”)
- History of anxiety or depression
- Socioeconomic factors
- Environmental factors including early exposure
There are two types of social drinkers: Those who drink in excess on the weekends, and those who enjoy a beer after work. Neither implies someone is addicted to alcohol, but both can contribute to a process of drug sensitization associated with addiction behaviors.
Both the excessive weekend drinker and the more moderate daily social drinker are introducing their bodies to a substance that has a direct effect on the brain’s reward centers. This reward center, known as the nucleus accumbens, rewards life-sustaining activities–like eating good food, drinking water, exercise, or even having sex–with a flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Anyone who has ever enjoyed their favorite meal and felt that warm satiated contentment following, has experienced the intoxicating effects of dopamine.
Part of a larger survival mechanism in the brain, the dopamine reward center is a helpful tool, except in the case when substances like alcohol or other drugs are introduced. These substances elevate the dopamine levels in the body significantly, leaving us feeling euphoric. The brain takes notice of this effect and becomes hyper focused on your surroundings, including those who are with you, the sounds and smells of the room, and even the time of day.
At first, these changes are so subtle, they go unnoticed, but within the brain something is changing. A process known as drug sensitization is unfolding. The body is increasingly aware of the powerful effects of alcohol, and becomes sensitized, initially increasing the euphoric response at even the smallest introduction of the substance. This means the person who orders a drink and intends to drink only one, may suddenly feel compelled to order a second. They may also find themselves craving a drink at a certain time of day, or in the company of specific people.
Even in this early stage, someone may drink until they black out or suffer memory lapses, early warning signs of alcohol addiction.
Hiding Alcohol And Increasing Social Isolation
At this stage in the evolution of alcohol addiction, the person who once enjoyed the company of their friends after work may seek out only the friends who they know will get a drink following. They begin to feel compelled to schedule their day around access to alcohol. Isolation from social groups who do not engage in drinking begins. They may not be entirely aware of the problem, but feel compelled to hide their drinking.
With regular consumption of alcohol, nearly all significant parts of the brain are changing. Alcohol negatively impacts areas of the brain associated with goal-setting, decision-making, and behavior. Someone who was once a very responsible employee or parent may now miss work or forget to pick up their children from school.
Withdrawal symptoms also begin to emerge. The individual may become moody or withdrawn, and preoccupied with their next drink. Severe cravings begin to emerge. Alcohol also affects the body’s immune system, so someone in this stage of alcohol addiction may suffer from frequent illness, apart from withdrawals. They might also suffer from depression and anxiety.
Choosing Alcohol Over Family, Friends, And Hobbies
Alcohol addiction progresses with its direct impact to the brain and body. In the later stages of addiction, both the white and grey matter of the brain begin to deteriorate. This brain shrinkage, affecting the neural network of our brain, outwardly alters everything from how a person thinks and cognitive ability, to impulse control and personality. A once kind and loving individual may appear withdrawn, show no interest in former hobbies or activities, get into trouble with the law or at work.
At this stage those suffering from alcohol addiction often feel that their life no longer resembles that which they had prior to the addiction. They begin cut contact with loved ones and friends, give up on a career or get fired from a job, they may lose custody of their children, and appear to have no control over their drinking.
Physically, an alcohol-addicted person may have lost or gained a significant amount of weight, suffer from chronic headaches, insomnia, frequent illness and associated diseases including liver disease, pancreatitis, and cancer.
Someone in the final stages of alcohol addiction is likely to suffer from vitamin deficiencies, choosing alcohol over healthy food, and is likely to have poor balance, as the parts of the brain associated with coordination have been damaged. Permanent brain damage may affect the person’s ability to learn and retain new information. Dementia-like symptoms begin to appear. At the end-stages of the disease, a person may suffer from psychosis. This end stage may result in death by accident, suicide, and disease associated with the addiction.
Why A Medically Managed Detox Is Necessary In Treating Alcohol Addiction
Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms in later stage alcohol addiction, a medically managed detox is vital. Withdrawal symptoms may be severe and life-threatening in these stages and are often managed with medications in conjunction with vitamin supplements and emotional support.
Change The Course Of Your Life
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Don’t wait. You deserve better. Contact us today and discover a new and rewarding life in recover that awaits you.