In the United States and much of the world, drinking alcohol is considered normal. In fact, it holds an important place in the cultural landscape, serving prevalent roles in casual social occasions, dating, business, festivities, and even religious ceremonies. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 90% of American adults have consumed alcohol and approximately 70% have consumed alcohol in the last year. More concerningly, 26% have engaged in binge drinking in the last month — and that’s not counting adolescents under 18, who also have a high rate of binge drinking. The vast majority of these would not consider themselves problematic drinkers. Because alcohol use is so ubiquitous, it can be difficult for people to recognize when they have a problem drinking.
In fact, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Approximately 15 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol addiction, which is referred to in the medical community as alcohol use disorder (AUD). People with alcohol use disorder drink compulsively, experience negative emotions when they’re not drinking, and struggle to control their use. One of the surest signs of alcohol use disorder is struggling to stop drinking and repeatedly failing. Being unable to quit or control ones substance abuse can be a deeply demoralizing experience. Unfortunately stigma and erroneous media-fueled perceptions that an alcoholic is a specific kind of person who’s lost everything prevent many people from seeking help before it is too late.
Not only does alcohol addiction damage self-esteem, it can destroy relationships with friends and family. It can also make it difficult to obtain or maintain a job and ultimately destroy a career. People with alcohol use disorder find it difficult to manage their finances and many people end up in debt. Because alcohol causes aggressive and often violent behavior, addicts can sometimes face legal consequences for criminal behavior. Binge drinking and regular alcohol use over time also does enormous damage to both physical and mental health. Alcohol abuse can in some cases be fatal.
Alcohol use disorder means that an individual finds it nearly impossible to stop drinking on their own. Thus, by definition, alcohol use disorder requires outside help. Fortunately, treatment for alcohol use disorder is widely available. Treating alcoholism is usually done in several stages that reflect the unique needs of the individual as they recover. A variety of treatment options and modalities are used simultaneously to ensure recovery, including support groups and counseling. Doing so provides patients not only with long term recovery and relief from the compulsion to drink, but a means for living a healthier and more prosperous life in sobriety.
The first step in treating an alcohol use disorder is enrolling in an alcohol detox program. This first stage of treatment involves physically quitting and withdrawing from alcohol. As the substance leaves the body, individuals experience an assortment of physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms. It is crucial to go through alcohol withdrawal under the medical supervision that a detox program offers. Unsupervised withdrawal can be dangerous and have disastrous effects on ones health. Sometimes medical interventions are necessary. It is also a painful and arduous time during which the majority of people benefit from counseling and the strong support system of a detox program. Depending on how severely addicted the patient is, an alcohol detox program can last from a few days to a few weeks.
It should be understood, however, that alcohol addiction is not cured as soon as one has detoxed and become physically abstinent. In fact, alcohol use disorder, like many diseases, can be treated but never cured. After detox, patients are advised to continue treatment in a residential treatment center or an outpatient program. Doing so will allow individuals to continue to learn coping strategies, understand the underlying issues behind their addictions, work on their mental health, and develop skills to enable them to build a new life afterwards in sobriety.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, the book used by members of the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose mental health disorders, lists eleven symptoms of alcohol use disorder. If a patient reports suffering from two or more symptoms, then they can safely be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. These signs and symptoms are as follows:
The DSM-5 describes people with 2-3 symptoms having mild alcohol use disorder. Those with 4-5 are classified as moderately afflicted. Individuals who report 6 or more symptoms are considered severe cases. Continuing to drink without seeking treatment can be life threatening for this population.
Alcohol, as a central nervous system depressant, begins exerting changes in the body as soon as it enters the system. A single bout of binge drinking or regular moderate drinking is enough harm someone’s health, but the cumulative effects of long-term drinking and severe alcohol addiction increase the risks. Alcohol use disorder can cause major liver damage. Other health complications include:
Alcohol consumption begins for many people as a pleasurable activity. This is because drinking alcohol releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that the brain experiences as a reward and makes people feel good. When dopamine is released, it affects the parts of the brain that control motivation, making people more likely to want to repeat the activity that made them feel so good. Over time, however, even among people engaging in moderate drinking, the body develops a tolerance to dopamine. When an individual begins drinking heavily to achieve the desired effects of alcohol, they are at a higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
Over time, the withdrawal effects that occur when an individual tries to stop drinking can become deeply impairing. Fear of alcohol withdrawal can further entrench a person in the cycle of addiction. Binge drinking can make these withdrawal more severe, as well as increase the risk of alcohol poisoning.
When an individual is so dependent on alcohol that they find it difficult to quit, they can be said to be severely addicted. At this point, most people have already begun to experience the dangerous consequences of alcohol abuse. Both physical and mental health can deteriorate. Many people struggle to function normally at work or school, and relationships can become damaged. For the vast majority of people with alcohol use disorder, the most disheartening consequence of severe addiction is that they find it difficult to stop drinking despite recognizing the enormity of their problems.
Individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder alongside another mental health condition or conditions are known as “dual-diagnosis” or “comorbid.” These mental health problems vary widely and include bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others.
Anyone who suffers from alcohol use disorder knows that it is extremely difficult to quit drinking on ones own. Because alcohol hijacks the reward centers of the brain that control motivation, willpower is rarely sufficient to stop drinking. Over the short term, it is sometimes possible for people to refrain from drinking. Inevitably, however, alcohol addiction rears its ugly head again and a return to drinking is inevitable. For any heavy drinker, outside help via support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous is essential for long term recovery.
Further, an individual dependent on alcohol is bound to experience a variety of complications and difficulties during withdrawal that call for supervision under trained medical and addiction professionals. These dangerous symptoms of withdrawal include fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, delirium tremens, and possible damage to the central nervous system. Medical experts advise that anyone interested in quitting alcohol seek out a licensed alcohol detox facility where a person can get proper care.
Alcohol is an intoxicant that depresses the central nervous system. When the body is acclimated to alcohol due to regular heavy alcohol consumption, it is constantly working overtime to ensure that the brain is awake. When an individual stops drinking, the brain remains overly stimulated, since it is used to compensating for the sedating effects of alcohol. Symptoms of alcohol vary widely and can be quite dangerous and even life threatening in severe cases. For this reason, medical professionals recommend withdrawing from alcohol under the supervision of a medical detox facility.Symptoms of withdrawal usually occur within 6 hours of stopping drinking. These symptoms include:
People who were severely dependent on alcohol can also experience more serious medical issues in the first two days of withdrawal, including hallucinations and seizures. At the two or three day mark, these severe alcoholics are also at risk of experiencing delirium tremens, or DTs. Delirium tremens is physically dangerous and extremely hazardous for mental health. It is characterized by confusion, racing heart, high blood pressure, fever, and heavy sweating. Mental health also suffers as patients begin to experience hallucinations, delusions, and sometimes full-blown psychosis. For this reason, it is absolutely crucial to enroll in an alcohol detox program rather than stop drinking on ones own.
The time it takes to withdraw from alcohol depends upon several factors, including severity of physical dependence, overall health, frequency of use, age, and medical history.
6 hours after a person stops drinking, the first physical and psychological symptoms can become apparent. For individuals with severe alcohol use disorder, seizures are a possibility. It is important for these people especially to detox at a treatment center so that they can get the care they need.
Between 12 and 24 hours after taking a final drink, some individuals experience hallucinations. While these can be terrifying experiences, they pose no inherent risk to the patient. Once again, however, it is important to work with counselors to deal with associated mental health difficulties.
Between 24 and 48 hours, patients can expect to continue to experience some of the more minor symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These include headaches and other pains, tremors, and gastrointestinal issues.
At the 48 hour mark, some patients experience delirium tremens (DTs), a dangerous condition characterized by high heart rates, seizures, and a high body temperature. DTs can be life-threatening.
Enrolling in a medical detox is the best course of action for anyone interested in beginning the withdrawal process. Medical detoxes can provide a safe comfortable environment in which to detox. For individuals with severe addictions, medical professionals at these treatment centers can also prescribe drugs that reduce alcohol cravings and alleviate some of the symptoms of withdrawal.
Create Recovery Center’s Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program is carefully supervised by medical professionals and counselors trained to handle addiction. Our safe, nonjudgmental environment is a perfect place to recover and develop the tools to treat a substance abuse problem. Create Recovery Center takes a holistic approach to each person. Case workers work individually with each patient to ensure that their program of recovery takes into account their unique needs and personal circumstances.
At Create Recovery Center, we understand that achieving sobriety is not merely a matter of quitting alcohol. Long term sobriety requires learning and developing the tools necessary to live healthy and fulfilling lives. To that end, Create Recovery Center works to ensure each patient is ready and prepared for life outside of a treatment center.
Services we offer include:
Create Recovery Center offers treatment programs for patients who are interested in developing a new way of living. Whether you are transitioning from a residential program or you are entirely new to sobriety, our outpatient treatment program and aftercare services will provide you with the tools and the support you need. If you are ready to begin the process of obtaining freedom from the pernicious cycle of alcohol abuse, contact us today. Long term sobriety is yours if you want it.