Alcohol: Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment
If you are like many Americans, you may drink alcohol now and then, or even enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis.
However, reports indicate that more than 10 million adults and 3 million teens in the U.S. consume alcohol on a level that is considered alcoholic or requiring alcohol abuse treatment.
Several million more people are on the brink of developing alcohol addiction and engage in dangerous drinking habits, such as binge drinking and heavy drinking on a regular basis.
Alcoholism, or alcohol addiction, is a disease. Because of the social stigma that has been placed on alcoholism treatment, many people may feel that alcohol addiction is a sign of moral weakness, and shame may prevent some from seeking alcohol treatment. But please be aware that alcohol addiction is no more a sign of weakness than other diseases are. Alcohol treatment is necessary, the same as treatment is necessary for other sicknesses.
Moderate Alcohol Use
Drinking alcohol moderately is not risky for most adults. It can be a pleasant complement to social situations. Moderate alcohol use refers to:
|up to 2 drinks/day|
One drink consists of:
12 oz. bottle/can of beer* or wine cooler
5 oz. glass of wine
1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor)
*Beer ranges considerably in its alcohol content, with malt liquor being higher in its alcohol content than most other brewed beverages.
Beyond these levels may constitute alcohol abuse, leading to a need for alcohol abuse treatment to break the alcohol addiction.
Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
As an alcohol abuser develops tolerance, they consume more and more alcohol without appearing to be drunk. Those around them may have no idea that they are abusing alcohol, as many alcoholics are able to get by at work and in social situations. Meanwhile, their physical condition is deteriorating, leading to serious consequences as the alcohol abuse continues over time, only recognized after severe damage develops.
Alcohol is a poison that causes serious physical effects in many organs in the body. Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction can lead to the following serious diseases and physical risks, costing society approximately $185 billion per year:
Cancer, especially of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx
Immune system problems
Harm to the fetus during pregnancy
Increased risk of death from automobile crashes
Increased risk of recreational and on-the-job injuries
Homicides and suicides are also more likely to be committed by people who have been drinking alcohol.
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects
Alcohol abuse can cause a range of birth defects, the most serious being fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children born with alcohol abuse related birth defects can have lifelong learning and behavior problems. Those born with FAS have physical abnormalities, mental impairment, and behavior problems.
Because scientists do not know exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause alcohol-related birth defects, it is best not to drink any alcohol during this time. If you are a pregnant woman or one who is trying to conceive, you can prevent alcohol abuse related birth defects by not drinking alcohol during your pregnancy.
Alcohol Abuse Related Liver Disease
More than 2 million Americans suffer from alcohol-related liver disease. Some drinkers develop alcoholic hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, as a result of long-term heavy drinking. Symptoms include fever, jaundice (abnormal yellowing of the skin, eyeballs, and urine), and abdominal pain. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause death if drinking continues. If drinking stops, alcoholic hepatitis may be reversible.
About 10 to 20 percent of heavy drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. The endocrine system processes alcohol through the liver during natural detoxification. It erodes the liver over time, leading to cirrhosis, which can then lead to liver failure.
Alcoholic cirrhosis can cause death if drinking continues. Although cirrhosis is not reversible, one’s chances of survival improve considerably if drinking stops. Those with cirrhosis often feel better and the functioning of their liver may improve if they stop drinking. Although liver transplantation may be needed as a last resort, many people with cirrhosis who abstain from alcohol may never need liver transplantation. Treatment for the complications of cirrhosis is available, too.
Moderate drinking can have beneficial effects on the heart, especially among those at greatest risk for heart attacks, such as men over the age of 45 and women after menopause. But long-term heavy drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some kinds of stroke.
Long-term alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, especially cancer of the esophagus, mouth, throat, and voice box. Women are at slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer if they drink two or more drinks per day. Drinking may also increase the risk for developing cancer of the colon and rectum.
The pancreas helps to regulate the body’s blood sugar levels by producing insulin. The pancreas also plays a role in digestion. Long-term alcohol abuse can lead to pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This condition is associated with severe abdominal pain and weight loss. It can be fatal.
Alcohol Abuse and Mental Problems
Alcohol abuse also leads to several mental problems. It doesn’t take long for brain damage to occur. The alcohol abuser will first experience a reduced concentration level and short-term memory loss, becoming more scattered in thought as time goes on.
Blackouts are a dangerous effect of alcohol abuse. To those around the alcohol abuser, he or she is acting as if fully conscious. But the alcohol abuser experiencing a blackout has no recollection of things that he or she did during that time.
Alcohol Abuse and Interpersonal Problems
The more heavily someone drinks, the greater the potential for problems at home, at work, with friends, and even with strangers. Alcohol abuse can interfere with school or career goals and foster violence or a deterioration of personal relationships. Interpersonal problems from alcohol abuse may include:
Arguments with or estrangement from spouse and other family members.
Strained relationships with coworkers.
Absence from or lateness to work with increasing frequency.
Loss of employment due to decreased productivity.
Committing or becoming the victim of violence.
The Downward Spiral of Alcohol Abuse
Addiction sets in quickly after alcohol abuse starts. The more alcohol is abused, the more alcohol the abuser will want, creating a cycle of addiction.
Alcohol abuse can lead to difficulties in managing personal and professional aspects of one’s life. Destruction in the form of broken families, lost jobs, and legal problems can cause the alcohol abuser to turn to more alcohol for comfort, leading to further damage, physically and mentally. Some alcoholics can end up homeless on the street. Others wind up in prison after committing crimes while they’re under the influence of alcohol. Drunk driving is also a major risk that an alcohol abuser may take, leading to accidents where others are killed or injured.
Alcohol Abuse: Drinking and Driving
It surprises many people to learn that they don’t need to drink much alcohol before their ability to drive becomes impaired. For example, certain driving skills, such as steering a car while responding to changes in traffic, can be impaired by blood alcohol (BAC) concentrations as low as 0.02 percent. (BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in the blood.)
A 160-pound man will have a BAC of about 0.04 percent 1 hour after consuming two 12-ounce beers or two other standard drinks on an empty stomach. And the more alcohol consumed, the more impaired driving skills will be. Although most states set the BAC limit for adults who drive after drinking at 0.08 to 0.10 percent, impairment of driving skills begins at much lower levels.
Interactions with Medications
Alcohol interacts negatively with more than 150 medications. Combining alcohol with other drugs can make the effects of these other drugs much stronger and more dangerous. For example, if someone is taking antihistamines for a cold or allergy and drinks alcohol, the alcohol will increase the drowsiness that the medication causes, making driving or operating machinery even more hazardous. Serious liver damage is a risk when alcohol is combined with large doses of the painkiller acetaminophen.
Cannabis, tranquillizers, barbiturates and other sleeping pills should not be taken with alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol with any of these drugs can seriously impair the ability to drive a car.
Alcohol Affects People Differently
The effects experienced by someone drinking alcohol depends on their size, gender, body build, and metabolism. Women may develop alcohol-related health problems after consuming less alcohol than men do over a shorter period of time.
The effect of alcohol abuse, like that of any drug, depends on several factors:
Amount taken at one time
User’s past drug experience
Manner in which the drug is taken
Circumstances under which the drug is taken (physical environment, user’s psychological and emotional state, presence of other people, concurrent use of other drugs, etc.)
General effects include a feeling of warmth, flushed skin, impaired judgment, decreased inhibitions, deteriorated muscular coordination, slurred speech, and memory and comprehension loss. Under extreme intoxication, vomiting often occurs, possibly accompanied by incontinence, poor respiration, and a drop in blood pressure. Coma and death are a risk with severe alcohol poisoning.
Drinking heavily over a short period of time usually results in a “hangover” – headache, nausea, shakiness, and sometimes vomiting, beginning from 8 to 12 hours after drinking. A hangover is due partly to poisoning by alcohol and other components of the drink, and partly to the body’s reaction to withdrawal from alcohol.
Alcohol Addiction – Physical and Psychological Dependence
Even those who drink alcohol in only moderate amounts can become psychologically dependent on alcohol. Alcohol addiction can occur in people who drink alcohol in certain settings, like before and during social occasions. Although the alcohol addiction may not cause the person to consume amounts that produce serious intoxication, the psychological need can cause the drinker anxiety if alcohol is not available.
Physical dependence occurs when the person’s body adapts to the presence of alcohol, common in consistent alcohol abuse. Withdrawal is experienced when alcohol is no longer present in the body. Alcohol withdrawal can produce symptoms such as:
Tremors (the “shakes”)
Research on Alcohol Abuse
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institutes of Health, supports about 90 percent of the nation’s research on alcohol use and related consequences. This alcohol research aims to yield practical applications that will help those who suffer from alcohol abuse and alcoholism.
Today, alcohol researchers are working on the cutting edge of medical science to provide more insight into questions like:
Who is at risk for alcohol-related problems?
How does alcohol affect the body, including the brain?
How is the risk for alcoholism inherited?
What are the health benefits and risks of moderate drinking?
Which therapies, including medications, show promise for treating alcohol dependence more effectively?
Each new discovery made by alcohol researchers provides a piece of the answer to the ages old question of how to prevent and treat the alcohol-related troubles that plague individuals, families, and society. We see the future of alcohol research both as a challenge and as a reward: A challenge, because with more answers come more questions, and we still have far to go. But the answers we find ultimately will help diminish a public health threat that has existed for far too long.
Drug Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Transitions Recovery drug and alcohol treatment center offers hope for those suffering from the addiction of alcohol abuse.
Our professional drug and alcohol treatment center staff is experienced in helping youth and people of all ages recover from drug and alcohol abuse. We provide a compassionate, supportive environment in our North Miami Beach, Florida, treatment center.
Admissions can be accepted 7 days a week. Trained alcohol addiction professionals conduct individual assessments that address each individual’s alcohol abuse treatment needs. You’ll find our alcohol addiction treatment programs offer access to a continuum of care that provides the intensity of therapy appropriate throughout each stage of recovery, from extended residential care to lifetime aftercare services. The individual alcohol treatment program incorporates leading forms of therapy that have proven effective in addressing underlying causes of alcohol abuse, dual diagnosis, and issues with family, employers, school and the legal system.
We work with patients individually as well as in group sessions and a Family Program, after alcohol detoxification is complete. Emphasis on recovery from alcohol addiction and maintained sobriety helps prepare the patient for gradual re-entry into society, alcohol free.
Alcohol addiction treatment does not need to be voluntary. Often, a family member, employer, or the court system can be the motivating factor for an individual receiving drug treatment for alcohol addiction.
If you think that you or a loved one may require alcohol abuse treatment, please contact us right away. We’re here to help. Call us at 1 (800) 626-1980 or request more information.