Alcoholism and Alcohol Dependency
Drinking alcohol is very popular and the common perception of it as a great way to have fun and make friends can mean that people forget alcohol’s negative effects. Alcoholism is a different matter.
For many people, alcoholism is something that shatters their entire world and is a condition that should be treated with respect and concern. There are many misconceptions surrounding alcoholism or alcohol dependence and in this article, we would like to shed some light on the condition as well as sharing what can be done to treat it.
Help is at hand – just pick up the phone and call Rehab Recovery in complete confidence for discreet and helpful advice on how to handle the problem and seek out the best addiction treatment available.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a type of alcohol abuse and is a very serious condition in which sufferers are unable to control the amount of alcohol they consume. By losing control of their alcohol habits, patients’ lives are affected in a negative manner. This can be in the form of losing their job, relationship problems, and financial issues amongst other things.
Someone who struggles with alcoholism may find that they are unable to go about their day to day tasks without having had alcohol. Often times they will feel that they cannot function unless they have had a drink. Many users will experience distress or other negative emotions when they cannot access alcohol.
Those who are struggling with alcohol may demonstrate a loss of control, placing alcohol high on their priority list, and spending a lot of money on alcohol.
How Does Alcoholism Occur?
Alcohol becomes a problem when the costs of it outweigh any actual or perceived benefits. Drinking problems can very rapidly escalate into alcoholism, which is also called alcohol dependency syndrome.
This often, but not always, begins with a person binge drinking – that is, drinking enormous amounts of alcohol purely for the purpose of “getting drunk.” This is deeply unhealthy on both a physical and emotional level, and should always be avoided.
Repeated binge drinking becomes alcohol abuse, which can then very rapidly develop to alcoholism when the drinker develops an obsession and craving for alcohol regardless of the situation or time of day.
It is important to realise that not all alcoholics spend every moment of everyday drinking, but rather spend nearly all their time thinking about alcohol, lose control of the amount they drink and experience withdrawal symptoms when sober.
What Are The Signs Of Alcoholism?
Depending on the severity of the addiction, patients may be able to successfully disguise their drinking habits. However, there are certain signs which can signal that someone is struggling with alcoholism, which includes:
People with alcoholism may feel feelings of distress when they are unable to drink alcohol, but there are other emotions involved.
For many suffering with alcohol addiction, the most prominent emotions may be of shame and guilt, this is often the reason that they may try to hide how much they are drinking. These feelings can also come out as anger or abuse of other people, this is especially true of those who are closest to them.
Other emotions to be aware of in someone with alcoholism might be:
- Feeling discouraged
Alcohol is not a substance that the body needs, and as such should be drunk in moderation. When alcohol is excessively consumed, there will undoubtedly be physical effects on the body.
Patients struggling with their alcohol intake may suffer from:
- Liver damage
- Problems with sleeping
- Weight or appetite changes
- Mood swings
- Memory loss or blackouts
- Digestive issues such as blood in the stool, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting
Most importantly, patients may develop a tolerance to alcohol. This means that as their body becomes increasingly used to the substance, what once felt like ´enough' will no longer be. This causes patients to drink more alcohol and often much stronger drinks.
Most obviously, those who become alcohol dependant will alter their behaviours and this can be quite clear to those around them. Some of the behavioural changes you might expect to see are:
- Hiding drinking habits or lying about them
- Engaging in illegal activity as a result of being intoxicated
- Creating an excuse to drink alcohol
- Drinking alcohol at unusual times or places
- Annoyance when people comment about their drinking habits
Alcoholism Risk Factors
There are people who may be more susceptible to developing alcoholism as a result of certain factors. Those who began drinking alcohol at an early age have more of a tendency to become alcohol dependent as an adult.
This is due to a higher tolerance level and the learned idea that alcohol is a comfort. This might also apply to those who were exposed to alcoholism by a parent or someone else close to them.
We touched on how certain mental illnesses may increase your likelihood of becoming alcohol dependant and it is certainly true that these types of illness are a risk factor. It is also important to be aware that taking certain medications alongside alcohol might make you more susceptible to becoming addicted.
From Use To Addiction
It may be difficult to pinpoint the exact time when alcohol went from being a social activity to a problem. However, there are stages that people go through as their dependency on alcohol increases.
- Most people with alcoholism will begin with bouts of binge drinking. This might also include trying out different types of alcohol to see what they find most enjoyable. For many people in this category, they will drink alcohol with one sole purpose – to get drunk
- As alcohol intake starts to increase, the patient may begin to obsess over their next drink. This is usually due to feeling that that are no longer able to cope with stressful situations without the use of alcohol
- Down the line, other people may have started to notice the patient’s use of alcohol and become worried about it. Patients will make excuses or set limits which they are unable to keep. They may also spend a large portion of time ´picking up the pieces´ after their drinking sessions and changes within their lives are beginning to become evident
- The final stage of alcoholism occurs when the patient is no longer able to function both physically and emotionally. There will be significant changes in their appearance, behaviour and way of life and alcohol will be taking top priority
Know Your Units
Each alcoholic drink that is consumed contributes to how many units you have taken. It is important to monitor how many alcoholic units you are consuming and UK guidelines recommend no more than 14 in a week.
After drinking 1-2 units you will notice a warm feeling and a raised heart rate. Because of this, the brain is then affected after drinking 4-6 units the and this can lead to poor decisions and a lack of coordination.
Once you have consumed 9 units, the liver begins to become overworked and will not be able to filter all of the alcohol within one day. 10-12 alcoholic units can cause drowsiness and severe dehydration and if you consume more than this, you are at risk of developing alcohol poisoning.
Why Do People Turn To Alcohol?
There are many reasons why people might begin using alcohol, which include:
For a lot of people, the environment in which they find themselves can be a factor for their alcoholism. For example. those who have stressful jobs may turn to alcohol as a form of relaxation at the end of the day.
However, the ease of access to alcohol can also be an environmental factor for those who become addicted to it. If you are easily able to obtain alcohol, you may be more likely to purchase it.
It has been shown that people who suffer from certain mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety may be more likely to develop issues surrounding alcohol use.
The reason for this is that they believe that drinking might help them to cope with the symptoms and emotions linked to their illnesses.
There are instances in which people may begin to use alcohol in a negative way as a result of their social situation.
For example, those who spend a lot of time with others who drink large amounts of alcohol may come under some peer pressure to keep up or fit in. This can then lead to an addiction.
For people who grew up around alcohol, perhaps those whose parents were heavy drinkers, alcohol might seem to be normal and socially acceptable, meaning that as an adult it is more readily consumed.
Side Effects Of Alcoholism
Due to alcohol being consumed in copious amounts, someone with alcoholism may begin to notice some unpleasant side effects.
Some of the physical side effects that you may expect to see are as follows:
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of, or blurred vision
- Cramping of the muscles
- Problems with sexual function
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Risks associated with drinking such as falling and causing serious injury, being arrested, and losing time off work
Long-Term Health Effects
Whilst alcohol does cause some immediate physical effects, it can also be responsible for some more serious long-term health complications. The brain may be affected both by way of altering its structure as well as exacerbating mental health problems.
You may also notice problems with the liver such as fatty liver disease or inflammation. This is a result of the liver working harder than usual processing large amounts of alcohol. Your heart can be seriously affected by the use of alcohol. Conditions such as heart disease, strokes, palpitations, and high blood pressure can occur.
Kidneys and pancreas are also likely to suffer the effects of alcohol misuse. Pancreatitis and kidney disease are possible conditions. The stomach will also begin to produce much more acid when higher levels of alcohol are taken into the body. This can cause everything from nausea to painful stomach ulcers.
The Risk of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is a very serious condition caused by excessive amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream. This can be fatal. There are signs you can look out for to determine whether someone may have alcohol poisoning, these include:
- Very slurred speech
- Irregular or slowed breathing
- Lack of coordination
- Hypothermia, which may show as a blue tinge to the skin
- Loss of consciousness
This is a medical emergency and the patient should be seen by doctors as a matter of urgency. Once in hospital, the patient will be closely monitored and given fluids to re-hydrate them as the alcohol leaves their system.
If alcohol poisoning is something that has occurred before, talk to the hospital staff about getting help from an alcohol rehab centre or another facility.
How To Intervene When Someone Is Drinking Too Much
It can be a difficult subject to approach, but confronting the issue of alcoholism could be the difference between life and death. There are some helpful ways that you can intervene when you are concerned about a loved one’s level of drinking.
Intervening can encourage your loved one to confront their problems and seek help but it is important to go about it in a sensitive manner to avoid upsetting the person which could push them further away.
You can begin by gathering a group of people to take part in the intervention. This might be close friends and family or perhaps even co-workers, and as a result, it should be a group that the person trusts.
Take this opportunity to let the person know that you are concerned about their welfare. Talk about times where their drinking has caused problems and give them the opportunity to talk about how they feel.
It is important to keep the meeting controlled and calm. Because of this, you may also discuss treatment options such as attending an alcohol rehab centre.
The CAGE Screening Test
A doctor will usually perform a CAGE screening test when the patient first seeks help for their drinking. If the screening test indicates that alcoholism is a problem, the patient can be referred on for further support or treatment. For more information, visit the CAGE screening test website.
What Are The Treatment Options For Alcoholism?
The good news is that there are some excellent choices for the treatment of alcoholism, with many people going on to live sober lives. Medically supervised addiction detox is essential for alcoholism as the body often goes into a form of shock when alcohol consumption stops
- CBT is often used as a way of changing the behavioural patterns of the patient, allowing them to cope without the use of alcohol
- Group therapy is an extremely useful tool and allows the patient to share experiences with those who are going through the same thing. This option can also be great for getting real ideas that have worked for other people. It gives patients the chance to support others too, leading to a feeling of accomplishment
- Alcoholics Anonymous uses a 12-step program to become and remain sober and has proven its effectiveness time and time again. Groups take place within the community and allow those with alcoholism to share their thoughts in a non-judgemental and compassionate environment
- Medications can be used to help suppress cravings for alcohol. Medications help reduce the pleasurable effects that the patient may experience when drinking. Some of the most common medications are Naltrexone, Disulfiram, and Acamprosate
It is not uncommon for alcohol abuse to be a symptom of a broader problem. Alcohol dependency is best treated in a residential care setting which can follow a structured programme to assist recovery.
How To Detox Safely
When coming off alcohol, it is important to do so in a way that is safe for your body. When you attend an alcohol rehab centre or if you are detoxing in the community, you will find that there are some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
However, it is important to follow the advice of your doctors and take your medication as instructed to avoid any potential problems. For some people with a very heavy addiction, stopping alcohol suddenly may have adverse effects.
One of the most serious risks when detoxing from alcohol is the chance of delirium tremens. This includes tremors and hallucinations and in severe cases can be fatal. Following a medically supervised detox is the safest way to avoid this.
Withdrawal Symptoms From Alcohol
One of the most commonly recognised aspects of alcohol detox is the withdrawal symptoms that patients experience. Some of the most common are likely to be for instance:
- Feeling disoriented
A Timeline Of Withdrawal
For most people, withdrawal symptoms begin within six to twelve hours of their last drink. Within this first time period you can expect to experience nausea, shaking, and feelings of irritability.
As time goes on, your first alcohol-free day may see your initial symptoms worsen and they may be accompanied by seizures and feeling disorientated. The second day without alcohol will find your body ridding itself of traces of alcohol and you may begin to feel anxious and panicky during this time.
The first week of abstaining from alcohol may see the symptoms that we have discussed coming and going. As a result, this is the time where delirium tremens are most common. It is important to be aware of how you are feeling at all times and seek urgent medical attention if you have any concerns.
After one week, you will likely notice many of the initial symptoms of withdrawal decreasing and if any do remain, they can be treated through the use of one of the medications we discussed earlier.
You may notice that you experience some withdrawal symptoms for up to a year, but this is in extreme cases. At this time, you will probably find that the most prevalent symptom is insomnia accompanied by low levels of energy.
Why Do Some People Relapse?
Relapse is a danger after treatment, as with many addictions, and so follow up aftercare and additional addiction rehab such as AA meeting attendance is often highly advisable.
It may take several attempts to truly free yourself from alcohol. There are many reasons why people who have completed a detox or rehab program might relapse.
For others, a stressful event such as a death or job loss may cause a return to previous behaviours. For instance, returning to previous social circles where drinking was encouraged may also lead to a relapse. Finding new ways of socialising can be of great help.
Some people may relapse as a result of not continuing to take advantage of group sessions or community support. It is important to continue accessing these kinds of support to stand the best chance of remaining sober.
Finding Fulfilment When Sober
Life without alcohol may feel intimidating but now is the time to find new activities to enjoy. There are various ways of feeling fulfilled without the use of alcohol, these might include:
- Learning new ways of communicating without alcohol.
- Taking on new a hobby or pass time.
- Meeting with people who encourage and support you.
- Taking advantage of support groups.
- Focusing on your career.
Once you have finished your alcohol rehab, in order to maintain your new sober way of life it is important to access aftercare. There are a variety of options to choose from. Each of them can help to keep you on track and enjoy your newfound sobriety.
Many alcohol rehab centres will offer additional support after rehab for up to a year. During this time, you may continue to work with a therapist giving you the chance to talk through any issues. You can also get help implementing any techniques you have learned through CBT.
One of the most notable pieces of advice is to find activities that do not give you access to alcohol, for example avoiding places such as bars and pubs.
If you have doubts or worries about treating alcoholism, get in touch with Rehab Recovery today. We will talk you through all the options available to support both the addiction patient and their family and friends through this difficult time.
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A better life is waiting for you outside of alcoholism & addiction. Call us today to get the ball rolling on 0800 088 66 86.