Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance in the United States today. Approximately 17.6 million people—or 1 in 12 adults—struggle with alcohol abuse or dependence 1. Alcohol abuse may lead to a pattern of progressively problematic behaviors and is characterized by an inability to control use despite negative consequences and significant interference with a person’s ability to function normally 2.
This article will cover the following topics related to alcohol addiction:
- Signs and symptoms of alcoholism.
- Treatment for alcohol addiction.
- Rehab cost and payment.
- Causes of addiction.
- Long-term effects of alcohol abuse.
- Find a treatment center.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
Alcohol is a legal, controlled substance that lowers anxiety and inhibitions. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol), the only alcohol used in alcoholic beverages, is produced by the fermentation of grains and fruits. Fermenting is a chemical process where yeast acts upon certain ingredients in the food, creating alcohol. Alcohol is commonly consumed as a drink in various forms, including beer, wine, and hard liquor.
Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, but it may have a stimulating effect, depending on how much is consumed. Alcohol affects many different neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain. It is an indirect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonist and a glutamate antagonist. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and glutamate is excitatory, which means that when alcohol stimulates the GABA receptor and suppresses glutamate, it produces a feeling of calm and relaxation 2.
No matter how severe the problem may be, people with alcoholism can benefit from treatment. With the support and treatment available, many individuals are able to stop drinking and reclaim their lives.Additionally, drinking alcohol causes an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s pleasure and reward centers 2. Dopamine serves as a positive reinforcement to continue a rewarding behavior, such as engaging in sex or eating food. This spike in dopamine levels after drinking alcohol is responsible for the euphoric feeling and contributes to repeated consumption 2.
Chronic alcohol consumption can cause both chemical dependency and tolerance to these desirable effects—that is, a reduced ability to have these feelings without alcohol and the need to drink more to experience the same feelings. Without treatment, long-term abuse can progress to alcoholism, which is associated with a number of negative impacts on both physical and mental health.
There are numerous signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction that you should be aware of. These signs and symptoms can be behavioral, psychological, or physical.
Common behavioral signs and symptoms of alcoholism include 3:
- Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
- Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
- An inordinate amount of time is spent obtaining alcohol, drinking alcohol, and recovering from its effects.
- Strong cravings to drink alcohol.
- Persistent alcohol consumption resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at home, school, or work.
- Continued alcohol consumption despite having interpersonal or social difficulties caused or worsened by use.
- Previously enjoyed activities are given up or reduced due to alcohol use.
- Consistent alcohol consumption in situations in where it is physically dangerous, such as while driving.
- Continued alcohol use despite psychological or physical problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol use.
- Lying about whereabouts or frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption.
- Hiding empty bottles.
- Defensiveness when approached about alcohol use.
- Inappropriate sexual or aggressive behavior.
- Suicidal behaviors.
Some physical and psychological signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence may also include 3:
- A sensation of well-being.
- Slurred speech.
- Coordination problems.
- Unsteady gait.
- Uncontrollable eye movements.
- Attention problems.
- Amnesia or “blackouts.”
- Impaired judgment.
- Social withdrawal.
- Mood swings.
- Recurrent hangovers resulting from excessive alcohol use.
- Tolerance, or the need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, excessive sweating, hallucinations, anxiety, and seizures, with reduced or stopped use.
No matter how severe the problem may be, people with alcoholism can benefit from treatment. With the support and treatment available, many individuals are able to stop drinking and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, call our helpline at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? today. We can help you find supportive and effective alcohol addiction treatment.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction is highly treatable and no matter how long you’ve been suffering from this chronic condition, it is never too late to seek treatment. Although it is possible to quit drinking alcohol on your own, alcohol addiction programs can be beneficial for a number of reasons, such as:
- Supervised detoxification.
- Structure throughout recovery.
- Peer support.
- Individual therapy.
- Group counseling.
- Medical and psychological care.
- Medication-assisted treatment.
There are many different types of recovery programs available and no one type of treatment is necessarily better than another. The effectiveness depends on the user’s needs, beliefs, and attitude about the recovery program.
Different types of treatment include:
- Detox: Although not a formal treatment modality, detox is a valuable first step towards your recovery. Detox programs are short-term and may last days or weeks. Trained medical staff can provide you with medication to help ease uncomfortable and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. Typically, once a patient has completed a detox program, they will transition to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
- Inpatient treatment: You are required to reside at the treatment facility for the duration of your treatment program. Programs range from 28 days to 90 days, but may be longer if necessary. Services may vary but typical programs include individual therapy, group counseling, mental health assessment and treatment, and medication-assisted treatment.
- Outpatient treatment: You have the freedom to live at home and continue to work or go to school while recovering from alcohol addiction. Outpatient programs range in the levels of care they provide; some are relatively intensive aTopiramate (Topamax) is a medication that hasn’t received FDnd closely resemble inpatient programs, while others meet once or twice a week for an hour or two.
- Luxury treatment: These inpatient programs are typically located in desirable locations, such as by the beach or in the countryside, and offer posh amenities. Luxury accommodations may include access to activities and services such as golf, swimming pools, massage therapy, gourmet meals and personalized nutrition programs. Luxury rehabs often provide a higher staff-to-patient ratio and may cost much more than standard inpatient care.
- Executive treatment: These inpatient programs cater to executives who want to continue working while recovering from alcoholism. They also have a higher staff-to-patient ratio and offer amenities conducive to working, such as private offices, phones, and internet access.
- 12-step programs: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship program that is free to join. The only requirement is that the person wishes to stop drinking. Many people benefit from the supportive and encouraging environment that AA provides.
- Population-specific treatment: Some treatment programs have extensive experience in treating the unique needs of specific populations, such as teens, men-only, women-only, LGBTQ, and veterans.
Medication for Alcoholism
Depending on the individual’s needs, medication can be combined with behavioral therapy to help maintain sobriety during the recovery process. The FDA-approved medications for the treatment of alcohol addiction or alcoholism include 4:
- Naltrexone: Blocks brain receptors that play a role in mediating the rewarding or desirable effects of drinking alcohol; also helps to reduce the cravings associated with alcohol withdrawal.
- Acamprosate: Decreases the prolonged withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, and restlessness.
- Disulfiram: Produces an unpleasant reaction if alcohol is consumed while taking the medication. The reaction includes heart palpitations, nausea, and flushing.
Topiramate (Topamax) is a medication that hasn’t received FDA approval yet for the treatment of alcoholism but has shown promising results in reducing drinking 4.
Rehab Cost and Payment
There no set price for addiction treatment and the cost of treatment depends on a number of factors, such as:
- The type of treatment you choose.
- The length of the treatment program.
- What amenities it offers.
- The location of the facility.
- Your insurance policy.
If you have insurance, call your insurance company to learn more about your specific policy and to what extent it covers addiction treatment.
If you don’t have insurance (or if you’re going to have to pay a certain portion of treatment costs yourself), there are many ways you can finance your treatment, such as:
- Sliding scale: Many treatment programs will cater to your financial needs and decrease the price according to your income and financial status.
- Payment plans: Recovery programs understand the financial toll that addiction takes on a person and may arrange for you to make manageable monthly payments instead of paying the total price up front.
- Asking friends and family: Chances are, your friend and family want to see you healthy and happy and will be willing to assist you in getting the help you need to quit drinking.
- Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding sites, such as GoFundMe and IndieGoGo, provide you with the opportunity to create a campaign in which you share your story and allow others to donate to your recovery.
- Using a credit card or savings: Although you may not be thrilled about using your savings or a credit card to pay for your treatment, you must keep in mind that nothing is more important than your health, happiness, and sobriety.
Causes of Addiction
Alcohol addiction cannot be attributed to a single cause. It is a multi-faceted condition influenced by several factors, such as:
- Environmental risk factors: Environmental influences of alcoholism include parental supervision, peers, poverty, community, and availability of alcohol.
- Genetics: Addictions are heritable conditions. Genetics play a role in the initiation of alcohol abuse and the development of alcoholism. This means that if your parents or another close relative has an alcohol addiction, that you have an increased risk for becoming addicted as well. Alcohol, specifically, has a heritability of about .55, which means that 55% of alcoholism can be attributed to genes 5.
- Trauma: Traumatic events, or adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, parental separation or divorce, and mental health disorders or substance abuse within the household, can increase the risk of underage drinking and alcohol abuse problems in adulthood 6.
- Mental health: Alcoholism often co-occurs with mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders 3.
Long-term Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol addiction is a progressive condition that tends to worsen over time if left untreated. Long-term alcohol use can have a number of consequences on the user’s mental and physical health, as well as life functioning.
Chronic alcohol use is associated with many long-term consequences, including 3,7,8:
- High blood pressure.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Cardiomyopathy, the stretching and weakening of heart muscle.
- Fatty liver.
- Liver cancer.
- Alcoholic hepatitis.
- Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver.
- Pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas.
- Mouth and throat cancer.
- Breast cancer.
- Weakened immune system.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, resulting from a thiamine deficiency and characterized by confusion, muscle incoordination, paralysis of nerves that move the eyes, and persistent memory and learning problems.
- Increased risk of violence and suicide.
Some possible general consequences of alcohol addiction also include:
- Poor work and school performance, sometimes resulting in job loss or failure at school.
- Relationship problems, such a loss of friends, divorce, and child neglect.
- Legal issues and interaction with the criminal justice system.
- Increased risk of accidents, such as car crash, falls, burns, and drowning.
- Financial hardships resulting from purchasing alcohol, legal fees, and impulse buys.
- Increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD) due to unsafe sexual practices.
Find a Treatment Center
It is never too late to begin recovery and to lead a healthier, happier, and sober life.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol addiction, please call our helpline at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? and speak to an addiction support specialist. We can help you find supportive and effective alcohol treatment. It is never too late to begin recovery and to lead a healthier, happier, and sober life.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Facts About Alcohol.
- The Scripps Research Institute. (2002). The Effects of Alcohol on the Brain.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publications.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).
- Bevilacqua, L., Goldman, D. (2009). Genes and Addictions. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 85 (4), 359-361.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2004). Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain.
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