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Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol is a legal, socially accepted substance in our society today. Many people can have a drink or two at a social event without ever having to worry about the practice causing problems. However, alcohol is also an addictive and potentially dangerous drug, and for those that develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD), the long-term effects can be truly devastating.

Because alcohol is such a prevalent part of our culture in the U.S., it can be difficult to know when your drinking moves from social drinking to abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has defined alcohol use in the following manner:

Moderate Drinking – Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks daily for men and one drink for women, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Heavy Drinking – Heavy drinkers consume five or more drinks on one occasion at least five times in a 30-day period.

Binge Drinking – This category also must be considered when determining whether an AUD is present. Binge drinking is classified as five or more drinks in a single occasion at least once in a 30-day period. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has expanded the definition of binge drinking to any pattern of drinking that raises the blood alcohol concentration to more than 0.08 g/dL. For most women, that occurs after four drinks, while men typically reach that level after five drinks within a two-hour period.

In addition to the additional health risks of heavy drinking, this pattern can also increase the likelihood you will develop an AUD over time. According to the NIAAA, approximately 16 million people in the U.S. meet the criteria for an AUD.

Alcohol’s Effect on the Body

Alcohol is classified as a depressant, which means it slows down the vital functions of the body when it is consumed. Short-term effects of alcohol might include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Motor impairment
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headaches, confusion and memory problems
  • Distortion in both hearing and vision
  • Impaired judgment and reduced inhibitions
  • Depressed breathing
  • Loss of consciousness, blackouts

These effects will vary based on the individual, the amount consumed and the frequency of the alcohol consumption.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse and Dependency

When regular alcohol use continues, it can increase your risk for abuse and dependency. Here are a few of the indications that an AUD might be present:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Wanted to cut back on drinking but unsuccessful
  • Increased time spent obtaining, using and recovering from alcohol
  • Continued consumption even if it results in personal, professional or legal problems
  • Reduced interest in people or activities because of drinking
  • Continued drinking even if it is causing health problems
  • Intense cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking more to get the same effects (tolerance)
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is stopped (insomnia, shakiness, anxiety)

Once an AUD is identified, it may be challenging for the individual to stop drinking without professional treatment. Withdrawal from alcohol can also be an intense and even dangerous process that often necessitates medically-supervised detoxification to ensure it is both safe and successful.

Long-Term Damage from Alcohol Abuse

The longer heavy alcohol use continues, the more likely significant and long-term health problems will arise. Some of the damage associated with alcohol abuse includes:

  • Damage to vital organs like the heart and liver
  • Liver damage and disease
  • Digestive disorders
  • Brain damage, which may be permanent
  • High blood pressure, higher risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Malnutrition, deficiency of specific nutrients like vitamin B₁
  • Cancer of the esophagus, mouth and stomach

The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Once an AUD is present, stopping alcohol consumption on your own may be both impossible and dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms will occur in someone that is physiologically hooked on alcohol, which can range from mild to severe and even life-threatening in extreme cases. Withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol might include:

  • A spike in blood pressure
  • Shaking and tremors
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

In the most extreme cases, people undergoing alcohol withdrawal may experience a potentially life-threatening symptom known as delirium tremens or DTs. DTs are characterized by profound confusion, hallucinations, delusions and agitation. Emergency medical care is required.

Getting Help

If you are addicted to alcohol, it may feel as though all odds are against you in overcoming your dependency. However, the right treatment program can help you turn away from alcohol and embrace a healthy life of recovery and long-term sobriety. Don’t wait. Contact Serenity Oaks Wellness Center at 844-720-6847 to get the help you need today.