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Alcohol addiction can be a devastating problem that affects people from all walks of life. Its far-reaching effects have many physical, psychological, and social consequences.
But what exactly is alcohol addiction? This blog post delves into the complex world of alcohol addiction to help identify it and understand its signs and symptoms better. It also discusses ways you can seek out support for your recovery journey.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcohol addiction, occurs when you drink excessively and regularly. It also manifests when you’re unable to control your alcohol use.
Over time, too much alcohol consumption often leads to AUD. Those with AUD face both psychological and physical dependence on alcohol. Moreover, abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption can result in severe withdrawal symptoms.
While consuming small quantities of alcohol can have certain health advantages, exceeding moderate levels of alcohol consumption can negate these benefits. An example of such an advantage is the presence of antioxidants in red wine, which can diminish the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol.
28.6 million adults aged 18 and older, which accounts for 11.3% of this age group, experienced AUD in 2020. This figure includes 16.3 million men (13.2% of men in this age group) and 12.4 million women (9.5% of women in this age group).The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2021 Report
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has established clear guidelines for moderate drinking:
It’s important to note that consuming alcohol in these moderate amounts doesn’t increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol addiction.
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Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), can be mild, moderate, or severe. It depends on the number of symptoms you suffer from.
Signs and symptoms of alcoholism can include any of the following:
Some people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may not perceive any negative consequences. These functional alcoholics are skilled at concealing alcohol consumption and maintaining a normal daily routine. This pattern of alcohol use persists until it eventually leads to serious health complications.
The term "functioning alcoholic" refers to those addicted to alcohol but can still effectively manage their daily life and social interactions. Others refer to them as high-functioning alcoholics or functional alcoholics.
Recognizing someone as an alcoholic can be difficult when they seem to perform well and fulfill their obligations. However, with time, their alcohol dependence becomes evident to others. This pattern of drinking falls under one of the five subtypes of alcoholism.
Functional alcoholism involves common risk factors, such as:
Alcohol addiction can run in families. Research shows that different genes affect how your body and alcohol work together.
For example, some people of Asian descent carry a specific gene affecting how their bodies metabolize alcohol. They experience a rapid heartbeat, alcohol flush reaction, and nausea when they drink, leading many to avoid alcohol.
In this case, the gene reduces their risk of alcohol addiction. Other genes increase the risk of alcohol addiction.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that genes account for up to 50 percent of a person’s risk of alcohol addiction.The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
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Different factors can contribute to your risk for alcohol addiction. These include the following:
Those who initiate alcohol consumption at a younger age are susceptible to developing an addiction. This propensity particularly heightens in people who engage in recurring excessive drinking episodes.
For young people, even the occasional episode of drinking beyond recommended limits can lead them to dependence on alcohol. This outlook brings a greater likelihood of becoming addicted. However, there's also more difficulty managing drinking habits due to their age.
Those with mental health disorders like anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression are more susceptible to developing addiction. This can be due to their difficulty managing their symptoms, leading them to seek solace in drugs or alcohol.
Limited access to proper healthcare services and treatments contributes to their reliance on self-medication. Additionally, people undergoing treatment for mental health conditions may encounter adverse side effects from their medications.
This prompts them to explore alternative options, often involving substance abuse or misuse.
High-stress roles can lead professionals to recreational use of alcohol to alleviate stress. Pressure from significant financial, social, or relationship matters can further trigger and amplify the frequency of a person's alcohol consumption.
Loss of inhibitions behind drinking activities can result in new patterns of vices. These preoccupations can be hard to break away from. Those encountering difficulties building healthier coping mechanisms may also be particularly vulnerable to AUD due to their heavier alcohol intake.
Peer pressure from friends, colleagues, and partners can significantly influence the risk of problem drinking. Thus, it eventually leads to alcohol use disorders.
It's not uncommon for peers to exert pressure when voicing expectations related to alcohol consumption. Furthermore, people tend to long for acceptance among their circles despite feeling uneasy with the inner dissonance this causes.
As a result, struggling people often yield to these demands to avoid alienation from their social groups. Unfortunately, relenting puts them at heightened risk for AUD.
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There are a few reasons why people drink alcohol. Whether they do so in moderation or excessively, drinking always comes with risks.
The most common reasons why people drink include:
Alcohol addiction greatly impacts your life. It also leads to serious health issues.
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause significant harm to your body. Interestingly, physical damage is often the initial indication of alcohol-related problems for those who appear to function normally despite their addiction.
Some health complications associated with alcohol addiction include:
Liver disease is a significant health concern associated with alcohol addiction. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can result in the buildup of fat in the liver, known as hepatic steatosis or fatty liver disease.
Furthermore, alcohol-induced inflammation of the liver, or alcoholic hepatitis, can occur. The liver may be irreversibly damaged in severe cases, leading to cirrhosis.
The symptoms of liver complications include:
Heavy drinking can also affect the digestive system, causing stomach lining inflammation. It may also contribute to ulcers in the stomach and esophagus.
Common symptoms of digestive issues include:
Your body needs a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to function properly. In many cases, people with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can consume as much as half of their daily calories from alcohol.
Even when they ingest sufficient calories, alcohol impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. It also makes it difficult to absorb these vitamins and minerals:
These deficiencies can lead to many health issues. For example, the inability to regulate blood sugar can cause diabetes or diabetic complications.
Alcohol addiction increases your risk of developing the following conditions:
Specifically, alcohol abuse contributes to a twofold increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation. Furthermore, it amplifies the risk of congestive heart failure 2.3 times and heart attack 1.4 times.
Alcohol consumption is classified as a carcinogen in humans. Therefore, it can potentially cause certain forms of cancer, including:
There are many treatment options available for those struggling with alcoholism. The most common ones include:
Inpatient treatment is often the most effective approach for those with severe cases of addiction. During an inpatient program, you detoxify and receive close medical supervision throughout your stay.
You also benefit from a wide range of therapies. These include:
Inpatient treatment is available on a short- or long-term basis. You stay at a professional facility throughout treatment and receive 24-hour care. This allows you to remove yourself from triggers and stressors to focus solely on your health.
Others refer to inpatient treatment programs as medical detoxification. During medical detoxification, healthcare providers reduce your physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.
This process may involve medications that help reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, tremors, anxiety, or seizures. Additionally, it teaches you to develop healthy coping skills and strategies for maintaining sobriety in the long term.
Outpatient treatment involves attending regular appointments with your doctor or counselor for a fixed number of hours each week. These programs are flexible. You can continue your daily life and social interactions, including work and school.
During these appointments, you discuss and work on any underlying issues that may impact your drinking habit. You also learn how to create a support system to rely on during tough times.
Outpatient programs may include:
Support groups are also an essential part of recovery from alcohol addiction. These groups help those in treatment and those who have already completed a program.
The most common support group for alcohol addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It includes 12-step Groups, which work to teach members how to stay sober through meetings and mentorship programs. AA includes:
Support groups like AA also offer online meetings and access to resources for specific types of addiction.
Alcohol addiction can have devastating consequences on your health. It increases your risk of developing liver disease, digestive issues, vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, heart disease, and cancer.
Fortunately, many treatment options are available to those struggling with alcoholism. These include inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, reach out for help right away. You can always break the cycle of addiction and start living a healthier life.
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