Alcoholism is still one of the most prevalent and dangerous addictions, affecting millions of people in the U.S., as well as their families, friends and coworkers. Given the widespread use of alcohol in our culture, it’s easy – but dangerous – to underestimate the dangers of alcohol abuse.
Consider these sobering statistics from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):
- 1 million adults had alcohol use disorder (AUD).
- Under 7 percent of adults with AUD received treatment within the previous year.
- 623,000 adolescents (ages 12-17) had AUD.
- Just over 5 percent of those youths received treatment in the previous year.
- An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol use the third-most preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Let’s explore how alcohol addiction can happen, how to tell if you or a loved one has become addicted, and how to get the right help.
What Causes Alcohol Addiction?
In contrast to hard drugs, which tend to become addictive very quickly, it’s easy for alcohol addiction to sneak up on a person, so much so that they’re completely unaware that they’re addicted.
Since alcohol is legal and socially acceptable to consume, people often start out as casual drinkers or occasional binge drinkers. In movies and television, it is common to see characters turn to alcohol when they’re feeling upset, and this behavior is often reflected in real life. Alcohol has become the go-to substance for feeling better and partying with friends.
As a substance, alcohol is not immediately addictive, compared to the way a hard drug like heroin or cocaine is. What people tend to get addicted to first is the feelings they get while intoxicated, including:
- Numbing of emotional pain
- Distraction from the difficulties of life
- Less judgment, less inhibition, more feeling of freedom and spontaneity
Over time, the addiction to feeling better from alcohol consumption is reinforced by a physical dependence as the body adapts and begins to require alcohol consumption. Then the alcohol user is motivated not only by pleasure, but also to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal.
Alcoholism vs. Binge Drinking
Alcohol can be abused in short bursts or continuously over a long period of time. People who drink excessively on a regular basis will most likely develop alcohol addiction, also referred to as alcoholism. Binge drinking, on the other hand, may or may not turn into alcoholism.
Binge drinking involves drinking multiple beverages (four or more) in a short period, often at a party or celebratory event. If a person can binge drink on the weekend, but then function fine without alcohol the rest of the time, then binge drinking hasn’t progressed to addiction.
But even if they don’t technically struggle with alcoholism, binge drinkers can still suffer serious health problems from excessive alcohol consumption.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse or Alcoholism
There are many indicators of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Here are the signs to look for:
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
- Using alcohol to cope with emotional feelings: Alcohol is used by some to relax and relieve stress. Sometimes alcohol use will go to the extreme where the person will binge drink daily and use excuses that they’re “stressed” or “had a bad day.”
- Alcohol is leading to legal consequences: When alcohol abuse is present, legal consequences come in a matter of time. The individual will place themselves in harmful situations, including drinking and driving, getting into fights while drunk, etc.
- Alcohol begins to overtake daily life responsibilities: When one misses days of work because of hangovers, or if the individual is showing up to work still drunk from the night before, alcohol abuse is present.
- Relationship problems begin to arise: The individual’s excessive drinking leads to conflicts with family members, their spouse and friends on an ongoing basis.
Signs of Alcoholism
- Building up a tolerance: In order to feel a buzz, individuals need to drink a certain amount of alcohol. As tolerance builds, a higher volume of alcohol is needed in order to obtain the same feeling.
- Loss of control: The individual no longer has control over his or her drinking habits, and is drinking more and more and not necessarily wanting to, but needing to.
- Withdrawal when not using alcohol: When someone drinks large amounts of alcohol and then stops, their body begins to experience withdrawal symptoms. (See below for examples.)
- Wanting to stop drinking, but can’t: The drinking has become such a habit and the body has become so tolerant to it that quitting seems impossible. Willpower is no longer enough.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
In some cases, withdrawal symptoms from alcoholism can be life-threatening. For this reason, it’s important to seek medical help during detoxification from alcohol when a person becomes addicted to the point of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:
- Loss of appetite
‘Am I Addicted to Alcohol?’
Alcoholism affects people of all ages and social situations. Some heavy drinkers manage to successfully hide their addiction from family members – sometimes for years. Many are in denial that alcohol has taken over their lives.
To determine if you or a loved one has become addicted to alcohol, take our free online alcohol assessment.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Proper treatment is essential to ensure a safe and long-term recovery from alcohol addiction. Be sure to find a program that includes:
- Medically supervised detox to intervene if withdrawal becomes life-threatening, and to make the detox process easier on the client
- An individualized treatment plan that addresses the physical dependency AND the mental, emotional and lifestyle factors that led to the overconsumption of alcohol
- Healthy nutrition to restore vital nutrients to the body that recovering alcoholics need
- A holistic healing approach that treats the whole person, not just the physical addiction
- A long-term recovery plan so that the client continues to receive support after leaving treatment
Individualized Treatment Highlights Our Luxury Alcohol Rehab Program
At The Dunes East Hampton, we understand that alcoholism is not a choice; it’s an addiction that requires the correct medical treatment. We evaluate each individual thoroughly when they arrive and create a customized treatment plan per their unique circumstances and needs. Before leaving our residence, we provide a one-year and five-year plan to maintain the progress they’ve made in building a new sober life.
In addition to hosting top experts in the addiction field, our residential facility is unlike any other, located on a sprawling private estate in East Hampton, NY. Here, our clients are able to begin recovering from addiction, all while surrounded by comfort and compassion.