What is alcohol addiction?
Here we look at some of the characteristics of alcohol addiction and, if you suffer, what steps you can take to help yourself and get the correct professional help.
One question has kept many people up at night and started many family fights: Am I an alcoholic? While alcohol addiction treatment is not at the point where there is a blood test to determine if you are addicted to alcohol, there are signs and symptoms that can be used to diagnose the disease.
Understanding alcohol addiction & alcohol use disorders
Source: NIAA ( National institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism
Alcohol addiction is at the most severe end of the spectrum of alcohol use disorders (AUD’s). The spectrum, referred to by professionals, encompasses alcohol use disorders such as alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction.
Alcohol use disorders are medically recognised as physiological and psychological conditions. Alcohol addiction, considered a chronic and progressive brain disorder, is characterised by an inability to stop or control alcohol consumption, despite adverse consequences on health, relationships and occupation.
Alcohol addiction causes long-lasting neuroplastic alterations to the brain’s pathways and structure. These remain, even once a person with alcohol addiction has managed to stop drinking.
The changes that take place in the brain over the course of active alcoholism, again, can vary in severity. The more a person is exposed to excessive amounts of alcohol, the more damage is caused to the brain and its pleasure and reward centre. It is these changes that are responsible for alcohol addiction being heavily characterised by relapse 1
What this may look like for a person who is affected by alcohol addiction is repeated attempts to stop drinking and repeated relapses. Alcohol addiction causes the sufferer to seek and consume alcohol compulsively, regardless of the personal cost or risk.
Once an alcoholic succumbs to alcohol, as a way of relieving overwhelming and obsessive thoughts about alcohol, they have little or no control over the amount they take. They emerge from yet another drinking episode remorseful and confused, genuinely swearing that they will never take another drink again. Yet, they relapse, sometimes even the same day they made a solemn promise to loved ones. This cycle is repeated over and over, either until a tragedy happens, they die, or they seek professional treatment.
Alcohol is highly addictive and is often misused and abused. Not many people consider the possible long-term implications of frequent and heavy drinking. Some people afflicted with alcohol addiction also struggle with other addiction disorders such as gambling or cocaine. Alcohol addiction also regularly causes co-occurring mental health and psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety, depression and psychosis.
No one sets out to become an alcoholic, yet for a minority of individuals unknowingly predisposed to developing an addiction, drinking excessively only invites the inevitable.
What are the symptoms of alcohol addiction/alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as alcohol addiction, is clinically recognised as a brain disorder that manifests in behavioural symptoms. No one wants to look in the mirror and have to admit to being addicted to alcohol. Unfortunately, this kind of denial and resistance is common and is what keeps many from seeking the help they so desperately need. 2
Some symptoms of alcohol addiction are:
- Increased quantity or frequency of use
- High tolerance for alcohol, or decrease of aftereffects
- Drinking at improper times, such as first thing in the morning or places like work
- Needing to be where alcohol is near and evading situations where there is none
- Changes in friendships; a person with an alcohol addiction may prefer friends who likewise drink heavily
- Avoiding connection with loved ones
- Storing alcohol or hiding while drinking
- Dependency on alcohol to function in normal life
- Increased apathy, depression, or additional emotional problems
- Legal or professional difficulties such as being arrested or losing a job
As an addiction tends to worsen over time, it’s important to look for early warning signs. If identified and treated early, someone with an alcohol addiction may avoid major consequences of the disease.
Whilst these symptoms are alarming, more importantly, they indicate the need for change through alcohol detox and treatment.
The more severe a person’s alcohol addiction or alcohol use disorder is, the more urgent their need for professional help.
Withdrawal and detox from alcohol dependence
Alcohol is both psychologically and physically addicting. This means that it can be a habit formed in the mind and something the body becomes dependent on. As an alcohol use disorder progresses, a person may find that they develop physical alcohol dependence. When this happens, they will find that they need alcohol to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms from developing. At this point, drinking alcohol is no longer fun; it becomes a life-dependent necessity.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
● Delirium tremens
● Enlarged dilated pupils
● Vivid dreams and nightmares
● Muscle cramps
● Confusions/difficulty remembering/focusing
● Heart palpitations
● Seizures 3
If you or someone you love experiences any of these symptoms when attempting to reduce or stop alcohol, it is a warning sign that you have a physical alcohol addiction. Professional help and treatment should be sought without delay to ensure your safety.
Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms means you need help, and an addiction detox centre will be one of the safest places for you to go. Whilst reducing your alcohol intake or quitting alcohol completely is a good first step, you should always consult with a physician or detox expert before making that decision.
If a person addicted to alcohol requires around the clock medical supervision to help them through their detox withdrawal, it’s strongly recommended they opt for inpatient alcohol detox. Inpatient alcohol addiction detox is clinically recommended as the safest way to stop drinking alcohol completely. Patients will have the additional reassurance of constant medical assistance on standby in an alcohol withdrawal complication. The vast majority of alcohol detox programmes are inpatient for this reason.
Alcohol detox clinics are run by medical professionals and are purpose-built to support those detoxing from alcohol. Staff who work at CQC registered alcohol detox centres are trained and qualified to provide emotional support and motivation, and detox care for the duration of the withdrawal process. Alcohol detoxification usually lasts 1 to 2 weeks. At an alcohol detox centre, a patient can undergo alcohol withdrawal safely and comfortably with the assistance of approved pharmaceutical medications and professional support.
It is important to understand that alcohol detox centres only focus on the safe and successful withdrawal from alcohol before patients move on to an alcohol rehabilitation programme. Detox clinics only treat the physical aspect of alcohol addiction. A person suffering from alcoholism will then need to undergo a bespoke intensive alcohol rehabilitation programme to treat the mental aspect of alcohol addiction.
Treatment options for alcohol addiction
Alcohol addiction rehab treatment may sound like a daunting prospect; however, there are many benefits to a person who wants to get sober & stay sober.
Statistically, people who undertake an inpatient rehab treatment program for alcohol addiction will:
● Be more likely to successfully stop drinking for good
● Visit the doctor and emergency departments fewer times, especially for alcohol-related issues
● Report having an improved mood, with less depression and anxiety
● Have fewer problems with the law and are less likely to be involved in the courts
● Less likely to have financial problems
● Less likely to be homeless
● Be safer, having fewer accidents at home or work
● Improve their work and school performance, with better evaluations and attendance
● Will have better relationships with loved ones, work colleagues and friends
This list alone should give a person suffering from alcohol addiction food for thought. The benefits of giving up alcohol successfully mean that you will have the tools and space to find a truly healthier and infinitely better way of life.
If you or someone you love struggles with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, do not hesitate to ask for help. Contact us now for immediate help and advice. We will conduct a free and confidential alcohol treatment assessment and advise you of the best alcohol addiction treatment options to suit your treatment needs, location and budget.
- Understanding alcohol use disorder https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
- Addiction denial and cognitive dysfunction – A preliminary investigation https://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/jnp.14.1.52
- Alcohol withdrawal – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm