What Is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction is defined by a pattern of drinking that continues to occur and despite significant and recurrent adverse consequences the person continues drinking and can’t stay sober for an extended period of time. These consequences can lead to problems with your health, at home, at work, at school, in social settings, or other legal problems.
The Impact of Alcohol
From your first sip of alcohol to your last, alcohol impacts your body in various ways. You will see both short-term effects and long-term effects.
When you drink alcohol, it travels down to your stomach and small intestine. From the small intestine, your small blood vessels carry the alcohol to the bloodstream.
Around 20 per cent of alcohol gets absorbed through your stomach. Most of the remaining alcohol gets absorbed through your small intestine.
The alcohol gets metabolised in your liver. Enzymes break it down there. Typically, it can process one ounce of liquor in one hour.
When you drink more than that, your system becomes saturated. This causes the remaining alcohol to accumulate in your blood and body tissues until it can metabolise.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction
The short-term effects of alcohol can begin after just a few drinks. For example, lowered inhibitions or a feeling of relaxation. Others might take a few more drinks to show up.
The short-term effects you might experience include:
- Feelings of drowsiness or relaxation
- Mood changes
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Loss of coordination
- Trouble focusing or making decisions
- A sense of euphoria or giddiness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased inhibitions
- Impulsive behaviour
- Head pain
- Changes in perception, hearing, and vision
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction
As you continue drinking, you can experience more long-term effects from alcohol abuse. These effects can impact your physical and mental health.
The long-term effects you might experience include:
- Mood changes that are persistent (i.e., irritability and anxiety)
- Sleep concerns, including insomnia
- Weakened immune system
- Change in sexual function and libido
- Weight changes
- Appetite changes
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Struggling to focus on tasks
- Family and relationship problems
Alcohol Dependence and Tolerance
If you abuse drugs and alcohol, your body begins to build a tolerance. When you build this tolerance, you will need more alcohol to feel the same effects.
However, even people who don’t struggle with an addiction of alcohol can build up a tolerance. Tolerance is the first step toward alcohol dependence.
Alcohol dependence occurs when you have to drink more to get the same effects, and you start to experience symptoms of withdrawal when you stop drinking.
Around 8.7 per cent of men in the UK and around 3.3 per cent of women in the UK show signs of alcohol dependence.
How Alcohol Addiction Affects Your Physical Health
Alcohol can have a significant impact on multiple systems in your body. These effects can be long-lasting and impact your health for the rest of your life.
Drinking impacts your digestive system. Over time alcohol can increase viscous secretions. These block the small pancreatic ducts.
In addition, alcohol can prematurely activate lysosomal and digestive enzymes in your acinar cells. Normally these enzymes aren’t activated until they reach the duodenum.
This can cause alcohol-induced pancreatitis.
Your liver is one of your most complex organs. It’s responsible for filtering toxins, helping with digestion, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol, and helping fight disease and infection.
Fortunately, it is resilient and can regenerate itself. However, abuse of alcohol and drugs can, over time, damage it so much that it can’t regenerate as well.
Blood Sugar Levels
If you already struggle with your blood sugar levels, this is an effect you need to watch out for. When you first start drinking alcohol can increase your blood sugar.
If you’re drinking beverages mixed with juices, you might see this even more. However, if you continue drinking, it can keep your liver from releasing glycogen.
This can lead to a drop in your blood sugar.
Central Nervous System
When discussing the impact on your central nervous system, it’s easy to see this in the short-term effects. For example, slurred speech, coordination, and reaction time are very noticeable signs of an impacted central nervous system.
However, there’s a long-term impact as well. Chronic heavy drinking can end up causing Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This brain disorder affects your memory.
Other central nervous system functions impacted include the ability to make rational choices, regulate emotions, create long-term memories, and think clearly.
Drinking can also damage your frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions.
Drinking can also have an impact on your circulatory system. This raises your risk for heart disease and other circulatory system issues.
Issues you might see here include:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure
- Difficulty pumping blood through your body
Alcohol can damage the tissues in your digestive tract. This can lead to problems with your digestive system. The damaged tract can keep your intestines from absorbing nutrients and vitamins and digesting food correctly.
This can ultimately lead to malnutrition. In addition, you might experience:
- Ulcers or haemorrhoids
- Painful stools or diarrhoea
- Feeling of fulness in your abdomen
You might think that drinking can make things more exciting in the bedroom; however, in reality, it can actually kill the mood.
When it comes to sexual health, heavy drinking can:
- Lower your libido
- Make it challenging to achieve an orgasm
- Cause erectile dysfunction
- Prevent the production of sex hormones
For women, drinking excessively can affect their menstrual cycle. This can possibly increase the risk of infertility.
Women who drink during pregnancy can do severe harm to their unborn children. Drinking while pregnant increases the risk of a stillborn birth, miscarriage, or premature delivery.
Children born to mothers who drink during pregnancy can experience:
- Long-term health issues
- Learning difficulties
- Emotional problems
- Developmental concerns
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
Around 80 per cent of your immune system can be found in your gut, and over time drinking can begin to impact your immune system. Because of the impact that alcohol has, your body will have a challenging time protecting you from diseases and viruses.
Increased Risk of Cancer
Frequent drinking increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer. types of cancer you’re at higher risk for include:
- Head and neck cancer
- Oesophagal cancer
- Breast cancer
- Liver cancer
- Colorectal cancer
There are a few theories on how alcohol increases the risks of these cancers. One is that certain alcohol contains carcinogens like phenols, hydrocarbons, and nitrosamines.
Another theory is that this increases your risk because alcohol impairs your body’s ability to break down and absorb nutrients that can help reduce the risk of cancer. For example, folate, Vitamin C, D, E, B complex, A and more.
Drinking can also raise the levels of estrogen in your blood. This hormone is linked to the risk of breast cancer.
Muscle and Skeletal Systems
Chronic alcohol use can cause low bone density and impaired bone cell activity. This weakens your bones and increases your risk of fractures.
In addition, weakened bones are more difficult to heal. Drinking can also cause cramping and muscle weakness.
Psychological Effects of Alcohol Use
Drinking can have many impacts on your mental health. Even if you don’t have an existing mental health condition, chronic drinking can be a contributing factor to developing one.
Many people begin their journey with alcohol addiction by self-medicating and using alcohol to treat mental health disorders. Unfortunately, alcohol is addictive and can actually make those disorders worse. This is especially true when it comes to bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Get Help For Addiction and Alcoholism
If you have a drug and alcohol problem, it’s crucial to get the help you need. Conditions can be reversed if you stop drinking in time and get the medical help you need.
Treatment for alcohol addiction will consist of a few components.
Before you can begin treatment, you need to go through detox. Detox will be different for everyone, and the symptoms you experience will depend on how long you drank for and how heavily you drank.
Typically mild symptoms of withdrawal begin six hours after your last drink. These can include:
- Shaky hands
- Nausea and vomiting
Around 12 to 48 hours after your last drink, you can start to experience more serious symptoms of withdrawal. These include hallucinations and seizures.
Delirium tremens typically begin 48 to 72 hours after your last drink. These don’t occur in everyone going through withdrawal. However, if you do experience this, you might have symptoms like:
- High blood pressure
- Racing heart
- Heavy sweating
Before you begin the process of detox, it’s essential to talk to a medical professional. You can create a plan together to help you detox safely and with medical assistance if needed.
After detox, you can enter treatment. Treatment can consist of inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation. Your treatment plan should be individualised for you.
Common components will include:
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
If you have a dual diagnosis (mental health disorder and alcohol addiction), it’s important to find a treatment program that addresses both.
Cognitive behavioural counselling is commonly used for individuals with addictions. This type of therapy works to identify feelings, situations, and thoughts that can lead to alcohol abuse.
Once you have the ability to identify those, you can begin changing those patterns. The goal is to give you new coping skills so that instead of turning to alcohol, you choose a healthy coping skill.
Addiction is hard on families. When you begin the journey of recovery, it’s important to start repairing relationships with family and friends.
These are the people who will support you as you go through the process. Family therapy is extremely valuable in helping with repairing relationships and rebuild trust.
A counsellor can also help with educating your family about addiction and co-dependency.
Group therapy can be intimidating; however, it’s a valuable part of recovery. Groups can help give support and feedback.
In addition, groups let you know that you’re not alone. You can share your story, learn from other’s stories, and support the people around you in a group.
There are a few medications that can help with alcohol addiction. In addition, if you have a dual diagnosis, it’s important to make sure you discuss medication for your mental health with your provider.
When treatment ends, your journey doesn’t. It’s important to set up an aftercare plan to help prevent relapse.
Part of aftercare can include continuing to attend 12-step groups. However, it might also include sober living or a sober buddy.
Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction Today
Alcohol addiction can have a significant impact on your life and health. If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s important to get the help you need to live a healthier life.
Are you ready to begin your journey to recovery? Let Detox Plus support you. Contact us today for free and unbiased advice on finding treatment for addiction.