The facts about alcohol use and abuse can be startling. A little more than 14 million adults over age 18 had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or what is better known as alcoholism in 2017 and 2018, according to a national survey on drug and alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) relays that AUD affects more men than women.
The institute also states that more than 26 percent of people over age 18 said they engaged in binge drinking in 2018.
There is no doubt that alcohol is one of the most regularly misused substances in the United States. It is touted in the media as a substance that can do almost anything for the person consuming it. Yet, it can be one of the deadliest substances for both the person drinking it or those near that individual.
Alcohol addiction is just as destructive as illicit drugs. The report notes that “excessive alcohol use led to approximately 93,000 deaths and 2.7 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2011 – 2015.”
Many people like to relax with a cold beer, a glass of wine, or a mixed drink, and most people can handle more than one or two alcoholic beverages without becoming addicted to alcohol. Yet, there are people who engage in excessive and binge drinking, which can be harmful to their health and pose a danger to others.
It is often heard that people should drink in moderation. Drinking in moderation means that women should not consume more than one drink, and men should not drink more than two drinks within a 24-hour period. This is equal to 1.5 ounces of wine or liquor, and 12 ounces of beer.
Heavy drinking is measured by more than seven drinks per week. This equates to 14 drinks per week for men and seven drinks per week for women.
Statistics from the NIAAA portray some troubling information about alcohol misuse in the U.S.:
Drinking in excess regularly can lead to alcohol addiction or AUD. What exactly is alcohol addiction, otherwise called AUD? The Mayo Clinic defines it as a pattern of alcohol use where the person has trouble controlling their drinking, is preoccupied with alcohol, consumes it even when it is causing problems, drinking more to feel the same effects, or having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward system. It can stem from several factors, such as genetics, psychological and social situations, or environment. It can start after prolonged binges and excessive drinking. Dependency on alcohol begins when the body adapts to the drug and needs more of it to reach the same effects as before. Chronic use of a substance, like alcohol, can produce dependence.
Alcohol addiction is not cool. There is nothing cool about getting drunk, driving drunk, slips, trips, falls, or injuries or accidents that are alcohol-related.
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How can someone tell if a person they care about or themselves is addicted to alcohol? There are several signs or symptoms to observe and note that indicate that a drinking problem has grown into an addiction. Some signs and symptoms may be subtle to notice at first, but they may soon become more noticeable over time.
Often, the most apparent sign of alcohol addiction is when someone has to have an alcoholic drink when they wake up or first thing in the morning. When an individual reaches this point, they may experience some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These are:
It may be challenging to determine how alcohol addiction can happen, and more so when considering how it affects the functions of the brain. However, the website HowStuffWorks.com clearly describes how alcohol affects the chemistry in the brain.
As the body learns to handle the effects of alcohol, it begins to build a tolerance. This means that the person will require more alcohol to feel the same effects as one drink used to provide. Now, it may take three or more alcoholic drinks to feel that same effect. When the body becomes tolerant of alcohol, it is an indication that the individual is physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol. Their brain and body require alcohol to maintain balance.
When an individual suddenly decreases the amount of alcohol they drink or stop drinking abruptly, they may experience very uncomfortable and perhaps fatal side effects.
Alcohol addiction will usually involve the full continuum of care, as detailed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The continuum most often starts with detoxification. Depending on how long and how much a person has consumed alcohol on a given day, withdrawal could range from mild to severe. Someone who has been drinking heavily for a long time may have felt withdrawal symptoms in between drinking stints.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down bodily functions. When drinking stops, the body’s functions attempt to return to normal and will work in overdrive to get there. This could cause seizures and lead to insomnia. The risk of seizures is a primary reason detox is strongly recommended.
Detox is a medically supervised process where the body is ridding itself of the substance and any related toxins. The main purpose of medical detox is to alleviate the worst symptoms safely.
Once detox is finished, the individual may be placed in an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment facility where staff will help develop the best therapy options suited to a person’s individual needs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that a 90-day stay in a treatment center is recommended for treatment to be effective. Treatment plans focus on the emotional, social, and medical needs of the individual.
Inpatient alcohol addiction treatment entails staying on-site at a facility or in a sober living home. Outpatient treatment provides the opportunity to live at home while attending scheduled therapy sessions. Relapse prevention plans are a beneficial part of addiction treatment as they provide a guide for managing life when sober and avoiding triggering situations.
Alcohol addiction is a harmful and dangerous chronic condition, but it is treatable. If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol misuse, find help as soon as possible.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020 February) About Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
SAMHSA. (2018) Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 5.4A – Alcohol Use Disorder in Past Year among Persons Aged 12 or Older, by Age Group and Demographic Characteristics: Numbers in Thousands, 2017 and 2018. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHDetailedTabs2018R2/NSDUHDetTabsSect5pe2018.htm#tab5-4a
Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 11) Alcohol use disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243
Watson, S. (2018, June 28). How Alcoholism Works. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/alcoholism4.htm
NIDA. (2020, June 25). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015, May 13) What are the ASAM Levels of Care? Retrieved from https://www.asamcontinuum.org/knowledgebase/what-are-the-asam-levels-of-care/