Alcoholism or alcohol dependency is synonymous to a chronic brain condition whereby the person loses the ability to control their consumption of alcohol, is preoccupied with the thought of consuming alcohol, and continues to consume alcohol despite the numerous adverse effects alcohol has on the body and in their life. One of the hallmarks of alcoholism is that, over time, the person develops tolerance requiring substantially greater amounts of alcohol with each consumption just to achieve the same effects. Unfortunately, when alcohol consumption is stopped even momentarily, the withdrawal symptoms become progressively worse.
There are different stages that an alcoholic usually goes through before they can be rightfully called an alcohol addict. In many cases it starts with social drinking that progresses to problem drinking or even binge drinking. Problem drinking is more associated with excessive drinking only during certain times in one’s life where social and emotional stresses can be too great. In this case, consuming alcohol is considered a solution to address the stressful event in one’s life. Binge drinking, on the other hand, takes the form of consuming unusually larger amounts of alcohol within a shorter period of time. For example, many students and young adults are known to binge drink in an effort to get drunk in the shortest possible time.
No matter what stage of alcoholism or type of drinking problem a person is in, one thing is very clear – the relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed is directly proportional to the risks involved; the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risks.
When experts talk about alcohol addiction, they are mostly referring to ethanol which is a highly intoxicating substance that is known to depress the activity and normal functions of the central nervous system. While it can be rightfully called a depressant, the short-term effects are more of as a stimulant and this is one of the reasons why many individuals consume alcohol. Regrettably, with the consumption of progressively larger amounts of alcohol, its depressant effects become more apparent than its stimulant properties.
Alcoholism has been shown to produce the following negative effects.
- Serious problems of the brain, the heart, the liver, the pancreas, and the immune system
- Difficulty breathing
- Impaired muscle coordination and balance
- Slurring of speech
- Lapses in memory
- Loss of ability to make sound decisions
- Temporary amnesia, also known as blackouts
Regular consumption of unusually large amounts of alcohol as well as binge drinking have also been known to produce long-term adverse effects such as the following.
- Irreversible brain damage
- Cerebrovascular accident or stroke
- Increased risk for oral and pharyngeal (throat) cancers
- Abnormally elevated blood pressure
- Gastric and duodenal ulcers
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Because the body has been accustomed to the effects of alcohol, it has grown overly dependent on a relatively stable levels of alcohol in the blood. If this dips because of the sudden withdrawal of alcohol or the person simply failed to consume alcohol, the body experiences a wide range of reactions known as withdrawal symptoms. The severity of the symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe and even fatal. It can occur as early as 2 hours after the last consumption of alcohol and will typically last for several weeks. Because of the rather unpredictable nature of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, particularly its severity, treatment in a duly-recognized medical facility is a must. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically include the following.
- Excessive perspiration or sweating
- Extreme confusion
- Irritability and agitation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep difficulties
- Difficulty breathing
- Unusually abnormal heart rate and rhythm
The last two withdrawal symptoms are particularly noteworthy as these can often signal severely compromised tissue oxygenation. If this goes untreated or unmanaged, it is not uncommon to expect the worse which may necessitate admission to an ICU facility.
How to Recognize Someone Who Needs Alcohol Abuse Treatment
One of the challenges in alcohol abuse treatment is identifying who can be rightfully considered an alcoholic, which one is a social drinker, a problem drinker, and even a binge drinker. Part of the difficulty is the fact that drinking alcoholic beverages is largely considered an acceptable social activity. As such, people who drink can be easily thought of as exercising their inherent right to drink. Unfortunately, no matter what type of drinking a person engages in, anything done excessively can lead to abuse.
It is therefore, imperative that you are able to recognize a person who desperately needs help in the form of a comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment program. The following signs will often indicate that a person is already an alcoholic.
- Uses alcohol to manage or alleviate stress, anxiety, social problems, or even sleep difficulties
- Slurring or incomprehensible speech patterns
- Hiding stashes of alcoholic beverages to satisfy cravings
- Acetone breath or breath that smells of alcohol
- Engaging in reckless behavior while under the influence of alcohol
- Made unsuccessful attempts at stopping drinking alcohol
- Continuously denies the existence of a drinking problem
- Going to work or to school intoxicated
- Has gradually increased consumption of alcohol both in frequency and in volume
If you have a loved one or know a dear friend who may show any of these signs, it is imperative that treatment be sought immediately to help them manage their alcoholism.
Getting the Treatment You Need
The treatment for alcoholism is usually multi-faceted but it always follow a three-step process of detoxification, treatment, and rehabilitation. These often include a variety of therapies such as medication therapies, psychotherapy, nutritional therapy, behavior modification, group and family therapy, and experiential therapies.
In terms of treating alcoholism itself, several drugs have been proven to help ease the gradual removal of alcohol from the body while also helping the body become more successful in avoiding alcohol altogether. These include naltrexone and acamprosate to help facilitate reversal of alcohol dependence and topiramate to manage the tremors or convulsions.
A comprehensive alcohol abuse treatment requires medical detoxification followed by a comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation phase that includes all the aforementioned treatments and therapies. Equally important are round-the-clock medical supervision, counseling, and relapse prevention education. Sober living arrangements are also vital as an important bridge between alcohol rehabilitation and social reintegration.
Alcoholism can destroy lives. With the correct knowledge of what it does and how to recognize someone who needs help, you can make the difference in somebody else’s life by helping them seek the most appropriate alcohol abuse treatment possible.