The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence calls alcohol the most used addictive substance in the U.S., and the most common addiction treated in rehab centers. Approximately 17.6 million people in this country, that’s about one in every 12 adults, abuses alcohol and are dependent on it.
Like any drug, alcohol changes the ways the brain works, making it hard to quit whether you drink daily or not. Many users do what experts call binge drinking—they drink in excess with one purpose in mind—to get drunk. They drink to the point of drunkenness in order to relieve emotional pain or stress. Alcohol abuse is a problem that doesn’t just affect individuals, but puts a strain on entire families. Many children learn to drink from watching a parent do it most of their lives.
Types Of Alcohol
There are thousands of brands and types of alcoholic products available and it’s all legal, so there is no risk in buying alcohol once you are of age. Alcohol products fit into three distinctive categories: beer, wine, and liquor.
Beer is one of the most widely-consumed alcoholic beverages on the market and the third most popular drink overall. It is also the oldest form of alcoholic drink out there. All brands of beer have four ingredients in common:
From there, the ingredients vary based on the brewing process and type of beer. There are also different concentrations of alcohol in the diverse range of beers on the market based on the formula used in the processing of each type of beer.
Beer is a drink that many people don’t consider a threat, but it has the same effect on the body as other forms of liquor. Long-term use can lead to alcoholic liver disease.
Wine is made from fermented grapes along with sugars, water, and yeast. It goes through a unique fermentation process, one that allows yeast to consume the sugar in the grapes and produce ethanol and carbon dioxide.
Like beer, there are many different varieties of wine, typically based on the variant of grape used. Red wine, for example, is made from dark grape varieties. Also like beer, the wine has different concentrations of alcohol.
There is a large debate about the potential health benefits of red wine when consumed in small quantities. There is little doubt, though, that long-term use in concentrations of more than two or three glasses a day can lead to addiction, and, eventually, to liver cirrhosis.
The word liquor typically refers to harder products like scotch, bourbon, vodka, or rum and even sweet liqueur drinks, such as Snopes.
Liquor is made by distilling grains, fruits, or vegetables. Rum, for example, is distilled using sugarcane byproducts such as juice, molasses, or honey. Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant, and whiskey from fermented grain mash.
One or a combination of liquors go into most cocktails and designer drinks that are often the source of binge drinking during a night out. Clubs promote designer drinks and offer discounts as a way to pull people into the business. A drink such as a Long Island Iced Tea has as many as five different kinds of liquor, and martinis are 100 percent alcohol. Most mixed drinks have anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 ounces of alcohol in them.
Each type of liquor has a different concentration of the alcohol, too. Rum, for instance, is around 40 percent alcohol. Compare that to the beer which typically is only about 2 percent alcohol. Grain liquor is almost entirely alcohol. This is why liquor is so dangerous. The alcohol concentration is much higher per drink.
Dangers Of Alcohol Abuse In The U.S.
Alcohol is a social drug. It is legal and used in celebrations, for after-work socialization or just for fun during a night out. Alcohol is often the first drug teens are exposed to, as well. It is estimated 7 million children live in homes where one adult is addicted to alcohol. Alcohol energy drinks are popular with youth, with 31 percent of these drinks consumed by kids between the ages of 12-17 and 34 percent used by 18- to 24-year-olds.
Binge drinking is an issue at any age. It refers to heavy, episodic drinking. Often people assume they don’t have an alcohol problem because they don’t drink daily, but alcohol consumption over a short-time with the sole intent of intoxication is just as problematic. Medical professionals tend to use the phrase “alcohol use disorder” to include both binge drinking and alcoholism.
Episodic drinking can eventually lead to addiction, and it has similar long-term effects on the body, including:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Liver cirrhosis
- Heart disease
- Eye problems
Alcohol, whether taken daily or during a binge, depresses the central nervous system, leading to effects such as poor muscle coordination and slurred speech. Alcohol directly impacts vital regions of the brain—the ones that control judgment. When drunk, people tend to have lower inhibitions and make poor choices, leading them to legal and emotional problems such as motor vehicle accidents, unprotected sex, and an increased likelihood of violence.
Signs Of Alcohol Abuse
They call alcohol the silent addiction because it is sometimes hard to tell when you or someone you love has a drinking problem.
Some specific signs of alcohol abuse include:
- Being unable to limit drinking when out with friends
- Making unsuccessful attempts to lower consumption
- Frequent days recovering from drinking or waking up with a hangover
- A strong craving for a drink
- Drinking despite the consequences of losing a job or hurting a loved one
- Continuing to drink after promising to stop
- Passing up on normal activities for drinking at home
- Drinking and driving
- The need to drink more to get drunk
- Experiencing withdrawal signs when you don’t drink, such as shaking and sweats.
If you notice that alcohol seems to be one the main focus of life, chance are there is a problem.
Signs Of Alcohol Dependence And Withdrawal
Even if you know you or someone else drinks more than necessary, does that mean there is an addiction? Dependence refers to a chronic condition characterized by a pattern of drinking.
Dependence indicates that, without a drink, there will be withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Shaky hands
- A headache
People with a serious addiction can experience hallucinations after about 12 hours of withdrawal, and many even have seizures within the first couple days.
People may assume they are not dependent on alcohol because there are no DTs. DT’s refers to delirium tremens, which include vivid hallucinations and delusions that can start around two days after a drink. That is a fallacy, though. The truth is something only a small percentage of people with a dependence on alcohol ever experience the DTs.
What To Expect When Detoxing From Alcohol
The fear of detoxing can keep some people drinking, in part, because they don’t know what to expect. The first eight hours after a drink will come with some anxiety, stomach pain, heart palpitations, a feeling of moodiness, and a headache.
Moderate detox begins anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after the last drink is taken. At this stage, the early detox symptoms continue but also the blood pressure goes up and the heart rate becomes irregular. There may be heavy sweating and confusion during moderate detox, as well.
DTs can start around day three and may last up to a week. They will include serious hallucinations and possibly life-threatening physical problems, like high blood pressure or heart arrhythmias. Anyone with this advanced level of addiction needs medically-supervised detox in a rehab facility or hospital.
Treatment Options For Alcohol Abuse and Dependence
Treatment options vary based on the level of dependence and support system. Individuals who are severely dependent need to detox in a rehab facility for safety. Severe alcohol withdrawal kills somewhere around 88,000 people every year. The safest place for someone with this level of dependence is in an inpatient program that includes medical detox.
After the body detoxes, the next step is staying in control. Rehab is typically done either with group program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, with an outpatient treatment plan, or in a live-in inpatient program. Most likely, it will be a combination of care plans that have the most effect, especially on the heavy drinker.
An inpatient program lasts anywhere from completion of detox to a couple of months. The goal is to treat the source of the drinking, such as mental health problems, and to develop skills that promote sobriety. In some cases, medications like disulfiram or acamprosate can help control cravings and prevent drinking.
An outpatient program involves counseling and monitored support, either in a group or individual setting. The person undergoing rehab might live at home or at a sober house during this time to reinforce behavior that doesn’t include alcohol and to prevent the return to bad habits. In some cases, family therapy is necessary to improve and rebuild close relationships damage by the drinking.
Aftercare is an important part of any alcohol rehabilitation program. Once the body is free from the chemical dependence, it’s still a challenge to avoid falling back into a life that will lead to relapse, especially when reconnecting with stressors like work or friends. An aftercare program might include sober living facilities and regular support group meetings.
Drinking, whether you do it daily or binge occasionally, has consequences. It damages your body, puts you in physical danger, and ruins both professional and personal relationships. There is more involved in controlling alcohol addiction than just willpower.
Recovering From An Alcohol Addiction
Recovery from alcohol dependency and even alcohol use disorder is a long process and, for most, a constant battle to stay on a sober track. This is why it’s so important to have a plan in place to deal with drinking. With the proper support, many people make it. They go on from alcohol abuse to promising careers, loving families, and purposeful lives. Only one in seven relapses after five years, so treatment does work.