Understanding Alcohol Abuse
- 1 Understanding Alcohol Abuse
- 2 Knowing the Difference Between Alcohol Misuse and An Alcohol Use Disorder
- 3 Side Effects of Alcohol Misuse
- 4 The Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse
- 5 What are the Risk Factors for Developing an Alcohol Use Disorder?
- 6 The Relationship Between Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health
- 7 How Can I Help Someone With An Alcohol Use Disorder?
- 8 Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
- 9 Assistance for Family and Friends of Addicted Individuals
- 10 Find the Right Treatment Options for Your Loved One, Here
It is fairly common for people to drink on occasion, particularly when celebrating or participating in social events. While drinking alcohol every now and then may not necessarily be a problem, regular and excessive alcohol consumption most certainly can be. If someone you know is in this situation, our guide to ‘How to Help an Alcoholic’ can help you both through these difficult times.
Of course, alcohol can affect everyone differently. Because of this, it can be quite difficult to determine if someone you care about is struggling with alcohol abuse.
Thus, knowing the signs of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) can help you determine when it may be a good idea to start seeking professional treatment, whether this be for yourself or a loved one.
Knowing the Difference Between Alcohol Misuse and An Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol misuse focuses on an individual’s behavior in isolated situations, rather than on a long-term scale. Thus, even a singular event of binge drinking can constitute this form of substance use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking generally consists of two or less drinks for men, and one or fewer drinks for women. Anything more than this would be considered alcohol misuse.
Furthermore, alcohol misuse will also refer to the act of drinking for those who are pregnant, or who are under the age of 21.
Excessive drinking, on the other hand, is defined as having 15 or more drinks for men and, for women, having eight or more drinks within a one-week period of time.
While alcohol misuse can certainly have dangerous repercussions, singular or irregular engagements in this behavior may not constitute a legitimate alcohol problem.
However, if someone is consistently binge drinking or misusing alcohol, then they may have a drinking problem. There are several other signs that indicate someone is struggling with an alcohol addiction, including:
- Regularly drinking more or for longer periods of time than originally intended.
- An inability to cut down on or stop drinking, even if there is a genuine desire to do so.
- Excessive amounts of time spent sick or recovering from the effects of one’s drinking habits.
- An inability to think about or focus on anything other than drinking.
- Interference with the ability or desire to keep up with home, work, or other responsibilities and duties.
- Continued alcohol use even in the face of conflict or complications with family members, friends, or other individuals.
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and hobbies, or giving up these interests in order to spend more time drinking.
- Increased engagement with dangerous or risky behavior, such as driving under the influence, drug abuse, or unsafe sex.
- Continued drinking habits despite these causing or worsening other health problems, such as mental illness or physical medical conditions.
- Needing to regularly increase the amount of alcohol used in order to experience the same effect from drinking.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using alcohol.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), experiencing at least two of these descriptions within the past year can indicate a mild alcohol use disorder, while anything more than this reflects a more severe alcohol addiction.
Side Effects of Alcohol Misuse
While there may be fewer alcohol related problems for a case of simple alcohol misuse, this behavior can still produce a number of negative side effects. Some of these may include:
- Slurred speech
- Slowed reflexes
- Decreased control over bodily functions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of memory
- Decreased decision-making abilities
These may not only be uncomfortable but may pose a risk to the safety of oneself or others. Thus, it is important to make sure that if you are planning on drinking, you are doing so in a safe and controlled environment, and with trusted individuals.
What are the Side Effects of Binge Drinking?
Individuals who engage in excessive drinking, even if on a singular occasion, may be at risk of experiencing more severe consequences for this behavior. These may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Alcohol poisoning
Furthermore, the cognitive impairment caused by excessive drinking can increase an individual’s likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. These can lead to the endangerment of themselves and others, and in extreme cases, death.
The Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse
Long-term alcohol abuse can pose a number of significant health consequences which, if left untreated, can become life-threatening. These may be psychological or physical in nature, and will vary in their severity depending on the individual’s level of addiction.
The physical side effects of alcohol abuse can pose a serious risk to the well-being of individuals struggling with this form of substance abuse, especially if not properly addressed. These can include:
- Liver damage and scarring (cirrhosis)
- Brain damage
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular problems
Continuous alcohol abuse can also lead to the development of various cancers as a result of the acetaldehyde produced by the body’s breakdown of alcohol. This chemical can cause significant damage to a person’s DNA, which may lead to uncontrolled cellular growth.
There are several psychological side effects associated with alcohol addiction. While not necessarily fatal, they can absolutely be debilitating. These may include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Cognitive dysfunctions
What are the Risk Factors for Developing an Alcohol Use Disorder?
There are several risk factors that can contribute to an individual’s development of an addiction. When it comes to alcohol misuse and abuse, many people may choose to begin drinking as a way to manage stress or other negative emotions.
In other cases, alcohol may be used to increase a person’s social capabilities or charisma. For example, many college students will begin abusing alcohol due to regularly participating in events that involve drinking; usually, unfortunately, in an attempt to achieve social acceptance.
Genetics can also play a large role in someone’s addictive behaviors. In fact, a family history of addiction can contribute up to half of an individual’s own risk of developing an addiction.
Of course, this does not mean these individuals are destined to repeat these generational patterns. However, it can certainly be helpful to be aware of them in order to better help prevent oneself from falling into these habits.
Mental health disorders, unresolved trauma, negative environments, and high-stress work or living conditions are all also significant influencers in a person’s engagement in substance abuse.
The Relationship Between Alcohol Addiction and Mental Health
When it comes to substance abuse and mental health, these two things often share a very close relationship with one another.
In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), simultaneous substance use and mental health disorders, or co-occurring disorders, are quite common.
This is because individuals may begin to use substances as a means of self-medicating the negative thoughts and emotions that are caused by their mental illness.
Unfortunately, this is only a temporary way to relieve stress, and can actually end up making a person’s mental health issues worse over time. Furthermore, alcohol abuse can lead to the development of additional mental disorders due its toxic effects on the mind and body.
How Can I Help Someone With An Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcohol use disorders can have serious life consequences, not just for the addicted individual, but for the people around them as well. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with alcohol addiction, this can be an incredibly difficult situation for you and them.
It is perfectly natural to want to help a loved one overcome their alcohol dependence. However, it is important to remember to take care of your own well-being first when trying to do so.
With that being said, there are several things you can do to support an alcoholic loved one. This may include:
- Staging an intervention
- Seeking professional treatment
- Providing emotional support
- Providing financial support
Staging an Intervention for Alcohol
When it comes to approaching someone about their drinking problem, this can be difficult to do in a way that does not provoke or cause them to shut down.
Many people will find it extremely difficult to recognize that they have a problem, especially one that is so destructive to themselves and others.
That is why the goal of addressing their alcohol abuse should be to show them that there are people willing to support them in getting the help they need.
Whether staging an intervention by yourself or with other family members, it is important to confront this issue with compassion and a genuine desire to help the addicted person. Anger or judgment will not help in this situation, and may only make the problem worse.
Holding an intervention may also involve seeking out an addiction treatment specialist or mental health professional that can properly give these individuals professional medical advice on their recovery options.
Seeking Professional Alcohol Treatment
Whether looking with an addicted loved one or doing so on your own, it can be extremely beneficial to have an idea of what substance abuse treatment options will work best for them.
After all, individuals struggling with a substance use disorder may not have the physical or mental capacity to extensively research addiction treatment methods and services; nor may they necessarily have the desire to do so.
Thus, understanding their care options and the locations of facilities near them ahead of time can make taking that first step to recovery far less stressful and intimidating for them.
Providing Emotional Support
Someone with a drinking problem may isolate themselves from their loved ones, whether to keep drinking, or because of the loneliness that can result from the negative thoughts and emotions abusing alcohol may produce.
Particularly for those who are struggling with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, it can be extremely easy to regress into self-sabotaging behaviors.
Reminding these individuals that you care about them and want to support them can help push them to want to stop drinking. Of course, it is ultimately up to them to seek treatment; all you can do is try to help guide them in the right direction.
Providing Financial Support (for Recovery)
For many individuals who are struggling with alcohol addiction, their drinking habits have likely caused job troubles and financial strain. This may make paying for addiction treatment services more difficult for them.
For many people, this is a major factor in why they do not seek out professional help in overcoming their alcohol dependence. However, there are other payment options available to these individuals that do not require paying out-of-pocket.
For starters, most health insurance providers will cover the costs of professional addiction or other behavioral treatments. Of course, the level of coverage a person may be entitled to will depend on their personal insurance provider and policy.
In some cases, individuals may be able to receive full coverage for their substance abuse problems. This may be achieved through receiving treatment referrals from their healthcare provider establishing a medical need for professional addiction or behavioral treatment.
Of course, it may be that your loved one does not have insurance. In this case, if you are in a position to offer financial assistance or find other ways to help with the costs of treatment, this can absolutely help give your loved one the means of achieving sobriety.
With that being said, it is important to make sure you are putting your own stability first, even if you do truly wish to help your loved one. After all, you can not help someone else if you are not able to first help yourself.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options
When helping a loved one look for treatment options for their substance use disorder, you will likely come across a large variety of services and programs.
While it is good to have options, these can quickly become overwhelming, and may even be discouraging to those who are not sure which will be best for them. When it comes to what options will be best to treat alcohol dependence, these may include:
- Inpatient Treatment
- Outpatient Treatment
- Aftercare Programs
If you are unsure which of these will be best for your loved one, speaking with health professionals or addiction treatment specialists can be helpful in narrowing down these options.
When it comes to AUD treatment, a medically supervised detox process is strongly recommended as the first step in an individual’s treatment process. This is because the withdrawal period from alcohol use can be particularly intense, if not fatal.
A detox program allows individuals to recover from alcohol abuse under constant medical supervision, and will set the foundation for their success in long-term recovery.
In fact, research has shown that individuals who participate in detox programs rather than attempt to quit drinking on their own are more likely to achieve and maintain abstinence.
Some detox programs will also provide certain addiction medicine that can manage or prevent particularly difficult withdrawal symptoms. These may also help reduce alcohol cravings and further prevent relapse.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal is a particularly intense process, with symptoms starting as early as a few hours after a person’s last drink. Some of the symptoms that are considered to be more mild in nature may include:
- Shaky hands
After the first day, however, these problems will gradually become more severe. If not managed properly, these can even be life-threatening. These may include:
- Delirium tremens, or DTs
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Heavy sweating
Because of the severe nature of this withdrawal period, it is never recommended for individuals to attempt to stop using alcohol on their own.
Overcoming alcohol problems in a controlled and medical environment is absolutely essential not just for a successful recovery, but for an individual’s safety when doing so.
Inpatient, or residential treatment, is a type of addiction treatment that requires an individual to live at a treatment facility 24 hours a day, where they can receive intense care and recovery support on a regular basis.
Depending on the severity of their addiction, these programs may last over a period of 30 days, 60 days, or 90 days. Many of these treatment facilities will also offer detox services as a part of their treatment approach, as well.
These facilities are the most structured option for addiction treatment, and will typically use medically reviewed and clinically proven methods as the main components of their recovery approach.
These may also offer several additional treatment services, including:
- Highly qualified staff; this may include a variety of health professionals specializing in various fields of behavioral treatment.
- Nutritional counseling.
- Vocational training.
- Social skill training.
- 12-step recovery programs.
- Addiction education services.
Outpatient treatment will usually follow an initial stay at an inpatient facility as a person proceeds through their continuum of care. This option does not require clients to live at a treatment facility, and will be less intensive in its recovery approach.
For those who feel they still need extensive medical care or professional supervision while recovering, but can not meet the time commitment of an inpatient facility, partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient programs may be beneficial.
An outpatient treatment program may involve participation in holistic activities (i.e., yoga, meditation, etc.), behavioral therapies, or involvement in an addiction recovery support group. These programs also tend to be more affordable than more structured approaches.
They will also help individuals learn relapse prevention skills, and gain confidence in maintaining their sobriety without external support.
Outpatient programs are typically best suited for people who cannot take time off from personal duties or work. However, if able to do so, it is strongly recommended that individuals struggling with alcohol use recover at an inpatient facility first.
Aftercare Programs for Sober Support
Upon their successful completion of an initial residential or outpatient program, individuals must re-integrate into living a normal, independent life. Of course, this transition can be very intimidating for many individuals.
Furthermore, a person’s journey to overcoming addiction is a constantly ongoing process that will continue throughout the rest of their lives. Thus, aftercare programs can help make this process significantly easier.
These are post-treatment support systems that are designed to help individual’s properly manage their lives, and develop healthy responses to difficult circumstances. In particular, ones that do not involve alcohol use.
These programs may involve an individual’s participation in several activities, such as:
- 12-step or alternative peer support groups.
- Programs that reward continued abstinence or contingency management.
- Telephone follow-up meetings or other forms of motivational interviewing.
- Self-monitoring programs.
Assistance for Family and Friends of Addicted Individuals
Addiction is commonly referred to as a family disease, due to the devastating consequences it can have not just for an indicated individual, but for their loved ones as well.
If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with a drinking problem, this can be an incredibly painful and frustrating situation to deal with. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for individuals with addicted loved ones to simultaneously feel responsible for and helpless in supporting them.
However, the difficult truth of addiction is that the only person who is truly responsible for the wellness of those struggling with drug or alcohol problems is the addicted individual themselves. While you can certainly try to support them, you can not control their decisions.
It is certainly important to know how to help an alcoholic loved one, but it is even more so to first care for yourself. Fortunately, there are several services available today that are dedicated to helping the loved ones of addicted individuals.
Therapeutic services, such as individual or family therapy sessions, can be a valuable means of addressing both an addicted person’s behavior and providing support for their loved ones.
Furthermore, a licensed treatment provider in this setting will be able to give professional medical advice to someone struggling with alcohol problems. This may include referrals to addiction treatment programs or other recovery services.
This may also include joining a peer support group dedicated to individuals with loved ones who are struggling with an active addiction to alcohol, or are currently in recovery from one. One example of this is a service called Al-Anon Family Groups.
Al-Anon Family Groups
Admitting just how much someone else’s decisions have caused you harm can be extremely difficult. However, doing so may allow you to finally come to terms with this emotional burden and begin to find closure for it.
The Al-Anon organization aims to provide a safe space for individuals to do just this. This service works by providing support groups made up of the many family members and friends of addicted individuals, where they can openly discuss and share their experiences.
When participating in Al-Anon support groups, you may choose to share your experience of being affected by someone else’s substance use, or simply listen to other people’s stories.
Regardless of your participation choice, Al-Anon meetings can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to receive the comfort and guidance necessary for navigating the impacts someone else’s alcohol use has had on your life.
Find the Right Treatment Options for Your Loved One, Here
If you have a loved one who is struggling with alcohol addiction and are seeking treatment options for them, know that you are not alone.
At Find Addiction Rehabs, we are connected to a wide network of alcohol rehab facilities and recovery programs that are dedicated to meeting all of your loved one’s personal care needs.
Just by using our 24/7 hotline, one of our representatives can help find the best treatment options for their recovery journey.
Whether seeking out professional treatment centers in your loved one’s location, or looking for other addiction recovery resources and support, we are always here to help.
So call today, and let us help you get started on a path to healing the damage that addiction has caused to you and the people you care about.
Nicole R. is an experienced and accomplished writer with special interests in the fields of Anthropology, English, and behavioral health, and has written countless articles for newspaper publications, institutional research journals, and Find Addiction Rehabs.
Her alma matter is Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Nicole hopes to spread awareness of and combat the stigmatization surrounding addiction and substance abuse treatment through her writing and work in the field.