Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

By definition, alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease in which a person consumes alcohol on a regular basis to an extent that it causes significant impairment and affects their ability to be responsible.

Alcohol Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

A person need not be dependent on alcohol to be classified as addicted; in fact, the term alcoholic covers anyone experiencing problems involving alcohol. As of 2015, there were 15 million people over the age of 12 who suffered from this problem in the United States alone. Even worse, 88,000 people die from overusing alcohol each year.
In order to fight back against this disease, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms to look out for. Whether you’re researching information for yourself or a loved one, knowing this can help to save a life. Once you’ve determined that you or a loved one has a problem, you’ll then need to start educating yourself on alcohol addiction treatment options in order to achieve sobriety.

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What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are three different forms of alcoholism – mild, moderate, and severe. The signs of alcohol addiction might vary depending on which form you have. Typically, mild alcoholism has two to three symptoms, moderate has four to five symptoms, and severe has six or more symptoms. Generally, the three most prevalent symptoms are withdrawal, tolerance, and cravings.

Withdrawal is what happens when you stop drinking. In most alcoholics, symptoms start to develop four to 12 hours after their last drink. These might include sleep problems, sweating, nausea, tremors, and more.

Tolerance, on the other hand, is the need for a higher dose of alcohol to achieve the same effect. Previously, you might have only needed three drinks to get drunk. However, over time, you might need five or six because your body is adapting to constantly having alcohol. Finally, cravings are a strong desire for a drink that consume your waking thoughts. You might have trouble focusing on work or school, resulting in a number of negative consequences.
Long-term alcohol use also has negative consequences on your physical health. You might develop a number of issues, including:

  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Heart problems, such as irregular heartbeat or cardiomyopathy
  • Chronic liver damage
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Stroke
  • Inflamed pancreas
  • Cancer
  • Neuropathy
  • Inflamed stomach lining

While many of these conditions can develop on their own, when seen in a person who drinks heavily, they are often symptomatic of an AUD.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

Signs are different than symptoms, as they are problems that the outside world can notice even if they don’t know you very well. For example, alcoholism might lead you to drinking in potentially dangerous situations, such as while driving or swimming. You might also drink to the point of blacking out, which could put you in a dangerous situation, such as assault or robbery.

Overall, those with alcohol addiction suffer social impairments. They might devote all of their time to drinking instead of maintaining relationships, putting a strain on those around them. As they isolate themselves, family and friends may begin to pull away, leaving them feeling completely alone. Because of this, alcoholics usually aren’t on good terms with their relatives and may be going through a separation or lose custody of their kids.

Alcohol has been known to increase rates of violent activity. In fact, out of 5.3 million convicted offenders in 1996, about 2 million had alcohol in their system when they committed their crimes. Additionally, in two thirds of domestic abuse, alcohol was thought to be a factor, with three out of four attackers drinking before the incident. As for violent crimes overall, about 35 percent of the incidents involved an attacker who had been drinking.
If you work with someone who is an alcoholic, you’ll quickly notice a few signs that something is wrong. They are often flaky, such as leaving work early, coming in late, or simply not showing up at all. They’ll frequently miss deadlines, do poor work, and fall below their production goals. You might even smell the alcohol on them, notice bloodshot eyes, or see them stumbling around the office.

What Are the Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction?

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get treatment for alcohol addiction. Most people choose to go to an alcohol treatment center, as these facilities provide comprehensive care that covers all aspects of your wellbeing. If you decide to do this, your first choice will be inpatient or outpatient therapy. Inpatient therapy at an alcohol treatment center means you will live at the facility for the duration of treatment. You won’t be permitted to leave or go home, as this is an intensive program that works by isolating you from bad outside influences. Outpatient therapy is slightly more flexible, as you’ll be able to live and stay at home, visiting the facility daily for your treatment.

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During treatment, you will benefit from a number of different therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavioral therapy, incentive-based rewards, and family therapy. All of these methods are proven to work on people suffering from AUD, but since everyone is different, it might take some time to find the therapy that best meets your needs.

Many people also take advantage of medication-assisted treatment. Certain drugs can help make withdrawal go much smoother as well as reduce your cravings. Naltrexone is one of these, and it works by blocking the opioid receptors in your brain, which is one of the main factors behind cravings. Acamprosate also works in the brain and reduces symptoms of protracted withdrawal that might last after your acute withdrawal is over. Finally, disulfiram reacts with alcohol in the body, producing adverse side effects if you try to drink while on the drug.

Alcohol addiction is troublesome to deal with, and it’s a problem that has ruined many lives. However, with the right care, you don’t have to let it have control over your life any longer.