How Do I Find Alcohol Abuse Treatment For My Loved One?

Addiction to alcohol (also known as alcohol dependency and alcoholism) is the most common form of drug addiction in the US. (and in many other countries, too). Alcoholism is an addiction simple to define (a chronic disease where the body becomes dependent upon alcohol), has intricate causes, and effects that can vary from harmful to lethal.

We all have witnessed how people act when they have had too much to drink. Speech is slurred, they lose inhibition, coordination is impaired, and they often do and say things that they regret later. And although these effects can be embarrassing or awkward to them personally, the long-term effects can have much more severe treatment for alcohol abuseconsequences.

  • Alcohol increase damages the heart, blood pressure and causes issues in the gastrointestinal system, such as cancers of the stomach, throat and stomach ulcers.
  • Alcohol impacts virtually every major organ in the body, such as the liver, heart, and brain.
  • Alcohol causes males to become sexually impotent and is a significant risk factor for breast cancer in females. 
  • Alcoholics often suffer irreversible liver damage, including life-threatening conditions such as liver cancer, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
  • Pregnant women who drink alcohol risk having babies with deformities and mental disabilities.
Alcoholism can cause liver damage, including life-threatening conditions such as cancer, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse: What’s the Difference?

Though the terms “alcoholism” and “alcohol abuse” are related, it is essential to understand the difference between being addicted to alcohol and abusing alcohol. To state this as clearly as possible, alcoholism is a disease and alcohol abuse is a behavior.

Many individuals can consume alcohol in moderate amounts and not become addicted to or dependent upon the drug. Some individuals are even able to participate in alcohol abuse (for example, drinking past the point of intoxication or binge drinking) without developing a case of alcoholism.

Clearly, alcohol abuse is not healthy behavior. It can lead to many adverse results, including illness (alcohol poisoning), injuries and death (automobile accidents instigated by drivers operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, for example), and developmental disorders in children whose mothers drink while pregnant with them).

But, keep in mind, alcohol abuse is different than alcoholism.

Addiction to alcohol, alcohol dependence and alcoholism are terms used to depict the condition in which an individual becomes dependent upon alcohol. Some individuals who abuse alcohol may be able to stop — true alcoholics cannot stop.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Alcoholism

Here are some of the more common symptoms of alcoholism:

  • Developing an obsession with alcohol — always thinking about drinking, feeling compelled to drink alcohol, and always planning where and when to drink.
  • Unable to control or limit the frequency or amount of drinking.
  • Unable to stop drinking once the individual starts (in other words, not able to have “just one drink” or drink socially in “normal” amounts).
  • Binge drinking (in the case of males, consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting; in the case of females, consuming three or more drinks in one sitting) on a regular basis.
  • Drinking in secret, drinking alone, and lying or hiding about the frequency and amount of one’s drinking
  • Developing tolerance to alcohol (which means that a person needs to increase the amount of alcohol to get the same “high” or feeling that, in the past, was caused by less alcohol).
  • Suffering adverse consequences directly related to drinking alcohol — including failed or lost relationships, financial or employment difficulties, and legal costs.
  • Continues to drink alcohol after experiencing negative consequences.
  • Experiences symptoms of withdrawal — extremely uncomfortable physical experiences such as shaking, cramping, sweating profusely, and nausea, — when they cannot have a drink of alcohol.
  • Experiencing “black outs” — being unable to remember events when drinking.
  • Lost interest in hobbies, activities, and experiences (such as spending time with family and friends) that, in the past, brought pleasure.
  • Hiding alcohol in the car, house or even in the office – never too far away from alcohol when the temptation to drink becomes too intense to resist.

The Stages of Alcohol Addiction

Most addiction and medical experts agree that alcoholism (alcohol addiction) is a disease. However, it is still a matter of debate among others. The people at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) say that the disease of alcoholism is “powerful, cunning and baffling” and that is an opinion that most everyone can agree with. These labels are often applicable because alcoholism does not follow a well-defined path for most people. Some individuals become addicted to it the first time they ingest alcohol while others can drink socially for many years before losing control to the drug.

In the early stages, alcoholism many times finds the person regularly drinking alcohol to escape from negative feelings or to self-medicate — depression, anxiety, etc. People find that they are thinking about drinking all of the time and are not interested in restaurants or social gatherings where alcohol is not available. Early on, the family may not understand that their loved one is an alcoholic; and typically the alcoholic is in denial about their usage. Increasing tolerance for alcohol is the next step towards addiction; the drinker needs more to achieve the same effects that one or two drinks used to produce. Some people can drink a significant amount and seem sober; they talk, walk and speak in a normal fashion. However, as tolerance increases, there is usually a rapid decline in their ability to function normally.

As alcoholics move into middle-stage addiction cravings are intense and hard to ignore. Alcoholics consume increasing amounts and may start drinking earlier and earlier in the day. Their old guidelines fly out the window — where once they “drank after 5 o’clock” now they may start drinking at 12noon or even earlier. There isn’t much the alcoholic can do on their own at this stage to control their drinking habits. However, most will try to control the drinking over and over again; if they are an alcoholic, they will fail. Tolerance typically decreases, and the person reaches intoxication more quickly than before. If they decrease the amount of alcohol consumed they may quickly begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Getting drunk faster, drinking more, and starting earlier and earlier affects relationships and may even cost the alcoholic his or her career. Loved ones begin to recognize the problem and may try to speak with the addict, but often their denial is so deep, not much can be accomplished. It is not unusual for stomach issues, severe hangovers, and blackouts to be a regular part of their day by this point

Alcoholics at the end-stage of their addiction are experiencing significant negative consequences due to their addiction to drinking; alcohol is a priority over family, friends, career, faith and whatever else once mattered to them. One can say, at this stage, the alcoholic is morally, physically and spiritually bankrupt. Due to loss of their career and resources spent on drinking, many are financially bankrupt too. A large number will experience malnutrition because they eat very little; what they do eat is usually vomited out. Alcohol affects organs differently and is known to have an extremely harmful (often life-threatening) impact on the liver. Many alcoholics die from cirrhosis, a disease of the liver, which eventually causes liver failure.

Until the alcoholic stops drinking, one of the few options left is incarceration, hospitalization, or death. Drunk drivers kill thousands annually, and the drunk driver may end up being incarcerated for an extended period. Physical and mental deterioration (dementia, hallucinations, and tremors and many other things) can end up in hospitalization. Death can come in many ways: they might die while driving drunk; alcoholics can engage in violence due to poor judgment, and they can pass away due to their bodies just shutting down.

Because alcohol is a legal drug in the United States, alcoholics are by far the largest group of “addicts” by a longshot. Legality, availability, and acceptability are all factors in the high levels of alcoholism.

Can Recovery from Alcohol Abuse Happen?

Help for alcohol addictionMillions of people around the world have achieved sobriety. It is not unusual to meet alcoholics who have not had a drink in 20 years or more. Unsurprisingly, these people tend to be happy and productive. Active alcoholics may not have confidence that it is possible to be satisfied without drinking alcohol, but millions from all over prove them wrong each year. Recovery is a process that is ongoing and is usually best achieved by participating in a group. Many alcoholics recover by adhering to the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Others engage in rehab treatment (outpatient or inpatient) programs offered almost everywhere across the United States and the world.

More than 1/3 of adults in the United States with alcoholism beginning more than a year ago are still in recovery today, per an article Addiction. These people show no symptoms of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. The report is based on data from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a part of National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

What Do You Need to Recover from Alcoholism?

The desire to stop drinking. That is it. You do not have to have an understanding of alcoholism or even admit you are addicted to alcohol — you may not be ready to believe that you are. If your life is a disaster (unmanageability) and you believe alcohol is the reason, you may want to consider stopping the drinking. You can do it. Millions of others have done it. Take the 1st step — reach out for help, and get on the road to recovery.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

If alcoholism is suspected, it is best to consult with an addiction specialist, physician, therapist, or another mental health professional who can formally diagnose the disease and recommend one of many treatment options. Also, a good place to start would be the Drug & Rehab Guide for Addiction and Mental Health.  Alcoholics who try to quit on their own will experience severe withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings for alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms for alcoholics can be quite severe and very often life-threatening. Their bodies are dependent upon alcohol. They need expert medical treatment and care in order to recover from their alcoholism.

Physicians diagnose alcoholism the same way they diagnose other chronic diseases, like diabetes or heart disease. The definition of alcoholism is listed in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) guide published by the American Psychiatric Association that physicians use to make their diagnoses.

Depending upon a number of factors, including the age, the severity and nature of the alcoholism, and the presence of any co-occurring disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.), the best treatment for an alcoholic may include an intensive outpatient program (IOP), participation in a 12-Step group, partial hospitalization program (PHP), or inpatient residential treatment and some type of sober living in their community.

With day treatment programs, clients attend groups and individuals therapy during the day or evening and return to their family home or recovery home. Residential inpatient programs require that you reside at the center 24/7 while in treatment. The concept is that you have to devote at least one month or more to intense, full-time therapy in order to gain the necessary skills, behaviors, and insight you will need to avoid relapse and remain sober.

Aftercare. Once you return home after treatment, you enter the 3rd phase, or aftercare, which typically includes a combination of outpatient treatment, sober living, individual therapy and 12-step meetings.

Treatment for alcoholism may include the following modalities and therapies:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • 12-Step Programs
  • Relapse-prevention skills
  • Medication-assisted treatment (Vivitrol, Antabuse)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Biofeedback & Neurofeedback
  • Medication management
  • Anger management
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Recreation therapy
“Alcohol recovery treatment can look like a challenging process. It is. But keep in mind, effective treatment programs are staffed by supportive, highly-trained professionals (many in recovery themselves) who are focused on helping you achieve your sobriety goals and living the life you desire..” Martin Gaudrault, Director of Admissions


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