More than 16 million American adults engage in potentially problematic use of alcohol, and one in 10 children live with a parent or caregiver who has a drinking problem. For some, this includes episodes of binge drinking. For others, their use has not progressed yet to abuse. Others are physically dependent on alcohol. Many suffer alcohol addiction, compulsively drinking despite adverse consequences. Fortunately, treatment options exist for drinkers at all points along the spectrum. Learn more about identifying signs and symptoms as well as locating treatment for alcohol abuse.
Common Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism is not an official medical condition; what most people associate as signs of an alcoholic are some of the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). A diagnosis of AUD requires someone to have any two of the following 11 symptoms during 12 months. The more criteria met determines the severity of AUD, which is classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
In the past year, have you or a loved one:Ever drank more or drank for longer than intended?Wanted to drink less or stop drinking entirely but could not?Spent a lot of your time drinking or recovering from alcohol Had a strong urge or need to drink?
Found drinking or being sick from drinking often interfered with family obligations, employment, or attending school?Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends?Been in situations while drinking or intoxicated from drinking that increased the chances of getting hurt (for example, driving or having unsafe sex)?Kept drinking even when doing so caused depression, anxiety, or added to another health problem?Had to drink much more than before to get the desired effect, or found the usual number of drinks had much less effect?Experienced withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, nausea, difficulty sleeping, irritability, restlessness, sweating, anxiety, or depression?
Dangers of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Between 2006 to 2010, the United States suffered 88,000 alcohol-associated deaths every year , almost 10 percent of all U.S. deaths during that time. In addition to the risk of death, alcohol abuse increases the likelihood of an extensive range of adverse effects.
Effects on Your Body
Drinking too much alcohol can severely impact the body , including the following:Heart problems: High blood pressure, enlarged heart, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, stroke.Liver damage: Inflammation, steatosis, or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis. Digestive issues: Inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), stomach and esophageal ulcers, damage to the pancreas, inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Bone damage: Thinning bones (osteoporosis), increased risk of fractures, bruising and bleeding due to damaged bone marrow. Erectile dysfunction.Eye problems: Involuntary rapid eye movement (nystagmus), weakness and paralysis of eye muscles. Neurological complications and brain change's: Numbness and pain in the hands and feet, scattered thinking, short-term memory loss, dementia, mood and behavior changes, difficulty thinking clearly, difficulty coordinating movement. Weakened immune system: Increased risk of infections, higher chance of contracting diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Birth defects: Miscarriage, fetal alcohol syndrome (which results in lifelong physical and developmental problems). Dangerous medication interactions. Increased risk of cancer: Research shows an association between alcohol drinking and developing several types of cancer , including mouth,throat, liver, esophagus, colon, and breast cancers.
Impact on Quality of Life
The effects of excessive drinking extend beyond the physical body, reaching into other realms of your life. Alcohol use can dull your judgment skills and lower your inhibitions, which in turn lead to making poor choices, dangerous situations, and harmful behaviors, including the following: Relationship issues: Drunkenness damages relationships with significant others, family, friends, and co-workers. Your actions or words while drunk can hurt those you care about, as can your choice of drinking over fulfilling obligations to the people around you. You could lose custody of a child. Safety risks: Alcohol use increases your chances of suffering a car accident or other accident. Alcohol abuse also increases the likelihood you will engage in unprotected sex, commit a violent crime, be the victim of a crime, or attempt suicide. Legal and economic consequences: Alcohol use disorder can lead to losing your job, poor performance at work or school, or other problems with finances. Alcohol abuse frequently leads to legal issues, as well.
Options for Treating Alcohol Use Disorder
Most people with AUD can benefit from some form of treatment. About one-third of people who receive treatment for AUD reportedly have no symptoms a year later.
Several options are available for the treatment of alcohol use disorder, including the following. Note that these treatments tend to be more effective in combination, though your specific recovery plan will consider your circumstances. Medication: Several medications can help deal with cravings and reduce drinking, including FDA-approved AUD-treating drugs naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. Other drugs used to treat AUD include nalmefene, baclofen, gabapentin, and topiramate. Detoxification: Medically-supervised detoxification where alcohol is purged from your system usually occurs in a hospital-like setting, since alcohol withdrawal can have serious side effects, such as delirium tremens (DT). Counseling: Individual and group therapy can help reduce binge drinking or excessive drinking. Support group: Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous provide support in maintaining sobriety. Treatment facility: For many, spending time in either an inpatient or outpatient rehab center is needed to refrain from drinking.
Oral or Injected Medication
Several medications are available by prescription to help treat AUD. These drugs are non-addictive. Three have been approved by the FDA specifically for AUD treatment, and the others, though not FDA-approved for addressing alcohol use, be effective in treating AUD. The medications do not cure AUD, but they may help motivate you to drink less. Naltrexone can help people reduce heavy drinking by breaking the association between drinking and pleasure from drinking. The drug works by blocking the pleasurable feelings that alcohol causes. You will feel drunk, but you will not enjoy feeling drunk. Naltrexone works best for people who have already stopped drinking for at least four days before taking it. Vivitrol is the injectable form of naltrexone. A healthcare professional injects you with the drug once a month. Acamprosate (Campral) makes it easier for some to maintain abstinence from drinking by easing withdrawal symptoms. One drawback of this medication is that you must take two pills three times a day. Disulfiram (sold as Antabuse) changes how your body processes alcohol. The drug blocks the breakdown of alcohol by the body, causing you to feel sick if you drink. Unpleasant symptoms include nausea, headaches, and sweating. People taking disulfiram might be motivated to avoid drinking to avoid these physical reactions. Gabapentin and topiramate are FDA-approved to treat seizures, but doctors sometimes prescribe these for AUD treatment. Studies show they may help people avoid drinking, drink less, and have fewer cravings. Nalmefene, approved to treat opioid overdose, might reduce alcohol consumption in people with alcohol dependence.
Medical Withdrawal (Detoxification)
Treatment might begin with medically managed withdrawal in a detoxification, or detox, program. This typically takes two to seven days to complete. Detox is at an inpatient treatment facility, or a hospital might include the use of sedating medications to prevent the experience of withdrawal symptoms.
Behavioral treatments, or alcohol counseling, involve individual and group work with a health professional to help you identify behaviors related to drinking, better understand your problem with alcohol, and provide psychological support to your recovery. Counseling can include goal setting, techniques for changing behaviors related to drinking, developing skills to stop or minimize drinking, and establishing a treatment plan. Group counseling can help build a healthy social system, and couples or family therapy can encourage the support of loved ones in the recovery process. Counseling can help cope with triggers that might cause a relapse.
Counseling can take different approaches. Common behavioral treatments used to address alcohol abuse include: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This can be one-on-one with a therapist or in a small group. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on identifying the feelings and scenarios that result in heavy drinking. This form of therapy also focuses on managing stress to prevent relapse. The goal of this therapy is to change the thought processes that lead to excessive drinking as well as to develop the emotional skills needed to cope with the situations that might trigger problem drinking. Family or Marital Counseling: Involving partners and family members in the treatment process can help repair and improve family relationships. Strong family support through family therapy increases the chances of someone stopping drinking. Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This approach focuses on addressing ambivalence about treatment and works to build motivation to change drinking behavior. Motivational enhancement therapy takes place over a short period, beginning with a quick initial session and two to four subsequent therapy sessions. The therapy reviews the advantages and disadvantages of seeking treatment, develops a plan to make changes to drinking behaviors, and helps build skills necessary for following through with the plan.
Mutual help support groups help people recovering from AUD to manage relapses and cope with lifestyle changes. Typically peer-led through in-person or online meetings at no cost, these groups can provide valuable support for people in recovery from AUD. Alcoholics Anonymous is the best-known support group, but several other mutual help groups might better suit your needs.
Inpatient Residential Treatment Program
People with more severe AUD may need a stay at an inpatient residential treatment facility. The person checks into a facility and agrees to live there for the duration of the treatment program, typically between 30 and 90 days. Professionals with expertise in treating AUD staff residential treatment programs are licensed alcohol and drug counselors, social workers, nurses, and doctors. Many residential treatment facilities can provide physician-monitored detoxification. Most inpatient treatment programs include individual and group counseling, support groups, and activity therapy. Some treatment facilities specialize in serving specific populations, such as teens or people suffering from a mental health disorder.
What to Look for When Choosing a Rehab Center for Alcohol Addiction Available treatment methods: Be sure the treatment center provides the services that match your needs. For example, if you have a dual diagnosis of depression and alcoholism, then the center must be able to treat both problems adequately. Find out whether treatment is tailored to the individual, since no single treatment benefits everyone and matching the right therapy to individual needs is critical to success. Costs and availability of financial assistance: If you are insured, then find out whether your plan covers care. Location: If you received services on an outpatient basis, you probably would prefer a place geographically closer to home and more accessible. Program type: Type of programs available is essential. Some people might require a more intensive inpatient residential center, while an outpatient rehab center better serves others.
Contact Addiction Helpline America for a free consultation and referral to recovery resources that meet your needs.