A Guide to Alcohol Addiction (Alcoholism)
An alcohol addiction has a profound impact on the lives of the individual and their loved ones. When you understand addiction and the steps to overcome dependence, it becomes easier to make informed choices and work towards a life of sobriety. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. The following guide takes an in-depth look at the signs & symptoms of alcoholism, risk factors, and the options for alcohol addiction treatment.
What is an alcohol addiction (alcoholism)?
An alcohol addiction is defined as the frequent and uncontrolled use of alcohol over a prolonged period owing to a physical and psychological dependence. Also referred to as alcoholism or an alcohol dependence, symptoms involve the continuous use of alcohol despite a negative impact on health, relationships, and issues with the law.
Alcoholism often stems from alcohol abuse as drinking habits become unmanageable. An alcohol dependence can range from mild to moderate and severe. The more frequently alcohol is consumed and the greater the volume over time, the higher the risk of an addiction with health complications.
Alcohol addiction & abuse
An alcohol abuser is an individual who may drink too much and too frequently whether at a social gathering or an event. While they may seek the use of alcohol and its intoxicating effects, they can stop consuming alcohol when they want to.
An alcohol addiction or dependence occurs when an individual drinks too much, too often, and is unable to quit. Their drinking habits can lead to health risks, compromise personal relationships, and create legal problems; however, they are still unable to manage the use of alcohol.
According to the UK alcohol consumption guidelines, alcohol intake is restricted to 14 units weekly for men and women. This is equal to drinking less than 6 pints of beer with a 4% ABV or 7 medium glasses of wine at a 12% ABV (NHS, 2020).
How alcohol addiction develops
For those who binge drink or who do not manage their alcohol intake, the risk of an addiction is higher compared to those who control or do not consume alcohol. Repeat exposure is a process that increases risk of an alcohol addiction as the body develops a tolerance. You need more alcohol each time you drink to achieve its intoxicating effects. While tolerance and repeat exposure can risk alcohol dependence, factors such as mental health and family history must be considered in maintaining an addiction.
Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions
A psychological trauma involves an emotional response to an event that disrupts one’s coping abilities and overall well-being. As alcohol creates a pleasurable experience when intoxicated, the sufferers of trauma who wish to numb or escape their memories and psychological pain are at greater risk of an alcohol dependence (Maryland Recovery, 2017).
Common mental health conditions that are comorbid with alcoholism include mood disorders, generalised anxiety, depression, bipolar, and chronic stress (BMC Psychiatry, 2011). When a mental health condition exists with a substance abuse problem, this is commonly referred to as a dual diagnosis. A psychological disorder makes it difficult to cope with daily challenges and comes with a unique set of symptoms. Many people rely on the use of recreational substances including alcohol to manage these symptoms. When compounded by an alcohol addiction, the mental condition goes without treatment and both disorders worsen (HelpGuide, 2020).
A Family History of Alcoholism
Biology can play a major part in developing an alcohol addiction. It can also influence the process of recovery. For those with a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviours including the use of alcohol, certain chemicals in the brain are sensitive to the intoxicating and pleasurable effects produced by alcohol consumption. Individuals experience the need to consume more alcohol, more frequently to achieve the desired effect. Such cravings can include a hereditary basis and increase risk of an alcohol addiction.
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Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism
An alcohol addiction is characterised by an inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed. Individuals experience cravings and simply cannot quit drinking on their own.
They may try to conceal their habit by drinking in private or becoming increasingly self-isolated. Changes in behaviour, mood disturbances, problems at work and health complications may indicate the presence of an alcohol addiction.
Along with the signs of an alcohol addiction, the symptoms of a dependence should be considered
The Symptoms of an Alcohol Addiction are:
- Mood disruptions, irritability, and agitation.
- Experiencing hangovers without drinking.
- Lapses in memory and poor impulse control.
- Changes in friends and social hangouts.
- Disregarding responsibilities and choosing alcohol.
- Justifying alcohol consumption to relax or relieve stress.
Diagnosing Alcohol Addiction
The Four Stages of Alcoholism
We take a closer look at the 4 stages of alcohol addiction and the steps you can take to seek the treatment you need.
Stage 1 – Experimentation
During this stage, individuals may binge drink or experiment with the use of alcohol. It is commonly noted in youth along with peer pressure. Experimentation does not mean that you will develop a tolerance or an addiction. If your drinking habits are best described by the remaining stages, there could be cause for concern.
Stage 2 – Alcohol Abuse
Ongoing alcohol consumption beyond the NHS guidelines is considered the first sign of substance abuse. Drinking alone, hiding drinking habits, or using alcohol to alleviate stress, anxiety and emotional difficulties are signs of the poor use of alcohol. The more alcohol you consume, the greater the risk of developing a tolerance.
Stage 3 – Habitual Drinking
By stage 3, many alcohol users find themselves drinking alcohol frequently and in larger amounts. This will start to impact your health and emotional state. Stage 3 alcohol use is determined by the symptoms of insomnia, mood changes, and difficulty maintaining personal relationships.
Stage 4 – Dependency
By the final stage, individuals have developed a psychological and a physiological dependency on alcohol. It is during this time that you will start to suffer from the symptoms of a withdrawal should you try to reduce or quit the consumption of alcohol. Symptoms range from tremors to hallucinations, and possible seizures.
The Dangers of Alcohol Addiction
An alcohol addiction increases the risk of disruptions across your personal and professional life, including your health.
An alcohol dependence can become life threatening when you pursue an alcohol detox.
When you detox from alcohol, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol can suffer tremors, nausea, headaches, hallucinations, delirium, and seizures. Owing to the risk of health complications involved in alcohol addiction, seeking the right treatment can prevent life threatening circumstances. Individuals with alcoholism who try to quit drinking, can suffer cardiac arrest as the brain and body adjust to the absence of alcohol. Addictions also negatively impact the ability to function which includes mood disturbances, confusion, poor stress management, and ailing health.
Alcoholism in Pregnancy
The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy risks the development of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Medical practitioners are unable to determine the amount of alcohol responsible for physical and mental anomalies and therefore abstaining from alcohol while pregnant is advised. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome occurs when the unborn foetus is exposed to alcohol during critical growth stages. Babies are born with distinct facial abnormalities and mental disabilities.
The Impact of Alcoholism on Family
Many believe that alcoholism is an individual disease, but this could not be further from the truth. Alcohol addiction affects entire families. As relatives watch the person they love suffer from the grip of an addiction, they feel powerless to help them. Families and communities are torn apart by addictions.
According to the Department of Health, the NHS spends an average £3.5 billion to address alcohol-related issues.
Is Alcohol Addiction a Disease?
Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction
If you are affected by an alcohol addiction or know a loved one suffering from alcohol dependence, it is important to act by seeking the necessary help before it is too late.
An alcohol addiction will not only cause major upheavals in everyday life but also increase risk of withdrawal symptoms where a dependency has developed.
To facilitate a safe alcohol detox and recovery from withdrawal symptoms, alcohol dependents are advised on seeking residential alcohol rehab or via the various outpatient services that are free. Programmes overseen by the NHS provide free outpatient services, helping individuals receive the therapy and support needed on a journey to sobriety. Alternatives include the attendance of a private rehab where patients are provided 24/7 medical supervision. Support services include the use of medication to relieve dangerous and painful withdrawal from alcohol.
All alcoholics can benefit from addiction counselling and support groups. Addiction counselling explores the underlying causes for alcohol use. Therapy introduces coping strategies and helps you build essential skills to apply in real world settings. Programmes are led by a certified practitioner and focus on transformation in attitude and behaviour to work towards sober living.
If you are interested in making a profoundly positive change by focusing on sober living, we encourage you to speak to our professional team. We will guide you on the steps you can take to get the help you need to recovery from alcoholism.