Alcohol Addiction

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Alcohol Addiction

Table of Contents

Read on to learn about alcoholism and what the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction include. 

What is Alcohol Addiction?

If you struggle with alcohol, it does not necessarily mean you have an addiction or are an “alcoholic.” Problems with drinking can range from occasionally drinking to harmful levels of consumption (also known as binge drinking) to alcohol dependence and alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that over seventeen million American adults have varying severity alcohol use disorders. Another nine-hundred thousand Americans between the ages of twelve and seventeen have an alcohol addiction.

Alcohol addiction or alcoholism is a chronic disease that does not discriminate based on age or any other demographic. Unlike some addictions, alcohol addiction takes time to develop. In the addiction treatment environment, alcohol addiction is classified according to severity levels. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5 provides eleven diagnostic criteria to help addiction treatment providers diagnose the presence and severity of an alcohol use disorder. 

Why Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol is highly addictive. When you drink alcohol, it alters how your brain perceives rewards.1 Moreover, it changes how and when the brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the body and is responsible for feelings such as joy, pleasure, and energy. Outside of the influence of alcohol, dopamine is released due to typical daily activities such as socializing, parenting, or social experiences. When abusing alcohol, using the substance becomes the primary way for the user to feel happiness and joy.

Long-term drinking floods the reward system with dopamine, leading the brain to reduce the amount of dopamine produced. It also decreases the number of dopamine receptors and increases the number of opioid receptors. Eventually, these changes result in physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. It also leads to an increasing need for greater and more frequent consumption to avoid withdrawal symptoms and to experience the emotions typically associated with dopamine release. 

How do You Know if You Are Addicted to Alcohol?

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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition) provides a list of eleven criteria to help mental health and medical professionals accurately diagnose the presence and severity of alcohol addiction (alcohol use disorder). One does not need to present with all eleven symptoms to have this addiction. Generally, two or three signs identify a mild alcohol use disorder; four or five are considered moderate, and six or more are considered severe.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

The eleven criteria in the DSM-5 address various physical and psychological signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and addiction and vital to ensuring you or a loved one receives early and comprehensive addiction treatment at a treatment center like Arrow Passage. Because addiction is a disease unique to the individual, the signs may be different from person to person; however, there are common symptoms often seen across most cases. These include:

  • Continuing to drink regardless of known physical harm or challenges with family and personal relationships.
  • Sudden changes in mood or frequent mood swings. 
  • Increasing isolation and distancing from friends and family. 
  • Drinking alone or making excuses for drinking. 
  • Cognitive changes such as blackouts or difficulties with short-term memory. 
  • Intense and overwhelming urges to drink or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you reduce or stop drinking.  
  • Choosing alcohol over essential responsibilities and obligations. 
  • Changes in appearance or lack of concern about hygiene  

How Easily Can You Get Addicted to Alcohol? 

As noted above, an addiction to alcohol does not develop immediately. However, someone’s risk for developing this disorder increases based on several factors, including how much, how often, and how quickly they consume alcohol when they drink. Binge drinking and heavy use increase the risk of alcohol use disorder over time. Other factors such as drinking at an early age, genetics, family history of addiction, mental health conditions, and trauma history also contribute to this issue.

Alcoholism develops in stages, and each person is different. That said, there is no specific timeline for how long it takes for this type of addiction to develop.

What is Alcoholism?

Alcohol is the most severe state of alcohol abuse. Someone at this stage will find it impossible to manage to drink or reduce the amount they drink without seeking treatment. Alcoholism and alcohol use disorder are terms that are generally used interchangeably.4 Both terms describe excessive alcohol use that causes physical, psychological, and behavioral impacts. The term alcohol use disorder is commonly used in today’s medical and mental health communities in place of alcoholism or alcoholic.

Alcoholism occurs in stages. The four stages (or phases) were defined by E. Morton Jellinek, a researcher who was a significant contributor to the view of today’s understanding that alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing.

Stage One: Pre-Alcoholism

During this stage, there is little evidence of drinking problems. Drinking is primarily social in the beginning. However, as this stage progresses, drinking is used for other reasons (with greater frequency), such as stress reduction. Near the end of this stage, a tolerance for the effects of alcohol begins to develop. 

Stage Two: Early Alcoholism

The key indicator of stage two is the occurrence of one’s first alcohol-related blackout. Stage two is characterized by the inability to resist drinking, although it makes you uncomfortable. You may also find yourself lying about drinking to friends or loved ones. As stage two progresses, so does tolerance. 

Stage Three: Middle Alcoholism

During stage three, the signs of alcoholism often become apparent to friends and family. Behaviors such as missing work or skipping obligations to drink occur. Mood swings, aggression, and behavioral changes are also common, as are physical changes linked to alcohol abuse. During stage three, it is not uncommon for people to try to stop drinking independently, although they are often unsuccessful.

Stage Four: Late Alcoholism

During stage four, the physical and psychological effects of long-term alcohol abuse become apparent. Severe physical and mental health problems may develop as drinking becomes the only thing on your mind. Family, social, and personal relationships also begin to fail as drinking becomes more important.

Statistics About Alcohol Addiction in Ohio

Recent alcohol addiction statistics in Ohio underscore the importance of alcohol addiction treatment. In 2018, the national average of adults who drank excessively (binge drinking or heavy alcohol use) was just over 18%.6

In Ohio, approximately 19% of the population reported heavy drinking. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that just under 6% of Ohio residents aged twelve and over suffered from an alcohol use disorder.

Get Help with Alcohol Addiction

Deciding to get sober is a difficult decision and one that should not be undertaken without the support of professional treatment. Detox from alcohol is often more challenging than many other substances. You should work with an addiction treatment professional to determine the best level of care to meet your unique needs and goals. 

Inpatient Rehab

The “right” level of care will depend on various factors, including the severity of your addiction and your history with treatment and relapse. For some, inpatient rehab is the best choice. At an inpatient treatment center, you can receive support and guidance as you detox from alcohol. Once detox is complete, you can seamlessly transition into a treatment program. 

Outpatient Rehab

For those with a mild addiction, outpatient rehab may be sufficient. Again, it is vital to consider the severity of your addiction as detoxing without help can be dangerous. Both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs provide treatment plans to meet your specific addiction treatment needs and goals. Using a combination of evidence-based traditional therapies and holistic, alternative therapy options, your treatment team will work with you to help you safely and successfully overcome addiction.

If you or a loved one are ready to seek help to overcome an alcohol addiction, contact us at Arrow Passage today to learn more about our Ohio alcohol rehab.  

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