Alcoholism is among the most common and dangerous addictions plaguing society today. Like any other addiction, alcoholism is chronic, progressive, and fatal if it is not treated and followed by sustained sobriety. It is estimated that approximately 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction.
Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are two different conditions, however the differentiation between them is slight, and can transition from alcohol abuse to alcohol addiction in a subtle manner that may not become apparent until the addiction has advanced, and an individual is in desperate need of treatment and medical care.
What is Alcohol Abuse?
Alcohol abuse is characterized as the misuse of alcohol. Despite the common misconception, alcohol is a drug, and it is a poisonous drug, hence the intoxicating effects it has on those who drink it.
Many people may think that drinking to the point of extreme intoxication (or getting drunk) is tantamount to alcohol abuse. However, one should not be characterized as an alcohol abuser for having been intoxicated once in his or her life. What about twice? Maybe three or five times? How about ten or twenty times? At what point can alcohol abuse be applied to an individual who abuses alcohol? The truth of the matter is that the number of times an individual may get drunk throughout his or her life has nothing to do with what constitutes alcohol abuse. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol abuse is “a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.” The CDC identifies 4 examples of situations that would constitute alcohol abuse:
- Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
- Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery.
- Legal problems relating to alcohol, such as arrest for DUI or charges for assault of another person while under the influence of alcohol.
- Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking.
Based on these parameters, if alcohol abuse seems to be similar to alcohol addiction (or alcoholism), it is. There is an extraordinarily thin line between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction, however getting drunk is not necessarily an indicator of alcohol abuse. It is not advised to get drunk on any occasion, but there are a number of additional indicators of alcohol abuse that can help to identify one who is using alcohol in a dangerous manner, and is highly susceptible to addiction (alcoholism). Most of these signs are sub-symptoms of those listed by the CDC, and include such consequences as:
- risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex, starting fights, and use of other drugs to enhance the effects of alcohol
- blackouts, memory loss during periods of drinking alcohol
- poor performance at school, work, and home. This may include a decrease in productivity and/or grades, as well as deteriorating relationships at home with significant others and/or children.
- bodily injuries resulting from slips, falls, and other accidents endured while intoxicated from alcohol consumption
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction varies from alcohol abuse in one vital way. Alcohol addiction carries with it the dependence on alcohol. Dependence on alcohol can be identified in a number of ways that include, but are not limited to:
- inability to stop or drastically reduce the amount and frequencies of alcohol consumed
- experience of withdrawal symptoms during efforts to cease or reduce alcohol consumption
- development of tolerance to alcohol, which requires higher and more frequent amounts of alcohol in order to achieve the same effect
- inability, or lack of control to stop drinking prior to blackout
After detailing examples of alcohol abuse, the characterization of alcohol addiction is relatively simple, as it only involves the addition of dependence to all of the indicators of alcohol abuse.
Why is Alcoholism so Common?
Alcohol is available everywhere, and is socially accepted in most every gathering and situation. There is also a social attitude that reinforces the behaviors associated with addiction and alcoholism.
What are the behaviors associated with addiction and alcoholism?
These are the behaviors that drive an individual to seek escapism, acceptance, and/or destructive behavior in an effort to cope with dissatisfaction in life. The premise behind this is that addiction is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem. And the problem lies within the addicted individual. It is his or her traumas, pains, suffering, issues, and/or overall discomfort and unhappiness in life and within one’s own skin.
The following table outlines the various attitudes about alcohol that are associated with alcoholism
|Attitudes About Alcohol||Alcoholic Behaviors|
|“What a day. I need a drink!”||One of the most overwhelmingly common deficiencies in alcoholics is the ability to cope with stress and disappointment in a healthy and constructive manner, and not reach for a drink.|
|“Everyone else is drinking. Why not?”||Alcohol is the most commonly consumed drug in social situations and gatherings. Whether overtly pressured or not, the likelihood for someone to drink when alcohol is abundant in a social environment is incredibly high|
|Ready to wind down for the day? Have a drink.||Commonly accepted as a day-end relaxant, alcohol is frequently the drug of choice for parents and those working day jobs in America to use for a calming and unwinding evening.|
|“Congratulations. Let’s have a drink”||Particularly around graduation time in spring, commercials for alcoholic beverages are plentiful. Sports celebrations, weddings, promotions, anniversaries, holidays, and New Year’s Eve are all celebratory events, and all are associated with alcohol and sponsored by alcohol.|
Not every individual who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic, and for those who do fall victim to alcoholism, there may be a number of factors that contribute to why alcoholism manifested in them, but not another who may have consumed just as much, if not more alcohol over a similar period of time, and in similar circumstances. Some of the most common factors that may play a part in determining who or who does not become addicted to alcohol have been identified as:
- Personal issues, traumas, and pain
No one, or combination of these factors is a predetermination of alcoholism, as some who have the optimal circumstances in all four of these categories may never struggle with alcoholism.
Dangers of Alcoholism
Alcohol is a depressant drug, meaning its effects “depress” the brain’s central nervous system (CNS). Although alcohol is not manufactured to do this the way drugs in the benzodiazepines class are, alcohol has similar effects, as evidenced by the indicators of alcohol intoxication. These indicators include signs of CNS depression such as:
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
- Impaired judgment
- Slowed reaction time
- Lack of coordination
- Lowered inhibitions
- Lowered heart rate
Additional effects of alcohol intoxication can include such things as:
- Increased irritability and/or violence
- Nausea and vomiting
Some of the most extreme dangers of alcoholism are the health consequences, which can do severe damage to any individual, and can include such issues as:
- Liver damage and/or failure
- Increased risk of cancer
- Earlier onset of dementia
- Likelihood for anemia
- Nerve damage
Alcoholism results in negative consequences for both the alcoholic and his or her loved ones, who likely stand on the outside wondering what they may be able to do to help. The truth is that the difficulties of overcoming alcoholism are really no different from those of addictions to other drugs, and the most important aspect of an alcoholic getting effective addiction treatment is his or her acceptance of having a problem and willingness to get help for it.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
The first step of recovery from alcoholism is detoxification, which is the process through which an individual is medically supervised while going through alcohol withdrawal. This process can be dangerous and life-threatening in some cases with symptoms that can include grand mal seizures. Because of the dangers, it is always recommended to consult a doctor prior to any attempt to stop heavy and chronic drinking.
When searching for addiction treatment to overcome alcoholism, it is important to first understand that there are thousands of treatment programs available in the United States. While many may be effective for some, no program is effective for all who struggle with alcoholism. Addiction treatment must be individualized, and most conducive to the individual’s needs, preferences, and spiritual belief system.
If you, or someone you love is addicted to alcohol and in need of detox and addiction treatment, please call us now to speak with a trained counselor about the needs of yourself or your loved one, so we can help you to find the addiction treatment program that best relates to the situation and the alcoholic.
Addiction treatment works, and the right program is available. Let us help you to find it, and break the chains of alcoholism for a path to sustained and long-term recovery.