Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Addiction

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Despite its legality in the United States, irresponsible use of alcohol still has the potential to lead to alcohol abuse. If a person experiences cravings for alcohol and cannot stop consuming it, they are likely experiencing alcohol addiction, otherwise known as alcoholism. Alcoholism is a medical disorder. Fortunately, drug addiction rehab is proven to treat it effectively.

Alcohol is a beverage made by fermenting grains, fruit or even honey. Ethyl alcoholalso known as ethanolis the consumable form of alcohol. When consumed, ethanol acts as a depressant that alters brain chemistry, causing side effects such as slurred speech, difficulty walking, impaired motor skills, and a greater willingness in risky behavior. This is formally called intoxication and more casually described as “drunk” or “buzzed.”

Alcohol comes in many forms, including:

  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Spirits such as vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila and gin
  • Alcoholic energy drinks
  • Shots
  • Liqueur

There is a wide variety of slang for alcoholic beverages. Any of the following terms may refer to some type of alcohol, or alcohol consumption method:

  • Brew
  • Cold one
  • Booze
  • Juice
  • Hard stuff
  • Vino
  • Sauce
  • Hooch
  • Moonshine
  • Liquid courage
  • Shots
  • Shotgun
  • Shotski
  • Keg
  • Cocktail

Different types of alcoholic beverages vary in alcohol content:

  • Beer has roughly 2–6 percent alcohol
  • Wine can have 8–20 percent alcohol
  • Liqueurs can have 15–60 percent alcohol
  • Tequila, gin, rum, brandy, whiskey and vodka typically have 40–50 percent alcohol

Alcohol distribution and consumption are big business in America. In 2015, alcohol sales in the U.S. reached $219.52 billion. The legal status and aggressive marketing of this drug have no doubt contributed considerably to alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Although it is legal to manufacture and consume alcohol, alcohol is still a potentially dangerous drug.

What Causes Alcohol Abuse?

Because of the pleasant feelings this beverage can create, countless people struggle with alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction. Alcohol abuse involves consuming considerable amounts of alcohol on a regular basis. Abuse can often lead to alcohol addiction, also called alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. Alcohol addiction is a medical disease in which a person feels an uncontrollable need to consume alcohol. Despite the negative consequences of alcohol abuse, people who suffer from this disorder are often unable to stop drinking.

Alcohol abuse can result in many physical, psychological and social effects, from weight gain and liver dysfunction to domestic violence, loss of income, inability to keep a job, and damage to unborn children. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2012, there were 17 million Americans aged 18 and older who had an alcohol use disorder. Of these individuals, approximately 11.2 million were men and 5.7 million were women.

Alcohol addiction is a medical disorder. It can affect any person, regardless of their age, sex, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, region, education level or profession. Scientists are still unsure why addiction affects some people and not others. The following characteristics are some factors that may increase an individual’s risk of alcoholism:

  • Family history of alcohol use disorder
  • Mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
  • Pressure from peer groups
  • Low self-esteem
  • Regular binge drinking
  • Underage alcohol abuse

Alcohol can be a highly addictive substance, especially when consumed in large amounts within a short period of time. Like any other drug, alcohol affects the brain’s chemistry. When a person drinks alcohol, the drug causes their brain to release dopamine and endorphins — neurotransmitters responsible for signaling pleasure and reward. This is why people often feel happy and boisterous when they drink. Alcohol abuse and safe levels of consumption also affect gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate neurotransmitters, which are responsible for relaying messages in the brain. This is why drunkenness often results in slurred speech, inability to walk normally and slowed breathing.

Once the effects of alcohol wear off, the brain goes back to functioning normally. This improves a person’s motor skills, but also removes the feelings of happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction triggered from the dopamine and endorphins. A person can experience these symptoms again if they drink more, and often they do. After a period of continued alcohol abuse, it takes larger and larger quantities of alcohol to achieve the same effect. This process is called tolerance. Developing tolerance is the first step toward becoming addicted to alcohol or developing alcoholism.

As a result of continued alcohol abuse, the body begins to adjust to life with these heightened levels of neurotransmitters. Alcohol dependence is defined as the time when someone cannot stop drinking without experiencing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. During withdrawal, the brain has become so accustomed to alcohol that it has a volatile reaction when the drug is removed, causing headaches, vomiting, sweating, and anxiety, among other symptoms.

In answering the “Is alcohol addictive?” question, another factor to consider is when addiction occurs. Addiction finally occurs when physical dependence is met with psychological dependence, or mental cravings for alcohol. At this point, the person engaging in alcohol abuse will likely experience many negative side effects from their drinking — such as financial trouble or legal trouble — but cannot stop themselves from continuing to drink.

Fortunately, with the right combination of evidence-based treatment and support, alcohol addiction can be treated successfully. Alcohol addiction rehabilitation has worked for millions of Americans, and even more globally who are looking to take their life back from alcohol use disorder. Is alcohol addictive? Yes, but help is available if you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse. You can regain your health and your life after going through rehabilitation and learning the sober living skills that will help you resist this dangerous drug in the future. The Recovery Village is designed to provide the best care for those suffering from alcoholism. Our experienced team of addiction professionals — many of whom are in recovery themselves — are ready to help you understand your addiction and learn how to tackle it, once and for all.

alcohol addiction and alcoholism

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are two of most commonly used phrases to describe people involved with excessive alcohol consumption, but are alcoholism and alcohol abuse one and the same? Do they describe the exact same types of behaviors in users? The short and simple answer is “no.” Although an “alcoholic” is an alcohol abuser by definition, an alcohol abuser is not necessarily an alcoholic. To understand the difference between the two, it’s important to understand the signs of each.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a behavior that involves:

  • Excessive drinking, despite associated social, legal or interpersonal problems
  • Harmful use of alcohol that results in mental or physical damage
  • Alcohol consumption to cope with psychological or interpersonal problems
  • Choosing to continue drinking, despite alcohol-related illness or other physical problems

Signs of Alcoholism

In addition to the actions associated with alcohol abuse, alcoholism (also known as alcohol use disorder) involves:

  • Dependence on alcohol
  • Lack of control/inability to stop drinking in excess
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol consumption ceases
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol

Regardless of which category you fall into, help is available. Alcohol does not have to control your life. You can take the reins again, live a life of sobriety and never look back.

The effects of alcohol are many, and they can extend far beyond the users. Families and friends often end up with a front-row seat to the chaos that it creates. People engage in alcohol abuse for various reasons, and many are unaware that their drinking affects their loved ones. Alcohol can have such power over an individual that it overshadows everything else in their lives. Sadly, many loved ones suffer far more than the alcoholics themselves. The following are just a few examples of the many effects that alcoholism can have on families:

  • Children: Children of parents with an alcoholism diagnosis suffer in a number of ways, with many developing depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Some may also blame themselves for their parents’ alcoholism or develop the same disorder as adults.
  • Unborn babies: Drinking while pregnant can be extremely dangerous for the unborn child. The risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and preterm labor increase dramatically when alcohol is used during pregnancy.
  • Spouse: As someone who shares a home with someone with alcoholism, the spouse is often the person who is most affected. Alcoholism in marriage can lead to marital abuse, increased anger and other issues — all of which can lead to resentment or divorce.

The effects of alcoholism on families and other loved ones can be very serious, but this disease is treatable. If you know someone who’s struggling with alcoholism, or if you yourself are struggling, help is available at The Recovery Village.

When answering the “What is alcohol?” question, it’s important to consider its popularity. Alcohol is one of the most popular drugs in the world. As a result, many people wonder how long alcohol stays in their systems. Once a person consumes alcohol, the liver begins to break down ethanol into other, less toxic substances before expelling it. The liver can metabolize roughly .25 ounces of alcohol per hour.

If you have consumed more than .25 ounces of alcohol, the remaining amount will be absorbed into the bloodstream until the liver has the capacity to metabolize it. It takes 30-120 minutes for alcohol to fully absorb into the bloodstream, which is why it takes some time for a drinker to experience a buzz or get drunk. This concentration of alcohol in the blood is where the common measurement of drunkenness — blood alcohol concentration, or BAC — comes from. Unsurprisingly, one way to test for alcohol consumption is using the blood. Scientists will evaluate a blood sample to measure the amount of ethanol content. Urine tests can also be used. Alcohol can be detected in a person’s urine roughly 12–24 hours after consumption. Urine tests cannot assess BAC, however. Instead, urine tests are typically pass/fail, reading as either positive or negative for alcohol consumption.

It’s also possible to test for alcohol consumption orally. Often, police will test drivers to see if they are under the influence of alcohol using a breathalyzer, a tool the person breathes in to measure BAC. Recently, labs have also been testing hair samples for alcohol consumption. Hair samples from close to the scalp can show a roughly three-month drinking history. It takes one to five days from the last use of alcohol for biomarkers to appear in the hair.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug on its own because it can affect a person’s motor skills and judgement, making it hazardous to drive or operate heavy machinery. When mixed with other drugs, the negative side effects of alcohol can be compounded. Combining alcohol with legal prescriptions can be just as risky as mixing it with illicit drugs.

There are different types of substances that affect the body in different ways. What is alcohol? Alcohol is a depressant. When combined with other depressants, it can result in mood fluctuations, possibly leading to self-harm. On the other hand, when you combine alcohol with a stimulant, one substance may dull the effects of the other, causing the user to take more of either or both drugs. Some drugs also have a dangerous interaction with alcohol because they both interact with the liver, risking liver damage, dysfunction or failure, if repeated many times.

Some types of prescription drugs commonly mixed with alcohol include:

  • Anti-Anxiety Medications – Combining alcohol with Xanax, Valium or other anti-anxiety medications can cause dizziness, slowed breathing and increased risk of overdose.
  • Antihistamines – Drinking while taking Benadryl or Zyrtec can cause drowsiness and increased risk of overdose.
  • Antibiotics – Alcohol and antibiotics like azithromycin and doxycycline can cause vomiting and increased alcoholic intoxication.
  • Blood Pressure Medications – Blood pressure meds like Capoten and Plendil, combined with alcohol, can lead to fainting and heart arrhythmia.
  • Blood Thinners – Warfarin and other blood thinners can cause internal bleeding and stroke when consumed with alcohol.
  • Cholesterol Medications – Cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor and alcohol can cause liver damage.
  • Muscle Relaxers – Together, alcohol and muscle relaxers such as Flexeril can lead to increased risk of seizures and overdose.
  • Opiate Pain Relievers – Vicodin, Percocet and other opioid painkillers, combined with alcohol, can lead to difficulty breathing and increased risk of overdose.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers – Pain meds like ibuprofen can cause internal bleeding and liver damage when combined with alcohol.

Before accepting a prescription for one of these pharmaceuticals, talk with your doctors about the risks each drug presents when combined with alcohol. It’s best to avoid drinking while taking these drugs. However, those who engage in alcohol abuse or have been diagnosed with alcoholism are often unable to control their drinking habits and may put their health at risk while combining alcohol and some of these other prescription medications.

The effects of alcohol interactions with harder, illicit drugs are more unpredictable, as often street drugs are mixed or “cut” with a variety of other drugs and household substances, such as cleaners, chemicals and even baking ingredients.

Is alcohol addictive? Yes, but an equally important factor to consider is the statistics associated with alcohol abuse. Scientists have been tracking alcohol consumption and rates of alcohol-related death for decades. This research effort is so substantial, the U.S. government created the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in 1970. Every year, the NIAAA publishes new data on alcohol abuse, alcohol-related deaths and other important statistics.

Some of the latest statistics on alcohol addiction include:

  • 86.4 percent of Americans 18 years and older report they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime.
  • According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.1 million American adults 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder that year.
  • The same year, only 1.3 million adults received alcohol addiction treatment at a rehab facility.
  • More than 10 percent of American children live in a household where at least one parent has a drinking problem.
  • 45.8 percent of liver disease deaths in 2013 were related to alcohol over-consumption.
  • Alcohol abuse is a leading risk factor in contracting mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver and breast cancer.
  • An estimated 1,825 college students die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.

The NIAAA has also developed many definitions to standardize the language surrounding alcohol consumption and abuse. According to the agency, low-risk drinking is no more than three drinks per day and no more than seven drinks per week for women. Low-risk drinking for men is defined as no more than four drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week. According to the NIAAA, only two in 100 people who consume alcohol and fall within these limits have an alcohol use disorder.

High-risk drinking is called binge drinking. The agency defines binge drinking as a drinking pattern that brings the blood alcohol concentration to .08 g/dL. In men, this occurs after having five or more drinks in the span of two hours. For women, this occurs after having four or more drinks in the span of two hours. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration considers “heavy alcohol use” to occur when a person binge drinks five or more days in a month.

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Chartier, Karen, and Raul Caetano. “Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.
Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “What Is Alcohol?” Foundation for a Drug-Free World, Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.
Merriam-Webster. “Alcohol.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.
Mitchell, Steve. “Don’t Drink Alcohol While Taking These Medications.” Consumer Reports, 29 Dec. 2016, Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” NIAAA, National Institutes of Health, Feb. 2017, Accessed 19 Mar. 2017.
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