Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Despite its legality in the United States, alcohol is a highly addictive drug with the potential to lead to alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Although some argue it has health benefits when consumed in moderation, research shows only 2 in every 100 people who drink alcohol do so in moderation. The remaining drinking population often indulges in binge drinking (drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time) in order to get drunk. 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 from the process of fermenting grains, fruit or even honey. Ethyl alcoholalso known as ethanolis one of several different types of alcohol, and is the consumable form. Other types of alcohol can be used for fuel, sterilizing wounds, and other purposes. Alcohol is a very flammable substance, and most pure forms are odorless and colorless. Ethanol is a depressant drug that alters brain chemistry, causing side effects such as boisterous attitude, slurred speech, difficulty walking, impaired motor skills, and engaging in risky behavior. This is formally called intoxication, but many casually refer to alcohol intoxication as being “drunk” or “buzzed.”

Because of the pleasant feelings this beverage may create, alcohol abuse often occurs. Alcohol abuse involves consuming more than is safe and may result in a variety of negative side effects. 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 unable to stop drinking.

Alcoholism 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. Those who are addicted to alcohol may be referred to as “alcoholics,” “drunks,” or those “addicted to the bottle.”

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. Although it is legal to manufacture and consume alcohol, alcohol is a drug. The legal status and aggressive marketing of this drug have no doubt contributed considerably to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Alcohol use disorder is distinguished from alcohol abuse, in part, based on the person’s ability to limit their consumption. A person suffering from alcohol use disorder will more easily be able to self-regulate and limit the level of consumption. The diagnosis is usually reserved for those who engaged in alcohol abuse so persistently that they become disabled. In these cases, cravings for alcohol often make it difficult for the person to focus their attention on anything but drinking.

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. The gender makeup breaks down to 11.2 million men and 5.7 million 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 the risk of alcoholism:

  • Family history of alcohol use disorder
  • Mental illness, such as depression or anxiety
  • Falling victim to peer pressure
  • Have low self esteem
  • Early exposure to alcoholism, such as living in an environment that idolizing drinking culture
  • Regular binge drinking
  • Underage alcohol abuse

Based on the Ethnicity and Health Disparities in Alcohol Research study, of those 18 years and older who consume alcohol:

  • 59.8 percent were white
  • 47.8 percent were Native American
  • 46.3 percent were Hispanics
  • 43.8 percent were black
  • 38 percent were Asian

Native Americans, Hispanics and whites are most likely to binge drink, with each demographic falling above 25 percent. Of all the populations, Native Americans were most likely to engage in alcohol abuse at 12.1 percent, followed by whites at 8.3 percent and Hispanics at 6.1 percent. The study revealed men almost always outrank women in heavy drinking. The exception were Native American women (22.9 percent participate in heavy weekly drinking, compared to 21.63 percent of men in the same population) and Asian women (19.77 percent participate in heavy daily drinking), compared to 18.84 percent of men in the same population.

Alcohol can be a highly addictive substance, especially when consumed in large amounts within a short period time. Like any other drug, alcohol affects the brain 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 get drunk. Alcohol consumption also affects the 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. Some may causally refer to a person tolerant to alcohol as someone who “holds their liquor well.” Developing tolerance is the first step toward become 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 ethanol in the system that it has a volatile reaction when the drug is removed, causing headaches, vomiting, sweating, and anxiety, among other symptoms.

Addiction finally occurs when the physical dependence is met with psychological dependence, or cravings for alcohol. At this point, the person engaging in alcohol abuse will be likely experiencing many negative side effects from their heavy drinking — such as financial trouble or legal trouble — but cannot stop themselves from continuing to drink.

Alcohol addiction is a medical disease, but it can be successfully treated. 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. There are several steps to alcohol addiction treatment:

  • First is evaluation, at which point the addiction professionals at a treatment center will conduct several tests to determine the severity of your addiction.
  • Next is detoxification, when you will stop drinking alcohol and remove the drug from your body. This natural process can be quite painful and possible dangerous, so it’s best to detox at an accredited facility.
  • Once alcohol is out of your body, you can begin treatment. Treatment plans should always be tailored to your needs and, therefore, are never the same from patient to patient. All treatment plans, however, involve the same components, such as inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, group therapy, family therapy and alternative therapy. Your treatment team should also develop an aftercare plan for you during this time, which will help prevent relapse in the future.

If you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, it’s important to know there is help. 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.

When does drinking turn from something you enjoy occasionally or socially to something that’s become a true problem in your life? When is it considered alcohol abuse? How do you know if you have a drinking problem or you’re an alcoholic?

For a lot of people, an addiction to alcohol can begin innocently enough. They might start out as someone who drinks a glass of wine after work or has a few drinks at social events, but over time it grows into something more than that.

Many people don’t realize that alcoholism is a progressive disease, and it moves in stages, each with its own set of symptoms, much like most other diseases.

Understanding the science of addiction and when you’re drinking too much is important, because it can help you seek help sooner rather than later.

How do you know with alcoholism when to seek help? When do you have a small drinking problem versus alcoholism? What are the signs you need to seek help for alcoholism?

While all of the signs named above indicate when you’re drinking too much, there are other red flags with alcoholism that you need to seek help.

Signs of alcoholism requiring help include:

  • Once you start drinking, you can’t stop. For example, rather than having a glass of wine, you finish the entire bottle every time you open one. People in control of their drinking can have one glass of wine or one beer and then stop without an issue. You may need help if you can’t do that, or if thoughts of drinking preoccupy you.
  • Are you having trouble meeting your responsibilities? Those with alcoholism tend to have problems at school or work, and they may also neglect household and family responsibilities. If drinking is impacting your ability to function, you have crossed a line of alcohol abuse and potential addiction.
  • Are you having trouble meeting your responsibilities? Alcoholics tend to have problems at school or work, and they may also neglect household and family responsibilities. If drinking is impacting your ability to function, you have crossed a line of abuse and potential addiction.
  • Do you feel like your relationships are starting to suffer? For example, are you having marital problems because of drinking?
  • Have you tried to quit drinking but been unsuccessful? This is perhaps one of the number one signs that most people recognize before going to rehab or seeking some other type of treatment.
With alcoholism, when is it too much? When have you become someone who has a substance use disorder?

Some of the signs that you’re not necessarily an alcoholic, but that you may be drinking too much or have an alcohol abuse problem can include:

  • Feeling ashamed of your drinking or guilty about it
  • Lying about your drinking or trying to hide it
  • Having people around you who are worried
  • Feeling a “need” to have a drink to feel a certain way, such as more relaxed
  • Blacking out while drinking
  • Frequently drinking more than you wanted to or anticipated

With alcohol abuse and alcoholism, it can be difficult to determine when it is too much because we live in a culture that embraces the use of alcohol so widely. It’s seen as something that’s fun, festive, and designed to make you feel good, so as you creep toward having an alcohol abuse problem, it can be tough to spot.

Ultimately, if drinking is causing problems in your life or leading to negative consequences, you likely are engaging in alcohol abuse or may have alcoholism.

After being diagnosed with alcoholism, “When is it too late to quit?” is a common question that ensues. Many people worry that it’s too late for them to stop, since they’ve been heavy drinkers for a long period of time, it’s too late for them to stop. With alcoholism, the “When is it too late?” question is answered with one word: never. No matter how long you’ve engaged in alcohol abuse, quitting will improve your health, your relationships, and, in most cases, your quality of life.

While heavy, prolonged alcoholism can have a lot of negative health consequences, you can significantly cut your risk of developing these when you commit to quitting, and some of the damage can be reversed as well.

For example, researchers at the University of Southampton found that the survival rate for patients with severe alcohol-related cirrhosis went up significantly even after one month of abstaining from alcohol.

When it comes to alcoholism, “when to seek help” is another common concern. The sooner you seek help, the better. If you suspect you have a problem or you’re worried you’re drinking too much, you likely are, and the sooner you can stop the progression of the disease, the more likely you are to be successful.

At the same time, even if you’re in the late stages of alcoholism which includes physical dependence, it’s never too late to stop and improve outcomes for yourself.

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 self-medicate
  • 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
  • Increased tolerance for alcohol

Regardless of which category you fall in, 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 or to what level it affects them. 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: Many children of parents with an alcoholism diagnosis suffer in a number of ways, ranging from depression to low self-esteem to anxiety to suicidal tendencies. Some may also blame themselves for their parents’ alcoholism or grow up to become diagnosed with the same disorder.

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.

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 divorce.

The effects of alcoholism on families and other loved ones can be very serious, but this disease can be treated. If you know someone who’s struggling with alcoholism, or if you yourself are struggling, help is available at The Recovery Village. Alcoholism may be a major part of your life now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. It can be part of your distant past.

Alcohol is so intertwined in American culture that the word “drinking” alone connotes alcohol consumption. Prohibition, the most wide-sweeping effort ever made to eradicate alcohol from the American landscape, became law after the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 29, 1919.

The law was originally passed in hopes of combatting alcohol addiction. However it made matters worse, spawning bootlegging, speakeasies, smuggling alcohol across state lines, and homebrewing (or moonshining). Prohibition also unintentionally led to an increase of power among crime syndicates. Notably, gangster Al Capone reportedly earned $60 million per year from illegal bootleg and speakeasy operations. Compounded with the Great Depression, Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition in 1933.

Of course, the history of alcohol consumption goes further back than 1920s America. Fermented beverages such as mead, wine, beer, grog and liquor have been developed across the entire world as far back as 10,000 BC. Many countries and cultures have their own unique spin on alcoholic beverages — sake in Japan and champagne in France, for example — that contribute to the larger landscape of alcohol production, cultural alcohol consumption and alcoholism.

The national legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old, which was established in 1984. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in part because of the drug’s high possibility for abuse and dependence. Although this limit does not entirely prevent alcoholism, it does ensure children and teenagers, who are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, do not have access to the drug until their brains are more fully developed.

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.

People who drink beyond the legal limit of .08 BAC will often remain that drunk, and their BAC will be detectable at that level, for up to eight hours after consumption.

Unsurprisingly, one way to test for alcohol consumption is using the blood. Scientists will evaluate a blood sample to measure for 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.

Alcohol is a depressant. When combined with other depressants, it can result in dangerously emotive levels, possibly leading to self harm. Conversely, 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 RelieversVicodin, Percocet and other opioid painkillers, combined with alcohol, can lead to difficult breathing and increased risk of overdose.
  • Over-the-counter Pain Relievers – Pain meds like ibuprofen and Aleve 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.

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 of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 1970. Every year, the NIAAA publishes new data on alcohol abuse statistics, alcohol death statistics and other informative facts.

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 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 overconsumption
  • 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 and scientific explanations 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 fall within these limits.

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 on five or more days in the past month.

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Alcoholism and Alcohol Addiction was last modified: July 28th, 2017 by The Recovery Village