Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease that affects more than 14 million Americans. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, defines AUD as “a chronic relapsing brain disease illustrated by compulsive alcohol use, a negative emotional state when not using, and loss of control over alcohol intake.”
Alcohol Abuse Vs. Dependence
Many individuals who begin drinking recreationally or to enhance sociality may find themselves consuming greater amounts of alcohol on a more regular basis. Regular consumption can quickly lead to a lessening of the desired effects and result in needing to drink simply to feel normal.
What was once a way to unwind can become a physical and psychological dependence. This crippling addiction can include developing a variety of mental and physical health side effects, trouble maintaining employment and relationships, and numerous legal issues.
To determine what amount of alcohol puts you at risk, experts have established definitions for moderate and heavy consumption. Drinking in moderate amounts means keeping consumption to levels low enough to retain health benefits, while drinking becomes heavy when these benefits are negated and instead become health risks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines limits for moderate drinking based on gender and age, considering a single drink to be a five-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce mug of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Moderate drinking for men is defined as two or fewer drinks per day, and for women and individuals over 65 years as one or fewer drinks per day. Heavy drinking for men is defined as five or more drinks in one sitting or 15 or more drinks per week. Heavy drinking for women and individuals over 65 is defined as four or more drinks in one sitting or eight or more drinks per week.
Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse
Individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder (or “AUD”) struggle with intense, compulsive cravings that disrupt everyday life, reducing their ability to focus and perform at work, school, or home. They are unable to stop themselves from drinking and have difficulty controlling or decreasing their intake, even after persistent or numerous efforts to quit. The more they drink, the higher their tolerance becomes, so they need increasingly higher amounts to reach the desired effect.
Attempts to refrain from drinking produce intense withdrawal symptoms that vary from mild to severe. These include anxiety, irritability, headache, nausea, sweating, tremors, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and trouble concentrating or sleeping. A combination of dependence and wanting to avoid withdrawal symptoms results in consuming alcohol in irresponsible places, such as at work, or at inappropriate times of the day, such as the early morning.
Alcohol takes precedence over every aspect of life, meaning these individuals focus most of their time, energy, and financial resources on supporting their addiction. Drinking and recovering from the effects of drinking comprise the bulk of their schedule. They fail to show up for work or arrive too intoxicated to function, overlook their home, neglect childcare duties, forget important events, neglect to pay bills, and give up social or recreational activities. They sustain alcohol consumption even after damaging interpersonal relationships, incurring fines for public drunkenness, or facing jail time due to driving while drunk.
Overcoming Alcohol Addiction
While there is no cure for alcoholism, it is possible to overcome alcohol addiction and maintain sobriety with the proper support and treatment. Unfortunately, one of the most formidable barriers to alcohol recovery is the reluctance of individuals to admit that their drinking is a problem. They may hide or downplay how much alcohol they drink or the frequency at which they imbibe, minimize the risks associated with this behavior, or make excuses to rationalize their actions.
The first step in overcoming addiction is, therefore, recognizing that this behavior is problematic and reaching out for help. The easiest way to do this is to visit one’s primary care physician, who will conduct an assessment of drinking habits and a review of individual and family medical histories. Then, this physician will determine the best course of treatment to recover from alcohol abuse.
The Process of Alcoholism Recovery
Alcoholism may not be curable, but it is treatable. When alcohol abuse interferes with your ability to function and enjoy daily life, it is necessary to begin the process of recovery. Recovery is a challenging, multi-faceted course that must take into consideration each individual’s background and specific needs. Treatment will depend on the length and severity of alcohol abuse and sometimes requires medical supervision to ensure the health and safety of the patient.
Whether you want to decrease your drinking or quit altogether, you can make these changes by getting support, establishing goals, and managing triggers and cravings. Support is a valuable resource and can be provided by family, friends, counselors, health care providers, religious officials, or others in the process of alcohol abuse recovery. Your social life likely revolved around drinking, so it may be necessary to cut ties with previous friends to avoid hindering your recovery. You can make new, sober friends who will encourage you or join a support group where you can benefit from the lessons and experiences of others who have been in your shoes.
Establish clear, specific, realistic goals based on whether you want to cut back or quit entirely. If reduction is your goal, choose which days you will allow yourself to drink and set a limit on how many drinks you will consume. Keep a record of your drinking and schedule at least two days per week where you don’t drink at all—you’ll feel the benefits, and this will provide further reassurance.
If total sobriety is your goal, set a specific quit date, be it tomorrow, next week, or within six months. Whatever your timeline, share your goals with your support system and focus on ways you can accomplish them. Remove alcohol from your home and avoid the things that trigger your craving for alcohol, such as specific places, people, or activities.
After seeking professional help in the development of a treatment program, the first stage of recovery is through detoxification, where a forced period of withdrawal works to remove alcohol from the body. Individuals with severe dependency who are at risk of intense withdrawal will likely be monitored by medical professionals and assisted with medication to help alleviate these effects. Detox can occur at home or as part of inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.
Therapy is an essential component of the recovery process. A trained, licensed therapist can help alcoholics identify the triggers that result in alcohol abuse, as well as teach techniques for how to manage them. There is a strong correlation between alcohol addiction and other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Alcohol can mask undiagnosed mental illness. Some individuals attempt to self-medicate, but alcohol often exacerbates these issues. Successful psychotherapy should involve treatment for psychological problems in addition to addiction.
The Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
- Better mental health, including increased confidence and self-respect
- Improved memory and concentration
- Enhanced absorption of nutrients
- Strengthened immune system
- Reduced risk of the following types of cancer: oral, throat, breast, liver, colon, rectal, esophageal, and laryngeal
- Reduced risks of various cardiovascular diseases, such as atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, hemorrhagic stroke, ischemic stroke, and heart failure
The process of alcoholism recovery does not happen overnight. Each person is unique, and no single method works for everyone, so it’s necessary to make sure your recovery program is customized to your situation. There will likely be obstacles in the way, and sometimes it takes more than one attempt to be successful. The critical thing to remember when you try to recover from alcohol abuse is to stay focused and committed! Illuminate Recovery is here if you need alcohol rehab Arizona information.
Having been on both sides of active addition, both the person using, and the person affected by a loved one using drugs and alcohol, Lucas has been involved in recovery since 2009. He has been working in the treatment industry since 2013. Using his personal experience and wealth of knowledge learned from professional development and immersion in the recovery field, he has spoken with thousands of families and helped hundreds of people attain long-term sobriety. In 2020, the opportunity presented to join in and start Illuminate Recovery. Understanding the importance of personalized treatment plans and the complex nature between substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, has helped Illuminate Recovery build a strong curriculum and a phenomenal staff. Illuminate Recovery now has a medical doctor who is board certified in addiction medicine and a psychiatric medical doctor who works side by side with independently licensed therapists to provide compassionate and effective treatment.