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Alcoholism and Alcohol Addiction Guide

It is our hope that this alcoholism and alcohol addiction guide offers you some insight into this dreadful disease. So many people suffer from alcoholism in the United States. Many of them do so unknowingly.

It is our goal to shed some light upon alcoholism and inform you about the dangers of continuing to drink. If you're an alcoholic, it's important for you to be aware of that. You also need to know how important it is for you to get help as soon as possible.

Alcoholism is such a dangerous condition. It is something that can begin at any moment, once you start abusing alcohol. The more you know about alcoholism, the better. You may find that your alcohol use is problematic, and if this is the case, getting help is the solution.

First and foremost, it's important to understand what alcoholism is. You also need to learn the definition of an alcoholic, and what that might mean for you going forward.

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What is the Alcoholism Definition?

It is so important to know and understand the alcoholism definition. Only then will you be able to determine whether or not it applies to you.

Alcoholism is also called alcohol use disorder, or AUD. It refers to the consumption of alcohol that results in serious physical, mental or social problems. Alcoholism exists when two or more of the following are present:

  • You drink large amounts of alcoholic drinks over a long period of time
  • You have a hard time cutting down on how much you drink
  • Obtaining alcohol and drinking alcohol take up a lot of your time
  • You have a strong desire for alcohol
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages results in you not taking care of your responsibilities
  • Using alcohol causes you social issues
  • Using alcohol causes you physical problems
  • Using alcohol causes you to find yourself in risky situations
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop drinking
  • You develop a tolerance to alcohol the longer you use it

Most alcoholics actually find that they identify with more than two of the above. You may agree with that statement. Take a look at the above defining characteristics of alcoholism again. Can you see yourself in any of them?

The alcoholic definition refers to a man or a woman who meets two or more of the above criteria. When you are an alcoholic, you have a desire to consume alcohol that is beyond your control. In fact, your alcohol consumption may go against all rules of common sense.

An alcoholic has a physical compulsion to drink, along with a mental obsession with alcohol. Alcoholics will often give in to their cravings at the worst possible times. Typically, alcoholics don't know when to stop drinking, or how to accomplish alcohol cessation.

Alcoholic beverages or alcoholic drinks are defined as any drink that contains alcohol. There are different types of alcoholic drinks. Quite often, alcoholics end up consuming much more alcohol than they think they do. This is because they're not really sure what alcoholic beverages really are, or what constitutes a drink.

The following are all examples of alcoholic beverages:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 8 or 9 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits

These are also referred to as standard drinks. There is no one drink that is "better" than another alcoholic drink. What this means is that drinking one 12 ounce beer is the same as drinking 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. You may think you're doing better because you only drink beer. As you can see, this is not at all accurate.

Alcohol and Alcoholism Guide

Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking Explained

Alcoholics may frequently think that binge drinking and heavy drinking don't indicate alcoholism. This actually isn't true at all. More often than not, these two types of drinking are hallmark characteristics of alcoholism.

Binge drinking refers to the consumption of large amounts of alcohol in short periods of time. This style of drinking is quite popular, worldwide. Binge drinking is usually done in groups, which makes it a well-loved activity among college students.

Most people don't realize that one doesn't have to consume a large number of drinks to binge drink. For women, binge drinking involves drinking 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. For men, it involves drinking 5 or more drinks in two hours.

Heavy drinking is also known as at-risk drinking. For men, more than 4 drinks in one day, or more than 14 per week is considered heavy drinking. For women, more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 per week is heavy drinking.

Both binge drinking and heavy drinking contribute to alcoholism.

Alcoholism Facts and Statistics in the U.S.

Alcoholism has been prevalent in the United States for decades. Each year, the problem seems to only get worse.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • In 2015, more than 86% of people who were ages 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at least once.
  • More than 70% of these individuals admitted to drinking alcohol during the last year.
  • About 56% admitted to drinking alcohol during the last month.
  • Close to 27% of people admitted to binge drinking in the last month.
  • 7% admitted to heavy drinking during the last month.
  • In 2015, more than 15 million adults had an alcohol use disorder.
  • This includes 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women.
  • Only 1.3 million adults received professional treatment for an alcohol use disorder in 2015.
  • Drinking among young people is more prevalent than ever in the United States.
  • In 2015, about 623,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had an alcohol use disorder.
  • Only 37,000 adolescents received professional treatment for an alcohol use disorder in 2015.

Are you among these statistics? If you are an alcoholic, you very well could be.

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Understanding Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are commonly used in place of each other. They are actually different terms. If you regularly drink alcohol, you should know what the definition of alcohol abuse is.

Alcohol abuse refers to a pattern of drinking too much alcohol too often. However, for those who abuse alcohol, it has yet to interfere much with their daily lives. Alcohol abusers may participate in binge drinking or heavy drinking on occasion, or even quite often.

The difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is that with alcohol abuse, the compulsion to drink is absent. Someone who abuses alcohol may even enjoy drinking regularly. However, that person doesn't feel as though it is needed. In fact, an alcohol abuser may stop drinking abruptly without suffering from any ill effects.

It's possible that you are abusing alcohol if you meet any of the following signs of alcohol abuse:

  • You may exhibit erratic or even violent behavior when drinking
  • When you are drinking, you consume too much
  • You could experience nausea and vomiting as a result
  • You may have headaches
  • You may exhibit impaired judgment

Again, alcohol abuse means that you don't feel compelled to drink regularly. Even so, abusing alcohol is never a good idea.

Alcohol abuse can eventually lead to an alcohol addiction if the abuse continues. People often think that they can continue to drink as much as they want to, without consequence. This simply is not true at all.

As you drink alcohol, your brain is going through some pretty significant changes. Over time, it grows dependent upon the alcohol you're consuming.

The human brain normally creates dopamine and serotonin, among other chemicals. These are responsible for helping you feel happy, safe and secure. Alcohol increases the levels of these chemicals in the brain as well. As time goes on, and you continue to drink, your brain stops making them.

This is the point when alcoholism or alcohol addiction occurs. The more you abuse alcohol, the more at risk you are of becoming addicted. It can happen at any time, without warning.

Alcoholism Symptoms Explained and Defined

Sometimes people know when they are suffering from alcoholism. However, people often are not aware of it. You may be one of these individuals. It can be quite helpful to you to know the different signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

Some common alcoholism symptoms include:

  • Not being able to stop drinking
  • Being unable to control how much or how often you drink
  • Having the need to drink more alcohol to get the same effects
  • Going through alcohol withdrawal when you stop drinking
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking episodes
  • Giving up activities that you once loved so that you can drink
  • Continuing to drink even though it's harming your relationships
  • Continuing to drink even though it's causing you health problems
  • Drinking in the mornings
  • Staying drunk for long periods of time
  • Drinking when you're alone
  • Trying to change what you drink to keep yourself from getting drunk

If you notice any of the above, but you're not sure you're an alcoholic, you may be in denial. It's important to come to terms with alcoholism in your own life. Doing so is the only way you will be able to get help.

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Are You Suffering From Alcoholism? Take a Quiz to Get More Information

It could be that you do notice many of the above alcoholism symptoms. However, you still might not be convinced that you're an alcoholic. It's normal to need more information. You also want to be sure you have a problem before you seek help, or stop drinking.

You may find it very helpful to take an alcohol addiction quiz. This quiz will ask you some more detailed questions about your alcohol use. You'll even be able to get your results right away once you're finished.

Once you have your results, you'll have a much better idea about your relationship with alcohol.

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Three Stages

The Three Stages of Alcoholism

Alcoholism isn't something that happens to most people overnight. It's actually a condition that occurs in three stages. Even so, please keep in mind that once you are in the first stage of alcoholism, you need treatment.

Early stage alcoholics may only have one or two symptoms of alcoholism. During this stage, there is a lot of experimenting with alcohol that takes place. Most of the time, people in this stage are young people. They may be teenagers, college students or young adults.

Of course, early stage alcoholism can happen to someone who is older as well. This stage is highly characterized by binge drinking and heavy drinking behaviors. It can be possible for some people in the early stage of alcoholism to stop drinking without consequence. However, usually some form of treatment is necessary.

Someone who is in the chronic stage of alcoholism probably drinks alcohol every single day. Also, that person has likely done so for years.

It is during this stage that people begin to experience consequences for their drinking behaviors. They may have problems at work, or even lose their jobs. They also might have conflicts within their families because of their alcohol use.

The end stage of alcoholism is defined as having lost the ability to stop oneself from drinking. Someone in this stage is drinking to live, rather than living to drink.

At the end stage, heavy, chronic alcohol use has been in place for several years. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are ever-present, every time alcohol cessation is attempted. Alcohol withdrawal may become incredibly painful and scary during this stage. In fact, people usually keep drinking just to prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring.

Common Alcohol Health Issues

The Health Issues Alcoholics Commonly Face

Alcoholics frequently suffer from social consequences because of their alcohol use. However, many of them fail to realize the health complications that can accompany alcoholism.

There are many different health problems that alcoholics frequently face during the course of their lives. Some of these health issues can be reversed when alcohol is stopped. For others, they may have to deal with the ramifications of them for the rest of their lives.

One of the medical problems that alcoholics often face is alcoholic hepatitis. This is a condition that is the result of injury to the cells in the liver. These injuries cause inflammation, which then results in alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic hepatitis has been known to happen in heavy drinkers, as well as in moderate drinkers. It's also possible to be more prone to this condition because of other health issues. If you have hepatitis C you are more at risk for alcoholic hepatitis than others.

The symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the eyes and skin
  • Weight loss
  • Changes in your appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A dry mouth
  • A fever
  • Having a confused mental state

Sometimes alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed. However, once you are diagnosed, it is critical for you to stop drinking. Otherwise, the condition may progress into something much worse.

When you drink too much, and for too long, the nerve tissues in the body can become damaged. Alcohol is a toxin to nerve tissue. People who drink too much may begin to feel tingling and pain in their arms and legs. This is known as alcoholic neuropathy.

Alcoholic neuropathy happens because the body becomes depleted of certain vitamins and minerals. In order for the body to function correctly, Vitamins B6 and B12, thiamine, folate, niacin and Vitamin E are all necessary.

Symptoms of alcoholic neuropathy might include:

  • Numbness and tingling or burning in the arms and legs
  • Muscle spams or cramps in the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Problems with urination
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Problems with swallowing

Alcoholic neuropathy can be improved if you stop drinking. However, in some cases, nerve damage due to excess alcohol consumption can be permanent.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a common problem among alcoholics; particularly those who are in the end stage. Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue is developed in the liver. This tissue replaces normal, healthy tissue. It can take many years for cirrhosis to develop.

The scar tissue makes the liver hard and lumpy. After some time has passed, the liver will start to fail. At this point, a liver transplant is necessary to avoid the condition becoming fatal. An alcohol-related liver disease is the precursor for cirrhosis.

Symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver include:

  • Confusion due to toxin build up in the blood
  • Jaundice (yellowing) of the eyes and skin
  • Fluid builds up in the belly area
  • Bleeding in the esophagus
  • Bruising and bleeding easily
  • Frequent gallstones

Stopping the use of alcohol can slow down the progression of cirrhosis. Getting treated can also slow down this condition. However, it is generally a progressive illness that requires a liver transplant eventually.

Of course, alcoholism is associated with many more health conditions than just these three. There are so many different diseases and illnesses you might suffer from as an alcoholic. Some of the health risks of alcohol include:

  • Iron deficient anemia
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Risk of dementia
  • Risk of depression
  • Epilepsy and the onset of seizures
  • Increased risk of gout
  • High blood pressure
  • Risk of infectious diseases (HIV, tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.)
  • Pancreatitis

As you can see, the risks of continuing to drink are great. There is so much at stake with your health if you continue with active alcoholism.

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Co-Occurring Disorders and Alcohol Addiction Often Go Hand in Hand

As you have learned, people suffering from mental health conditions are more at risk for alcoholism. These mental health conditions are called co-occurring disorders when they happen alongside addictions.

There are many different types of co-occurring disorders that would make someone more susceptible to alcoholism. It is so important for you to find out if you suffer from one of them. In order to recover successfully, the co-occurring disorder must be treated at the same time as your alcohol addiction. Otherwise, both conditions are likely to persist.

Depression is a mental health condition that is marked by long periods of persistent sadness. It is a very common mood disorder that affects millions of people all over the United States.

Quite often, people will use alcohol as a way to self-medicate their depression symptoms. Alcohol may help people with depression feel better, at first. However, because alcohol is a depressant drug, their symptoms tend to come back.

With continued alcohol use, depression symptoms are only likely to get worse, instead of better. Alcohol is never useful in the treatment of depression.

There are many different anxiety disorders that people may suffer from. These conditions cause racing thoughts that only get worse as time goes on. Anxiety is a condition that must be treated for it to get better.

Like with depression, people with anxiety will self-medicate with alcohol. The effects of alcohol often counteract the symptoms of anxiety. This can make people believe that they feel better after they drink. Of course, because they feel better, alcohol seems like a viable treatment, even for long-term use.

The problems with drinking to help with anxiety are plentiful. Chronic alcohol use leads to alcohol addiction and all that goes along with it. Also, people are likely to experience the worsening of their anxiety symptoms as time goes on.

People who suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) are very likely to be alcoholics. In fact, women are much more likely than men to become alcoholics if they suffer from PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, three out of four people who have suffered trauma have drinking problems.

Alcohol has been known to make the symptoms of PTSD much worse. People with PTSD often turn to alcohol as a way to distract themselves from their problems. The stress and trauma they suffer from still remain, but are harder to cope with. Getting drunk can make the symptoms of PTSD much worse.

In one study, it was found that 40% of adults who'd been diagnosed with ADHD as children had used alcohol. This was compared with 22% of adults who were not diagnosed with ADHD as children. Because of this, there was deemed to be a correlation between ADHD and early onset alcohol abuse.

ADHD is a condition that makes it very hard to pay attention and focus. The very definition of this condition makes alcohol seem like a welcome substance. Alcohol tends to slow the mind and body down. This means that ADHD sufferers may find alcohol to be helpful to them. The truth is that alcohol only worsens ADHD symptoms over time.

Is Alcoholism a Disease?

Do Alcoholics Have a Disease?

This is a question that gets asked all the time. People frequently want to know if alcohol addiction is a disease. The answer is that yes, it is.

Any type of addiction is a primary disease of brain reward, motivation and memory. An alcohol addiction is a chronic and relapsing condition that never fully goes away. However, that does not mean that you must suffer from the active addiction for the rest of your life.

Continuing to get treatment for alcoholism in some form may allow you to remain in remission or recovery. Of course, the risk for relapse will still remain. However, that doesn't mean you have to give in and drink.

It's probably easier to liken alcohol addiction to another disease, such as diabetes. Someone with diabetes must continually receive treatment for their condition. This involves taking their blood sugar levels daily, visiting the doctor and using certain medications. When any of these ceases, the individual is at risk for a relapse. It is similar with alcoholism.

Ways to Recover from Alcoholism

It's possible that you have seen yourself in a lot of the information we've gone over so far. Maybe you feel that you might be suffering from some type of undiagnosed co-occurring disorder. Or, it's possible that you can now recognize many of the symptoms of alcoholism in your own life.

What you may not realize is that there are a number of ways that you can recover from alcoholism. Not every method will work well for every person. It's important for you to find the method that is right for you.

Professional Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

The best way to recover from alcoholism is to get professional treatment at an alcohol rehab. Alcohol treatment centers are available to help in a number of different ways. Also, there are different forms of alcohol treatment you may want to consider.

You might be someone who would benefit from any of the following:

  • Inpatient alcohol treatment
  • Outpatient alcohol treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment for alcoholism
  • Long-term rehab for alcoholics
  • Alcohol detox treatment

You should know that alcohol detox is considered by most to be a requirement when stopping the use of alcohol. This is because of the dangers associated with alcohol withdrawal. You want to be sure you're stopping your alcohol use appropriately.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group that is run on an outpatient basis. If you are fairly new to alcoholism, this might be a good option for you. Alcoholic Anonymous is often recommended as a complimentary treatment to outpatient alcohol counseling.

Alcoholic Anonymous, or AA, has meetings on a weekly basis in various locations around the world. There are even online meetings you can participate with, if you choose to. Some people will go to meetings in multiple locations to get in as many as they can during the week.

During AA meetings, participants get the opportunity to share, if they want to. They can also listen to others share their stories. It is a very supportive organization that has helped so many people refrain from alcohol use over the years.

An alcoholic should never stop drinking alcohol cold turkey. However, people often do try to stop drinking abruptly, without professional support. Doing so can be very dangerous.

Because of the fact that alcohol is so easily accessible, people tend to think of it as being safe. They assume that there is no reason to worry about stopping it. What they don't realize is that alcohol is actually one of the more dangerous drugs.

Stopping your alcohol use could result in a dangerous medical emergency. This is because of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms that you are likely to experience.

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Help and Assistance For Families of Alcoholics

It's very difficult to cope when you have an alcoholic in your immediate family. This is such a source of stress for so many families. You are probably very worried about your loved one, and yet, you don't know what you can do.

It's important for you to know that there are ways for you to help him or her. You may not know how to proceed, or what to say, but we can help you.

The alcoholism conversation might be the most difficult talk you have with your family member. However, it's important to bring things out into the open. Doing so is going to lift a heavy burden from your shoulders. It could also result in an agreement to go to treatment.

When you bring up the subject of alcohol, make sure your family member has not been using. You may want to have your discussion first thing in the morning.

Present the facts to your alcoholic family member. Make sure he or she knows about the dangers of continuing to use alcohol regularly. It's possible that your loved one doesn't even really see it as a problem yet.

Finally, talk from your heart, but be firm. Ask your loved one to get help for their alcoholism. You should be prepared for any answer they give you at this point. If they agree, help them set up a free phone assessment to get the process started. If they become angry with you, it might be time to consider the next step.

Intervention services are available to families with loved ones who refuse to go to treatment. This is a service you may want to consider if you have a family member in this situation.

When you schedule the intervention, you'll be working closely with an interventionist. He or she will lead and guide you through the entire process. You'll even meet before the actual intervention to learn what to say during the meeting. This can help take some pressure off you.

The intervention itself is a secret meeting that will take place in a neutral location. Your loved one won't know it's about to happen until they arrive on that day. You'll invite other family members and friends to join you. During the intervention, you'll each have a turn to speak to your alcoholic family member. At the end, he or she will be given the chance to get help.

We've already learned that alcoholism is a relapsing disease. This means that people who stop drinking are likely to relapse, which means they go back to drinking. Actually, the longer you abstain from drinking, the longer you are likely to avoid relapsing.

A study on addiction relapse was cited in Psychology Today. They state that about one out of three people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent. Less than half of those who achieve one year of sobriety will relapse. For those who achieve five years sober, their chances of relapsing are less than 15%.

Of course, there are ways to avoid an alcohol relapse.

The best ways to avoid relapsing back into active alcoholism include:

  • Continuing to go to alcohol treatment, as recommended
  • Find a sponsor and check in with him or her regularly
  • Choose to spend time with people who don't drink alcohol
  • Immerse yourself in activities and hobbies that you enjoy
  • Journal about your recovery journey as much as you can

It is so important to continually reward yourself for remaining sober. Sobriety is difficult to achieve, and it should be rewarded often. This might mean going out to a nice dinner with friends, or even planning a vacation to celebrate a milestone.

Also, please remember that slip-ups are quite normal. If you slip up and have a drink, that doesn't necessarily mean you have relapsed. So many people have one drink and think that they have undone all of their hard work. This simply isn't true.

If you slip up, get right back to your sobriety. This is a journey that you are on, and one drink does not mean you have to have more.

Is Alcohol Overdose Possible?

It is possible to overdose on alcohol, and this is usually referred to as alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can be deadly, and it requires immediate medical intervention.

Sometimes when people relapse back into drinking, they will drink too much at one time. They may be consuming the amount of alcohol that they once used to drink. What they don't realize is that their bodies can no longer handle that much at once. In situations like these, alcohol poisoning is often the result.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning might include:

  • Becoming very confused
  • Experiencing a drop in body temperature
  • Having pale skin, or skin that is tinted blue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Problems with breathing
  • Vomiting and the potential of aspiration

In some cases, it's possible for the individual to suffer from a heart attack after alcohol poisoning. The person may also become dehydrated or suffer from a drop in blood sugar levels.

Getting Help for Alcoholism Right Away

If you are an alcoholic, you could be suffering needlessly. Maybe you're in a situation where you don't know what to do. You might not have realized that there were different ways for you to get help. Regardless of what your situation is, it's important for you to know that alcohol treatment is available.

Alcoholism treatment will address your unique needs, no matter what they may be. If you are suffering from a co-occurring disorder and alcoholism, the right treatment can allow you to recover. You'll find that alcohol rehab is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You'll learn everything you need to learn to get sober and remain sober.

Do you have questions about alcoholism or alcohol addiction? If you do, we'd love to answer them for you. Please contact us today. 

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