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Is Alcohol a Drug? Abuse, Addiction and Treatment

Is Alcohol a Drug? Abuse, Addiction and Treatment

Alcoholism is a real problem, and many people do not take it seriously because of how readily available alcohol is. They may understand and even appreciate the need to drink responsibly. But they fail to recognize the fact that drinking frequently and excessively can lead to an addiction.

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The reality is that this is a drug, and frequent and excessive use is actually alcohol abuse. Each year, some of the best substance abuse treatment programs in the country work with people who do not realize the dangers of this type of addiction. Many of these individuals are people who fell into the trap of believing that drinking was relatively harmless. Others may have only turned to it as a way to cope with stress. Either way, the need for them to recover was very real, just as it might be for you.

The question is, do you realize the dangers of alcoholism? Let’s talk in more detail about this widely popular drug and how to recognize if you have become addicted to it.

Why is Alcohol Considered a Drug?

So many people refuse to think of alcohol as being a drug, but that is exactly what it is. It is classified as a depressant, and that means that it slows down the body’s vital functions. This is why people experience side effects like slurred speech and slower reaction and response times after they have been drinking.

Of course that only refers to the physical effects of alcohol. There are also ways that it depresses the mind as well. It is a drug that has the ability to reduce a person’s ability to think in a rational manner. It distorts judgment, leads to poor decisions, and can even result in depression.

The reality is that alcohol is a drug, plain and simple. Not only that, but when it is misused, it can be very dangerous. Too much can lead to an overdose, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Here, Joe Rogan talks about how people have misclassified alcohol in their minds. He states that we need to think of it as a drug, just like heroin or mushrooms.

What is Alcoholism?

According to Healthline, alcoholism is defined as a dependence upon alcohol. Professionals often refer to it as alcohol use disorder. It is a condition that occurs when people drink so much that they feel an urgent need to drink. Eventually, the body becomes dependent upon it to function or just feel normal.

Alcohol Addiction Information

Once alcoholism sets in, you become an alcoholic. That means that alcohol becomes the most important part of your entire life.

Alcoholics will continue to drink despite the negative consequences they suffer through as a result. It is not uncommon for them to experience lost jobs, broken marriages and other damaged relationships. They often have serious health problems that stem from their alcohol use, and they may even have legal problems. For them, nothing is as important as drinking. They will do anything to get their hands on this drug, and once they start, they are unable to stop.

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What is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is very different from alcoholism, although there is a connection. These two terms are often used interchangeably, even though they do not mean the same thing.

Alcohol abuse refers to the overuse or inappropriate use of this drug. When someone is abusing it, they are not dependent upon it. They may drink every day, or they might only drink once or twice a month. Excessive consumption is typical, but a person who is abusing alcohol does not feel compelled to drink. That is the fundamental difference between the two conditions.

Alcohol abuse always precedes alcoholism. There is no set amount of time that someone must be abusing this drug before the addiction sets in. Some can drink irresponsibly for years without becoming alcoholics. They can walk away from it without a problem, and they may never feel the need to drink again. But, there is no way to tell when someone might become addicted. Continued exposure only increases a person’s chance of alcoholism. It can happen at any time and without warning.

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a very serious problem in the United States, and it has been for many years. People often participate in this activity without any regard to the consequences of it.

Binge drinking refers to the act of drinking a lot of alcoholic beverages in a short period of time. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse has set strict guidelines for it. They define it as any amount of alcohol that results in a blood alcohol content level (BAC) of .08 within two hours’ time. For men, this usually means having five drinks, and for women, it usually means having four drinks.

Even though these guidelines are in place, people who binge drink often surpass them. It is a pattern of alcohol consumption that is most common among those who are age 26 and older. But young people still participate in it as well, and it is very popular among high school students and on college campuses.

Binge drinking is a common precursor to developing an alcohol use disorder. Anyone who binge drinks has a higher risk of alcoholism than someone who does not.

People binge drink for a lot of different reasons. Some people prefer it because they want to:

  • Have fun with their friends.
  • Forget about their problems.
  • Relieve their stress.
  • Try to see how much alcohol they can consume and tolerate without getting sick.
  • Act out in rebellion (very common among high school students).

Regardless of the reasons why people binge drink, it is irresponsible and dangerous. Some people believe that it does not become problematic unless they do it all the time. The fact is that this form of alcohol consumption is risky even if it is someone’s first time doing it. Binge drinking on weekends only also carries risks.

Any form of alcohol consumption can be dangerous when it is done irresponsibly. There are several side effects to binge drinking, and the short terms ones include:

  • Experiencing problems with coordination.
  • Having short-term memory loss from blackouts.
  • Feeling shaky.
  • Becoming nauseated and possibly vomiting.
  • Becoming dangerously dehydrated.
  • Making poor decisions.

There are those who will continue to binge drinking off and on for years. They may believe that because they do not do it every day, there is nothing wrong with it. This could not be further from the truth.

Binge drinking also carries several long term effects, and they can include:

  • Suffering from brain damage.
  • Being diagnosed with liver disease or other health-related issues.
  • Suffering from a stroke.
  • Developing serious heart problems.
  • Developing high blood pressure.
  • Becoming infertile.
  • Developing alcoholism.

The bottom line is that binge drinking carries serious consequences that many people are not aware of. Whether it is the first time or the one-hundredth time, the dangers and the risks are very real.

Alcoholism Facts and Statistics in the United States

Most people understand that consuming too much alcohol can be hazardous to them in a number of different ways. But looking at some alcoholism facts and statistics in the United States can be very eye opening.

For instance, did you know that:

  • More than 86% of adults in the U.S. say that they have consumed alcohol at least once.
  • More than 70% of adults admit to consuming alcohol in the last year.
  • 56% of adults have admitted to binge drinking within the last month.
  • Almost 27% of adults have participated in binge drinking.
  • 7% of adults say that they have participated in heavy drinking over the last month.
  • In 2015, more than 15 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
  • That number included almost 10 million men and more than 5 million women.
  • Only 1.3 million adults received treatment for an alcohol use disorder during that year.
  • Also during that year, 623,000 young people who were between the ages of 12 and 17 suffered with an alcohol use disorder.
  • Sadly, only 37,000 of them received alcohol addiction treatment.
  • Close to 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes each year.
  • Because of this statistic, alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
  • Close to 10,000 of those deaths are because of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.
  • That number makes up 31% of all driving fatalities.
  • More than 10% of children in our country currently live with someone who has a problem with alcohol.

Alcoholism is a serious problem that has not been adequately addressed. This is a drug that is looked upon as being socially acceptable and relatively safe. In most cases, people rarely think twice before they drink. For these reasons, it is not surprising that alcohol addiction is growing at such an alarming rate.

Are You an Alcoholic? Learn the Signs

The question many people have is, how do I know if I’m an alcoholic? This is a great question, and it is important to get the right answer.

Most alcoholics live their lives in denial. They think of alcoholism as something that happens to other people; it could never happen to them. Unfortunately, it is this way of thinking that keeps them chained to their addiction for years.

There are several different signs you can look for in your life to determine if you might have a problem with alcohol. Some of the most common signs of alcoholism include:

  • Feeling the need to drink upon waking up in the morning.
  • Drinking alcohol as often as you can.
  • Experiencing problems at work because of your alcohol use.
  • Struggling with relationship problems because of your alcohol use.
  • Having cravings for alcohol.
  • Going through withdrawal when you are not able to drink.
  • Frequent binge drinking sessions.
  • Feeling as though you cannot have a good time unless you are drunk or drinking.
  • Keeping your consumption a secret from the people you love.
  • Lying about how much you drink.
  • Feeling the need to drink in order to feel normal.
  • Using this drug as a way to de-stress, or help yourself feel better.
  • Drinking larger amounts, or for a longer period of time than you intended to.
  • Attempting to quit or to cut back without success.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about drinking.
  • Continuing to drink even though it is having negative consequences in your life.
  • Taking risks that you would not normally take if you were sober.
  • Continuing to drink even when it leads to depression, anxiety or other health issues.
  • Drinking even though it often leads to blackouts.

Experiencing even one of the signs on this list is an indication that you might have a problem. If you still are not sure, feel free to show this list to a close family member or a friend. Ask them to be honest with you about your drinking behaviors. They should be able to tell you if they think you have an issue with alcohol.

It can be difficult to tell if you are an alcoholic just by looking at a list of symptoms and signs. It might be helpful for you to take an alcoholism quiz like this one. It can give you a lot of insight into your own behaviors. It can also educate you on your relationship with this powerful drug, and help you know what steps you need to take if you are addicted.

You may also want to consider talking with a professional about your use of alcohol. They will be able to tell you with certainty whether or not you have a problem that needs to be treated. Many alcohol rehabilitation facilities offer free addiction assessments, and these can often be done right over the phone. This is an excellent way for you to talk with an expert about your situation. You can explain everything in detail and get answers that are tailored to you, specifically.

The Side Effects of Abusing Alcohol

There are many side effects of abusing alcohol, both in the short and in the long-term. Of course, these effects depend on a few different factors, such as how much they drink, how often, and other health factors. It is important to understand both the short and long-term effects.

Most people believe that if they only drink excessively for a short time – or even just once – any effects they experience will be minimal. This is not always the case. Some of the more common short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Feeling drowsy
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Painful headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • An upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Problems with breathing
  • Problems with coordination
  • A decrease in perception
  • Becoming unconscious or even falling into a coma
  • Anemia, which can lead to iron deficiency
  • Blackouts or memory lapses

People who drink for long periods of time are at a substantially increased risk for any of the following long-term effects:

  • Getting injured because of a car crash, drowning or burns.
  • Being injured by a firearm, in a domestic violence situation, or because of sexual assault.
  • Loss of productivity at work.
  • Increased risk of injury at work.
  • Broken relationships.
  • More problems within their families.
  • Heart related conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke.
  • Liver disease or other similar conditions.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Brain damage.
  • Problems with sexual performance.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency.
  • Gastritis or ulcers.
  • Becoming malnourished.
  • Mouth or throat cancer.

How to Stop Drinking and Your Options

Stopping the use of alcohol can be done, but it is not without its challenges. There are a lot of different ways to stop drinking, although some of them are more beneficial than others.

Quitting cold turkey is the method that a lot of people choose when they want to stop drinking. They think of it like pulling a bandaid off quickly as a way to reduce the pain. In theory, it sounds like a viable option. Unfortunately, cold turkey quitting is not the best way to recover from alcoholism.

When you stop drinking cold turkey, it causes your body to go into a state of shock. Suddenly, you are taking something away that it has gotten used to for a long time. In fact, it can even be fatal because of the severity of withdrawal.

If you have been thinking about quitting cold turkey, please reconsider. You may not think that you have a severe case of alcoholism that might result in deadly consequences, but you could be wrong. It is best to err on the side of caution and quit in a way that is safer for you.

Sometimes people falsely believe that they can keep withdrawal symptoms at bay by doing an alcohol taper. They will do this in a few different ways. Some people will switch from drinking hard liquor to only drinking beer. Others will reduce the frequency of their drinks, or the amount of alcohol they mix into their drinks.

The HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol website offers a lot of tips on how to taper off. They recommend drinking beer as opposed to wine or hard liquor to avoid getting drunk during the process. They also advise people to only drink enough to keep their withdrawal symptoms at bay. Over time, the amount of alcohol consumed is reduced.

In theory, this sounds like it might work. But the truth is that even this method can be very dangerous. People could potentially reduce how much they drink too quickly, which could throw them into withdrawal fast. If this happens, they could develop a potentially fatal condition called DTs, which we will discuss in more detail in just a moment.

A quick Google search will uncover many different options for natural and holistic methods of treating alcohol withdrawal at home. It is possible to find everything from herbs to help people stop drinking to alcohol detox kits. It might make sense to do things like increase your water intake and take extra vitamins. But in reality, without any professional oversight, this method is not safe at all.

A holistic approach to alcohol detox can be effective, but only when it is done in a medical setting. Most of the time, people need additional forms of treatment in order to get through their withdrawals safely. There are simply too many risks to attempt this on your own at home.

The best way to stop drinking is to get help from professionals who know about alcohol withdrawal. These are individuals who have seen many others go through what you are about to go through. They know what might happen, and they are fully prepared to offer the appropriate type of treatment.

Withdrawal can be so difficult to go through; and even more so when you are not getting any support. There are ways to treat the physical symptoms that can reduce their severity. It is even possible for other, more severe symptoms to be averted with the right combination of professional treatments.

Withdrawal is treated during alcohol detox. We will talk more about what that means, and the methods that are used in just a moment.

What to Expect When You Stop Drinking

A lot of people are afraid to stop drinking because they do not know what to expect. They may worry that going through withdrawal will be too difficult for them. The vast majority of people are very concerned that they will not know how to live their lives without alcohol. Both of these are very valid fears.

Again, stopping the use of alcohol can be quite challenging, but it is not impossible. It is critical to know what to expect.

Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s way of responding when the drug has been stopped. It can also occur when reducing the amount that a person has been drinking regularly. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and even dangerous, and it is important to know what they are.

Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Symptoms of depression
  • Feeling anxious or nervous
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having nightmares
  • Having trouble thinking clearly

Usually, people end up suffering from one or more severe symptoms of withdrawal, such as:

  • Enlarged pupils
  • Painful headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hand or body tremors
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Clammy skin
  • Trouble sleeping at night

Of course, intense cravings for alcohol will occur, and they can make it unbearable for someone who attempts to go cold turkey, or who tries other quit methods. More often than not, people are very likely to go back to drinking just to get some relief from their symptoms.

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a condition that is otherwise known as severe alcohol withdrawal. When people experience this condition, they have sudden mental and nervous system changes that can become fatal.

You could be at risk for DTs if you have been drinking heavily for a long period of time. Your risks are even higher if you have a history of a head injury, illness and/or infection and you drink heavily. Most of the time, it occurs for those who have gone through alcohol withdrawal in the past.

The condition generally starts within the first 48 hours after the last drink. But this is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes people think they are in the clear once they pass the 48-hour mark, but that is not entirely true. They may be rare, but there have been cases of DTs in those who had been alcohol free for as long as 10-14 days.

The symptoms of DTs tend to come on quickly, and they can get worse right away. They include:

  • Feeling very sensitive to stimuli (touch, sound and light).
  • Having quick bursts of energy.
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Feeling restless and excited.
  • Sudden, severe mental confusion.
  • Bodily tremors.
  • Abrupt changes in mental function.
  • Sleeping for a day or longer.
  • Feeling agitated or irritable.
  • Sleepiness, fatigue and stupor.
  • Having hallucinations.

People often experience seizures during DTs, and they require immediate medical attention. Failing to get professional help can result in fatal consequences.

Alcoholism in Hollywood

It should come as no surprise that alcoholism is an issue that has run rampant in Hollywood. Despite the risks involved with heavy drinking, alcohol abuse seems to be more the norm than the exception among celebrities.

There are so many celebrities who have fought the battle of alcoholism and won. Of course, there are also stories of others who were not so fortunate.

Bradley Cooper is very well known for his role in a number of comedic films. The ups and downs of his life caused him to turn to alcohol for solace, but he has been sober for more than a decade. Today, he is thankful that he decided to stop drinking. Otherwise, his relationships would have been ruined, and his ability to care for his father during his illness would have been non-existent.

Daniel Radcliffe is the star of the Harry Potter movie series. Like many other child actors, he turned to alcohol as a way to cope at an early age. At the age of twenty, he described himself as a recluse, and said that drinking was damaging his body and his social life. He finds it difficult to stay sober at events where alcohol is available and plentiful. But he realized that he had to overcome his addiction.

Billy Joel is one of the most beloved pop/rock musicians of all time. During his adult life, he has readily admitted to battling alcohol abuse. He believes that drinking had a direct negative impact on his career and on his personal relationships. His friend and fellow musician, Elton John, begged him to get help because he could see the damage that was being done. In one interview, Joel stated that he did not know why he drank so much, but he believed it was because of circumstances in his life. His method of use was primarily binge drinking on an irregular basis.

Unfortunately, Amy Winehouse’s story is not a successful one. The singer died from an overdose of alcohol on July 23, 2011. Her autopsy reported that her BAC levels were more than five times the legal driving limit when she passed away. Those potentially fatal levels led to her demise. The amount of alcohol in her body led to problems with her breathing, which is what experts say led to her death.

Nelsan Ellis was best-known for the role he played on HBO’s True Blood. He was an alcoholic, but it was something that brought him a great deal of shame. He refused to talk about it with his friends and family, and as a result, decided to try to stop drinking on his own. Ellis is an excellent example of what can happen during alcohol withdrawal. In his case, he died from heart failure, which was what happened after he stopped drinking. The actor also suffered from a blood infection, a swollen liver, and other conditions.

A Quality Alcohol Rehab Program Can Help You Recover

Most people need to go through an excellent alcohol treatment plan in order to recover from alcoholism. This is because there is so much work that needs to be done to undo the damage.

Alcoholism is a disease, which is something that people often do not want to hear. But like other diseases, it needs to be treated the right way. The best method is by addressing both the physical and the psychological aspects of the problem.

A high quality rehabilitation program can accomplish this by combining various methods of treatment. In general, this means going through periods of both alcohol detox and rehab.

What is Alcohol Detox and Why is it so Important?

Alcohol detox is a type of treatment that specifically addresses withdrawal symptoms and the physical side of the addiction. During the time that you spent drinking, your body became accustomed to it. In the process, it accumulated toxins that need to be flushed out. Detox helps this process along, but it also does a few other things.

Detoxing in the appropriate way can reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal. It can also help people avoid potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as DTs.

People who go through alcohol detox report having much better long-term outcomes. They are much more likely to stay sober, and have fewer instances of relapsing.

Many alcohol detox programs utilize medicated detox as a part of their patients’ treatment plans. This means that the patients are given medications to help them with their symptoms.

Benzodiazepines like Valium, Ativan and Librium can be very effective at treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms. They can reduce the risk of DTs and seizures as people recover. Some people may take anticonvulsant drugs, as well as beta-blockers to slow down the heart rate and reduce the severity of tremors.

A newer medication that has been used to treat alcohol withdrawal is called Vivitrol. This is a drug that is given once every month by injection. There is no risk of secondary addiction with this drug, and it is quite effective.

Medicated detox has helped so many people through their withdrawal symptoms. However, research has shown that on its own, it might not be enough.

Holistic detox is different from medical or medicated detox because it does not include the use of medications to help with symptoms. Instead, this form of withdrawal treatment involves the use of natural methods such as dietary changes and regular exercise.

The human body is complex, and it is equipped with all of the right pieces for detoxification. The liver and the kidneys were designed for that purpose, but when they are not healthy, they do not work as well. Holistic detox helps to improve their overall health so that they can work efficiently.

Other Types of Treatment to Consider

Even though detoxing is important, it is not the only step that you should take as you seek to recover from alcoholism. Alcohol rehab is also a vital part of the overall healing process because it addresses the mental part of the addiction.

Many people do not know what it was that led them to start drinking. Others may have an idea, but quite often, those ideas are incorrect. Rehab works because it identifies the issues behind the addiction and helps to heal them. There are many ways to seek treatment during this part of recovery.

Going to an inpatient treatment program is the most popular way to get help for alcoholism. This involves staying in a facility for around 28 days. During that time, patients go through the detoxification process, and then they move on to rehabilitation.

Inpatient rehab has a lot of benefits. It allows people to meet with a therapist during individual counseling sessions. The therapist can identify any co-occurring disorders that might be present, and provide the proper treatment for them. Also, patients participate in group therapy and other forms of therapy.

Most importantly, an inpatient rehab removes the individual from the circumstances that might have been contributing to their drinking problem. They are able to focus solely on getting sober, and there are no outside distractions. This, along with the constant support they receive, are the reasons people choose this form of treatment.

Outpatient rehab can be effective, but in general, it is reserved for those who have already been through an inpatient program. This type of program involves meeting with a therapist on a regular basis. While this can be effective, the amount of professional support a person gets is minimal at best. This is usually not enough for someone who is new to treatment.

Many people are intrigued by the thought of attending an intensive outpatient treatment program, or IOP. This is a form of outpatient rehab that offers a higher level of care than a traditional OP would offer.

People who attend IOPs are required to adhere to certain standards. They may attend treatment anywhere between three and five evenings per week for three hours at a time, or more. They may have to have regular drug screenings and remain in compliance to stay in the program too.

IOPs have been shown to be an excellent form of alcohol addiction treatment. Many people have benefited from them because of their flexibility and because they work quite well.

Sometimes people have histories of relapse, and when they do, they need a higher level of care. An inpatient program might not be enough for them, and many of these individuals have been through several of them already.

When this is the case, a long-term, or residential treatment program is the right placement. It involves staying in a facility for a period of time, getting help for the addiction. Some facilities may allow people to stay for months at a time, and there are those that offer their own in-house treatment. Others may require residents to attend IOPs in the local area.

Alcoholics Anonymous is not a form of rehab, but it is a way to get support from a group of your peers. It has been shown to be effective, but not as much for people who are new to treatment. They hold regular, weekly meetings that are run by others in recovery. The meetings are free of charge, and there are no fees required for membership.

How Effective is Alcohol Rehab?

Alcohol rehab has been shown to be extremely effective when it is done appropriately. Patients should have their own, unique treatment plans that have been designed to meet their needs, specifically. They should be careful to choose programs that are accredited through The Joint Commission, as well. This ensures that the facility is high quality.

As with anything else, when you are committed, alcohol rehab can work very well for you. It helps because it allows you to get to the root cause of your addiction and begin the healing process. You will learn how to avoid a relapse and maintain your sobriety as well.

The Importance of Continuing Care After Rehab

It is vital to continue to get help for your alcoholism after you have finished detox and rehab. Unfortunately, it is not possible to heal from this addiction within a month’s time. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It took a long time to become addicted to alcohol, and it will take some time for that addiction to no longer be active in your life.

But, please know that this does not mean that you will need to remain in rehab for the rest of your life. Many people start by attending an inpatient program and then they transition into an IOP afterwards. Others may not need an IOP, and they will move to an outpatient rehab coupled with Alcoholics Anonymous.

You will find that recovering from alcoholism will be a challenge, but it will be so worth it. With the right support, you will be able to accomplish your goal of sobriety.

Get Help for Alcoholism Today

Recovering from alcoholism is one of the most rewarding accomplishments you will ever experience. At Northpoint Recovery, we want you to know that we are here to help you through it every step of the way.

We offer an excellent inpatient treatment program that also includes detoxification services. Our goal is to provide a holistic program that treats every aspect of your addiction.

Would you like more information on recovering from alcoholism? If so, please contact us today.

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