It’s been a long day at work, but it’s almost quitting time. When 5pm rolls around, like many, you’re ready to head out the door and relax from working all day. Many go straight home to relax, popping open a beer or a bottle of wine. And many go out to the local bar for a couple of happy hour drinks. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than half of Americans consume alcohol – it’s a way to relax, socialize, and enjoy oneself. However, some cross a threshold where alcohol is no longer used in moderation, rather it is abused. Alcoholism sets in and the disease gets out of hand – causing headache and heartache for your health, your family, and your friends.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has estimated that approximately 17 million American adults suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse/dependency. That’s 7% of the population – no small bat of the eye. The amount of men who suffer from alcohol abuse is nearly double that of women – 11.2 million men and 5.2 million women. Further, NIAAA estimates approximately 855,000 adolescents (12 – 17 year olds) also have an alcohol use disorder. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report over 90,000 deaths per year are the result of alcohol, earning alcohol use number three on the list of preventable causes of death.
What Happens When You Drink?
After you take your first sip of alcohol, it takes about 10 minutes to start feeling the first effects of it – this is due to the increase in your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The higher the BAC, the stronger the effects of the alcohol on your system, and the more impaired you become.
What are the effects of alcohol in your system?
- Slurred speech
- Decreased inhibitions
- Gross motor impairments
- Concentration problems
- Temporary memory loss
- Breathing problems
Additionally, alcohol can impair your operation of a motor vehicle, increase violence and anger, lower your inhibitions to engage in risky behavior, and increase your contemplation of suicide and homicide.
Your BAC can be a good indicator of how you are impaired under the effects of alcohol in your system.
- 03% to 0.10%: euphoria, enhanced mood, and anxiety reduction
- 10% to 0.20%: sedation, decreased reaction times, balance and vision impairments
- 20% to 0.30%: nausea, vomiting, ataxia, confusion
- 25% to 0.40%: in and out of consciousness, severe motor impairments, bradycardia, bladder control issues
- 25% to 0.80%: severe breathing problems, coma, and death
One reason that alcohol abuse is so prevalent in the United States is because as long as you are of the legal age, it’s legal to buy and consume alcohol. Over half of the United States engages in alcohol consumption and most are able to enjoy a few drinks and stop drinking. However, a significant portion of those who drink alcohol cannot put the alcohol down. They have to keep drinking to the point of danger to their own health and to the well-being of others. These individuals are suffering from an alcohol use disorder.
Symptoms and Causes of Alcohol Abuse
If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, how can you tell? Some of the most common signs of alcohol addiction are:
- Alcohol tolerance (i.e., needing to drink more alcohol to feel the intended effects of it)
- Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you haven’t consumed alcohol in awhile
- Not being able to control the amount of drinks you consume
- Not being able to stop drinking alcohol (even though you want to)
- Always thinking about drinking – to the point that it disrupts your home life and work life
- Engaging in binge drinking
- Drinking alcohol throughout the day
- Drinking alcohol with the intent to get drunk
- Drinking alcohol every day
- Drinking alcohol and driving
Why do some people abuse alcohol and others can stop drinking with no problem? Some people start drinking because of social or peer pressure. Some start drinking because of mental health issues. Some of the most common mental health reasons for alcoholism include anxiety and depression. Some people model the behaviors of what they witnessed growing up (e.g., having alcoholic parents). Additionally, according to the NIAAA, there seems to be a genetic link among some people experiencing alcoholism. These individuals get a bigger “buzz” from drinking alcohol and don’t necessarily feel the ill effects of it (e.g., nausea, feeling sick). Essentially, they are “primed” for alcoholism.
At what point is “enough enough?” When should you seek help? Where can you get help? And what are some warning signs that you need help? Some people know they need help, they just can’t motivate themselves to seek treatment. They might think treatment is not a reality for them – that they’ll never get better. Some people seek treatment or rehab facilities that specifically focus on alcoholism – either they were motivated to do so through a scary life episode (e.g., arrest or accident due to drinking) or they were motivated to do so through a friends or family interventions. In the next section we’ll discuss different alcohol treatment options, treatment and recovery programs, and alcohol rehab facilities.
Alcohol Rehab Facilities/Programs
If you suffer from alcoholism, sometimes it takes something major to seek treatment. Causing an accident while driving drunk, getting arrested, losing a job, losing custody of your children, being hospitalized, and getting into domestic disputes are all major concerns that might lead family members to seek treatment for you, to stage an intervention so that you can seek treatment, or they might just get you to recognize the severity of your alcohol abuse to seek treatment on your own.
When seeking treatment for alcoholism, most individuals enter into a drug and alcohol addiction center or rehab facility. Alcohol treatment rehab programs include both inpatient treatment facilities and outpatient treatment facilities.
Inpatient treatment facilities offer round the clock rehab. Patients stay on location at the rehab facility, surrounded by psychiatrists, alcohol counselors, social workers, psychologists, and other rehab patients. In these inpatient treatment facilities, you will work on your addiction problems exclusively – without the distractions of home life or work life. It’s a way for individuals to break away from their routine and their surroundings they associate with alcoholism – taking away any triggers that might lead them toward alcohol abuse.
Outpatient treatment facilities offer similar counseling initiatives with counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers as well. The difference being that you don’t stay onsite at the rehab facility. You integrate the treatments and counseling sessions with your normal life – going home after the treatment sessions.
In both types of rehab and treatment facilities, you’ll learn coping mechanisms to deal with your alcohol abuse disorder. Behavioral treatment programs focus on changing your drinking behaviors. In addition, you might attend mutual support groups with others suffering from an alcohol abuse disorder. Alcoholics Anonymous is an example of a mutual support group. You might also be prescribed medication from your primary doctor to cope with alcoholism. We summarize these below.
Behavioral Treatment Programs: These treatments consist of working with alcohol counselors to learn coping mechanisms and to modify behaviors that lead to alcohol abuse. These include:
- Building strong support networks
- Setting goals
- Learning about skills to minimize negative drinking behaviors
- Identifying triggers and learning coping mechanisms
Mutual Support Groups: provide peer support from individuals also going through alcohol dependency. These are popularly known as 12-step programs.
Medications: There are a few drugs on the market that work specifically for alcohol dependence. They are:
- Disulfiram: causes unpleasant side effects (e.g., nausea) when users drink due to the drug blocking the ability for your body to metabolize the alcohol
- Naltrexone: reduces individuals’ desires to engage in heavy drinking
- Acamprosate: Enhances ability to abstain from alcohol consumption
How effective are rehab and treatment programs for recovery from alcohol dependence? Individuals who are seeking recovery experience a relapse in recovery up to 60% of the time. Though, that doesn’t mean individuals suffering from alcoholism will never experience a successful recovery. It means that relapse is a part of the journey and that recovery from alcoholism is an ongoing life event. Alcoholism is a chronic disease. A relapse is indicative that the particular course towards recovery might need to be adjusted per each individual’s needs.
While there are common approaches toward recovery, alcohol treatment programs are not “one size fits all.” Some individuals may benefit from behavioral methods over 12-step programs. Some individuals might respond well to medications while others don’t. Some reach better recovery results from inpatient programs over outpatient programs. The point being that each individual seeks recovery from different starting points and levels of severity of alcoholism.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that most individuals who are addicted to a drug (including alcohol) need three months within a treatment and recovery program to experience the most positive results from rehab. Recovery is a long-term process and will not happen overnight.
You can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration’s database of treatment and recovery center facilities to locate a rehab facility near to you and/or one that is appropriate for your needs.