In an interesting survey conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), researchers found that 39.13 percent of women and 28.09 percent of men 18 and older did not have an alcoholic drink within the year prior. However, of those who did drink, 21.9 percent of women and 42.3 percent of men had three or more drinks on a drinking day. As these statistics make clear, many people do not drink alcohol at all, perhaps because they’re in recovery from an alcohol abuse problem, but many people who do drink alcohol seem to drink to excess, once they have that first sip of alcohol.
Dangerous drinking patterns can quickly develop into alcoholism, in which the person is unable to stop drinking once he/she begins drinking. Alcoholism is a serious and dangerous condition that can take a toll on the mental and physical health of the person who is addicted; however, treatment of alcoholism has been proven effective.
Alcohol and Modern Life
Alcohol is one of the few drugs of abuse that’s considered legal within the United States. That legality is due, in part, to the health effects commonly attributed to moderate alcohol consumption. Unlike other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, alcohol seems to trigger some positive changes within the human body, when it’s consumed at low levels. For example, in a study of 51,529 health professionals followed for two years, researchers found that alcohol intake was protective against heart disease, even when researchers adjusted the results to account for dietary and lifestyle changes. Other studies have suggested that alcohol can help protect against specific types of memory loss. In addition, many people simply like the taste of alcohol, and they use the drug to help smooth social situations and allow conversations to flow freely.
Alcohol appears on most restaurant menus, it’s served at parties and social engagements, and alcohol is sold in grocery stores. Everywhere someone looks, alcohol seems to be available, just waiting to be sipped. While some people can avoid this temptation, drinking low levels of alcohol on occasion and avoiding the substance altogether on other days, some people simply cannot avoid alcohol, and they struggle to control their use when faced with relentless temptation. These people might even believe that they don’t have a problem with alcohol, since everyone they know also seems to drink on a regular basis. This delusion may seem comfortable and even reasonable for a short period of time, but the alcohol use and abuse may deepen and spiral, until the consequences are impossible to ignore.
Alcohol Use and Abuse
Moderate consumption of alcohol is commonly defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. People who can drink in this manner, without feeling compelled to drink more alcohol, aren’t considered problem drinkers. However, some people drink intense amounts of alcohol each and every time they drink. These binge drinkers may drink in order to get drunk, and by drinking large amounts in a hurry, they flood their bodies with alcohol and stop drinking only when they’re physically unable to drink more. People who binge drink like this also have a problem with drinking, as they certainly aren’t in control of their drinking habits when they drink, but they might not be considered alcoholics. It’s a fine line, but it’s also an important distinction.People who binge drink do not have a physical dependence on alcohol, and they may not drink every day. They have problems with drinking, but they’re not considered alcohol addicts.
Those who have an addiction to alcohol have an identifiable disease that has four major symptoms, including:
- A craving for alcohol
- An inability to stop drinking, once drinking begins
- A tolerance for the effects of alcohol
- Physical discomfort, or withdrawal, when the person does not drink
There is no laboratory test that can help medical professionals to diagnose alcoholism. People with the disease may not fail blood-screening tests, and they might not even have poor physical exams. Instead, doctors rely on questionnaires to help them identify people who need addiction care. A CAGE questionnaire is sometimes used, in which people are asked if they’ve tried to cut down on alcohol intake, feel annoyed by criticism, feel guilty about alcohol and need an eye-opener drink in the morning. Those who can answer “yes” to these questions are typically considered alcoholics. Additionally, according to a study published in JAMA, people with alcoholism often respond positively to the question, “Have you ever had a drinking problem?” This seems to indicate that people who have alcoholism know, deep down inside, that they have a problem with drinking. They may be unable to solve the problem on their own, but they do know that the problem exists. When alcoholics can admit that they have a problem, the healing can begin.
Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop alcoholism, but those who do might share common risk factors. For example, people with alcoholic parents are at a high risk of developing their own alcohol-addiction issues. In fact, according to a study in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports, about 50 percent to 60 percent of people who have alcoholic parents will develop alcoholism as well. Studies like this have been conducted using twins who were raised in different households, meaning that researchers were careful to determine that the alcoholism trait developed due to genes, not household influences. Research suggests that there are some specific genes that are involved in processing alcohol, and those with a specific type of gene will experience more pleasure from alcohol, and will develop addictions to the substance as a result. More research must be done on this topic, before the issue becomes clear, but those who have addicted family members should drink with caution, as they might develop their own addictions in time.
Similarly, research suggests that people who have mental illnesses are at a higher risk for developing alcoholism. This link is particularly strong in people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, with the National Center for PTSD reporting that up to three-quarters of people who survive abuse or trauma develop drinking problems. It’s quite possible that these people turn to alcohol to help them overcome the terrible situations they’ve faced, and alcohol is a reasonable choice as it is legal and easy to obtain. Similarly, people who have depression, insomnia, anxiety or other underlying mental disorders might rely on alcohol’s soothing and numbing effects to help them deal with their symptoms and live a life that’s more comfortable and free of symptoms. The link between alcoholism and all mental illnesses is so strong that researchers writing in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs report that every single psychiatric problem they examined was more likely to occur in alcoholic people, when compared to those who did not have alcoholism.
Leaning on alcohol might be a common strategy used by people with mental illnesses, but it’s not an effective technique. In fact, alcohol abuse can make mental illnesses much harder to control. For example, people with PTSD often struggle with broken sleep, filled with distressing and difficult dreams. Alcohol can reduce the quality of sleep yet further, making a restful night’s sleep even harder for these people to obtain. Similarly, alcohol can blunt the senses, making it hard for people to reach out and connect with others in a meaningful way. People with bipolar disorder struggle with suspicion, and they may feel as though everyone they meet isn’t being quite truthful. Pairing a blunting of communication skills with an underlying feeling of suspicion could lead to disaster.
Dealing With Alcoholism
The NIAAA reports that about 70 percent of people who develop alcoholism have one episode that lasts, on average, about three or four years. Some of these people are able to stop drinking on their own, through an urge to get well, but others need to access formal addiction treatment so they can move forward with their lives. As this statistic makes clear, however, people can and do overcome their addictive relationship with alcohol. It might be difficult, and the work might be hard, but people can overcome this devastating illness.
Alcoholism is typically treated with:
- One-on-one counseling
- Family counseling
- Medication management
- Support group assistance
This care can be provided on an outpatient basis, for people who have stable homes and strong support groups, or it can be provided in inpatient facilities that provide around-the-clock care. Since alcoholism care can mean the difference between life and death, you don’t want to trust your recovery to just anyone. La Paloma Treatment Center’s staff is experienced in alcohol rehab. Length of stay in determined on an individual basis, with the staff choosing the program that allows for the greatest level of long-term success. We personalize care, ensuring that you’ll get the right treatments at the right time to treat your alcohol addiction.
We also utilize an integrated treatment approach, dealing not only with the addiction but any mental or emotional conditions that led to substance use in the first place. Since the link between alcoholism and mental illness is so strong, this can be incredible help for people in recovery from alcoholism. At La Paloma, continuing care is part of the plan, assuring that recovery lasts long after you leave us. We also provide physical support, including a newly renovated detox wing, available for those who need it. Here, we provide medical supervision allowing for the safest possible experience.
If you or someone you know is in need of alcohol rehab, contact La Paloma at the toll-free number.
Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about the treatment process, financing and logistics.