An estimated 88,000 people in the United States die every year from alcohol-related issues, making it one of the leading preventable causes of death in the nation.
While not every alcohol-related death is attributable to addiction, over 30 percent of people ages 18 or older have engaged in binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption over the past month.
The rate of alcohol addiction continues to climb in the U.S., particularly since the onset of COVID-19 and the societal and economic stressors the pandemic put on people’s lives.
Fortunately, alcohol addiction is both preventable and treatable.
Causes Of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction occurs in much the same way addiction to other substances occurs, in the brain. When a person drinks alcohol, it triggers the brain to release the chemical dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of positivity and well-being.
This reward system entices the brain to link feelings of happiness to drinking alcohol, and motivates people to drink more.
Over time, an addiction to alcohol may develop and your tolerance level to alcohol will go up. People who drink heavily will have to constantly drink in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms caused by an alcohol chemical dependency.
Learn more about the causes of alcohol addiction.
Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Addiction
Symptoms of alcohol addiction can be difficult to notice, especially since drinking alcohol is a widely accepted activity in American culture.
Addiction to alcohol may be hard to recognize sometimes, but there are tell-tale signs that someone may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Signs of alcohol addiction include:
- high tolerance for alcohol
- hiding alcohol
- dependence on alcohol to function
- increased depression or emotional issues
- legal or professional problems
Read about the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction.
Risk Factors For Alcohol Addiction
There are several factors that may make a person more likely to become addicted to alcohol, the most common of which are high levels of stress in a person’s life.
Other factors may include drinking at an early age, a family history of alcohol abuse, binge drinking over a long period, and more.
Learn more about risk factors for alcohol addiction.
Health Conditions Related To Alcohol Abuse
Heavy drinking is defined as having more than four drinks a day for men, and more than three drinks a day for women. There are many ways drinking alcohol in excess may harm your health.
The liver does a great job flushing the toxins in alcohol out of the body. Over the long term, however, alcohol can kill liver cells and lead to alcoholic cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver.
Drinking too much alcohol may also inflame the pancreas and cause long-term pancreatitis. Symptoms of alcohol-induced pancreatitis include nausea and vomiting, organ dysfunction, and more.
People who drink alcohol chronically are at increased risk of irritating or eroding the lining in their stomach, which can lead to acute alcoholic gastritis.
Symptoms of gastritis include a burning ache in the stomach, belching, and nausea.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are disorders that people may develop if they were exposed to alcohol while in the womb. These disorders may include behavioral, cognitive, or physical health issues.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is a result of heavy alcohol use, and is the first stage of alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. Symptoms for fatty liver disease include pain in the upper right side of the abdomen.
Read about other health conditions caused by alcohol abuse.
Heavy drinking can lead to a form of heart disease that affects the heart’s muscles. Consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol increases your risk of developing cardiomyopathy, which can lead to dangerous side effects because your heart cannot pump hard enough to fulfill basic bodily tasks.
Effects Of Alcohol Abuse
The short-term effects of alcohol abuse may include a warm “buzz” accompanied with feelings of euphoria or giddiness, lowered inhibitions, changes in vision, loss of coordination, and more.
Learn more about the effects of alcohol addiction.
How Alcohol Abuse Leads To Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning may happen when a large amount of alcohol is consumed over a short period of time. This can result in blackouts, heart rate changes, a drop in blood pressure, coma, or death.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include severe disorientation, vomiting, blue-tinged skin, low body temperature, and seizure.
Medical attention and treatment are vital for alcohol poisoning, because of the risk of brain damage and death.
How Alcohol Overdose Occurs
The body can break down alcohol at a rate of one pure unit per hour. This amounts to one shot of liquor, a small glass of wine, or half a pint of beer.
Alcohol And Co-Occurring Disorders
Oftentimes, when a person has issues with alcohol dependence, there may be a connection between co-occurring mental health disorder and alcohol addiction.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and other personality disorders may also be affected by alcohol use, but less frequently.
Causes Of Alcohol Intolerance
Alcohol intolerance occurs when the body doesn’t produce the enzymes required to break down the toxins in alcohol. This is typically due to inherited genetic traits.
Sometimes, allergic reactions to the ingredients in alcohol, such as corn, rye, or wheat, may be responsible for physical discomfort while drinking. However, alcohol intolerance and allergies to alcohol aren’t identical.
How A Chemical Dependency On Alcohol Leads To Alcohol Withdrawal
When someone drinks heavily over a long period of time, their body may develop a dependence on the substance.
If they suddenly try to stop drinking, they may experience mild to severe mental and physical discomfort.
The timeline of an alcohol withdrawal will vary by person and depends on several different factors.
Physical Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal
The side effects of alcohol withdrawal can be moderate or severe depending on a few variables. Some side effects of alcohol withdrawal include night sweats, fevers, headaches, panic attacks, itching, and diarrhea. Some more severe possibilities, such as alcohol withdrawal seizures, can happen to people who drink heavily and abruptly stop.
Mental Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal
Mental signs of withdrawal will likely occur alongside the physical symptoms and may include anxiety, depression, hallucinations, cravings, and more.
How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System
If you suspect someone you care about may have an addiction to alcohol, you may be wondering how long the substance is detectable in the body.
There are three common tests to detect alcohol in the system, and detection times will vary depending on a person’s body fat percentage, tolerance, and metabolism.
Methods of testing for alcohol in the body include:
- blood test — can detect alcohol up to six hours after the last drink
- urinalysis (urine test) — may detect alcohol 12 to 24 hours after the last drink
- saliva test — can detect alcohol 12 to 14 hours after the last drink
Learn more about alcohol detection times.
Detoxing From Alcohol Abuse
People seeking treatment for alcohol addiction will often start in a medically monitored detox program. Detoxification will help manage the potentially dangerous effects of alcohol withdrawal.
Outpatient alcohol detox allows people to receive treatment and checkups by visiting treatment centers daily before returning home. Inpatient alcohol detox allows people with more serious alcohol addiction withdrawal symptoms to utilize full-time care and medicated-assisted treatment in a rehab facility.
While the amount of time it takes to detox from alcohol varies, most people can fully detox in the span of a week with the assistance of healthcare professionals. The stages of alcohol detox also vary with symptoms and timelines. At-home alcohol detox is not recommended as it can be dangerous.
Read more about how to detox from alcohol.
Common Medications Used During Alcohol Detox
One of the most important aspects of detox is the medications used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. These drugs will help regulate chemicals in the body and lower the risk of complications.
The Role Of Food And Vitamins While Detoxing From Alcohol
Food and nutrition are an important focus when detoxing from alcohol. The body’s functions are affected by heavy alcohol consumption, some of which are particularly important during the detox process.
Alcohol Addiction Treatments
After the detox phase of alcohol treatment is completed, people are oftentimes encouraged to continue their recovery in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.
Which program they will need depends on the severity of their addiction. There are multiple forms of alcohol treatment services.
Inpatient Alcohol Treatment Programs
In an inpatient alcohol treatment program, clients will live on-site at the treatment center in a structured environment with 24-hour care. These programs may last from 30 days to a year.
Inpatient residential treatments may have a special focus for certain treatment types or demographics, such as teen alcohol rehab programs.
Residential treatment services typically include daily group and behavioral therapy sessions, support groups for substance abuse, medication management, and aftercare planning.
MAT is also available for alcohol use disorder treatment. Certain medications can relieve withdrawal symptoms and create an easier recovery environment for the person in rehab.
Outpatient Treatment Programs
For less-severe alcohol addictions, an outpatient alcohol program may be the best fit.
People may continue living at home and working while attending a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the week.
Studies show that one of the most important factors in recovering from long-term alcohol addiction is a strong peer support system. Outpatient care may help you build that network.
A form of outpatient treatment that has grown increasingly popular recently is online counseling for alcohol abuse.
Online alcohol counseling allows the person to stay in the comfort of their home while receiving direct and real professional care. This also allows for a more flexible therapy schedule.
Alcohol Addiction Myths
The short-term and long-term effects and health risks of alcohol addiction are better understood now than any other time in history. Nevertheless, myths about excessive alcohol drinking persist.
If you or a loved one have questions about alcohol misuse, call a rehab program such as Bedrock Recovery Center and speak with a qualified healthcare provider.
Read about common myths associated with alcohol use.
Interventions For Alcohol Use Disorder
Treatment programs may offer early intervention or emergency intervention services to put a person at risk of overdose or bodily harm on the track to treatment and recovery.
The process of intervention involves confronting a loved one over their substance use and the consequences of their addiction before asking them to attend treatment.
Alcohol interventions are usually done in consultation with a doctor, drug counselor, or intervention professional. This person will be present alongside friends and family members of the person with a substance use disorder.
Learn more about alcohol intervention services.
Find Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder At Bedrock Recovery Center
Call Bedrock Recovery Center today for more information on our inpatient treatment programs and other treatment options for alcohol addiction.
Our team can provide referrals for medical advice, and assist you in getting on the path to long-term recovery.
- National Library of Medicine — Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Alcohol Misuse
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcoholism and Co-occurring Disorders
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Facts and Statistics
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol Topics
- The National Institute of Health (NIH) — Myths about drinking alcohol
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.