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Alcohol Addiction and Treatment
By all measures, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America, and also one of the most common addictions. The widespread social acceptance of alcohol leads many to deny or hide their problem; however, alcoholism is a serious issue for millions of Americans and their families.
What Is Alcohol?
Ethanol, better known as drinking alcohol, is a legal, controlled substance in all 50 states and in most of the world. Generally consumed in a liquid form, alcohol produces a large number of effects when consumed, ranging from lowering anxiety and inhibitions to nausea and vomiting. Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, affects 17.6 million Americans, roughly one in twelve American adults. Although alcohol use (even abuse) is widely tolerated, and even celebrated, alcoholism is a very serious medical issue with potentially deadly consequences.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Mind and Body?
Although the exact mechanisms behind how alcohol impacts the body are not fully understood, the effects of alcohol are extremely well documented. Alcohol is generally consumed orally. It then travels down the esophagus into the stomach and then the small intestine. The vast majority of alcohol is absorbed in the small intestine, and to a lesser extent the stomach. Blood vessels near these organs then rapidly transport alcohol in the bloodstream throughout the body. Alcohol interacts with and disrupts the normal functioning of many body systems, and does so rapidly.
When alcohol enters the brain, it interacts with neurotransmitters, a series of electrical connections in the brain that send messages to the body. This impacts mood, awareness, perception, and much more.
Most of the alcohol that enters the body is processed, or metabolized, with less than 10% being excreted through urine, sweat, and other mechanisms. Essentially all alcohol is broken down in the liver, which can put a tremendous strain on that organ over time. Generally, the body processes the equivalent of one standard drink (one glass of beer, one glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) every hour.
Effects of Alcohol Use
- Lowered anxiety and inhibitions
- Feelings of warmth and/or numbness
- Impaired judgment
- Loss of coordination
- Slowed reaction times
- Nausea and vomiting
- Distorted vision and perception
- Memory loss
- Alcohol poisoning
- In extreme cases, death
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcohol use actually changes the chemical balance of many organs, including the brain. Over time, the body and brain become accustomed to these changes, and they come to depend on alcohol to function “normally.” This dependence is known as an alcohol use disorder, more commonly called alcoholism. Just because someone drinks, it does not mean that they are an alcoholic. However, as is commonly stated, “nobody sets out to become an alcoholic.”
Alcoholism is a serious problem that has dramatic and terrible impacts on the alcoholic and their loved ones. Alcoholism can lead to personal, professional, financial, and medical ruin. Alcoholics are typically depicted in the media as people who have had every aspect of their life ruined by alcohol, “hitting rock bottom.” However, it is far easier to successfully treat alcoholism before that point.
Anyone whose life is being negatively impacted by their drinking has a problem. If you or a loved one are having trouble changing your drinking habits while your career and personal relationships are suffering as a result, you may need professional help. Contact a dedicated treatment provider now for help finding the right rehab to get your life back.
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Types of Alcohol
Beer is the oldest known human-made alcohol and remains one of the most popular around the world. Beer is made from fermenting grains, most commonly barley and hops, and yeast. There are many types of beer, such as ales, lagers, stouts, porters, bocks, and pilsners, and thousands of brands. Beer typically has less alcohol content by volume (ABV) than wine or liquor. A standard drink (contains the amount of alcohol the body can process in an hour) of most beers is a 12-ounce glass. However, some craft beers have much higher ABV than traditional beers, up to two or three times as much..
Beer is tightly woven into the culture of the United States and many other nations, which may make it easier for some alcoholics to hide or deny their addiction. Craft beers, especially homemade craft beers, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, many of which have significantly higher ABV than traditional beers.
Wine is made from the fermentation of fruits. Wine is most commonly associated with grapes, but may also be made from pomegranates and berries, among others. Wines are commonly divided between white wines, such as Chardonnay, pinot grigio, Riesling, and Moscato, and red wines, such as merlot, cabernet, pinot noir, and zinfandel. Wines typically have an intermediate ABV between beer and liquor. A standard drink of wine is a 5-ounce glass, and a standard drink of fortified wine, which has a higher ABV, is a 3-4 ounce glass.
Wine consumption is deeply ingrained in many countries and millions of American families. Wine also plays a critical role in Christian religious tradition and worship ceremonies. In the United States, wine consumption is on the rise. This may be in part to wine being widely perceived as being more refined and classier than beer. However, wine’s greater ABV makes it easier to get more intoxicated on less wine, making the drink potentially more dangerous and likely to lead to addiction.
Liquor is a generic term for a large number of alcoholic drinks, also referred to as hard liquor or hard drinks. Some of the most widely known types of liquor are whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, vodka, brandy, cognac, and schnapps. While every type of liquor is made differently, all of them have to be distilled or refined in some manner, leaving the resulting drink with a very high ABV. A standard drink is a 1.5-ounce shot glass. Extreme distillation can produce liquor with more than double that ABV, however.
Liquor is frequently mixed with other beverages before consumption, creating what are known as mixed drinks. Mixed drinks are considered more dangerous than straight liquor because it is harder to determine their alcohol content, and some mixers actually speed up the absorption of alcohol. Due to its high ABV, liquor has a tendency to get drinkers drunk faster and to make them more drunk. For this reason, many states have different laws regarding liquor than beer or wine.
Alcohol Rehab and Treatment
Alcoholism is a terrible condition, and its impacts are equally terrible. Many alcoholics find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle; they drink to escape their problems, and their drinking causes them problems that they then drink to escape. Many have come to accept their situation as inevitable. Luckily, there is hope out there, even for those with severe, long-term alcoholism.
Detox and Withdrawal
The first step in the alcoholism treatment process is detox, or detoxification. Detox is the process by which your body rids itself of toxic chemicals, a process which can be artificially aided. This process is greatly complicated among alcoholics, whose bodies have become used to functioning with alcohol in them. When alcohol is no longer being consumed, the body has difficulty functioning properly. This leads to a series of medical side effects, known as withdrawal.
Withdrawal from alcohol can be a very difficult process, especially for long-term and severe alcoholics. Symptoms may include a headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fever, nightmares, shakiness, and mood changes. Extreme alcohol withdrawal may lead to delirium tremens, a very dangerous condition which causes seizures, confusion, tremors, and hallucinations. In some cases, delirium tremens can be fatal. Delirium tremens typically occurs from 12-48 hours after the alcoholic has stopped drinking.
The potential danger of withdrawal combined with the difficulty of going through the process without succumbing to the temptation to drink means that it is very important for alcoholics to undergo supervised detox. Detox can be done on an outpatient or an inpatient basis, though in many cases inpatient detox is highly recommended.
Inpatient and Outpatient Alcohol Rehab
Once detox has been completed and the symptoms of withdrawal have subsided, rehab can begin. Alcohol rehab, or rehabilitation, is a process where the alcoholic learns how to cope with their condition, develop new habits and methods of going through life sober, deal with any issues underlying their addiction, and begin their sobriety under careful supervision from providers. There are thousands of rehab programs, and each one is unique. However, most will fall under one of two major categories: inpatient and outpatient rehab.
Inpatient rehab requires patients to stay in the facility in a residential setting while they are undergoing treatment. Inpatient rehab facilities generally put a heavy focus on therapy and development of lifestyle strategies. Some of the major advantages of inpatient rehab are that it totally forces an individual to stay away from the temptations and stresses of their old lives and that it provides a much greater level of supervision than outpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab also gives patients the option of traveling farther from their homes, which is advantageous for many individuals because it takes them away from triggers, stressors, and enablers. Although there are numerous options, most inpatient facilities have 30, 60, or 90-day programs.
Outpatient rehab allows patients to stay at their homes and then come to a facility or multiple facilities for treatment during the day. Each program varies tremendously in terms of time commitment, from a few minutes to all day. However, outpatient rehab enables patients to maintain more of their usual lives, which is highly beneficial for many with career and family demands. However, outpatient treatment also exposes participants to greater temptation and provides less supervision and time.
Continuing Treatment and Support Groups
The vast majority of rehab attendees will still need help with their addiction once they leave rehab. Alcoholism is a lifelong disease, and it requires lifelong attention and management. Continuing treatment and support are necessary for many patients to keep them on the road to recovery.
Alcohol treatment medications are used by millions in treatment to help them maintain sobriety. Some, such as Disulfiram (Antabuse), induce painful side effects such as vomiting when alcohol is consumed, therefore discouraging drinking. Others, such as Naltrexone (Narcan), eliminate the pleasurable feelings associated with drinking, eliminating the motivation to drink. Still others, like Acamprosate (Campral), actually reduce the brain’s dependence on alcohol.
Therapy is critical to many recovering alcoholics. It helps them understand what they’re going through and why they are in the situation that they are in. It also helps give them tools and strategies to use in their daily lives. Therapy is especially important for those alcoholics who are also suffering from a co-morbid disorder (also known as a co-occurring disorder), a mental illness that is present separate from substance abuse issues. There are dozens of different types of therapy, including biofeedback, cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, experiential, faith-based, holistic, and motivational enhancement.
Recovery can be a very challenging and lonely process that can be hard to share and discuss with those who haven’t been through it. There are constant temptations and stresses that may influence a recovering alcoholic to drink. To make sure that they stay sober, millions of alcoholics have joined support groups with people in similar situations. These groups provide advice, coping skills, accountability, and understanding, among other benefits. 12-Step groups, based on Alcoholics Anonymous, the world’s largest alcoholism support group, are by far the most common and widely attended, but there are dozens of alternatives out there.
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Effects of Untreated Alcoholism
Alcoholism leads to very serious consequences if left untreated, including potentially death. Alcoholism can impact every facet of an individual’s life, often with disastrous results. Some of the possible effects are:
- Death of brain cells
- Brain disorders
- Reduced mental and physical functioning
- Liver damage and failure
- Kidney damage and failure
- Job problems or job loss
- Poor financial decisions
- Criminal behavior such as DUI and assault
- Damage to inter-personal relationships
- More severe mental health symptoms
The Time for Alcohol Rehab Is Now
Whether you or a loved one have been a long-time alcoholic or alcohol abuse issues are just starting to appear, you don’t have to continue to suffer. There are top-notch treatment centers out there waiting to help get your life back on track. You know that your best life is out there waiting for you. Contact a dedicated treatment provider now, and take the first step on the road to recovery.
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