The troubles confronting you or your loved one might have started many years ago, with that first drink. Or perhaps addiction was a condition that built up gradually over time. Happy hour started sooner and sooner and lasted longer into the day (and night). And then everyday and night. Eventually, you didn’t need any reason to pour that first drink, and all of the others that would follow.
It was a way to decompress, to ease the stress of the job, a crumbling relationship, financial pressures or other life challenges. You drank to celebrate accomplishments or to commiserate failings. Over time, drinking caused as much stress in your life as it used to seem like it helped you handle. It became a crutch, not a tool. That’s where you are now.
For some individuals, alcoholism is an almost instantaneous response. For others, serious addiction is the result of a habit that has built up slowly and almost without even being noticed, until drinking is more of a lifestyle than something you do on occasion.
Let’s review what alcohol addiction is and how you can recognize the symptoms. Then we’ll show you that help is available for those who are ready to accept it.
Alcohol Use Disorder, or AUD, is the term experts use when addressing a drinking addiction. AUD is a brain disorder that brings on chronic relapsing. That means, among other things, that the condition doesn’t just “clear up” the way you eventually get over the flu or a bad cold. The alcohol addiction remains and usually only gets worse if it’s not treated.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
As you spiral downward, it becomes harder and harder to put down the bottle. You find your problems escalating. Job loss, financial hardships, broken relationships, legal entanglements, loss of friends and other significant penalties stack up until you feel hopeless about making any kind of critical changes.
Serious health concerns can also result from alcohol addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1 recognizes a wide range of long-term health risks associated with alcohol overuse, including high blood pressure, weakening of the immune system, dementia and cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, liver, colon and esophagus, among other serious conditions.
Those who have AUD, or suspect that they or a loved one might have the disorder, can exhibit some or all of the following signs or symptoms, based on information from Mayo Clinic.2
- Being unable to limit the amount you drink
- Spending an inordinate amount of time drinking, getting alcohol and recovering from over-drinking
- Ignoring other facets of your life, resulting in problems because you’re no longer paying attention to work, school, family, personal relationships or other issues and responsibilities as a consequence of your drinking habits
- Drinking while driving, swimming, operating machinery or otherwise being involved in activities that don’t go well with alcohol
- Developing a tolerance to the point where it takes more and more of the substance to feel its effect
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms that can include shaking, sweating and nausea, or continuing to drink so you won’t experience such discomfort
While alcoholism most commonly takes the form of frequent and regular drinking habits, some can exhibit alcohol abuse behavior patterns through binge drinking.
If that’s your pattern, you might be able to abstain from alcohol during times where it might conflict with your life in serious ways—during the workweek or when studying in school, for instance—but then you make up for lost time by drinking heavily when the activity doesn’t seem so disruptive, such as during summer breaks or school holidays, or on the weekend or family vacations.
Those who are more typically binge drinkers might feel that they’ve controlled their drinking behavior and shown mental discipline. One problem, however, is that the binge drinker eventually tends to think of more and more of their time as being “appropriate” for heavy drinking.
How Common is AUD?
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,3 some 15 million Americans have AUD. As of 2018 figures, that number breaks down to about 14.4 million adults ages 18 and over and an additional 400,000-plus minors ages 12–17. Of the adults with the disease, about 9.2 million are men and 5.3 million are women. The numbers represent about six percent of the 2018 U.S. population, so alcohol addiction, or AUD, is hardly rare.
The rate of alcohol abuse is even higher in some other nations. Russia, for instance,3 has the highest rate of alcoholism in the world for men, and the second-highest rate for women as of 2020 world figures from World Population Review.4 In all, the rate of Russian problem drinkers ages 15 and over is almost three times the comparable rate of U.S. drinkers.
Why and How Recreational Drinking Can Turn to Alcohol Abuse
While all alcohol abusers experience similar effects and consequences over time, the paths to addiction are different for all and difficult to map. The American Psychological Association says that the disease has “generic, physiological, psychological and social factors all playing a part.”5
Causation might more simply be divided into environment or heredity—what’s going on around you, or the genes you inherit from family members.
In environmental causes, some individual either starts drinking for recreational purposes or to reduce stress, or simply to catch up with everyone else in a circle of hard-drinking family, friends, acquaintances or work associates. Those who’ve experienced a traumatic past, such as an abusive childhood or war experiences, might use alcohol to block the memories.
For others, problem drinking can be as much a product of genetics as your height or weight, or the color of your eyes or skin. If you fit that profile, you might have experienced excessive drinking from virtually the first moment you picked up a glass.
Other triggering causes of addiction can include starting to drink at an early age and being born with a genetic link to chronic clinical depression. Some of those who start young might do so because their parents were rarely around or they didn’t put up boundaries on alcohol.
Therefore, one basic way of looking at the root causes of alcoholism is either that you’re born with the brain disorder or it develops gradually over time based on your behavior toward drinking. Or some combination of the two.
But the even bigger lesson here is that it’s more important to treat the condition than it sometimes can be to determine the cause. The “cure” is to not drink. Pretty simple, huh? Yeah, right.
So let’s take a closer look at treatment options. There are, after all, program components that have been proven effective at treating millions of people with the same problems you or a loved one might currently be experiencing. That means there really is hope out there, no matter how out of reach it might seem to you now.
Finding a New Path in AUD Treatment
The first step in successfully overcoming alcohol addiction is recognizing the need for help from professionals who know you can’t do it alone. If you or a loved one have scheduled treatment in a respected inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facility, they’ve taken the first step and should be congratulated.
Detoxification, or simply medical detox, is quite often the first stage of treatment. That’s the process by which the patient is gradually weaned from his or her ongoing alcohol dependence. The goal of managed acute alcohol withdrawal is to avoid the most severe symptoms of withdrawal with the aid and support of medical personnel who have experience and training in treating all of the associated symptoms. In this way, withdrawal can be made as brief and painless as possible.
After detox, you’ll begin treatment for your condition. After an initial consultation with you, our Northbound therapist will be able to tell you whether your care should be delivered on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Inpatient treatment takes place with the patient eating, sleeping and working through their treatment program at our facility. Inpatient treatment is usually the preferred option for the typical AUD patient.
In some cases of less severe AUD, the patient might be able to start with outpatient treatment. That means they don’t temporarily live at the facility, but see us several times a week for scheduled treatment sessions.
Regardless of how treatment takes place, the goal is to help the patient abstain from alcohol through a variety of clinical modes. This includes behavioral therapy to get at the root of the problem so that you begin to think differently about alcohol and how it’s been used in your life. The two modes of behavioral therapy are cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. Here’s a quick look at both.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This is used to help you identify the behavior that leads to drinking and to adopt new coping skills that help keep you free from returning to alcohol when pressures build.
Motivational enhancement therapy: This is used to help motivate the patient to become fully emotionally involved in their treatment and to overcome all barriers they might see in the way.
In addition to the frequent one-on-one and group therapeutic sessions, you might also be encouraged to engage in family therapy. That’s where our patients’ family members are brought in so we can begin to help you heal relationship rifts that almost inevitably occur as a result of long-term addiction.
Dual-diagnosis treatment might be extended for patients who are also experiencing depression or anxiety in addition to alcohol addiction. This is referred to as a co-occurring disorder, and it requires specialized treatment to help provide greater assurance of long-term healing.
Aftercare for Continued Success
Many who are recovering from AUD join 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous to receive lifetime support and encouragement. At Northbound Treatment, we also continue to support our alumni by being there when they need it most.
Alcoholism is never cured. It’s a chronic disease. That’s why it’s important to receive this ongoing support to help keep you or your loved one safe and healthy as you go about living your life.
Take the First Step, with a Phone Call
Alcohol Addiction, or AUD, is a life-threatening disease. You recognize the seriousness of the situation that’s facing you or a loved one. It’s why you’re thinking of picking up the phone. That’s the right decision.
At Northbound Treatment, we have the medical personnel, specially trained therapists and counselors, and compassionate staff to help you attain full recovery. It won’t be easy, and we don’t want to minimize the challenges ahead of you, but rather provide reassurance that effective help—and a new you—really can be just a phone call away. We’ll be there with you every step of the way.
Once you’ve begun to experience the new you after successful alcohol addiction treatment, you’ll know it was all worth it. Call Northbound Treatment for help any time of the day or night at (888) 978-8649.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Alcohol use and your health
2 Mayo Clinic, Alcohol use disorder
3 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (2018) Alcohol use disorder
4 World Population Review (2020), Alcoholism by country 2020
5 The American Psychological Association (APA) (2012) Understanding Alcohol Use Disorders and Their Treatment