Understanding Alcohol Addiction & Treatment

When you consider the numbers, alcohol abuse statistics can be downright alarming. The CDC reported 261 deaths per day were due to alcohol use in the years 2011-2015. Most of these deaths were related to the long-term effects of alcohol abuse, including cancers and diseases caused by consuming too much alcohol over long periods of time.   

More recently in 2019,  just over 14 million adults in the United States 18 and older (nearly six percent of this age group) were considered to have alcohol use disorder (AUD). When separating the ages 20-39, the percentage of people with AUD more than doubled. 

Most adults use alcohol, rendering alcohol abuse a major health concern in the U.S.  and a leading cause of preventable deaths

Alcohol Addiction

Nevada Alcohol Use

Alcohol abuse statistics by state reveal that Nevada actually rates pretty well. Historically, the state of Nevada has followed national trends of excessive alcohol use, and in some years has even ranked lower than the U.S. average. In relation to this, an informal survey by SafeHome.org placed Nevada in the lowest quartile of the nation’s “drunkest states.” 

Unfortunately, self-reports of alcohol trends from 2020 indicate that an increase in alcohol use in response to stressors caused by the coronavirus outbreak has led to an increase in substance abuse rates.

What Is Considered Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that has a profound effect on the body when chronically abused, and any alcohol consumption comes with the risk of adverse health effects. Therefore, in order to provide direction to the public, several organizations offer dietary guidelines to how much alcohol consumption is considered low versus high risk. Unfortunately, these recommendations don’t always align

While the differences in recommendations can be confusing, consider the bigger picture. No alcohol use is defined as safe. Therefore, if you’re going to drink, drink moderately and keep the number of drinks to only a handful a week on non-consecutive days.  

For reference, a drink is defined as approximately:

  • 14 grams of alcohol or
  • one 12­oz. beer or
  • one five-ounce glass of wine or
  • one 1.5­ oz. shot of distilled liquor.

Moderate Drinking Definition

Moderate drinking as defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as up to three drinks a day for women and four per a day for men. However, keep in mind that this only holds as long as the total for the week is seven or less (14 for men). 

The U.S. Department of Health Services agrees with the weekly allotment of seven drinks for women and 14 for me, but recommends no more than one drink per day for women or two for men. Similarly, the social drinking definition of consuming alcohol in low-risk patterns in social settings would fall under drinking in moderation. Anything more than moderate drinking moves a person in the direction of risky drinking.

Heavy Drinking Definition

When moderate drinking levels are surpassed, a person is said to be drinking heavily. The CDC defines drinking heavily as eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men. 

In addition to this, the NIAAA considers heavy drinking to include more than three drinks per day for women or four for men. 

In conjunction with these standards, SAMHSA includes binge drinking five or more times per month in the definition of heavy drinking. The binge-drinking definition asserts that quickly drinking alcohol until the blood alcohol level is beyond .08 percent (usually four or more drinks for women within a few hours, or five or more for men) is classified as binge drinking.

Both heavy drinking and binge drinking fall under the excessive drinking category, which places a person at elevated exposure to health risks and social or economic issues from drinking too much alcohol

Alcohol Abuse Symptoms

Often, there are recognizable signs of alcohol abuse that a person exhibits when drinking too much becomes the norm.  For example, unsuccessfully trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, spending the majority of your time drinking, or frequently recovering from hangovers could be indicators of alcohol abuse. 

A few other signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Drinking to express emotions, whether positive or negative
  • A preoccupation with alcohol or allowing drinking to interrupt life goals
  • Experiencing alcohol cravings or a tolerance to alcohol
  • Continuing to drink through negative consequences
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or using “hair of the dog” to get through hangovers
  • Problems with family, friends, or the law (e.g., driving while intoxicated)

Alcohol Abuse vs Alcohol Use Disorder: Is There a Difference?

Alcohol Abuse

How do the above definitions compare to AUD and alcohol addiction?

Simply put, alcohol use disorder is defined as continuing to drink even when you’re experiencing negative consequences socially, professionally, or in the realm of personal health. In this light, both light alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction would fall under the alcohol use disorder diagnosis. 

Problem drinking, even drinking that extends to binge drinking and heavy drinking, does not automatically indicate an alcohol use disorder. In order to qualify for the medical diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder, a person must exhibit two of the defined criteria within a 12-month period. 

There are 11 defining criteria for AUD. Depending on the number of symptoms reported, the alcohol addiction is considered to be one of the following: 

  • Mild Alcohol Use Disorder: If two or three criteria are present, a diagnosis of mild alcohol use disorder will be designated. 
  • Moderate Alcohol Use Disorder: Moderate alcohol use disorder if four to five of the criteria are reported.
  • Severe Alcohol Use Disorder: Severe alcohol use disorder indicates that there are six or more criteria present.  

Generally, you can use the terms alcohol use disorder, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism to describe the same chronic issue.

Alcohol Abuse vs Dependence

Alcohol is a drug that creates a physical dependence if consumed regularly over long periods of time. However, habitually abusing alcohol does not always lead to dependence. 

Alcohol dependence occurs when the brain chemistry adjusts to compensate for chronic alcohol use. At this point, the person has likely lost control of their intake, and alcohol tolerance has been established. Once tolerance is present, more of the substance is needed to achieve the desired effect, and a person may need to drink just to feel normal. When alcohol is not available to a person who is dependent, alcohol withdrawal will occur.  

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that can have far-reaching consequences on both your mental and physical wellbeing. Recognizing signs of alcohol addiction may be the difference between early intervention and establishing a more prominent problem.

Recognizing Alcohol Addiction in Yourself

Addiction can sneak up on you, especially if you surround yourself with people who have similar drinking habits. Consider the following indicators that you may be addicted to alcohol: 

  • Experiencing intense cravings to drink alcohol
  • Having an inability to control when or how much you have to drink
  • Hiding your drinking from others, drinking secretively, or storing alcohol in unusual places to be able to get to it faster
  • Dodging activities that don’t include alcohol or feel agitated when alcohol isn’t available
  • Drinking to balance yourself out
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences, developing a tolerance
  • Undergoing mental and physical deterioration

Recognizing Alcohol Addiction in Others

Indicators of addiction in yourself can be reflected in order to gauge the likelihood of alcohol addiction in loved ones. For example, any of the following could be a red flag that someone is suffering from alcoholism:

  • You find hidden bottles of alcohol in peculiar places
  • You notice their ability to drink large amounts of alcohol without getting drunk
  • Mood swings or disturbances in work or school settings become evident
  • You notice a person avoiding activities that do not involve alcohol
  • You notice a person frequently forgets what happened while they were drinking

Most people addicted to alcohol benefit from treatment but only a fraction receive assistance. Recognizing subtle clues of alcohol addiction could be the first step in addressing a potential lifelong issue. 

Side Effects of Alcohol

Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

The dangers of alcohol are well-documented. Alcohol consumption is responsible for an abundance of short and long-term effects that you could experience whether or not alcohol abuse is a factor. 

The effects of drinking alcohol will vary from person to person but could include both physical and psychological issues. 

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol

The intensity of the short-term effects of alcohol will vary depending on a person’s gender, physical characteristics, amount of alcohol consumed, and how much food they have eaten. 

Common short-term effects of drinking too much alcohol include:

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision-making
  • Slurred speech
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Lapses in memory or passing out
  • Hangovers, or feeling poorly for a few days after drinking

A notably dangerous side effect from drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, or binge drinking, is alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is an alcohol overdose, and is a result of parts of the brain shutting down due to too high of a blood alcohol content. 

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol Poisoning

Signs of alcohol poisoning mimic other short-term effects of alcohol but at an intensified level. These include:

  • Severely slurred speech
  • An inability to stay conscious.
  • Violently vomiting
  • Low body temperature and slow heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Seizures

If you notice anyone exhibiting any symptoms of alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Additionally, try to keep them awake, warm, and drinking water, if possible.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse can damage a person’s entire system. The main organs affected by alcohol include the liver, heart, brain, kidneys, pancreas, and stomach.

Liver damage from drinking is one of the most frequently observed long-term effects of alcohol abuse, and it is the cause of a substantial proportion of liver-related deaths in the U.S. This is because the liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol, but it can only do so much at a time. Over time, the inflammation of the liver caused by alcohol abuse can lead to scarring or cirrhosis of the liver. Once the liver has deteriorated to this stage, reversing the damage can prove difficult or impossible. 

Along the same lines, the effect of alcohol on the heart muscle can lead to heart disease, irregular heart rhythm, and high blood pressure. The effect of alcohol on blood pressure is both a short and long-term effect, so don’t put too much emphasis on the “heart-healthy” claims of alcohol use.  

Alcohol-Induced Psychosis

Alcohol Induced Psychosis

Alcohol-induced psychosis is a psychological symptom of the impact that alcohol has on the brain. Indications of this include disorientation, hallucinations, and fear, and usually occur following a session of heavy alcohol use. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (wet brain) is another condition in the brain caused by thiamine deficiency, which is a common side effect of alcoholism. Symptoms include memory loss and an inability to form new memories. 

There is good news, though. While many of these effects of alcohol abuse are permanent, it takes years of damage to experience these problems. Moreover, even if you’re already displaying these issues, your body can still at least partially heal if you stop drinking now. At our Las Vegas alcohol rehab, we can help you address these issues and preserve or regain your health. To learn more about our alcohol addiction treatment options, call our admissions specialists at 888-828-2623 or ask your questions online.

As devastating as these conditions may be, it is important not to quit drinking “cold turkey” if you experience severe side effects from alcohol addiction. Abruptly stopping alcohol intake will result in alcohol detoxification from the body, and going through alcohol withdrawals alone is both dangerous and runs the risk of sabotaging your early sobriety.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Suddenly removing a regularly used depressant (alcohol) from your system results in agitation, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Depending on your personal alcohol use history, these symptoms can range from mild and manageable to severe and requiring medical attention. Below you will find some of the commonly experienced alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach/nausea

Moderate Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Confusion

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms:

In the most severe cases of alcohol, delirium tremens symptoms will occur. In these situations, a person may be completely disoriented and hallucinating, and it is imperative that they are placed under medical supervision. 

Diagnosing Alcoholism

Diagnosing Alcoholism

While an examination of physical conditions can indicate a likelihood of alcohol abuse, diagnosing alcoholism is a largely subjective process. Numerous alcohol screenings are available that can be used in both health care settings and as self-assessments that may assist in identifying AUD, but they rely on the honesty of the person taking the assessment. 

In general, these tests are short questionnaires that aim to uncover patterns of alcohol use rather than directly probing for specific details. A few examples of alcohol screening assessments include:

  • CAGE
  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)
  • FAST
  • T-ACE
  • Paddington Alcohol Test (PAT)
  • Self-Administered Alcoholism Screening Test (SAAST)

The updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) also offers 11 criteria for diagnosing AUD. Meeting two or more of the criteria within 12 months indicates alcohol abuse disorder. 

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Co-occurring disorders (or dual diagnosis) refers to any mental health disorder that may accompany a substance abuse disorder, or vise versa. For example, a person presenting with AUD may also suffer from emotional disorders such as depression or anxiety disorders.

It is not always obvious which disorder leads to the other. For instance, mental illness symptoms can lead a person to self-medicate with alcohol, which can cause alcohol addiction. It is also possible that a severe alcohol addiction led to mood disturbances such as anxiety or depression.

In either case, reliable alcohol addiction treatment does not ignore either issue. Rather, alcohol abuse and mental illness will be considered together. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Las Vegas, Nevada

There are many effective treatment methods for alcohol addiction leaving you with options in how to approach alcohol treatmentListed below are a few of the alcohol treatment therapies available at the Victorious Journey Recovery Center:

In addition, at the Victorious Journey Recovery Center, we commit to providing a continuum of care that will holistically address both your mental and physical health needs. Our continuum of care is also a commitment to support you throughout your recovery journey before, during, and after treatment at VJRC.  

Deciding to commit to alcohol addiction treatment is a huge step towards recovering from addiction. At the Victorious Journey Recovery Center, you will be fully supported throughout your transition into recovery. To get started on your recovery, contact one of our admissions specialists at 888-828-2623, or use our confidential online form to ask us anything that comes to mind. 

Alcohol Facts & Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, alcohol is a psychoactive drug

Psychoactive drugs are substances that impair a person’s ability to function mentally by interrupting messages that occur in the brain. Because alcohol interferes with the brain’s chemistry and alters thought processes, behaviors, moods, and emotions, it can be classified as a drug. 

Yes, alcohol is classified as a depressant due to its effects on the central nervous system. Depressants slow down the central nervous system and the messaging system between the brain and the body (they do not necessarily make a person feel depressed). This interruption in signals reduces awareness, alters perceptions, and impairs judgment. 

The amount of time that alcohol stays in someone’s system depends on numerous factors including gender, physical composition (body fat, etc.), age, whether food was eaten, and genetic make-up. 

On average, alcohol will be detectable on the breath for about 24 hours. In blood tests, alcohol will be observable for around 12 hours, while urine tests can pick up alcohol for up to 2-3 days. Alcohol tests that assess hair composition can detect alcohol for around 3 months after consumption.

The vast majority of alcohol must be processed by the liver. A healthy liver can process, on average, one drink per hour.

Yes. Alcohol can create both a psychological and physical addiction in the body. Additionally, over time the brain’s chemistry will adjust to the frequent intake of alcohol, which will lead to withdrawals when the alcohol is no longer supplied to the system.

A general definition of alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) is continuing to drink despite negative professional, social, or health consequences. Alcohol use disorder can range from misuse to alcohol dependency, tolerance to alcohol, and alcoholism.

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