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Alcohol Use Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Effects and Treatment

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a relentless struggle impacting physical and mental health, relationships, and overall life. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol addiction, you’re not alone in this journey toward recovery and a brighter future. Many people overindulge in alcohol which can lead to blackouts, risky behavior, and abuse. Since alcohol is legal and extremely accessible, it has a high potential for abuse, in fact, the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), found that 29.5 million people ages 12 and older (10.5% in this age group) had an alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the past year.

The symptoms of alcohol addiction can vary depending on genetics and other factors. However, symptoms can range from increased tolerance to withdrawal symptoms, neglecting responsibilities, craving alcohol, and failed attempts to quit. Alcoholic drinkers experience blackouts, dizziness, and self-destructive character.

The causes of alcohol addiction include factors like genetics, trauma, stress, and peer pressure. Understanding what could have caused your alcohol addiction is a significant step toward finding the right path to recovery. 

The effects of alcohol addiction encompass physical and mental health, erodes relationships, leads to financial struggles, and can rob you or your loved one of the joy and fulfillment in life. 

Dr Michael Olla, Medical Director Of Valley Spring Recovery Center, Drug Rehab In New Jersey

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is also referred to as alcohol addiction and alcoholism, is a chronic condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite adverse consequences. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, making it a drug in the same class as substances like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. People with alcohol addiction will experience physical and psychological dependence on alcohol, often leading to tolerance, a compulsive need to drink, withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, and a range of harmful effects on life, health, and relationships.

Alcohol addiction is a prevalent form of addiction in the US and other parts of the world. In fact, In the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), it was found that approximately 29.5 million individuals aged 12 and older, representing about 10.6% of this age group, experienced Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) within the past year: {National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)}.

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What are the signs and symptoms of Alcohol addiction?

The signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction vary based on genetics, consumption rate, and duration of drinking, from mild, moderate, or severe. Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, exhibits a range of symptoms that can vary significantly among individuals, influenced by factors such as drinking frequency, alcohol amounts, and individual metabolism. Recognizing these signs is crucial for identifying and addressing alcohol addiction effectively.

Common Symptoms

The most prevalent symptoms of alcohol addiction include:

  • Mood Swings: Rapid and unpredictable emotional changes.
  • Compulsive Drinking: A pronounced inability to limit alcohol consumption despite intentions.
  • Preoccupation with Alcohol: Spending excessive time drinking or thinking about alcohol, often organizing daily activities around it.
  • Loss of Control: Alcohol addiction results in consuming alcohol beyond one’s intended limit and for extended periods, often accompanied by failed efforts to moderate or cease consumption.
  • Craving: A compelling and ongoing urge to drink alcohol characterizes addiction.
  • Tolerance: Addiction manifests as either a need for substantially more alcohol to achieve intoxication or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same alcohol amount.
  • Withdrawal: Symptoms emerge when not consuming alcohol to alleviate or avoid withdrawal indicators.
  • Neglecting Responsibilities: Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) hampers the ability to meet critical obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Social and Recreational Activities: Alcohol consumption leads to the neglect or reduction of significant social, occupational, or recreational pursuits.
  • Time Spent: A considerable portion of time is dedicated to acquiring, using, or recuperating from alcohol’s effects.
  • Continued Use Despite Problems: Alcohol consumption persists despite its contribution to physical or psychological issues.
  • Loss of Interest: Alcohol use causes a diminished interest or participation in once-valued or enjoyable activities.
  • Risk-Taking: Risky behavior, including driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex, is a common occurrence.
  • Legal Issues: Legal problems, such as charges for Driving Under the Influence (DUI), arise due to alcohol use.

Rare Complications

On rare occasions, severe complications like alcoholic hallucinosis may occur. Eyer F, Schuster T, Felgenhauer N, Pfab R, Strubel T, Saugel B. Risk assessment of moderate to severe alcohol withdrawal–predictors for seizures and delirium tremens in the course of withdrawal. Alcohol Alcohol. 2011 This condition involves auditory hallucinations where individuals might hear threatening voices, posing significant mental health risks (Bhat et al., 2012).

Behavioral and Physical Signs

Alcohol addiction can profoundly impact both physical and mental health:

  • Behavioral Changes: Increases in aggressive behavior, significant alterations in personality, and impaired decision-making abilities.
  • Cognitive Impairments: Problems with memory and concentration, indicative of altered brain function.
  • Physical Health Issues: Symptoms like yellowing skin (jaundice) due to liver damage, poor personal hygiene, and noticeable changes in appearance due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

Symptoms Categorized by Severity

  • Heavy Signs: These include liver damage indicated by yellow skin and eyes, frequent intoxication, and significant lifestyle deterioration such as poor hygiene and nutrition.
  • Medium Signs: Mood swings, increased alcohol tolerance, and denial of the drinking problem are common. Individuals may start drinking early in the day and experience withdrawal symptoms without alcohol.
  • Light Signs: Early signs include frequent intoxication, drinking in hazardous situations (e.g., while driving), and a noticeable pattern of heavy drinking.

Importance of Awareness and Intervention

Many individuals with alcohol use disorder may find it challenging to acknowledge their symptoms, making self-recognition of the problem difficult. Recent studies continue to emphasize the complexity of alcohol addiction and the importance of tailored treatment approaches that address both the physical and psychological components of the disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2021). Educating oneself and others about these signs is vital for early detection and intervention, which can significantly enhance treatment outcomes. For those exhibiting signs, particularly the heavy and medium symptoms, seeking professional help is crucial to managing and overcoming addiction.

By understanding and recognizing the broad spectrum of symptoms and behaviors associated with alcohol use disorder, individuals and healthcare providers can better facilitate early and effective treatment interventions, ultimately leading to improved recovery outcomes and quality of life.

3 Types of Alcohol Rehab Programs

Cognitive-behavioral theories view alcoholism as a learned behavior that, like other behaviors acquired over time, can be modified or changed. According to Ronald M. Kadden in Alcohol Health and Research World (1994), treatment interventions focus on equipping clients with necessary skills to handle or avoid daily situations that might trigger alcohol use. This approach underscores the adaptability of human behavior and the potential for change through structured interventions including inpatient, partial hospitalization programs and outpatient treatment.

ComponentDescription
Medical DetoxificationMedical detoxification, or medical detox, involves 24-hour monitoring and medication to manage withdrawal symptoms. It focuses on safely removing alcohol from the body under medical supervision. Common medications include benzodiazepines like diazepam and lorazepam.
Therapy and CounselingThis includes a variety of individual therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Contingency Management, and Family Therapy. These sessions help uncover the root causes of addiction and develop coping strategies.
Holistic and Alternative TreatmentsHolistic and alternative treatments like acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and holistic addiction therapy are employed to promote overall well-being. These complement traditional treatments by addressing physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of addiction.

1. Inpatient Rehab Programs

Inpatient or residential treatment programs, such as residential treatment centers, provide round-the-clock care and structured substance abuse treatment for those with severe alcohol addiction. These programs offer comprehensive 24-hour support, access to on-call medical and psychiatric services, and a range of recovery programming tailored to your specific needs. Many of the programs offer medical detox as well as residential rehab and are combined, however, there are stand-alone programs that last 3 to 7 days and are only for medical detox where the patient would then be discharged to residential rehab after completing detox. However, most of the time, these programs are combined so the patient doesn’t have to transfer facilities after being there for a week or less.

Inpatient rehab programs allow you to focus entirely on your recovery, making them an ideal choice for those committed to overcoming alcoholism.

2. Outpatient Rehab Programs

Outpatient rehab programs offer flexibility for individuals seeking treatment while continuing their daily lives. These programs typically involve:

  • Therapy sessions
  • Counseling
  • Support groups
  • Educational programs

The frequency and duration of treatment sessions are tailored to fit your lifestyle. Outpatient rehab programs provide the treatment you need while still allowing you to fulfill personal and professional obligations, making them a practical option for many.

3. Partial Hospitalization Programs

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) strike a balance between inpatient and outpatient care. They provide structured and intensive treatment during the day while still allowing individuals to maintain aspects of their daily routine. PHPs offer comprehensive treatment and support, making them an excellent choice for those who need intensive care but also require some flexibility in their treatment schedule.

What Is The Primary Goal Of Alcohol Rehab?

The primary goal of alcohol rehab is to help individuals achieve and maintain long-term sobriety from alcohol use. This overarching objective encompasses several key dimensions—physical, psychological, and behavioral—aimed at equipping individuals with the necessary tools, strategies, and support to overcome addiction and sustain a healthier, alcohol-free life.

Physical Recovery and Detoxification

Detoxification, which focuses on removing alcohol from the body and managing withdrawal symptoms, is the initial step in rehab. It is crucial for stabilizing the individual’s physical health and preparing them for further treatment phases. Effective management of detoxification often involves pharmacotherapy, which helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms and supports the body’s return to homeostasis (Saitz, 2014).

Psychological Healing and Therapy

Rehabilitation centers provide various therapeutic modalities, such as individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy, to address the psychological factors contributing to alcohol addiction. These therapies aim to uncover the root causes of addiction—including mental health issues, trauma, or stress—and foster the development of healthier coping mechanisms (Kelly & Bergman, 2016).

Behavioral Change and Relapse Prevention

Behavioral interventions in rehab programs are designed to promote sustainable changes in behavior. These interventions teach patients strategies to avoid triggers, manage cravings, and prevent relapse. Training in skills and lifestyle adaptations is essential to equip individuals with tools they need to navigate the challenges of sobriety in their everyday lives (Witkiewitz et al., 2019).

Education and Awareness

Education plays a pivotal role in rehab by informing individuals about the impacts of alcohol abuse on the body, mind, and overall life. Increased awareness helps individuals make informed decisions about their health and reinforces the importance of maintaining sobriety (Kelly & Yeterian, 2011).

Support Systems and Aftercare

Building a robust support system, including aftercare programs, is vital for long-term recovery. Rehab centers often help individuals connect with support groups, ongoing counseling, and community resources to ensure continued support after the formal treatment ends (Laudet, 2008).

In summary, the primary goal of alcohol rehab is to guide individuals toward a sustained, alcohol-free lifestyle by addressing the comprehensive needs related to physical health, psychological resilience, and behavioral stability. These efforts collectively provide a strong foundation for long-term recovery, empowering individuals to lead fulfilling lives without dependency on alcohol.

Therapeutic Approaches to Alcohol Addiction Treatment

An Alcoholic Talking To A Therapist About Alcohol Addiction

Beyond comprehending the numerous types of rehab programs, awareness of the therapeutic methods employed in alcohol addiction treatment is also necessary. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and family therapy sessions are just a few of the techniques that can be employed to address the unique needs of each individual and help them overcome alcohol addiction.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) serves as a potent instrument in alcohol addiction treatment. It helps individuals:

  • Identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with alcohol use
  • Equip individuals with the skills to cope with cravings and triggers
  • Teach problem-solving techniques and strategies

Research has shown that CBT is effective in treating alcohol addiction, making it a valuable component of many treatment programs.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a type of counseling that enables individuals to examine their motivations and ambivalence towards alcohol consumption, thereby encouraging them to take necessary actions to conquer their addiction and achieve sobriety. MI encourages collaboration, evokes change talk, rolls with resistance, and supports self-efficacy.

These principles are designed to spark motivation and commitment to change in the client, making it an effective technique in alcohol addiction treatment.

Family Therapy Sessions

Family therapy sessions play a vital role in alcohol addiction treatment. They involve the individual’s family members in the treatment process to provide support and address any underlying issues contributing to the addiction.

Family therapy sessions can help families address drug abuse by:

  • Recognizing the effects of addiction on the family system
  • Identifying and modifying enabling behaviors
  • Cultivating healthy communication and problem-solving skills.

Together, these steps can help families work towards a better future.

What Are The Recovery Support Systems For Alcohol Use Disorder?

A Person Talking To A Peer Support Group About Alcohol Addiction

Constructing a robust foundation for recovery is imperative for lasting success in defeating alcohol addiction. This foundation is built through a combination of peer support groups, professional counseling, and family involvement. Each of these support systems plays a vital role in providing the necessary resources and encouragement to help individuals achieve lasting sobriety.

Peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, provide essential long-term support for individuals in recovery. These groups offer:

  • A safe and understanding environment
  • Opportunities to share experiences
  • Encouragement and support
  • Valuable insights from others who have gone through similar struggles

Peer support groups also promote accountability and provide a strong support system throughout the recovery journey, making them an invaluable asset in the journey toward sobriety.

Professional Counseling

Professional counseling provides direction and aids in tackling the root causes contributing to alcohol addiction. Counseling provides a safe, nurturing environment for individuals to express their feelings, examine their thoughts and behaviors related to alcohol, and work toward meaningful change.

By addressing the underlying issues of substance abuse, counseling can help individuals develop the necessary tools and skills to stay sober and make beneficial changes in their lives.

Family Involvement

The involvement of the family in the recovery process is essential in offering support and nurturing an environment conducive to sustained sobriety. Family members can be a great source of motivation for an individual to seek treatment and make positive changes in their drinking habits. Moreover, family support can help the individual stay motivated and accountable during the recovery process.

Additionally, family involvement can help address any dysfunctional roles or dynamics within the family that may contribute to the addiction. Ultimately, the involvement of family members in the recovery process can greatly improve the chances of successful and long-lasting sobriety.

What Are The Insurance Coverage and Payment Options for Alcohol Rehab?

A Person Talking To A Family Member About Alcohol Addiction

The self-pay rate for alcohol rehab in a therapeutic community averages $1,000 per day in the United States according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. However, sometimes insurance can offset some of or all of the costs of rehab depending on the center and the insurance plan. Here are some of the ways people pay for rehab:

How Much Does It Cost to Pay For Alcohol Treatment In A Residential Facility?

Individuals who do not have insurance or do not want to use insurance but have the means to pay for rehab can self-fund their treatment stay. On average, rehab costs $1,000 per day.

Will Health Insurance Coverage help pay for treatment?

Health insurance may cover some or all of the costs of alcohol rehab, depending on the policy and drug and alcohol rehab center. It’s important to check with your insurance provider to learn more about the specifics of your policy and the extent of coverage for alcohol rehab, so you can make sure you get the best possible coverage and support on your journey to recovery.

Out-of-pocket expenses may be necessary for some individuals, depending on their insurance coverage and chosen rehab program. Having a conversation with the admission staff is essential. This is to ensure you are aware of your financial responsibilities while receiving rehabilitation services. Residential rehab costs can sometimes be offset with an HSA account or employer benefits.

Comprehending the possible costs linked with rehab programs allows you to make a well-considered decision and secure the support you require without straining your finances.

Are Their Financial Assistance Programs or Free Rehabs?

Financial assistance programs, such as government-funded treatment options, are available for those who need help covering the costs of alcohol rehab. These programs can provide great support on your journey to recovery, ensuring that you have access to the necessary resources and services regardless of your financial situation.

Examining these financial aid programs can assist you in obtaining necessary help without being hindered by financial limitations.

There are government-sponsored alcohol rehab programs that are free as well as treatment centers that accept Medicaid insurance.

What is The Steps And Process For Going To Alcohol Rehab?

A Person Talking To A Treatment Provider About Alcohol Rehab Process

The alcohol rehab process normally follows a multi-step approach, initiating with assessment and admission, succeeded by the formulation of an individualized treatment plan, and ending with aftercare and continual support. Every stage plays a significant role in attaining long-term recovery and upholding sobriety.

Understanding the various stages of the rehab process can help you prepare for what to expect during your journey to recovery. By engaging in the treatment process and utilizing the resources and support available, you can greatly increase your chances of achieving lasting sobriety and improving your overall quality of life.

What Is The Admissions and Assessment Process For Entering an Alcohol Rehab Center?

The assessment and admission process for alcohol rehab involves a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s alcohol use, medical history, and psychological well-being. This may include interviews, questionnaires, and medical tests to determine the severity of alcohol addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues. The assessment helps treatment providers create a personalized treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs.

Admission to an alcohol rehab center typically involves:

  • A pre-intake screening to gather information about the individual’s drug/alcohol history and prior treatment history
  • This information is used to determine eligibility for the appropriate level of care and individual treatment needs
  • The duration of the admission process varies depending on the specific requirements of the patient and the treatment center

When Are Individualized Treatment Plans Developed?

After the initial assessment and evaluation conducted by a doctor or nurse practitioner using ASAM guidelines and the DSM-5 diagnostic and statistics manual and individualized treatment plan is developed based on the findings of the evaluation which is crucial for providing personalized care that addresses the unique needs and experiences of each individual in recovery. These plans are developed in collaboration with counselors and addiction professionals, who evaluate the individual’s specific needs, including their physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and any co-occurring disorders. Addiction treatment services play a vital role in creating these tailored plans.

A tailored treatment plan may include a combination of:

  • Therapies
  • Medications
  • Support groups
  • Other interventions

By offering a customized approach to treatment, alcohol rehab centers can better address the root causes of addiction and provide the necessary tools and strategies for lasting recovery.

What Happens After Treatment?

Aftercare and ongoing support are essential for maintaining sobriety following treatment. Aftercare programs may include:

  • Outpatient treatment
  • Therapy
  • 12-step groups
  • Counseling
  • Long-term support services

These resources provide a safety net for individuals in recovery, helping them navigate the challenges of post-rehab life and maintain their sobriety.

Relapse prevention techniques, such as identifying triggers and developing coping strategies, play a crucial role in aftercare. By participating in support groups, individuals can build a strong network of peers who understand their experiences and provide emotional support and guidance. With the right aftercare plan in place, individuals can achieve sustained recovery and enjoy a fulfilling, substance-free life.

What Are Relapse Prevention Strategies for Alcoholism?

Relapse prevention strategies involve identifying triggers and developing coping mechanisms to maintain sobriety. These strategies can be a powerful tool in staying on track with your recovery and avoiding setbacks.

Comprehending your triggers and mastering effective management can help in averting relapse and sustaining your hard-earned sobriety.

Are There Ongoing Support Services?

Ongoing support services are essential for long-term recovery. These services, such as counseling and peer support groups, provide the necessary guidance and encouragement to help individuals maintain their sobriety and continue on the path to recovery.

Remaining connected to these support services enables individuals to construct a robust foundation for lasting sobriety and success.

What are the options for transitional housing during and after treatment?

Sober living homes provide a supportive and structured living situation for individuals transitioning back into daily life after rehab. These environments offer a safe and drug-free space for individuals to continue on their recovery journey, surrounded by peers who are also committed to sobriety.

Living in a transitional housing, sober environment enables individuals to acquire essential life skills, form healthy habits, and construct a robust foundation for enduring recovery.

What Are The Steps To Recover From Alcohol Use Disorder?

Understanding Alcohol Rehab And Recovery

The path to alcohol recovery demands determination, dedication, and appropriate guidance. The path involves three essential steps: acknowledging the problem, seeking professional assistance, and committing to long-term sobriety. Adhering to these steps empowers you to reclaim control of your life and paves the way for a successful recovery from alcohol addiction through the alcohol rehab process.

1. Acknowledging the Problem

Recognizing the signs of alcohol abuse is the first crucial step towards recovery from alcohol use disorder. Are you experiencing regular and heavy drinking, or alcohol withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing alcohol use? The best time to seek treatment is when you’re ready to take the first step and have a strong motivation to quit drinking.

Acknowledging the issue and proactively seeking assistance from mental health services administration opens avenues to a healthier, happier existence.

2. Seeking Professional Assistance

Seeking professional aid during alcohol addiction recovery is paramount as it guarantees safety and comfort throughout the detoxification process. With professional assistance, you’ll have access to experienced professionals such as addiction medicine specialists, psychiatrists, and psychologists, providing medical supervision and support systems. This level of care is essential in treating alcohol addiction and guiding you through the recovery process.

3. Committing to Long-Term Sobriety

The ultimate aim of alcohol treatment is long-term recovery and sobriety. Commitment to this aim is imperative to maintain the progress achieved during alcohol addiction treatment and drug addiction treatment.

Aftercare programs are invaluable for individuals who are focused on maintaining long-term sobriety. They provide the much-needed assistance and support to those passing through this journey. These programs offer resources and guidance to help you navigate life after rehab and continue on the path to recovery.

How does alcohol Use Disorder affect the brain?

Below is a breakdown of how alcohol affects the brain according to Dr Michael Olla:

  • Depressant Effect: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain activity. It inhibits the transmission of signals between nerve cells, leading to reduced brain function.
  • Neurotransmitter Modulation: Alcohol increases the activity of inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA while suppressing excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate. This shift in neurotransmitter balance results in sedation and reduced brain stimulation.
  • Dopamine Release: Alcohol prompts the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This release creates feelings of euphoria and reinforces the desire to drink more.
  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Alcohol impairs cognitive functions such as judgment, decision-making, and memory, directly affecting an individual’s ability to think clearly and make rational choices.
  • Motor Skills and Coordination: Alcohol impairs motor skills and coordination, leading to observable symptoms like slurred speech, impaired balance, and reduced motor control.
  • Memory Formation: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with forming new memories, resulting in blackouts or memory lapses.
  • Structural Changes: Long-term, heavy alcohol use can lead to structural changes in the brain, including brain shrinkage, particularly in regions associated with memory and cognition. 

A team of Harvard researchers led by Dr. Kenneth J. Mukamal in discovered in 2001 that brain volume decreases relative to alcohol intake. Surprisingly, even light and moderate drinkers exhibited more atrophy (shrinkage) compared to those who abstained from alcohol.

What are the causes of Alcohol addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a complex condition with multiple potential causes including genetics, social, psychological, and environmental factors, some drinkers do not become addicted, no matter how much they consume. Some of the causes of alcohol addiction are:

  1. Genetics: Research indicates that genetic predisposition significantly influences susceptibility to alcohol addiction. Individuals with familial histories of alcoholism are at elevated risk, as detailed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in their examination of alcohol’s effects on health.
  2. Environmental Factors: The environment surrounding an individual’s upbringing plays a pivotal role in the risk of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Key factors include early alcohol exposure, familial and peer attitudes towards drinking, and alcohol accessibility.
  3. Psychological Factors: Pre-existing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or stress are known to heighten alcohol addiction risks. Alcohol often becomes a coping mechanism for managing emotional pain.
  4. Social and Cultural Factors: Societal and cultural perceptions and norms around alcohol consumption affect drinking behaviors. In certain cultures, heavy drinking might be more widely accepted or even encouraged.
  5. Neurochemical Factors: Alcohol consumption alters brain chemistry by affecting neurotransmitter functions. These alterations can lead to dependency, underscoring the neurochemical underpinnings of addiction.
  6. Early Exposure: Initiating alcohol consumption at a young age is linked to a higher propensity for developing AUD. Alcohol’s impact during critical developmental phases can result in enduring consequences.
  7. Peer Pressure: Social influences, particularly from peers, can significantly affect individual drinking patterns, promoting or normalizing excessive alcohol intake.
  8. Availability: The ease of obtaining alcohol, influenced by factors such as age, locale, or social settings, plays a crucial role in fostering problematic drinking behaviors.
Effects Of Alcohol Addiction

What are the effects of Alcohol Abuse?

The effects of alcohol addiction can be detrimental to your health, social life, and mind. These effects can be difficult to overcome, but with the right treatment options and support system, they can be reversed. Alcohol also affects family members of alcoholics, in a recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 10.5% (7.5 million) of U.S. children ages 17 and younger live with a parent who has alcohol use disorder.

  1. Physical Health Deterioration: Alcohol addiction can lead to liver damage (cirrhosis), cardiovascular problems (heart diseases), gastritis, and pancreatitis. It weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.
  2. Liver Damage: Of the 100,530 liver disease deaths among people ages 12 and older in 2021, 47.4% involved alcohol. Among males, 62,039 liver disease deaths occurred, with 50.2% involving alcohol. Among females, 38,491 liver disease deaths occurred, with 42.8% involving alcohol. (CDC Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Report) and from 2010 to 2016, alcohol-associated liver disease was the primary cause of almost 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States according to JAMA Intern Med. study conducted in 2019.
  3. Cirrhosis: Among all cirrhosis deaths in 2019, alcohol accounted for 50.3%. The percentage of alcohol-associated cirrhosis deaths was highest (at 80.9%) among adults ages 25 to 34, followed by adults ages 35 to 44 (at 75.4%) from NIAAA, Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research; 2022.
  4. Cancer: Recent estimates for the United States indicate that 5.6% of cancer cases and 4.0% of cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol consumption as stated in Islam F’s study in CA Cancer J Clin. from 2018.
  5. Mental Health Problems: It often co-occurs with depression, anxiety, and even severe conditions like alcohol-induced psychosis. Mental health can deteriorate due to alcohol’s impact on brain chemistry.
  6. Relationships: Alcohol addiction strains relationships through erratic behavior, neglect, and conflicts. It can result in broken families and severed friendships.
  7. Work and Finances: Job performance declines, leading to job loss and financial difficulties. Money spent on alcohol can deplete savings and contribute to debt.
  8. Legal Issues: Drunk driving arrests, public intoxication, and other legal problems are common. Legal consequences can include fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment.
  9. Social Isolation: Individuals often withdraw from social circles and hobbies, prioritizing alcohol consumption over social interactions.
  10. Physical Dependence: Withdrawal symptoms like tremors, nausea, and seizures occur when alcohol isn’t consumed, reinforcing the need to drink regularly.
  11. Tolerance and Health Risks: Tolerance means needing more alcohol for the same effects, which can lead to higher health risks like overdose and organ damage.
  12. Neglecting Responsibilities: Alcohol addiction can lead to neglecting work, family, and personal responsibilities, causing harm to one’s life and those around them.
  13. Accidents and Injuries: Impaired coordination and judgment increase the risk of accidents, injuries, and falls, often requiring medical attention. Alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of drowning and injuries from violence, falls, and motor vehicle crashes. (Driscoll TR, Pubmed 2004)
  14. Financial Impact: The deeper you go into alcohol addiction, the more you want to drink it and the more money you spend on it. This could affect your finances.
Effect of AUDDescription
Physical Health DeteriorationAlcohol addiction leads to liver damage, cardiovascular problems, gastritis, pancreatitis, and weakened immunity.
Liver DamageA significant cause of liver disease deaths, with 47.4% of liver disease deaths involving alcohol as of 2021. Alcohol-associated liver disease was the primary cause of nearly 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States.
CirrhosisCirrhosis deaths are highly alcohol-related, particularly among younger adults. In 2019, alcohol accounted for 50.3% of all cirrhosis deaths, with the highest rates among adults ages 25 to 34.
CancerApproximately 5.6% of all cancer cases and 4.0% of cancer deaths in the United States are attributable to alcohol consumption.
Mental Health ProblemsAlcohol use often co-occurs with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and alcohol-induced psychosis. There is a strong link between alcohol use and mental health disorders.
RelationshipsAlcohol addiction strains relationships through erratic behavior, neglect, and conflicts, often leading to an unhappy and sometimes violent environment. Substance use can create a vicious cycle of conflict and further substance use to reduce stress.
Work and FinancesAlcohol abuse significantly impacts work and finances, leading to job loss and financial difficulties. In 2010, the cost of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. was estimated at $249 billion, primarily due to losses in workplace productivity.
Legal IssuesAlcohol addiction is frequently associated with legal problems such as drunk driving arrests and public intoxication, leading to various legal consequences including fines and imprisonment.
Social IsolationIndividuals with AUD often withdraw from social circles and activities, prioritizing alcohol consumption over social interactions.
Physical DependenceAlcohol addiction leads to physical dependence, with withdrawal symptoms like tremors and nausea occurring when alcohol consumption is stopped.
Tolerance and Health RisksIncreased tolerance to alcohol can lead to higher health risks, including the risk of overdose and organ damage.
Neglecting ResponsibilitiesAUD often results in neglecting work, family, and personal responsibilities, causing widespread harm and deterioration in various aspects of life.
Accidents and InjuriesAlcohol consumption increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and falls, often requiring medical attention. It is associated with a higher risk of drowning, violence, falls, and motor vehicle crashes.
Financial ImpactThe financial burden of alcohol addiction includes not only healthcare costs but also lost productivity and legal expenses. Individuals with AUD often experience financial strain due to increased spending on alcohol.
Impact on ChildrenChildren living with a parent with AUD are significantly affected, with around 10.5% of U.S. children living in such households. These children often face unique challenges and risks related to the family environment.
This table shows the effects of alcohol addiction in individuals and also who alcoholics impact.

These specific consequences underscore the urgent need for early intervention, treatment, and support. If you’ve started to notice a combination of these effects due to your alcohol drinking problem, you should consider visiting a specialist.

What are the types of Alcoholics?

According to Dr. Moss et al., for the National Institute of Health (NIH), there are five different types of alcohol addiction, and they’re broken into the following categories:

1. Young Adult Subtype

Representing 31.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics, this group consists of young adults with low rates of co-occurring substance abuse and mental disorders. They have a minimal family history of alcoholism and rarely seek help for their drinking issues.

2. Young Antisocial Subtype

Comprising 21 percent of U.S. alcoholics, these individuals are typically in their mid-twenties, began drinking early, and have high rates of alcohol problems. Over half come from families with a history of alcoholism, and many have a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Co-occurring conditions include major depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. A significant portion also engage in cigarette and marijuana smoking and have experienced cocaine and opiate addiction. Approximately one-third seek treatment for their alcohol addiction.

3. Functional Subtype

Accounting for 19.5 percent of U.S. alcoholics, this group is typically middle-aged, well-educated, and leads stable lives with jobs and families. About one-third have a family history of alcoholism spanning generations, and around one-quarter have experienced major depressive episodes. Nearly half are cigarette smokers.

4. Intermediate Familial Subtype

Comprising 19 percent of U.S. alcoholics, this group is middle-aged, and about half have a family history of multigenerational alcoholism. Almost half have experienced clinical depression, and 20 percent have a history of bipolar disorder. The majority are cigarette smokers, and nearly one in five have faced issues with cocaine and marijuana use. Only 25 percent have sought treatment for their alcohol problems.

5. Chronic Severe Subtype

Representing 9 percent of U.S. alcoholics, this group consists mostly of middle-aged individuals who started drinking and experiencing alcohol-related issues at an early age. They have high rates of Antisocial Personality Disorder and criminal behavior. Nearly 80 percent come from families with multigenerational alcoholism. 

They also exhibit the highest rates of other psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. Smoking is prevalent, and many have faced issues with marijuana, cocaine, and opiate dependence. Two-thirds of these individuals seek treatment for their alcohol problems, making them the most common subtype in treatment programs.

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

What are the Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction?

There are multiple different types of treatment depending on what part or stage of alcohol use disorder is present. However, despite available treatment options for alcoholism, less than 10% of people with AUD receive treatment, specifically, 1.4 million people ages 12 and older received alcoholism treatment which accounts for 4.6% of people with past-year AUD according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Treatment options can range from inpatient residential to outpatient drug and alcohol rehab programs. Some of these treatment options are similar to those for addiction to other drugs. They include:

  • Detoxification (Detox): The first step in treating alcohol addiction is often detox, which involves supervised withdrawal to manage the physical symptoms and cravings. Medications are used to ease withdrawal discomfort and reduce the risk of severe symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Certain medications, such as naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram are prescribed as part of ongoing treatment. These medications can help reduce cravings, deter alcohol use, or alleviate symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Behavioral Therapies: Various forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), and contingency management, are used to address the psychological aspects of addiction. These therapies help individuals identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and change behaviors associated with alcohol use.
  • Support Groups: Participation in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide a sense of community and peer support. These groups follow a 12-step program to help individuals maintain sobriety.
  • Counseling and Psychotherapy: Individual and group counseling sessions can address underlying emotional and psychological factors contributing to addiction. These sessions provide a safe space to explore issues related to alcohol use and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Residential Treatment (Inpatient): In some cases, individuals require intensive treatment in a residential facility, receiving 24-hour care and support. This is typically recommended for severe addiction cases.
  • Outpatient Treatment: Outpatient programs offer flexibility, allowing individuals to receive treatment while living at home. These programs can include therapy, counseling, and medication management.
  • Family Therapy: Involving the family in treatment can be beneficial to address family dynamics and support the recovery process.
  • Holistic Approaches: Some individuals find benefit in holistic treatments such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices to manage stress and promote overall well-being during recovery.
  • Aftercare and Relapse Prevention: Aftercare plans are essential to maintain sobriety once formal treatment is complete. This includes ongoing therapy, support group participation, and strategies for relapse prevention.

How long does it take to detox and withdrawal from heavy alcohol use?

The duration of alcohol detoxification can vary significantly from person to person and depends on several factors, including the severity of the alcohol addiction, your overall health, and the specific detox protocol used. Detoxification from alcohol addiction can take between 24 hours to weeks: {Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA: Healthline}.

In general, the process typically unfolds as follows:

  • Immediate Withdrawal (Within Hours to Days): The initial withdrawal symptoms usually begin within hours to a few days after the last drink. These symptoms can include anxiety, nausea, sweating, tremors, and insomnia. For some, more severe symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens (DTs) can occur.
  • Acute Detox (3 to 7 Days): This phase is characterized by the most intense withdrawal symptoms, typically occurring within the first week. Medical supervision is often necessary during this time to manage symptoms and prevent complications. Medications are administered to ease withdrawal discomfort and reduce the risk of seizures or DTs.
  • Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): After the acute detox phase, some individuals who experience a prolonged period of less severe but lingering symptoms, known as PAWS. This includes mood swings, sleep disturbances, and cravings. PAWS can persist for weeks or even months.
  • Recovery and Rehabilitation: Detox is just the first step in alcohol addiction treatment. Recovery and rehabilitation involve addressing the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction and typically extend well beyond the detox period. This phase can last for months or years, depending on the individual’s progress and needs.

Alcohol withdrawal is only the initial phase of alcohol addiction treatment. While some individuals complete detox in a matter of days, the overall process of achieving and maintaining sobriety often requires ongoing support, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Seeking professional help and medical supervision during detox is essential for safety and increased chances of long-term recovery.

Is Alcohol A Drug?

Alcohol is a type of legal drug that can be purchased by anyone over the age of 21 years old in the United States, but it is a mood and mind-altering substance like any other drug. When discussing addiction, the terms “drug” and “alcohol” are often separated as if they belong to different categories. However, it’s essential to understand that alcohol is a drug—just like any other mood or mind-altering substance.

The separation often stems from social and cultural perceptions that view alcohol as more “acceptable” or “less dangerous” than other types of drugs. However, this distinction is not only inaccurate but also harmful, as it can minimize the severity of alcohol-related issues.

How effective is alcohol rehab?

Rehabilitation for alcohol, often referred to as alcohol rehabilitation or alcohol rehab, is a treatment process designed to help individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism. The primary goal of alcohol rehabilitation is to enable these individuals to stop using alcohol, improve their health and well-being, and maintain sobriety in the long term. Key components of alcohol rehabilitation typically include:

  1. Detoxification (Detox): The first step in many alcohol rehabilitation programs, detox involves the safe elimination of alcohol from the body. It is often medically supervised to manage withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe.
  2. Therapy and Counseling: This involves various forms of psychological therapy. Individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy are common. These sessions aim to address the underlying causes of alcohol addiction, such as behavioral patterns, psychological issues, and social factors.
  3. Education: Patients are educated about alcohol addiction, its effects on health and life, and the process of recovery. This helps in understanding the nature of addiction and the importance of maintaining sobriety.
  4. Medication: In some cases, medications are used to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, or treat co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.
  5. Relapse Prevention Training: This includes learning skills and strategies to avoid relapse after leaving the rehabilitation program. It often involves developing healthy coping mechanisms, stress management techniques, and lifestyle changes.
  6. Aftercare Support: Ongoing support after completing a rehab program is crucial. This can include outpatient therapy, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and follow-up sessions.
  7. Holistic Approaches: Some programs also include holistic treatments like yoga, meditation, art therapy, or acupuncture to support overall well-being.

The duration and intensity of alcohol rehabilitation can vary depending on the severity of the addiction and individual needs. Alcohol Rehab programs can range from short-term outpatient treatments to long-term residential stays. The key to successful rehabilitation is a personalized approach that addresses all aspects of an individual’s life affected by alcohol addiction.

What are the different types of alcohol rehab programs?

Alcohol rehabilitation encompasses a variety of program types to address the diverse needs of individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder. Inpatient rehab programs provide a highly structured and intensive treatment environment where patients reside at the facility, ideal for those with severe addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions.

Outpatient alcohol rehab programs, in contrast, allow individuals to live at home and maintain daily responsibilities while attending regular treatment sessions, suitable for mild to moderate addiction cases. Detoxification programs are often the initial step, focusing on safely managing withdrawal symptoms. Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) offer a balance between inpatient and outpatient care, requiring several hours of treatment daily at the center but allowing patients to return home at night. Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) demand more frequent and longer sessions than standard outpatient care. Sober Living Homes provide a structured, substance-free environment for those transitioning from inpatient rehab or needing a supportive living space.

12-Step Programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, emphasize a step-by-step recovery approach with a strong peer support component.

Lastly, holistic programs integrate alternative therapies like yoga and acupuncture with conventional treatment methods, focusing on the overall wellbeing of the individual.

The type of alcohol rehab program that is best suited for an alcoholic searching for recovery support or a family member searching for support for a loved one typically depends on the severity of the addiction, individual circumstances, and personal commitments, ensuring a tailored approach to recovery.

What withdrawal symptoms are associated with Alcohol addiction?

Withdrawing from medications or stimulants, including alcohol, often presents significant challenges and can lead to serious health risks without expert supervision. The detoxification process can trigger a range of withdrawal symptoms, some of which escalate into medical emergencies. It’s important to recognize these symptoms and understand their potential severity.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Anxiety: A frequent emotional response during detox.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Often experienced in the early stages.
  • Tremors (Shakes): A physical manifestation of withdrawal.
  • Sweating: A common bodily reaction.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty in sleeping is typical.
  • Increased Heart Rate: A sign of the body’s response to withdrawal.
  • Mood Swings: Fluctuations in emotional state.
  • Headaches: A common physical symptom.
  • Seizures: A severe and dangerous possibility.
  • Hallucinations: Occur in more severe cases.
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs): A potentially life-threatening condition.

The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and largely depends on the individual’s physical and mental health, as well as the duration and amount of substance use. Understanding these factors is crucial in managing withdrawal symptoms safely and effectively.

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