What is Alcohol Addiction
Alcoholism is a disease. It is not a moral failing, a sign of weakness, or an example of poor self-control. Even though the science behind this disease is solid, many people still feel shame or consider their drinking to be a mark of bad character.
Alcohol addiction results when an individual turns to alcohol for a reason and gradually develops a dependency. The normal brain releases a chemical called dopamine that causes feelings of security and well-being when people do healthy things such as gathering with loved ones, going for a walk in nature, or giving or getting a hug.
The addicted brain lets the abused substance do the work of dopamine and gradually stops producing it. Each time an addict drinks, the brain produces a bit less dopamine than it once did. This produces a craving for alcohol once the effects of the last drink wear off. More drinking leads to less dopamine which leads to more severe cravings. This is why alcoholism is often called a progressive disease.
If an individual stops drinking through sheer force of will, he or she will continue to crave alcohol. Once they begin to drink again, it will pick up at the stage of the disease where they last stopped. That is why the correct treatment is so crucial. Sheer willpower will not succeed.
Often, the initial urge to drink is an attempt to medicate troubling feelings like anger, fear, sadness, or anxiety. These troubling feelings point to mental and emotional illnesses that have not been diagnosed or treated. These include depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, bipolar disease, eating disorders, and more. Once addiction develops, the addict has not one, but two problems that feed each other. This very common phenomenon is called ‘dual diagnosis’ or ‘co-occurring disorders’. Recovery requires identifying and treating both problems for an extended period of time.
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Alcohol Addiction: Signs + Symptoms
Because the stigma of being an alcoholic is so great, and because once addicted the body craves alcohol, denial is a big part of the disease. Since alcohol is a common and legal substance, the signs of alcohol addiction may be more difficult to spot. Most alcoholics only seek treatment when things become so horrible they feel they have no other choice. This sometimes called ‘hitting bottom’.
If you think your drinking might have crossed the line into addiction, here are some signs that you might be correct:
- Problems at work due to drinking, such as missing work, showing up drunk, showing up hungover, and poor work quality
- Relationship problems due to drinking
- The increasing need for more and more alcohol
- Avoiding places that don’t serve alcohol
- Hiding alcohol and drinking in secret
- Being told by loved ones that you have a problem
- Lying about your drinking
- Driving, caring for children or doing other dangerous activities while drunk
- Drinking to stop feeling
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Alcohol Withdrawal: Signs + Symptoms
Once the addiction to alcohol takes hold, the individual feels withdrawal symptoms whenever the effects of alcohol begin to wear off. These withdrawal symptoms become more and more severe as the disease progresses. They include:
- Shaking hands
The above withdrawal symptoms appear as soon as six hours after the last drink. If a person has been drinking a long time or drinking enormous amounts of alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can be much more serious and even dangerous. They include:
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Racing heart
- Heavy sweating
Once withdrawal symptoms become this severe, the disease has reached a stage that puts the individual at increased risk of a host of serious health problems, such as:
- Heart problems
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Memory loss
- High blood pressure
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Recovery from alcohol abuse is a process that starts with a safe place to detox. Rehabilitation facilities monitor the withdrawal process and if necessary will intervene with various medications so that the person can come off alcohol safely and with as little discomfort as possible.
Once the alcohol is out of an individual’s system, the real work begins. Any underlying mental health condition may be diagnosed and a treatment plan set up. Addiction treatment is also an ongoing process that only starts in rehab. Once the client is released, intensive treatment in the form of regular support meetings, counseling, medication, and education in self-care must continue.
A person has to learn to form new friendships not based on drinking. Letting feelings come and learning to feel and understand feelings without drinking them away is also an ongoing process that must be addressed in ongoing therapy and support meetings. The process is long but over time results in a reduced desire to drink.
Unfortunately, the damage that was done by alcohol abuse never fully goes away. If a stressful event should cause the recovering alcoholic to pick up a drink again, the ugliest last stage of the disease reasserts itself. This is called ‘relapse’ and it is very common.
Relapse used to be viewed as a failure, but addiction specialists and psychologists now know that in most cases relapse is part of the recovery process. Eventually, if the recovering addict sticks to the recovery plan, the urge to drink will recede and a better life will begin to emerge. Sometimes more than one stint in treatment is necessary. This is nothing to be ashamed of and is best viewed as a learning opportunity.
If you have been suffering the toxic effects of addiction to alcohol, don’t suffer alone. Call now and reserve a place in a professional rehabilitation center where you can start living the joyful life you deserve. There is hope after addiction. You just have to take the first step.