Alcoholism, more commonly known in the medical community as an alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic relapsing brain disease identified by loss of control over alcohol intake, compulsive alcohol use, and a negative emotional state when one is unable to drink. AUD is very common, with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reporting that an estimated 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women meet the diagnostic criteria for this condition.
This article provides a brief overview of AUD and its treatment options.
If you would like to learn more about seeking help for yourself or a loved one, contact Safe Harbor Recovery in Portsmouth, Virginia, today.
Risk Factors for the Development of an Alcohol Use Disorder
There is no single factor that causes someone to develop an addiction to alcohol. However, the following risk factors suggest that your drinking behavior should be looked at more closely:
- Having a parent or other close relative who suffers from alcoholism
- Having multiple people who abuse alcohol in your social circle
- Experiencing high levels of stress, especially when related to finances or relationship troubles
- Having low self-esteem
- Suffering from anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder
Signs of an Addiction to Alcohol
Signs of an addiction to alcohol include:
- Experiencing strong cravings for alcohol
- Feeling powerless to control your alcohol consumption
- Engaging in risky behavior related to alcohol consumption, such as drunk driving or mixing alcohol with prescription medication
- Looking for excuses to consume alcohol or telling yourself that you “need” to drink to control stress, socialize, and/or celebrate
- Giving up hobbies or activities that are important to you in order to spend more time drinking
- Hiding or lying about your alcohol consumption when others express concern about your drinking habits
- Becoming violent or emotionally unstable while drinking
- Being unable to fulfill work or personal obligations due to your drinking
Binge drinking, defined as consuming enough alcohol in a two-hour period to raise your BAC above .08, is not indicative of an addiction to alcohol on its own. However, this behavior could potentially place someone at risk of developing an addiction.
Consequences of Prolonged Alcohol Abuse
Heavy drinking over an extended period of time is associated with a number of serious health problems. These include:
- Liver disease, including cirrhosis
- Digestive problems, including stomach and esophageal ulcers
- Heart problems, including high blood pressure and stroke
- Osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fracture
- Weakened immune system
- Impaired cognitive ability, including dementia or short-term memory loss
- Sexual dysfunction
- Increased risk of cancer
Alcohol consumption can also aggravate many existing health conditions. For example:
- Diabetics who require insulin are more likely to suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) when they drink heavily.
- Women who drink while pregnant face a risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, or serious fetal birth defects.
- Alcohol consumption lowers levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, resulting in worsening symptoms of depression.
- People with AUD may consume 1,000 to 3,000 extra calories per day, aggravating the health issues associated with obesity.
In addition to the negative health effects, alcohol abuse is also linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents or accidental injury, legal problems, and relationship difficulties.
Treatment for AUD
Someone with an addiction to alcohol can’t quit with willpower alone. Comprehensive treatment is needed, beginning with a medically-managed detox to rid the body of the abused substance. Access to 24/7 supervision is crucial during the withdrawal process because people with AUD are at risk of developing delirium tremens (DTs), a syndrome characterized by severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.
Once a person has completed detox, treatment should include a combination of group and individual therapy to build the foundation for lasting sobriety. Therapy helps individuals learn how to cope with cravings, effectively manage stress, and practice the self-care habits necessary for long-term abstinence. Holistic support services, such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, art therapy, or music therapy may be used in some circumstances. Participation in 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or alternative self-help groups such as SMART Recovery is often recommended as well.
There is no medication that can “cure” an AUD, but medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help some people manage cravings and avoid relapse. Disulfiram, acamprosate, and naltrexone are the most commonly used medications for treating individuals with AUD. Progress is carefully monitored, with most patients using medication-assisted treatment for six months to one year.
Safe Harbor Recovery in Portsmouth, Virginia, provides residential treatment for men and women with AUD in a safe, structured environment. Treatment is personalized to fit individual needs, taking into account factors such as co-occurring mental health disorders and trauma history.
Following the completion of residential treatment, Safe Harbor’s continuum of care includes referrals to outpatient care, sober living homes, or other relevant community-based resources, as well as advice on addressing nutrition, exercise, spirituality, stress management, family support, and career or education goals.
Recognizing AUD as a Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognize addiction as a disability. As such, people who are in treatment for AUD are entitled to full legal protection. ADA protection prevents you from being terminated, involuntarily reassigned, or denied a promotion because of your disability. It also requires your employer to make reasonable work accommodations, such as allowing you to leave work early when you have a recovery-related appointment.
In addition to ADA protection, individuals seeking treatment for alcohol addiction may be entitled to unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you work for a covered employer and meet the employment-related eligibility criteria, you can use your FMLA leave to seek residential treatment at a facility such as Safe Harbor Recovery in Portsmouth, Virginia.