This week's blog is from guest contributor Cassidy Webb. Cassidy works for RecoveryLocal.com, an organization that helps individuals locate important resources as part of their recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). We extend a warm welcome to Cassidy!
The disease of alcoholism is baffling in the way that it does not discriminate. Alcohol use disorder can affect people of all ages, races, backgrounds, and careers. Once a person succumbs to this disease, they will likely always have a problem with alcohol.
While there is no pharmaceutical cure for alcoholism, there are treatments that are proven to be successful in dealing with the symptoms and allowing these individuals to maintain their sobriety.
In this post, we are going to take a closer look at the causes, the signs and symptoms, and the various treatment options available for those affected by alcoholism.
What causes alcoholism?
Alcoholism is unique as there is no definite reason as to what causes it. However, environmental, psychological, and hereditary factors can be precursors to the development of this condition.
A study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that environmental factors such as “exposure to ongoing conflict between parents” and “peer pressure from teenagers in school” had a large influence on when adolescents take their first drink. This study also found that the earlier in life adolescents have their first drink, the more likely they are to have a serious problem with alcohol as adults.
While environmental factors certainly play a role in the development of alcoholism, the presence of mental illness and psychological disorders can also promote drinking. People who suffer from a condition such as bipolar, depression, or anxiety can be driven by their mental illness to use alcohol in order to cope with their symptoms. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that of all people diagnosed with a mental illness, approximately 29% suffer from a form of substance abuse, and roughly 37% of alcoholics suffer from a mental health condition.
Genetics also play a large role in alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that genes passed from one generation to the next are responsible for 50% of one’s risk in developing an alcohol use disorder. In addition, children of alcoholics have been found to be 3-4x more likely to struggle with alcohol abuse as adults. This is likely to be attributed to how the brain’s reward system perceives the effects of alcohol.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The difference between a hard drinker and a true alcoholic comes down to the question of choice and control. If you plan to not drink today and believe with every ounce of your being that you will not drink, yet find yourself at a bar, you may have lost the power of choice and may suffer from alcoholism.
On the other hand, if you find that when you take one drink, you have to take another and struggle to stop until you black out or get sick, you may have lost the power of control and may suffer from alcoholism.
A hard drinker or binge drinker will be able to stop drinking and stay stopped, while the alcoholic may not. Some other signs and symptoms of alcoholism include:
- Persistent cravings for alcohol
- Drinking despite having a desire to stay sober
- Having problems at home and at work due to drinking
- Isolating from family and friends
- Difficulty meeting obligations at home or at work
- Needing more alcohol to produce the desired effects over time, developing a tolerance
- Financial difficulties due to spending too much money on alcohol
- Feeling the need to keep alcohol consumption a secret from others
- Engaging in risky behavior such as drunk driving
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
While the disease of alcoholism may seem a hopeless one, many alcoholics have found solace and recovered after seeking treatment, developing coping techniques, and finding a support group.
What are treatment options for alcoholism?
Since treatment for alcohol use disorder is not a one-size-fits-all solution, there are several types of alcohol rehabilitation that can help someone recover from alcoholism.
Individuals will usually begin their recovery with a detox period, where they are medically supervised during the process. If a person is physically dependent on alcohol, the withdrawal symptoms may be severe. Mild alcohol withdrawal consists of headache, shakiness, anxiety, irritability, and depression. Severe alcohol withdrawal can potentially lead to seizures, hallucinations, and delusions. In order for an individual to detox safely, it is important that they do so in a medical setting where medication can be administered if needed.
Inpatient alcohol treatment
For those who have a severe case of alcohol use disorder, who have been drinking heavily for many years and have found themselves unable to stop on their own, residential treatment programs are a great option. Inpatient treatment can last anywhere from 30-90 days or more depending on the person’s individual needs.
While in a rehabilitation program, clients will participate in therapeutic activities and exercises in addition to intensive therapy. These therapy sessions can consist of individual therapy, group therapy, dual diagnosis therapy, family therapy, and more. Incorporating the different types of therapy into a treatment plan can help treat any underlying issues the person may be suffering from while teaching them healthy coping mechanisms in order to maintain their sobriety after treatment.
Outpatient alcohol treatment
For some who suffer from alcohol use disorder, intensive outpatient treatment may be able to help. Outpatient treatment is sometimes used as a step-down from inpatient treatment, but for some, outpatient will successfully treat their condition.
While participating in outpatient treatment, clients are able to live at home and continue to work as they attend the rehab center a few days a week for a few hours at a time. They can attend the same types of therapy as they do with inpatient treatment while learning how to build healthy relationships with other sober individuals. The length of outpatient therapy can vary depending on the needs of the individual but will typically last for 6-8 weeks.
Treatment is only the first step in treating alcoholism, making it essential that people in recovery build a support group in order to stay sober long-term. Some find their support groups online, at 12 step meetings, or at a religious institution. Regardless of the type of support a person seeks, what is most important is that their group understands their struggles and helps them through difficult times. Having a reliable support group is an effective way to keep a person accountable in maintaining their sobriety.
An added source of accountability that may prevent a person from drinking is to voluntarily install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. This device can not only help discourage a person from drinking, but it altogether prevents drunk driving in the event of a relapse. Multiple studies have shown the effectiveness of ignition interlock devices, with regards to decreasing the rate of fatal drunk driving crashes.
With April being Alcohol Awareness Month, it is important to spread awareness and understanding around the progressive, fatal disease of alcoholism. By spreading awareness around alcoholism, the stigma that is so often associated with it can be decreased, encouraging those who are suffering to get the help they so desperately need. Although it can be a difficult road, recovery is possible.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She is in recovery from alcoholism and advocates spreading awareness around the disease of alcoholism and addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope and watch others recover.