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ALCOHOL ABUSE & ADDICTION

The Most Common Addiction in the United States

Alcohol abuse and addiction continue to be the most popular substance abuse problems among Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38 million Americans engage in excessive drinking and less than 20 percent actually seek treatment for it. They also report that 88,000 deaths are attributed to excessive alcohol use, annually. The legal nature of drinking has created an awareness gap for many who believe that binge drinking is less dangerous than abuse of other drugs. Prolonged and untreated alcohol abuse creates just as many health and lifestyle problems as other substance use behaviors.  

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What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction or “alcoholism” is defined as a pattern of alcohol use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. Although the DSM-V combines alcohol abuse and addiction into the same disorder with different levels of severity, the primary difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism is the level of tolerance that users experience. This includes the cravings and significant changes in brain chemistry that long-term alcohol abuse causes. Once addiction has taken hold, it becomes increasingly difficult for users to overcome alcohol use without specialized care. 

Alcohol addiction is caused by prolonged and untreated alcohol abuse, which can develop through numerous different circumstances, including:

  • Family History 
  • Singular or Repetitive Trauma 
  • Mental Illness (Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Etc.)

Signs of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction 

The widespread use of alcohol in social settings can often blur the lines between just what behaviors constitute abuse and which ones constitute “harmless” drinking. This is why loved ones of those at risk for alcoholism must remain vigilant in identifying changes in behavior that indicate abuse or addiction.

Some of the more common signs of alcohol addiction include:

  • Constant Preoccupation with Drinking
  • Increased Risk-taking Behavior in the Pursuit of Alcohol 
  • DUI, Incarceration or Other Legal Troubles Due to Alcohol 
  • Decline in Professional or Academic Performance 
  • Difference in Social and Behavioral Patterns 

Alcohol abuse and addiction is prevalent among users of all ages, from adolescents to seniors. 

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Physical and Psychological Dangers

Excessive drinking causes significant long-term physical and psychological damage. Alcohol severely depresses the central nervous system and can damage major organs, including the liver and the heart. In addition to the immediate physical dangers, problem-drinking can also lead users to questionable and irresponsible decision-making that endangers their lives and the lives of others. The CDC reported 10,076 drunk-driving deaths in 2013, accounting for over one third of nationwide traffic fatalities. 

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Some of the more common long-term physical dangers of alcohol abuse include:

  • Liver Disease (Cirrhosis, Hepatitis, Jaundice, Etc.)
  • Cardiomyopathy (Heart Disease) 
  • Gastro-Intestinal Problems
  • Diabetes 
  • High Blood Pressure 
  • Pancreatitis
  • Migraine and Headache 
  • Tremors and Shaking 

Alcohol abuse and addiction may also lead to serious lifestyle problems such as job loss, family estrangement, financial struggles, and deterioration of relationships. Psychological issues include depression, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis and other chronic conditions which may require ongoing psychiatric care. 

Effective Alcohol Abuse and Addiction Treatment

Treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction incorporates detoxification and withdrawal management along with rehab and behavior modification. Because alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous, medically supervised detox is usually recommended in all cases, but each user’s program should be tailored according to their care needs and alcohol abuse history. Treatment will invariably include some combination of the following:

  • Group Therapy
  • Individualized Counseling
  • Withdrawal Management 
  • Behavior Modification 
  • Supplemental Therapies 
  • Aftercare and Ongoing Monitoring

Treatment should also focus on the root causes of alcohol addiction. An effective alcohol treatment program should give patients the opportunity to confront the issues that led to their alcohol abuse in a safe, healthy and supportive environment. Patients should also have the opportunity to work with therapists to develop techniques that allow them to deal with cravings in their day-to-day lives. Alcohol’s legal availability and dominant presence increase the risk of relapse among users compared to other drugs. It’s important that recovering alcohol abusers have the behavioral therapy that will allow them to avoid potentially dangerous situations.