“I am more afraid of alcohol than all the bullets of the enemy.”
― Stonewall Jackson
Alcohol addiction affects nearly 15.1 million adults and 623,000 adolescents in the United States. And that’s not surprising, given the part alcohol plays in our society’s culture.
But, as the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., alcohol addiction is a very real, very serious issue.
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Some Causes of Alcohol Addiction
Unlike many other disorders, the causes of alcoholism are difficult to pinpoint. Alcohol use is a part of our society so people believe it’s “normal” to drink.
But you should think before you drink — here’s why:
Alcohol Addiction Is Not Just Drinking Too Much
It’s also about when you drink, and why.
- Do you binge-drink (have more than five drinks in two hours) even occasionally?
- Do you drink to invite friends over or go out socially?
- Do you drink because you’re bored, sad, or lonely?
Drinking for any of these reasons might signal the beginning of an alcohol addiction.
Your Biology Might Be Betraying You
Alcohol has fast and profound effects on your brain that, once set into motion, can make it very difficult to stop drinking.
But, you say, how fast is fast — really?
How about six minutes? Researchers found significant changes in brain cell activity just six minutes after consuming one drink.
In six minutes, your brain chemistry is changed.
Now, that’s reversible by the next day in people without alcohol addiction.
But for people who drink heavily, the effects are compounded. You’ll experience difficulty thinking clearly, personality changes, and even brain damage.
If you have alcoholics in your family, you may be more prone to addiction, not just because of genetics, but because you’ve grown up around people who’ve normalized heavy drinking.
If it’s So Bad, Why Do I Keep Drinking?
The other impact alcohol has on the brain is in the reward center. Alcohol increases the release of dopamine, the “feel good” substance in the brain.
That feeling is alcohol’s tricky way of getting you to drink more. Problem is, the brain eventually adjusts to the effects of drinking and that “feel good” feeling eventually trickles away to nothing.
By that time, you’re addicted.
How Do I Know if I’m an Alcoholic?
Tolerance to alcohol is one of the most common signs of addiction.
Your friends laughingly brag that you can really “hold your liquor.” You may also experience withdrawal symptoms — like shaking, sweating, nausea, and agitation — as early as the next morning after a night out drinking.
But some signs of addiction can sneak up on you, making it easy to pass them off as something else. Here are a few:
- A flu-like feeling or unexplained illness
- Mood swings
- Changes in patterns of daily living
- Periods of hyperactivity or extreme cheerfulness or the opposite
Many alcoholics ignore these symptoms because it’s easy to see how you can chalk them up to other factors.
Don’t do it. Ignoring these signs will just increase the grip your addiction has on you.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction
I’m an alcoholic. Now what?
The good news is that you’ve already taken the first step toward treatment — realizing you have a problem. Alcoholism is a very treatable condition as long as the alcoholic is ready to accept the help they need.
Treatment plans are different for everyone, but here’s a likely scenario to give you an idea of what’s next.
Most people suffering from alcohol addiction choose to receive 24-hour care while they’re undergoing withdrawal.
A rehab center has professional, caring, qualified staff to help ease the symptoms of detoxification in a confidential setting.
Once you’ve detoxed from alcohol, you’ll want to get counseling and therapy to give you the best chance of preventing relapse. Some therapies that are effective are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Motivational Incentives
The FDA has approved several medications for the treatment of alcohol addiction. These can be useful both during and after rehab. Your doctor can decide which, if any, is right for you.
Naltrexone– This drug blocks the opioid receptors in the brain to reduce your craving for alcohol during and after withdrawal. It’s taken by tablet each day.
Vivitrol– This is a once-per-month injectable version of Naltrexone that functions to reduce cravings.
Acamprosate (Campral)– This drug also works on reducing chemical dependency by stabilizing the chemical changes in the brain and reducing alcohol cravings.
Disulfuram– For those still having trouble removing alcohol from their lives, this drug causes sweating and nausea when you drink, making the experience unpleasant rather than rewarding.
Recovery from Addiction
Recovery is possible with support from family, friends, and medical professionals.
There have been many advances in the treatment of alcohol addiction that will give you the support you need to kick the addiction and take back your life.
All you need to do is take the first step.