alcohol addiction

Alcohol is the single most abused substance in the United States today.  Alcohol is also typically abused by individuals struggling with recreational, non-recreational or prescription drug addictions as it is often cheaper and easier to obtain.  But, there are individuals who suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse alone, who have never had an interest in illicit, prescription or recreational drugs. This is why we treat alcohol addiction in which ever way it has been realized in an individual’s life.  We specialize in the following alcohol abuse disorders:

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Alcoholism is an addiction. It is the compulsive and obsessive consumption of alcoholic beverages beyond any sane reason.

For most adults, moderate drinking use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans have an alcohol use disorder. This means that their drinking causes distress and harm.

Alcoholism, or dependence, is a disease that causes

  • Craving – a strong need to drink
  • Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms
  • Tolerance – the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect

With alcohol abuse, you are not physically dependent, but you still have a serious problem. The drinking may cause problems at home, work, or school. It may cause you to put yourself in dangerous situations, or lead to legal or social problems.

Another common problem is binge drinking. It is drinking about five or more drinks in two hours for men. For women, it is about four or more drinks in two hours.

Too much drinking is dangerous. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs. Drinking during pregnancy can harm your baby. Drinking also increases the risk of death from car crashes, injuries, homicide, and suicide.

If you want to stop drinking, there is help. Start by talking with us (confidentialy) at (801) 336-0658.

Alcohol Dependence

A psychiatric diagnosis in which an individual is physically or psychologically dependent upon drinking alcohol. In 2013 the condition was reclassified as Alcohol Use Disorder.

If you find it difficult to enjoy yourself or relax without having a drink, it’s possible you’ve become dependent on drinking.
The NHS estimates that just under one in 10 (8.7%) men in the UK and one in 20 (3.3%) UK women show signs of dependence (sometimes known as “alcoholism”).

Being dependent on drinking means you feel you’re not able to function without it, that drinking becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in your life.

Are you dependent?

It might be surprising to hear that you don’t always have to be drinking to extreme levels to become dependent. Anyone who is drinking regularly will have a degree of dependency.

According to Dr Nick Sheron, a liver disease specialist from Southampton University, dependency operates on a spectrum. “At one end of the scale you have people who are mildly dependent,” he says. “That’s people who, for example, can’t conceive of a Friday night without having enough drinks to get a bit tipsy. At the other end, you have people where drinking is more important than their jobs, their families, than pretty much anything, including being alive.”

People who drink heavily tend to keep increasing the amount they drink because they develop a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance is a physiological response we have to any drug: the more you consume, the more you need to consume to have the same effect.

Part of this dependence is because the wiring in the brain changes with frequent consumption. Then, as Dr Sheron says: “This change makes you less able to drink in a controlled way.”

Why people become dependent

Alcohol dependence can run in families. It’s partly down to your genes, but is also influenced by your family’s attitudes to drinking and the environment you grow up in.

“We know from studies of twins raised apart and those raised together that 60% of your tendency to become dependent is inherited,” says Dr Sheron. “The rest is due to free will and environmental effects. If you come from a line of alcoholics, your likelihood of becoming an alcoholic is much increased.”

Using drinking to deal with stressful events, such as bereavement or losing a job, can also trigger heavy drinking, which can then lead to dependence.

Signs and symptoms of dependence

Like many other drugs, alcohol can be both physically and psychologically addictive. These are some signs to look out for that may suggest you’re becoming dependent on alcohol:

  • Worrying about where your next drink is coming from and planning social, family and work events around drinking
  • Finding you have a compulsive need to drink and it hard to stop once you start
  • Waking up and drinking – or feeling the need to have a drink in the morning
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings – these can develop because regular, heavy drinking interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains that are needed for good mental health
  • Suffering from physical withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, shaking and nausea, which stop once you drink alcohol.

If you’re worried you might be becoming dependent on drinking, Dr Gardiner suggests looking at how easy it is for you to go a few days without drinking. “Finding it pretty difficult to cut out alcohol on a Monday or a Tuesday, for example, is a pretty clear sign you have a significant issue and may well have a degree of dependence.”

Alcohol Abuse

This is a psychiatric diagnosis in which there is a constantly recurring harmful use of alcohol despite the negative consequences. There are at a minimum two types of alcohol abuse (1) those individuals who exhibit anti-social and pleasure-seeking tendencies, and (2) those individuals, typically anxiety-ridden people, who are able to sustain from drinking for extended periods of time, but are unable to stop drinking once they start.  Both abusive behaviors.

Abusers are typically heavy drinkers who continue drinking regardless of the results.

Alcohol can be an addictive substance. Not everyone who consumes alcohol will become addicted. However, certain people may be more susceptible to addiction.

It should be noted that alcohol addiction and abuse are not the same. It’s important to understand the facts on alcohol abuse. Alcohol addiction refers to a psychological and physical dependency on alcohol. Individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction may build up a tolerance to the substance, as well as continue drinking even when alcohol-related problems become evident.

Alcohol abusers are not necessarily addicted to alcohol. Abusers are typically heavy drinkers who continue drinking regardless of the results. Abusers of alcohol may not drink on a consistent basis. For example, an individual who abuses alcohol may only drink once a week. However, when that individual drinks, he puts himself into risky situations or drinks enough to cause problems, such as alcohol poisoning. Certain individuals who abuse alcohol may eventually become dependent on it.

Signs and Symptoms

Individuals who suffer from alcohol abuse do not always exhibit the same symptoms. The type of symptoms experienced by an individual will depend on a number of factors, such as the individual’s background and medical history. While alcohol abuse symptoms do vary, there are signs and symptoms that can indicate a problem.

Signs of alcohol abuse include:
  • Decreased involvement in extracurricular activities.
  • Loss of interest in work or school.
  • Depression.
  • Lack of interest in family or friends.
  • Preoccupation with drinking.
  • Restlessness.
  • Inability to control drinking.
  • Erratic behavior.
  • Violent behavior.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking, or heavy episodic drinking, is drinking alcoholic beverages with the intention of becoming heavily intoxicated over a short period of time. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking tht brings an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 percent or above in about two hours of time. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and women 4 or more drinks in rapid fashion.

The NHS defines binge drinking as “drinking a lot in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”.

Because everybody is different, it is not easy to say exactly how many units in one session count as binge drinking. The definition used by the Office of National Statistics for binge drinking is having over 8 units in a single session for men and over 6 units per women.

Of course, people may drink at different speeds or drink over a different amount of time and this definition may not apply to everyone.

What we can say is that the risks of short-term harms like accidents or injuries increase between two to five times from drinking five-seven units. This is equivalent to 2-3 pints of beer.

The sorts of things more likely to happen when people drink too much or too quickly on a single occasion include accidents resulting in injury, misjudging risky situations or losing self-control.

Official advice

If you do choose to drink, it’s best to spread your drinks evenly throughout the week. If you wish to cut down the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, a good way to do this is to have several drink-free days per week.

Other ways to keep the risk from alcohol low the government recommend that you should:

  • Limit the total amount of alcohol that you drink on any one occasion.
  • Drink more slowly, alternate drinks with water and drink with food
  • Avoid risky places and activities; make sure you are with people that you know and that you know how to get home safely.

Some of the short term harms that can happen include accidents resulting in injury (causing death in some cases), misjudging risky situations, and losing self-control.

Why is binge drinking riskier than drinking normally?

Your body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour (watch our What is a Unit? animation to find out more).

Two large glasses of wine may not seem like very much. But drinking six units of alcohol in a short space of time – an hour, say – will raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and could make you drunk very quickly.

Drinking the same amount over several hours as well as eating food will have less effect on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

What are the effects of binge drinking?

Getting drunk can affect your physical and mental health:

  • Accidents and falls are common because being drunk affects your balance and co-ordination. In extreme cases, you could die.
  • Binge drinking can affect your mood and your memory and, in the longer term, can lead to serious mental health problems.

More commonly, binge drinking can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour.

How can you tell if you’re a binge drinker?

Even if you don’t drink every day, you could be a binge drinker if you:

  • Regularly drink more than the low risk alcohol unit guidelines in a single session
  • Tend to drink quickly
  • Sometimes drink to get drunk

If you find it hard to stop drinking once you have started, you could also have a problem with binge drinking and possibly dependence.

Get help with binge drinking

A good place to start is taking our confidential Alcohol-Self Assessment Test.

If you’re worried about your drinking habits, contact your GP. They will be able to suggest ways to help you cut down your drinking, and can also refer you for counselling or support services.

Call us today at (801) 336-0658. It’s free and confidential.