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alcohol abuse
May 24, 2021

Alcohol Abuse vs. Dependence

Many people can have an occasional glass of wine at dinner or a beer at a social function without losing control. However, for those who are predisposed to addictive behavior, “just one drink” can quickly become two, three or more as their inhibitions loosen and their judgment becomes clouded. If you worry about the potential of alcohol abuse or dependence in yourself or someone you care about, learn the warning signs of a substance use disorder and how to get help.

What Is Alcohol Dependence?

The human brain has a built-in pleasure center that releases a feel-good chemical like dopamine when you do enjoyable things like dancing or listening to music. When you form a strong link between doing a specific activity and feeling good, merely anticipating the hobby may be enough to raise dopamine levels.

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance, which means it hijacks the brain’s reward circuits. Because our brains are so plastic, long-term alcohol abuse causes changes in brain function. Eventually, alcohol disrupts your natural cycle of motivation, reward and reinforcement to a point that you no longer feel like yourself when you aren’t drinking. In other words, your brain depends on alcohol to maintain its equilibrium, instead of relying on your innate gratification mechanisms.

Once you have developed an alcohol dependence, you’ll experience various withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit drinking. These can range from mild irritability, fatigue and shakiness to a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition called delirium tremens. 

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is a more severe problem than alcohol dependence. For someone with an alcohol use disorder, drinking is their top priority. The hallmark of alcohol abuse is an unwillingness to quit drinking, despite the various negative consequences it can bring. The compulsion to abuse alcohol may cause a cascade of problems in your personal and professional life, including the following.

  • Ignoring family or job responsibilities due to drinking.
  • Using alcohol recklessly and without regard for yours’ or others’ safety, such as driving drunk or combining alcohol with prescription opioids, sedatives or antidepressants.
  • A willingness to lie or steal to get more alcohol. 
  • Denying the extent of the issue. 
  • Continuing to drink despite worsening health, deteriorating relationships or legal ramifications.

Not all people who abuse alcohol develop a physical or psychological dependence on the substance, but that doesn’t mean they are not addicted. Alcohol dependence is not the sole characteristic of addiction. The defining trait of an alcohol use disorder is an overriding preoccupation with drinking in the face of repeated complications. That’s why alcohol abuse can be so dangerous, with or without alcohol dependence.

Breaking the Cycle of Alcohol Abuse at Beach House

Professional help is available for people who have misused alcohol for a prolonged period. People with an alcohol dependence who experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back or quit can start their alcohol abuse treatment by undergoing comfortable, medically managed detox

Once your body and mind are free of alcohol’s toxic effects and you’re stable enough, you’ll progress into the next phase of residential alcohol rehab. In this 35-day program, you’ll work with a therapist to address the root cause of your addiction. You will also participate in a 12-step recovery group and learn new life skills while you discover what it takes to maintain a healthy, sober lifestyle. 

The Beach House Experience

At Beach House, our compassionate culture, industry-leading client-to-therapist ratio and commitment to upholding clinically excellent practices combine to create an ideal environment for recovery. When we founded our accredited Florida alcohol rehab in 2016, we set out to provide a healing haven for people who are struggling to reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction. In 2020, Newsweek named us to their list of the nation’s leading addiction treatment centers. 

If you’re ready to find freedom from addiction for yourself or a loved one, we welcome you to request confidential help today. 

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