Get Confidential Help 24/7
Alcohol is America’s ever-present recreational drug of choice. With the backing of a powerful, billion-dollar advertising industry that ensures that alcoholic beverages are available almost everywhere, alcohol is an integral part of millions of lives. For millions more it represents a casual escape, periodically indulged at work-related parties, sporting events, on major holidays, weekends, and during other leisure activities. For many occasional drinkers, alcohol’s depressant effect is at first highly desirable and easy to walk away from— but can progressively lead to excessive and irresponsible abuse.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 90 percent of people in the US consume alcohol at least once in their life. At first glance, this may not seem problematic to the casual observer— until they consider the implications. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 38 million people binge drink at least four times monthly, with approximately six dying daily from alcohol poisoning. Far from being a benign recreational beverage, alcohol is a deadly poison responsible for ruining lives, tearing apart families, racking up an alarming death toll, and burdening taxpayers billions of dollars annually in costs related to the insurance industry and criminal justice system.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP FOR A LOVED ONE
For many people, it is difficult to determine exactly when alcohol abuse has become severe enough to require professional help. One of the primary psychological characteristics associated with alcoholism is denial. Many alcoholics follow a predictable pattern that begins with casual recreational use, progresses to binge drinking and irresponsible risk taking, and ends with debilitating social, professional, medical and legal consequences. By the time the compulsion to drink has escalated to such extremes, an alcoholic may deny the existence of the problem altogether, or react with bitterness, hostility, aggression, and avoidance when confronted by friends or family about it. Casual drinking crosses an invisible line into full-blown alcoholism once the following warning signs begin to occur on a regular basis:
- Blackouts following binges
- Chronic loss of appetite
- Constant alcohol cravings
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Unexplained accidents, injuries, or illness
- Early morning drinking
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Socially inappropriate, irresponsible behavior
Sometimes the above symptoms are not only the result of alcohol abuse but are also complicated by the presence of co-occurring mental health issues and psychiatric disorders. Other tell-tale signs of alcoholism include:
- Legal problems (DUIs, restraining orders, etc.)
- Professional consequences (being fired, decreased productivity, etc.)
- Suicidal ideation and other verbal warnings
- Social isolation and obvious physical deterioration
- Stained or broken relationships (friends, family, marital)
PROGRESSION OF THE DISEASE
The CDC divides alcohol abuse into four progressive stages that can be useful for determining whether your loved one has a drinking problem:
- Binge drinking is defined by alcohol consumption excessive enough to produce blood alcohol levels (BALs) over 0.08 percent—the legal threshold for impairment. Generally, five alcoholic beverages for men and four for women consumed within a two-hour time span is enough to meet the criteria.
- Heavy drinking is defined by an average of 15 alcoholic beverages per week for men and approximately eight for women.
- Alcohol abuse is defined as regular alcohol consumption that may result in physical harm or damage to an individual’s personal and/or professional relationships and responsibilities. However, alcohol abuse itself does not necessarily indicate alcohol dependence.
- Alcoholism, alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence is simultaneously defined as a psychological disorder and a chronic relapsing disease that results in excessive use and compulsion to drink, despite the negative impact alcohol has on a person’s life.
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL CONSEQUENCES
Like other mind-altering drugs, alcohol hijacks healthy brain chemistry and leads to a series of structural changes when used excessively. This “rewiring” process affects several regions of the brain necessary for cognitive function and impulse control— one of which is the “prefrontal cortex.” Once this delicate, vital region is damaged, either temporarily or permanently, negative social and professional consequences inevitably follow. An advanced-stage alcoholic may even find themselves totally debilitated by the progression of the disease. Even high-functioning, early-stage alcoholics will suffer from the cumulative effects of their drinking socially and professionally.
Many alcoholics experience on-the-job difficulties stemming from diminished concentration and mental preoccupation with when they will have the next drink. They may also find themselves:
- Acting inappropriately, missing important deadlines, taking excessive time off, noticeably impaired while on the job, and unproductive even when applying maximum effort
- Unable to complete even simple, routine tasks required as part of their job
- Fired as a result of their irresponsibility, unkempt appearance, and the unnecessary hazard they bring to the workplace
The personal and social implications of alcoholism are just as serious. Alcohol damages self-esteem, fosters self-hatred, alienates friends and family, strains even the most intimate bonds, and destroys psychological and physical health. Cirrhosis of the liver, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), debilitating mental health issues and permanent criminal records are all negative consequences associated with alcoholism.
Always remember, anyone, at any time, regardless of race, age, gender, religion or socioeconomic status can end up needing alcohol treatment and rehabilitation. When alcohol has begun to wreak havoc in a loved one’s life, a safe and complete detox is critical to successful recovery. Alcoholism is a serious, potentially deadly disease, and time is a luxury your loved one just can’t afford.
For more information about alcohol addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- Long-Term Effects of Substance Abuse
- Why Early Intervention for Addiction is Critical
- 12 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Treatment Center
- 7 Benefits of Inpatient Rehab
Alcohol Research Current Reviews. Neurobiology of Alcohol Dependence. Vol 31, 2008.
European Addiction Research. Reduced Drinking in Alcohol Dependence Treatment, What is the Evidence? Dec, 2017.
The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. Alcohol use disorders. March, 2016.
International Scholarly Research Notices. The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and After Treatment for Alcohol Dependence. Nov, 2011.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalence of Alcohol Dependence among US Adult Drinkers, 2009-2011. Nov, 2014.
American Physiological Society (APS). Alcohol Abuse: Critical Pathophysiological Processes and Contribution to Disease Burden. May, 2014.