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Excessive alcohol consumption is a societal problem of devastating magnitude. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), approximately 90,000 people die annually from alcohol-related deaths in the US, and alcohol is considered the third most preventable cause of death after tobacco and dietary/lifestyle factors. Alcohol is relentlessly promoted by lobbies and romanticized by an entire advertising industry that capitalizes on its mind-altering effects and considerable profits margins. This ongoing campaign paints a misleading portrait— normalizing and popularizing a beverage that remains a potentially deadly legal poison
Alcohol has a profoundly negative effect on the entire body, and is as psychologically disruptive as it is physically debilitating. Despite the well-known and scientifically established dangers associated with alcohol consumption, it remains highly popular and shows no signs of stopping. Although overcoming alcoholism is extremely challenging—especially when it has reached an advanced stage— becoming free of its devastating effects is entirely possible.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that in 2015 approximately 90 percent of people ages 18 or older consumed alcohol at least once within their lifetime. Within that majority, approximately 70 percent reported drinking within the past year, and approximately 60 percent within the past month. During the same year:
- Approximately 15 million adults over the age of 18 met the official diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Of those meeting the criteria, approximately 7 percent of those received treatment within the past year—a shockingly low percentage.
- Approximately 625,000 adolescents ages 12-17 suffered from AUD. In that cohort, only 5 percent received treatment within the past year—a devastating statistic given the mental, physical and psychological vulnerability of the population.
Beyond the negative health consequences related to excessive alcohol consumption is an overwhelming socioeconomic burden. For example:
- In 2010, alcohol abuse cost the US approximately $250 billion in costs related to traffic accidents, the healthcare industry, insurance premiums, and the criminal justice system.
- Approximately three-quarters of the total costs associated with alcohol abuse are the result of binge drinking.
- In 2012, approximately 3 million deaths were linked to excessive alcohol consumption, which equates to 6 percent of global deaths.
- In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that alcohol was responsible for over 200 diseases and injury-related conditions—the most prevalent being alcohol dependence as defined by the DSM-1V.
- Approximately 10 percent of children in the US live with a parent suffering from untreated alcohol abuse or an officially diagnosed AUD.
For many people, overcoming addiction to alcohol is a long and perilous journey. Major roadblocks and constant temptations along the way can make it seem impossible, or at the very least, daunting. Fortunately, if you are truly motivated by a desire to quit drinking, you don’t have to hit rock bottom or suffer from any more self-created social, professional, legal or health-related problems. In the majority of cases, the decision to stop drinking does not occur in a single epiphany or “light bulb” moment—although it does happen. Rather, it is usually a gradual awakening process triggered by increasing self-awareness and realization.
MOTIVATION FOR QUITTING
The decision to quit drinking is preceded by personal motivation—a reason or reasons why one should quit. Alcohol is particularly devastating in terms of its psychological impact, which includes the need for instant gratification. Frequently, long-term benefits aren’t sufficient in themselves to motivate people to quit, although they can certainly help. One proven strategy known to help those struggling with alcoholism overcome their need for instant gratification is creating a list of immediate reasons for quitting. For example, short-term benefits may include:
- Reclaiming lost time and energy—excessive drinking can be an inordinately time consuming, pathological process. Many people struggling with AUDs waste considerable time and energy sustaining their habit. In an all-too-common scenario, an alcoholic spends a large portion of their day non-productively thinking about their next drink or “fix.” Another large percentage of time is spent actually drinking to the point of intoxication, followed by a period of sobering up. Quitting drinking has an extremely positive, energizing and time-saving effect on an individual’s life.
- More meaningful connection—the acute state of intoxication triggered by alcohol consumption prevents meaningful social connection and clear cognitive processing— even when social situations are engaged. In short, alcohol distorts mental and physical processes to the point of distraction. This, in turn, means that although an individual suffering from alcohol abuse may be physically present, they are not actually there! Quitting drinking not only helps people to enjoy more meaningful connections, but also appreciate the gift of presence as an added bonus.
- Saving money—anyone who has ever been to a bar or nightclub knows how expensive alcoholic beverages are. People suffering from AUDs frequently rack up tabs that can equate to hundreds of dollars a week. This can easily end up totaling a thousand dollars or more in a month. Even in high-functioning alcoholics who enjoy the security of well-paying professions, the financial toll can be devastating. Quitting drinking invariably results in considerable financial savings.
- Improving quality of sleep—alcohol is considered a depressant, making users tired and lethargic when consumed in sufficient quantities. Over time, alcohol interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm and offsets its natural equilibrium. The disrupted sleep patterns that accompany chronic alcohol abuse are extremely damaging to multiple physiological and psychological processes. By no longer drinking, the body naturally readapts and the quality of sleep dramatically improves.
- Enhanced mental and physical function—excessive alcohol use inevitably damages cognitive processes and impedes physical function. Performing at optimal capacity is not possible when intoxicated. Therefore, improved mental and physical capabilities can be expected with cessation of drinking. Enhanced productivity at work, school, and in all aspects of one’s social life and intimate relationships are a welcome result.
Once the primary motivations for stopping drinking have been established, it becomes necessary to restructure your life so that drinking is no longer the main recreational activity. Many alcoholics in early recovery find that the following steps help add tangible structure to their newfound commitment to sobriety and improve long-term treatment outcomes:
- Walking away from drinking buddies
- Finding sober recreational hobbies and social outlets
- Developing a greater sense of spirituality
- Removing past reminders of alcohol use in the home or work environment
- Publicly stating your intentions so that negative outside influences are diminished and clear boundaries set
For many clients, alcohol addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that requires professional psychiatric intervention and medical management. A wide range of evidence-based options are available for those desiring sobriety and an improved quality of life. Although intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment and outpatient treatment (OP) are cost-effective options, inpatient treatment at a reputable residential facility is considered the preferred method—especially for clients suffering from advanced stage alcoholism.
Regardless of the treatment level chosen, all levels of care should include supervision by licensed medical professionals and qualified clinicians who work together to administer pharmacological interventions, develop comprehensive treatment plans, and evaluate progress. Fortunately, contemporary medical advancements allow clients to enjoy a wide range of medications that help maximize treatment outcomes. These medications, all of which are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, help reduce cravings, stabilize mental and physical function, and treat co-occurring anxiety and depression-related disorders. Throughout the course of treatment, the following therapeutic modalities are also incorporated into the protocol to address additional psychological factors involved in alcohol addiction:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Family therapy
- Motivational interviewing (MI)
- Trauma focused therapy (TFT)
- Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
- Creative and expressive therapy
- Narrative therapy
Once a client has successfully completed initial treatment, relapse prevention becomes a primary focus and concern. A comprehensive, empirically proven relapse-prevention plan should include: participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), actively working the program with the help of a sponsor, maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, commitment to a spiritual purpose, and developing a strong network of sober friends and community support systems.
If you or someone you love is suffering from alcohol addiction, call a substance abuse professional today to begin to process of seeking help. Alcohol addiction may seem normal due to its prevalence in society, but it is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Like other mind-altering substances—alcohol addiction knows no personal, professional, religious, political, racial, or cultural boundaries. Any one, at any time, can find themselves in need of professional help.
For more about alcohol addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “Is My Teen Addicted to Alcohol?”
- “Prenatal Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse”
- “How Schools Are Preventing Alcohol Abuse in Student Athletes”
- “What Your Child Can Learn About Alcohol Abuse From Watching You Drink”
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The Pharmacogenetics Journal. Alcoholism and alcohol drinking habits predicted from alcohol dehydrogenase genes. Oct, 2007.
The American Journal of Medicine. Moderate Alcohol Consumption: From Both Sides of the Atlantic and of the Channel. August, 2016.