Alcohol Abuse Treatment and Recovery
Addiction to alcohol (also referred to as alcohol dependency and alcoholism) is one of the most common forms of drug addiction in the United States (and in many other nations, too).
Alcoholism is an addiction with a simple definition (a chronic disease in which the body becomes dependent upon alcohol), complex causes, and effects that can range from destructive to deadly.
Contrary to an unfortunately prevalent misconception, alcoholism is neither a moral failure nor evidence of a lack of character or will power. Individuals who suffer from alcoholism have a very real (and potentially fatal) disease.
The Difference Between Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
Though the terms “alcohol abuse” and “alcoholism” are associated, it is important to understand the clear line of demarcation between abusing alcohol and being addicted to alcohol. To put this as succinctly as possible, alcohol abuse is a behavior, while alcoholism is a disease.
Many people are able to drink alcohol in moderate amounts without becoming addicted to or dependent upon this drug. Some people are even able to engage in alcohol abuse (for example, binge drinking or drinking past the point of intoxication) without developing alcoholism.
Alcohol abuse is clearly not a healthy behavior. It can lead to a number of negative outcomes, including sickness (such as alcohol poisoning), developmental disorders (in children of mothers who drink while pregnant), injuries and death (for example, auto accidents caused by drivers who were operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol).
However, alcohol abuse is not the same as alcoholism.
Alcoholism, addiction to alcohol, and alcohol dependence are all terms that are used to describe the chronic condition in which a person’s body becomes dependent upon alcohol. Some people who abuse alcohol may be able to stop — alcoholics cannot.
Warning Signs & Symptoms of Alcoholism
The following are among the more common symptoms of alcoholism:
- Becoming obsessed with alcohol — for example, feeling compelled to drink, constantly thinking about drinking, and continually planning when and where to drink
- Being unable to limit or control the amount or frequency of one’s drinking
- Being unable to stop drinking once one begins (in other words, being incapable of having “just one drink” or drinking socially in small amounts)
- Binge drinking (for men, having five or more alcohol drinks in one session; for women, having three or more drinks in one session) on a regular basis
- Drinking alone, drinking in secret, and hiding or lying about the amount and frequency of one’s drinking
- Developing tolerance to alcohol (which means that a person needs to drink increasingly large amounts of alcohol in order to experience the same “high” or rush that previously resulted from less alcohol)
- Experiencing negative outcomes directly related to one’s drinking — including lost or failed relationships, employment or financial problems, and legal consequences
- Continuing to drink alcohol even after experiencing these negative outcomes
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms – often painful physical experiences such as cramping, shaking, becoming nauseous, and sweating profusely — when unable to have a drink.
- Having “black outs” — which means being incapable of what one said or did when drinking
- Losing interest in activities and hobbies and other experiences (including spending time with friends and loved ones) that once brought great pleasure
- Hiding alcohol around the house, office, or even in the car in order to never be far away from alcohol when the urge to drink becomes too strong to resist
While no one sign or symptom confirms that a person has developed an addiction to alcohol, anyone who experiences several of the signs described above may be dependent upon alcohol. In cases where alcoholism is even suspected, it is best to consult with a physician, addiction specialist, therapist, or other expert who can diagnose the condition and recommend treatment options.
Depending upon a number of factors, including the individual’s age, the nature and severity of the alcoholism, and the presence of any co-occurring conditions, the optimal treatment for an alcoholic may include outpatient therapy, participation in a 12-Step support group, partial hospitalization, or residential treatment.
Treatment for alcoholism may include the following therapies and techniques:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- 12-Step Programs
- Relapse-prevention instruction
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
- Biofeedback & Neurofeedback
- Medication management
- Anger management
- Recreation therapy