Alcohol Abuse And Side Effects

Alcohol is a popular legally controlled psychoactive drug that is commonly consumed in social settings. When ingested, about 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach; the other 80% is absorbed in the small intestine. Alcohol makes its way to the rest of the body through the bloodstream and begins to disrupt the body’s system’s normal functioning. The liver breaks down the majority of alcohol that has been consumed. Long-term use of alcohol and excessive drinking can put a strain on the liver, which can cause related health issues. In the brain, alcohol interacts with neurotransmitters and impacts the normal functioning of mood, awareness, and perception.

Individuals become addicted to alcohol and developed what is referred to as an AUD or Alcohol use disorder when they frequently consume or abuse alcoholic drinks over a period of weeks, months, or years.

What Defines An Alcohol Addiction?

Not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic; but when a person has no control over their drinking, they likely have an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is marked by a craving for alcohol and the inability to stop drinking despite any negative impacts. An AUD occurs when the chemical changes from long-term alcohol use cause the brain to adapt its normal functions. This creates a dependency on the substance.

Alcohol Addiction

Signs And Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

A person is diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder by a medical or mental health professional (such as a psychiatrist). The criteria for mild, moderate, and severe AUD are created and published by the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). A physician may diagnose someone with a mild AUD if they meet 2–3 criteria—or signs and symptoms—for an AUD, 4–5 criteria for a moderate AUD, and 6 or more criteria for a severe AUD occurring within a 12-month period.

The APA’s diagnostic signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder:

  • Using alcohol more frequently or in higher amounts than intended.
  • Being unable to stop drinking or control alcohol intake despite attempts.
  • Spending significant amounts of time getting, drinking, and recovering from the effects of alcohol.
  • Experiencing strong urges to drink (also known as cravings).
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work, home, or school due to recurrent alcohol use.
  • Continuing to drink alcohol even after experiencing social or relationship problems that are caused or worsened by alcohol use.
  • Giving up or reducing the amount of time spent at work or school or on social and recreational activities that a person once enjoyed due to alcohol use.
  • Repeated episodes of drinking during times when it is physically dangerous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).
  • Continues to drink despite recurring physical or psychological problems related to alcohol use.
  • Experiencing tolerance, which is when someone must drink increasing amounts of alcohol to achieve previous desired effects.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop or cut back on drinking, such as shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, racing heart, seizures, or hallucinations (seeing or sensing things that aren’t there).

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What Are The Causes Of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction or AUD (alcohol use disorder) starts because of the feeling someone gets from drinking. Alcohol can have a calming effect on the body similar to that of a benzodiazepine which can be appealing for someone that wants to “loosen up” or calm anxiety. The problem begins when an individual continually seeks the feeling that alcohol gives them. Certain biological, psychological, and social influences are also believed to play a role in the development of AUDs including the following.

  • Genetics
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Parental drinking patterns
  • Exposure to trauma and stress during childhood
  • Drinking alcohol at an early age… Scientists have found that people who began drinking at age 15 or younger were 5 times more likely to develop an AUD than those who started drinking at age 21 or older. In addition, the risk for females in this group is higher than for males.
  • Certain psychiatric disorders may be a precursor to alcoholism or evolve out of alcohol dependency. Some of these disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and anti-social personality disorder. It is widely debated if these co-occurring disorders are the result of the alcoholism or if they contributed to the development of alcoholism.

When Do Side Effects Of Alcohol Abuse Occur?

Alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder that comes with overuse or compulsive alcohol drinking, the loss of control over intake, and the emergence of a negative emotional state when alcohol is no longer available. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a diagnosis given when an individual loses the ability to stop drinking alcohol or control their alcohol consumption. This is one of the final phases of addiction. Some of the adverse side effects of alcohol addiction are repercussions such as losing a job, financial or social problems, and adverse health side effects.

Prior to admitting to having a problem, sometimes alcoholics will try to temper their drinking, only drinking at certain times of the day or start switching the type of alcoholic drink they are consuming prior to admitting they have a problem with alcohol. It is generally accepted that changing the type of drink or slightly moderating alcohol consumption only helps for a period of time and is actually a precursor to more severe alcohol addiction.

Co-Occurring Disorders Associated With Alcohol Abuse

Certain psychiatric disorders, including major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and antisocial personality disorder are commonly associated with alcoholism, although whether or not these co-occurring disorders are a result of the alcoholism or contributed to the development of an alcohol use disorder is unclear and may differ per individual. Some studies suggest that schizophrenia, depression, and personality disorders are also predisposing factors for AUDs. This means that if a person has one or more of these psychiatric conditions, they may have an increased risk of alcoholism.

High-Functioning Alcoholics

High-functioning alcoholics, who are not medically diagnosed as such, do not fit the typical characteristics of a person struggling with an AUD. People who are high-functioning alcoholics are capable of keeping their alcoholism from interfering with their professional obligations. They may appear to have their lives together, but they likely struggle with intense cravings for alcohol and many unsuccessful attempts at stopping use.

High-functioning alcoholics rarely recognize they have a problem until they face severe alcohol-related consequences. The danger of high-functioning alcoholism is that it can continue for years while a drinker remains in denial. The long-term health risks associated with an AUD still affect high-functioning alcoholics.

What Are The Effects of Alcohol Addiction?

Long-term constant alcohol use and misuse pose some very serious health risks. The substance has been linked to over 200 diseases and health conditions such as liver cirrhosis, cancer, unintentional injuries (to self and to others), and addiction as well, which can all be caused by the consumption of alcohol.

Other long-term health effects of alcohol addiction include:

  • Liver disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Pancreatitis
  • Brain and nerve damage
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Dementia

Because alcoholism is a progressive disorder, its impacts and risk for health problems will get worse with prolonged use. For this reason, treating AUD is easiest when done in the early stages.

Frequently Asked Questions For Alcohol Abuse

Some of a person’s risk in developing an AUD depends on how much, how often, and how quickly they consume alcohol. Certain biological, psychological, and social influences are also believed to play a role in the development of AUDs. Some risks factors that may lead to someone developing an AUD may include:

  • Genetics.
  • A family history of alcoholism.
  • Parental drinking patterns.
  • Exposure to trauma and stress during childhood.
  • Drinking alcohol at an early age. Scientists have found that people who began drinking at age 15 or younger were 5 times more likely to develop an AUD than those who started drinking at age 21 or older. In addition, the risk for females in this group is higher than for males.

Because alcohol is a Central Nervous System Depressant, it slows down the brain. This results in short-term effects such as slurred speech, coordination issues, drowsiness, distortion of senses and perception, loss of consciousness, lowered inhibitions, and problems with memory. The intensity of alcohol’s short-term effects depends on the amount and how quickly it is consumed, the weight and sex of the drinker, and if food has been eaten prior to drinking. These factors impact how the body processes alcohol. Women are at a higher risk for adverse effects because they tend to weigh less than men. This means women tend to process alcohol at a slower rate than men, even if they drink the same amount.

Alcohol Detoxification

Alcohol Detox is an ideal first step toward recovery from an AUD, but detoxification alone is rarely sufficient in helping a person achieve long-term abstinence. Detoxification is a set of interventions that are designed to help someone safely and comfortably withdraw from alcohol, which will then position a person to transition into a formal and typically longer-lasting treatment program.

Before entering a detoxification center, a physician will need to perform a thorough assessment of a patient’s experience with alcohol abuse, previous withdrawal experiences (if any), and medical and psychiatric history in order to determine their withdrawal risk. For the sake of this assessment, patients may also undergo blood tests and screening for the presence of any co-occurring mental or physical health issues.

Any person at risk of severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, which include seizures and delirium tremens (DTs), should undergo detox in an inpatient facility, such as a hospital or other acute care facility, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

During the detox process, patients may receive medications to help them safely withdraw from alcohol. Some of these medications may include:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, oxazepam, or lorazepam. If benzodiazepines are administered early during alcohol withdrawal, they may help reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, preventing a progression to potentially serious, and fatal, consequences.
  • Anticonvulsants like carbamazepine, gabapentin, or topiramate. These medications help reduce drinking behavior and treat mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Topiramate has not yet received FDA approval but has shown promise in treating alcohol addiction.
  • Antipsychotics, like haloperidol, can reduce extreme agitation, hallucinations, delusions, and delirium during alcohol withdrawal.

Once detox is complete, a patient may transition to a suitable substance abuse treatment program.  Depending on the severity of a patient’s addiction, their level of social support at home, and other factors, they may undergo inpatient or outpatient treatment for an AUD following detoxification and withdrawal management. These programs can help to treat not only an addiction but also its root causes. Participating in aftercare programs, such as support groups and therapy, can help to lower the chance of relapse after rehab.

Find Help Through Our Inpatient Treatment Program

You don’t have to go through recovery alone. Many people who struggle with alcohol abuse find recovery through rehab. find it difficult or impossible to quit without the help or support of others. You deserve to live a life where you feel emotionally safe. We can help you heal the mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds of addiction and create a life that feels fulfilling. Contact our recovery centers today for a free, confidential, personalized, consultation.

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George Kocher

George Kocher

George is a content creator with 7 years of experience working with substance use disorder patients. He has held positions as an admissions director, marketing manager, and Chief Marketing Officer within chemical dependency.

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