Alcohol addiction occurs in several distinct stages. Although regular alcohol consumption can certainly be a step towards developing this disease, a person who drinks regularly isn’t necessarily an alcoholic. In fact, even many heavy drinkers cannot be clinically defined as alcoholics.
When drinking and the effects of being intoxicated have a progressively negative impact on a person’s life, continuing to drink is known as alcohol abuse. It is only when the abuse of alcohol leads to compulsive, uncontrolled drinking, and the inability to stop consuming alcohol without experiencing painful withdrawal effects that a person can be termed an alcoholic. An alcoholic is someone who suffers from alcohol use disorder. This is a chronic, lifelong disease that requires ongoing management, continuous support, and a variety of intervention strategies.
Alcoholics think of alcohol almost constantly, and they cannot control when or how much alcohol they consume. When alcoholics stop drinking, their bodies and their brains exhibit serious signs of distress. If these symptoms of withdrawal aren’t mitigated quickly and effectively, they can lead to lasting physical injuries, permanent brain damage, and even death.
How to Know if You or Someone Your Love is an Alcoholic
The term “alcoholic” is often misused. You might assume that someone you know is an alcoholic because they frequently drink until they’re extremely intoxicated. It may be that they’ve already experienced many devastating effects of heavy drinking such as:
- Job or housing loss
- The destruction of important family relationships and friendships
- Declining physical health
Although all of these things definitely indicate both a drinking problem and the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder, alcoholism doesn’t actually occur until the brain’s chemistry has been sufficiently altered, and the body has become chemically reliant upon alcohol consumption. People who abuse alcohol are living on a dangerous precipice.
Even though alcohol abuse is not the same as full-blown alcohol addiction, critical changes are already happening in the brain’s size, its functioning, and its chemistry. Moreover, these changes are constantly moving them closer to alcoholism. The moment at which full-blown alcohol addiction is reached, quitting drinking without professional support isn’t an option. No matter how much an alcoholic wants to stop drinking, the urge to drink is both uncontrollable and overwhelming.
Without continued access to alcohol, alcoholics become physically ill and suffer a number of painful psychological symptoms as well. Surprisingly, even though many alcoholics are able to muster their way through self-managed detox plans by going “cold turkey”, most recovering alcoholics who don’t seek professional treatment will relapse within just three weeks of quitting. After suffering through one to two weeks of intense and medically dangerous physical withdrawal symptoms, unsupported alcoholics in recovery will find themselves battling post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
PAWS is a series of highly uncomfortable and incredibly challenging psychological withdrawal symptoms that can leave people:
- Lacking motivation
- Battling insomnia
and even suicidal. Although many people assume that alcohol addiction is a matter of choice or that addicts simply lack willpower and commitment, alcoholism is a complex disease that requires needs-specific treatment. People consume alcohol for the feelings of elation, euphoria, and increased confidence that it provides. These feelings are the result of having triggered powerful neurotransmitters within the brain’s reward center such as gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).
GABA and other neurotransmitters like it naturally exist to reward and encourage positive behaviors such as working out, eating healthily, socializing with others, or making positive lifestyle changes. Over time, alcoholics condition their brains to perceive alcohol consumption as a beneficial and reward-worthy activity. Thus, not only must alcoholics physically detox, but they must also spend time allowing their brains and their brain chemistry to achieve a state of normalcy and balance.
With PAWS, the brain is still performing as if drinking alcohol is necessary for relaxation, happiness, and motivation. Alcohol addiction treatment is designed to foster physical and psychological healing, and to teach new and healthier behaviors and coping strategies. If you or someone you care about drinks heavily, and has experienced negative consequences as the result of drinking, these are sure signs of alcohol abuse. When a person cannot stop drinking without becoming physically ill and can no longer limit or control their alcohol consumption, this is alcohol addiction.
The good news is that with the right support, alcohol addiction can be effectively treated and managed. Whether choosing to attend inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment, alcoholics can learn more about the underlying causes of their disease and discover a variety of proven strategies for achieving lasting sobriety. To find the best rehab programs for alcohol use disorder for you or your family member, call us today at 833-820-2922.