Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Detox—What You Need to Know

Just about everyone who takes their first drink doesn’t imagine they will become dependent on alcohol. People start drinking for various reasons; to have fun, to fit in, to relax, curiosity, etc. In fact, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH,) 86.4% of people over the age of 18 in the United States reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives. That’s a large percent of people who drink or have tried alcohol.

And while most of these people who have tried an alcoholic drink or two don’t become dependent, many do. Once alcoholism or alcohol use disorder begins, it can be very difficult to stop drinking on one’s own accord. The 2016 NSDUH reported that 15.1 million or 1 in 13 Americans over the age of 12 need treatment for an alcohol use disorder. For young adults in the age group 18 to 25 the problem is larger with 1 of 7 suffering with alcohol use issues.

Determining an alcohol problem for you or loved one can be confusing. Since alcohol is not only legally but so readily consumed, what is social drinking and what is a problem with drinking aren’t always clear. However, if you are worried about a possible alcohol addiction for yourself or loved one, it’s important to look into it and find out if you or your loved one really has an issue and should seek help.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA,) alcohol addiction is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States and the fifth leading cause for disability and death across the globe. Alcoholism and alcohol misuse wreaks havoc in its path adversely impacting the person with the alcohol issue, their family, friends, as well as entire communities and our society as a whole.

Impacts of Alcohol on Health

Alcoholism and related alcohol use disorder issues have serious implications on one’s health. The longer alcohol has been consumed, the type of alcohol (liquor, wine, beer,) health status, age when drinking started and ends, and the amounts consumed each time all can have tremendous physical consequences.

Alcoholism can have a negative, potentially deadly, impact on vital body organs and systems. Here are some of the issues associated with alcohol misuse disorder:

Brain

Disruptions in the brain’s communication pathways can cause mood swings and impact behaviors, make it difficult to think clearly and make decisions, and even cause challenges with coordination. With continued alcohol use, the way the brain looks and works changes.

Heart

From a compromised heart muscle to high blood pressure, stroke, and an irregular heartbeat, excessive use of alcohol can seriously damage the heart.

Liver

The liver plays an essential role in blood clotting and all metabolic functions. Alcohol can damage the live causing a fatty liver, hepatitis (alcoholic,) fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Cirrhosis involves the loss of liver cells and irreversible scarring of the liver.

Pancreas

High alcohol consumption can lead to pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is characterized by inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels leading to digestion issues.

 Cancer

According to the NIAAA, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to increased risk of the following cancers:

  • Mouth
  • Esophagus
  • Throat
  • Liver
  • Breast

Immune System

Even drinking too much on one occasion can compromise the body’s ability to ward off germs for as long as 24 hours. Long term excessive drinking makes those consuming more vulnerable to other sicknesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis. The weakened immune system of people with alcohol addiction impedes the body’s ability to fight off germs.

Are You or Your Loved One Drinking Too Much?

As mentioned, sometimes it can be a challenge to know if you or your loved has a drinking problem. It helps to understand a few facts about alcohol first. One of the most commonly confused facts surround alcohol is how much a ‘drink’ actually is. Between wine, beer, and liquor, what actually counts as having a drink?

In the United States, a common or standard drink is any type of drink which contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. Often this is translated into percentages on beers, wine, etc. For example, a regular 12 ounce beer with 14 pure grams of alcohol generally has about 5% alcohol. Check out the chart to how much of which drinks are considered a ‘standard’ drink.

Those people who have an occasional drink, or one or two alcoholic beverages a week, aren’t considered to have a drinking problem. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) defines excessive drinking as drinking five or more drinks on one occasion for men and consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for women.  Men are more likely to drink excessively.

At-risk drinking, moderately at-risk, high at-risk drinking are all terms sometimes referred to when possible alcohol addiction is in question. Once you cross the line to alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) it can be very hard to stop or even decrease drinking on your own.

Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Ask yourself the following questions about your own or your loved one’s drinking:

  • Have you ever consumed more alcohol than you planned at an occasion?
  • Have you tried to cut down on drinking (amounts on one occasion, times drinking during the week, month, not drinking before a certain time of day, etc.) but couldn’t stick to the plan?
  • Do you spend a lot of your free time drinking?
  • Do you ever blackout when drinking?
  • Have you ever been sick or hung over from drinking?
  • Do you ever have a strong urge or desire (craving) to drink?
  • Has your drinking ever caused you to miss work?
  • Have you ever missed responsibilities to your family, friends, school, etc. due to drinking at that time or being too sick from drinking?
  • Have you continued to drink despite problems it may cause at home, work, school, etc.?
  • Do you or have you stopped doing activities or engaging in hobbies so you can spend more time drinking?
  • Have you more than one time found yourself in risky or dangerous situations you wouldn’t normally be in if you weren’t drinking? For example, engaging in unsafe sex, driving or operating machinery, swimming while intoxicated, going to a dangerous part of town, etc.)
  • Do you continue to drink even after being sick from it either physically, mentally, or emotionally?
  • Are you building a tolerance and have to consume more alcohol or more drinks to get the same effect you used to get with less drinks?
  • Have you experienced any withdrawal symptoms when alcohol begins to wear off? For example, irritability, shakiness, depression, nausea, sweating?

The National Institute on Health (NIH) advises that if you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions above, you may have or be in the beginnings of a problem with alcohol. The more questions you answer ‘yes’ to, the more severe the problem with alcohol may be.

If you think you or your loved one may have a problem with alcohol abuse, don’t despair. Millions of people have been where you are now; confused, concerned, and scared. These people have taken steps to begin to recover from alcoholism. Today many of them live happy, healthy, and productive lives much different than the lives they had when struggling with alcoholism. This can happen for you too. All you have to do is take the first step.

The First Step to Freedom from Alcohol Addiction

The first step in living a life free from addiction to alcohol or any other substance is admitting you have a problem or just considering something might not be quite right with your alcohol consumption. Looking at others who drink more than you do or are more irresponsible when they drink isn’t a great approach. In fact, try not to compare yourself to others and take an honest look at your drinking using the questions above as a place to start an honest self-appraisal.

Once you’re ready to take the next step in recovery from alcohol addiction, it will be time to take a few things into consideration. One of those things is what to do next. Think about how long you or your loved one has been drinking, how much is consumed on each occasion, how your health is, and when you had your last drink. It’s vital to understand that suddenly stopping drinking can be very dangerous to your well being. In fact, quitting cold turkey without medical supervision is highly discouraged. This is particularly true if you’ve been drinking on a regular basis for a number of years.

Seeking out an alcohol detox program in order to safely detox from alcohol is the first and one of the most important steps. Without this vital first step, you can’t begin the journey of recovery and a life beyond your dreams.

Alcohol detox or alcohol withdrawal is when a person stops drinking alcohol after a period of heavy drinking. The heavier and longer the drinking has been, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms are. When a person’s body has become addicted to alcohol or another substance and this substance is suddenly absent from the body, the brain, body, and blood can go into shock.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Again, depending on each individual and their specific circumstances surrounding alcohol consumption the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal will vary. The following are the most common:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Mood swings and emotional outbursts
  • Extreme dehydration
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Alcoholic tremors
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)
  • Seizures

Generally, there are three stages of alcohol withdrawal. Each of these stages is characterized by different withdrawal symptoms.

Three Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Stage One:

This initial and acute stage of withdrawal usually occurs about eight hours after the last drink was consumed but can occur later too. Insomnia, anxiety, irritability, moodiness, nausea, vomiting, issues focusing, and heart palpitations often occur during this first stage. Usually, this stage of withdrawal lasts for about one to two days.

Stage Two:

This stage occurs at around one to three days after the last drink. This stage can bring on more serious medical concerns. From increased blood pressure and heart rate to more extreme moodiness this is the stage of withdrawal where the body can begin to go into shock from not having alcohol in it.

Stage Three:

During this last stage of alcohol withdrawal there may be hallucinations, seizures, tremors, as well as extreme confusion and irritability. This stage usually occurs about three days to a week after the last drink and can last several weeks. If not treated with the proper alcohol detox treatment, some of the psychological issues of this stage, such as wet brain, can potentially be permanent. That’s one reason why seeking out help at well respected alcohol detox facilities is an important first step.

Medications for Alcohol Detox

No one wants to experience any of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms. But continuing drinking is a bleak life to face. If you get the support you need to get through this first and challenging stage of recovery, you’ll never have to face it again.

Another reason why an alcohol detox clinic can be essential in recovery is the use of medications to help you or your loved one get through these difficult alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medications, when administered properly, can help to ease some of these symptoms. Often when a person is withdrawing from alcohol, they may relapse as they seek to find comfort for some of the painful symptoms they are experiencing.

There are medications often used to help ease nausea and vomiting as well as anticonvulsants to help the process. In addition, sedatives may be used as well as adrenergic medications which work on certain nerves in the body.

According to SAMSHA there are 7.9 million people in the United States with co-occurring mental health issues along with substance abuse disorders. Detoxing at an alcohol detox center or alcohol treatment center enables medications to be administered for any co-occurring mental health issues.

It’s vital if you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol and wants to stop that you seek a drug and alcohol treatment center to begin. Not all alcohol detox centers offer alcoholism treatment. If you are considering inpatient treatment it’s a good idea to detox somewhere that you can stay for further treatment.

While suffering from alcoholism life may seem bleak. But recovery is possible and there is hope. Taking the first, and admittedly difficulty step on the road to recovery can be scary. Just remember many just like you have walked this same path and today live free from the chains of alcoholism and addiction. You can too!