By Peggy Gemperline RN, BSN, MBA, Executive Director, Recovery Works South Shore, a detox and residential addiction treatment center in Kentucky
Alcoholism seems to have lost its place as the number one addiction problem in America. The opioid epidemic is front and center in our minds when the topic of addiction comes up in discussion. But has alcoholism really gone anywhere? Not according to the statistics reported by the National Institute of Health (NIH). According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.4 million adults in the U.S. ages 18 and older (5.8% of this age group) had a diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women. Only about 7.9 percent of these people received treatment in the past year.
An estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.
In 2015, nearly half of the 78,529 liver disease deaths involved alcohol, which is only one alcohol related cause of death. About 33,000 people died from an overdose involving an opioid in the same year. 68,557 people died from an overdose involving an opioid in 2018. So, alcohol use disorder remains the deadliest addiction problem in the United States.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, inebriety, dipsomania and drunkenness, depending on your century, is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. AUD has devastated countless individuals and families for centuries. You can find references to this disease as far back as biblical times.
Alcohol is a controlled and legal substance, and the most available abused drug in the world. Most civilized societies around the world generally accept alcohol use, and the misuse of alcohol is fashionable within certain social situations. These trends make it difficult to notice when someone is having a dependence issue. The anxiety and inhibition lowering properties are most often seen as a positive side effect of alcohol. But alcohol comes with a long list of negative side effects. One of those side effects is being unable to remember periods of time during which the individual was intoxicated. This side effect, known as a “blackout,” can be a frequent experience of a person with AUD. The very real feelings of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair (Alcoholics Anonymous, pg 151) often accompany questions like, “How could you?” “Why would you do that?” and “Where were you?” Families and loved ones are often left cleaning up after ill-advised decisions made while intoxicated.
Most-consumed alcohols in the world
Beer, wine, and hard liquor are the top three, respectively. The alcohol percentage of such beverages varies, which is measured as ABV or Alcohol by Volume. For example, the average ABV of many famous beers ranges from 2-12%. Wines have a higher alcohol percentage than beer. Hard liquor is at the top spot according to the ABV.
Anybody can become dependent on any of the alcoholic beverages mentioned. Physical and mental impairment due to excessive drinking any of such alcoholic drinks is an ever-present risk. The number of units or glasses of alcohol required to impact one’s mind and body depends on the individual and their tolerance.
How quickly the body metabolizes alcohol
The rate at which the human body processes alcohol varies depending on many factors, such as gender, body weight, body composition, genetics, general health, and the amount consumed. The ABV of the consumed drink and the number of drinks consumed per hour play a part in the metabolization process. It is theorized that individuals who are genetically able to metabolize alcohol more rapidly are also more prone to become dependent.
Complications related to alcoholism
You or a loved one may have AUD already. Some factors and general trends make it difficult to identify alcoholism or misuse. Below are the top factors that complicate diagnosis:
- Society may widely accept alcohol. The whole nation or a collection of individuals can experience negative effects of alcohol without even realizing it.
- Some individuals are not open about their struggles.
- A person may be a high-functioning alcoholic. These individuals can maintain a healthy balance between their drinking habits, and personal and professional lives. Their issue isn’t noticeable most of the time.
- Social denial can further push someone away from ever getting treatment for their disorder.
How to spot alcoholism?
While an individual can spot the signs themselves, they often underplay the risks and are in denial over the negative consequences. Look for the following signs if you or a loved one is experiencing an alcohol use disorder:
- You or someone you know has developed an immunity to alcohol over time.
- Can’t start or end the day without a few glasses of alcohol.
- The desire to drink more often clashes with personal and professional responsibilities.
- More frequent or binge drinking.
- Withdrawal symptoms upon stopping alcohol.
- You begin to assume that “alcohol is the only escape.”
- You or someone you know want to stop drinking but can’t.
Alcoholism comes with a series of long-term and short-term side effects. Accidents/injury, violent behavior, having unprotected sex, binge drinking, and alcohol poisoning are the short-term effects of alcohol misuse. Heart disease, stroke, bowel cancer, liver disease/cancer, mouth cancer, breast cancer, and pancreatitis are the long-term side effects of alcohol addiction.
Alcohol misuse can also lead to many mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Alcoholism in the patient with one or more of these mental disorders is a complication known as Dual Diagnosis.
Treatment for alcohol addiction
Treating alcoholism is not straightforward. The person who consumes alcohol in excess amounts may or not realize their questionable behavior. Withdrawal symptoms may pull the patient towards drinking again.
Intervention for alcoholism is the widely-accepted procedure for helping someone understand the negative consequences of their actions. In general, a well thought-out dialog with the person who has an alcohol use disorder to help them understand how alcohol negatively affects their life and the lives of loved ones is one of the best options available.
The best treatments for alcoholism
A series of treatment options are now available. You or a loved one can regain control over your life and health through rehab and evidence-based treatments:
- Detox and Withdrawal: Detoxing the body in conjunction with medication to suppress and manage withdrawal symptoms.
- Psychological Counseling: This helps you better understand your disorder and the importance of overcoming it.
- Oral Medications: These medications can block the initial euphoria of alcohol.
- Injectable Medication: More efficient than oral-form medication but only administered by a healthcare professional.
- Spiritual Guidance
Alcoholism is a severe disorder that leads to unfavorable physical and mental side effects. This disorder hasn’t dissipated during the opioid crisis, and the individual who suffers from it needs treatment. Anybody can overcome it with the help of treatment experts who use evidence-based practices. Contact a treatment specialist to discover the best rehab path for you.
Headquartered in New Jersey, Pinnacle Treatment Centers is a recognized leader in comprehensive drug and alcohol addiction treatment serving more than 28,000 patients daily in California, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. With more than 110 community-based locations, Pinnacle provides a full continuum of quality care for adult men and women which includes medically-monitored detoxification/withdrawal management, inpatient/residential treatment, partial hospitalization/care, sober living, intensive and general outpatient programming, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. For more information, visit pinnacletreatment.com or call 800-782-1520.