Drinking to Excess: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is one of the biggest problems in the United States, but it’s often overshadowed by the opioid crisis.
According to the CDC, more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States. That adds up to nearly 1 million people in this decade alone. So, why isn’t it getting the urgent attention and prominence it demands?
For starters, we have allowed ourselves to neglect the risks of alcohol use because it’s legal, easily available, and socially acceptable. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. In reality, alcohol misuse has affected people across genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses for hundreds of thousands of years, and the disease of alcoholism is more common and kills far more Americans than opioid use disorder.
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What to Look For: Signs & Symptoms Of Alcohol Abuse
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, it is estimated that 16 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not drinking.
People who are dependent on alcohol often hide some of their symptoms, and some may simply deny the severity of them. These are some of the most common signs of alcohol use disorder to look out for:
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol or being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Spending a significant amount of time drinking alcohol or recovering from the effects of alcohol use
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though it results in negative consequences (e.g., losing a job, getting a DUI, etc.)
- Skipping out on social activities and hobbies that you once used to joy
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms (e.g., nausea, sweating, shaking) when not drinking or drinking to avoid these symptoms
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Common Causes & Risk Factors
Alcohol misuse is common in teenage years, but alcohol use disorder occurs more frequently individuals in their 20s and 30s, though it can start at any age.
While there are a variety of genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors that can contribute to a person developing alcohol use disorder, these are some of the common risk factors associated with it:
- Steady drinking over time, specifically more than 15 drinks per week for males and more than 12 drinks per week for females
- Binge drinking habits starting at an early age
- Family history of substance abuse
- Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
- History of trauma or stress-related situations
- Social and cultural factors
Substances of Abuse
The Physical Effects Of Long-Term Alcohol Abuse
Heavy drinking over time can cause a myriad of chronic physical and mental health issues. The liver is typically the first organ to take a hit, and there are three types of liver disease related to alcohol consumption: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Additionally, prolonged and excessive alcohol use can interfere with how the brain functions, as well as how it’s structured.
What is Wet Brain?
Wet brain, also called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, is a form of brain damage that results from repeated, heavy exposure to alcohol. It is caused by a deficiency in Thiamine (Vitamin B1), and when someone is deficient in thiamine, the brain struggles to turn sugar into energy, thus loss of basic functioning occurs.
Wet brain consists of two separate conditions, with Wernicke encephalopathy developing first, followed by Korsakoff syndrome. The symptoms associated with each stage vary in degree, with the latter typically being irreversible.
Wet Brain Stage 1: Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
- Abnormal vision and eye changes
- Decreased / loss of muscle coordination
- Confused mental state
Wet Brain Stage 2: Korsakoff’s Syndrome
- Memory loss or gaps in time
- Inability to form new memories or learn new things
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Poor coordination, difficulty walking, and lack of balance
- Personality changes and inappropriate or uncharacteristic behaviors
- Symptoms of dementia
- Coma (advanced stages)
What Are My Treatment Options?
When individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder decide to quit drinking, certain physical signs become obvious. Agitation, headaches, sweating, anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and tremors are common side effects. Seizures, convulsions, blackouts, and hallucinations are also possible, which can lead to dangerous circumstances requiring hospitalization. Because of the possibility of life-threatening episodes, detoxing under medical supervision is often a wise choice.
Detoxification is the process by which doctors and medical staff assist those with a drinking problem in detoxing in a safe manner to help the client prepare for the treatment process where the tools are learned in order to recover for good.
Inpatient treatment is recommended for individuals with moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. Inpatient facilities monitor patients’ physical symptoms, ensuring they are not in danger.
The flexibility of an outpatient program provides individuals with the freedom to remain engaged in the workplace or at school while still receiving treatment. Outpatient treatment is also highly recommended as a continued treatment after a person completes an inpatient rehab program. Outpatient programs allow clients to continue with their normal responsibilities and also receive continued care, which assists with long-term recovery.
Sober living homes offer a stable environment that help individuals recovering from AUD get back on their feet and help mitigate feelings of loneliness. Residents are independent, yet engage in group treatment during their recovery.
Support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, also offer fellowship and much-needed support to help individuals with alcohol use disorder become sober. Groups meet weekly or daily in just about every major city in the United States. AA members follow a 12-step program that helps them reach sobriety.
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Quit Drinking + Get Sober Today at Our Los Angeles Alcohol Rehab
Tackling alcohol addiction alone is risky because withdrawals are real and extremely challenging. The good news is that those who struggle with AUD don’t have to face giving up alcohol alone. Launch Centers offers a wide variety of treatment including a 3-phase program that combines partial day, intensive outpatient, and outpatient programming with education and vocational components that allow for the best possible results for each client. If you or a loved one needs help to quit drinking, call 1-877-259-0206 to speak with a professional now.