Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol use disorder and this condition can also be understood as an addiction to alcohol. Drinking alcohol plays a significant role in many aspects of American society. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 14 million adults aged 18 and older experience what is known as alcohol use disorder. There exists a wide spectrum of severity in regards to alcohol use disorders (from mild to severe), meaning there are some individuals who experience problems related to alcohol use and are able to maintain their jobs or social aspects of their lives while there are those who face severe consequences, such as divorce, job loss, and legal problems. Trained treatment professionals are able to assess individuals to determine the specific severity of alcohol use disorder. No matter the situation, it’s important to know that treatment for this condition is available and there are programs in Alabama that provide effective, comprehensive services to support a person’s transition to recovery.
What is Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder?
Alcoholism is the most Alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcoholism, is the most severe form of alcohol use disorder and can also be understood as an addiction to alcohol. This condition exists when an individual can no longer control their alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive disease that is diagnosed as alcohol use disorder under specific criteria highlighted by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
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Alcoholism Risk Factors
The development of alcohol use disorder is not limited to one single factor. Research indicates that a complex interaction of biological, emotional, and genetic factors increases a person’s susceptibility to problematic substance use. From a brain perspective, alcohol’s euphoric effects include increased dopamine levels, or feelings of pleasure, which encourages the individual to repeat the behavior. Repeated alcohol use can create more vulnerability towards developing alcoholism. Other factors that increase the risk to develop alcohol use disorder include:
- Family history of substance abuse
- Untreated mental health issues
- Social factors
- Cultural factors
- Binge drinking starting at an early age
- History of trauma
- High levels of stress
Alcoholism Signs and Symptoms
Often times, individuals and their families are aware there is a problem with alcohol. However, to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder requires a professional evaluation. This diagnosis is based upon criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which requires a person to meet any two (2) of the following criteria within the same 12-month period:
- Being unable to cut down on alcohol use despite a desire to do so
- Using alcohol in higher amounts than originally intended
- Experiencing cravings and a strong desire to use alcohol
- Spending much time obtaining alcohol, using alcohol, and recovering from the after effects of alcohol
- Continuing to use alcohol despite negative consequences
- Giving up social responsibilities, family responsibilities, or hobbies and activities due to alcohol use
- Using alcohol in potentially dangerous situations including operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery
- Continuing alcohol use despite presence of mental and physical problems from its use
- Developing a tolerance, meaning an individual will need to consume more alcohol to feel the same desired effects
- Developing physical withdrawal symptoms when an individual stops using alcohol
How is Alcoholism Treated?
Treatment for alcoholism should always be based on a person’s individual needs, although commonly, it is important to begin this process by engaging in a medically supervised detox. This is critical because abruptly stopping alcohol use can have dangerous physical consequences that can even be fatal. Receiving detox services generally involves a brief stay at a safe and comfortable facility while being under the 24-hour care of a specially trained medical doctor. This process allows medical staff to quickly address any severe withdrawal complications while ensuring the individual is physically prepared to continue their treatment. After an individual is medically stable following the detox process, they then have the option to continue treatment at either a residential or outpatient level of care. There are significant differences in these distinct levels of care and it is important to understand how these programs can meet an individual’s specific needs.
For those who need more structure and support, receiving services in a residential setting is a good choice. At this level of care, the person lives away from home in a safe, controlled environment where they can focus on addressing challenging issues, free from the stressors of everyday life.
For those who have completed residential treatment or those who cannot spend time away from home or work, then an outpatient program is an excellent choice. Most outpatient programs offer levels of care that involve clients attending treatment 3-5 days per week, either during the daytime or the evening. This allows individuals to receive crucial treatment services while being able to address important work or family responsibilities.
It’s important to remember that recovery from alcoholism is a long-term prospect with life-long benefits and various levels of professional treatment is required to help limit that chances of relapse.