Am I an Alcoholic? | Ambrosia Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center
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Alcohol

The term ‘alcoholic’ refers to any drinker that physically desires alcohol beyond their capacity and is unable to control their drinking, regardless of consequences. Alcohol is a depressant because it affects the central nervous system, lowering inhibition, and increasing stimulation and arousal within the body. It is both addictive and destructive.

Alcoholics in the U. S. last year
Year Defined as a Disease
Annual Alcohol-Related Deaths
U.S. Cost of Alcohol Misuse
Alcoholics in the U. S. last year
16.3 million
Year Defined as a Disease
1784
Annual Alcohol-Related Deaths
88,000
U.S. Cost of Alcohol Misuse
$249 billion

How much is too much?

While it can be easy to convince yourself that your (or your loved one’s) relationship with alcohol is “normal” and in line with peers, it is important to take a closer look. No single answer exists for how much or how frequently a person can drink before crossing the line. What is important are the consequences of dependency, including:

  • Blacking out – not being able to remember
  • Requiring more to feel the desired effect (tolerance)
  • Drinking alone and/or hiding stashes of alcohol
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Health problems
  • Losing interest in hobbies
  • Losing meaningful relationships
  • Compulsion to drink
  • Withdrawals: nausea, sweating, shaking

Continued drinking after any combination of the consequences above indicates alcohol abuse. As the drinking continues, more and more of these signs will arise.

Many alcoholics do not drink every day, making alcoholism sometimes difficult to recognize. Drinking daily and repeatedly drinking significant amounts in one sitting usually signifies a problem.

The inability to label a specific amount of drinking as alcoholism is often used by alcoholics to deny the problem to others and themselves. The consequences a problem drinker experiences, and their desire to drink despite them is the only true indicator of this disease. The good news is no matter how severe an alcoholic's drinking problem is, recovery is possible.

Stages of Alcohol Abuse


An alcoholic is both physically and mentally addicted. Alcoholism is a progressive and fatal illness that is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

Mental – The Environment & Obsession
Environmental, personality and emotional factors have all proven to play a significant part in the development of alcoholism including trauma, upbringing, culture and peer groups. Unlike other drugs, alcohol is socially accepted and readily available. While experimenting with alcohol is often seen as “normal,” an alcoholic’s obsession to reach the state of euphoria begins to overpower the pain that the alcohol is causing. These cravings are beyond mental control. The loss of self-control, the socially isolating consequences and the depressant nature of alcohol can lead to or worsen mental health issues like anxiety and sleeplessness. Alcoholics then use more alcohol to self-medicate these other conditions.
Physical – The Genetics & Tolerance
Research shows that genes are responsible for half the risk for alcoholism. Once an alcoholic takes their first drink, they experience intense cravings. The body then starts to build a tolerance so that more and more alcohol is needed to feel any effect. Additionally, heavy drinking reduces brain cell production in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that provides the self-control necessary to stop drinking. Eventually, the body becomes completely dependent on alcohol with serious physical consequences. The fear or physical discomforts of withdrawal often also encourage further consumption.

The mental obsession is what prevents alcoholics from stopping by themselves. Many would describe the disease of alcoholism as a vicious cycle that starts with a compulsion to drink and leads to further drinking to deal with the consequences of addiction. To break the cycle, those who suffer from alcoholism usually require outside help. Every recovering alcoholic is living proof that through proper treatment and support, a sober life is possible.

Consequences of Alcoholism


Alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. The substance affects every organ in the body. The intensity of both the positive and negative effects directly relates to the amount consumed.

In the long run, mental and emotional consequences exist long before the physical complications appear. These complications can include:

  • Brain deterioration
  • Loss of memory
  • Liver diseases & failure
  • Heart issues & stroke
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gastritis (inflammation of stomach walls)
  • Deterioration of motor skills
  • Mood disorders
  • Guilt & shame
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression & anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Unintentional injuries such as car crash, falls, burns, etc.

Fortunately, once a heavy drinker stops using alcohol, many of these symptoms are treatable, if not curable. The quicker the cessation occurs, the more likely the individual can fully recover from physical symptoms.

Hear the Stories
Ambrosia Treatment Center
Sherry D.
Treatment Center
When I finally, after many years, realized that I had to quit drinking, I resisted the label ‘alcoholic’. I didn’t look like any alcoholic I’d ever seen. I had a successful, well-paid, complicated career. I had no DUI’s, no DWI’s, and no instances of arrest or detainment. My health was good. My bills were current. If I went a few days without drinking (rare), I didn’t get sick or shake or see things that weren’t there. It was just that once I started drinking I couldn’t stop. I was drinking more and more often in more and more quantities and it was starting to take up more and more of my time and my thoughts. I finally know what an alcoholic looks like – she looks like me.
January 6
5 5

More Questions

How Can I Get Someone to Stop Drinking?

Alcoholics are emotionally attached to alcohol, so convincing them to give it up is incredibly frustrating for both parties. Most of the time, the alcoholic in question becomes angry and resistant when a loved one presses them to stop drinking. The bottom line is, anyone who is addicted to any substance must be willing to give sobriety a try before they can truly recover.

Why Do People Drink?

Are there any medications to treat alcoholism?

FDA-approved medications can be used as part of alcoholism treatment.

Naltrexone offers short-term help to reduce physical cravings for alcohol in most, but not all alcoholics. The medication is available in the form of Revia (pills) or Vivitrol (injections). The latter is recommended to help with compliance.

Acamprosate (Campral) causes the brain to block a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), so the brain enters a more relaxed state to reduce craving anxiety. The medication is often prescribed with other medication like Naltrexone.

Disulfiram (Antabuse) causes uncomfortable side-effects if alcohol is consumed to condition the body to develop an adversion.

In Research

Topiramate (Topamax) is used to treat epilepsy, but is being studied on its ability to keep alcohol impulses in check.

Baclofen (Lioresal) is a muscle relaxant and anti-spasmodic that is currently being studied to see the effect on alcoholic cirrhosis patients staying abstinent.

Vitamins

To replenish the vitamins and nutrients the body needs after drinking, supplements can help after a long battle with alcoholism, including:

  • 5-HTP
  • Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate
  • Kudzu
  • Magnesium
  • Phenylalanine
  • Tyrosine

Notes

  • Medication is not a cure. The mental and spiritual aspects of the disease also need to be treated through clinical and holistic therapies.
  • All medications come with side-effects and may not work for everyone.
  • Certain conditions may disquality an alcoholic from the use of mediciation, including recent use of narcotics or kidney problems.

How does alcohol work?

Ethanol is the intoxicating ingredient in alcohol, produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches.

When consumed, the stomach and small intestine rapidly absorb the alcohol, which enters the bloodstream and dissolves in the water of the blood. The blood carries the alcohol throughout the body, entering inside each tissue.

Once absorbed in the bloodstream, the alcohol leaves the body in three ways:

  • The kidney eliminates 5% of alcohol in the urine.
  • The lungs exhale 5% , which can be detected by breathalyzer devices.
  • The liver chemically breaks down the remaining alcohol into acetic acid.

Time plays a critical role. A person on average can only expel 0.5 oz an hour, so a 12 oz can of beer takes about one hour to leave the system. As more is consumed than can be absorbed, BAC rises.

Despite popular belief, beer and wine are no safer than hard liquor.

What about drinking too much at one time?

While the effects of alcohol start off light, consuming too much in too short of time can and does lead to death.

Euphoria

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.03 to 0.12%

  • Increased self-confidence
  • Shortened attention span
  • Poorer judgement
  • Issues with fine movements (like writing)
Excitement

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.09 to 0.25%

  • Trouble understanding or remembering, including recent events
  • Slowed reaction
  • Uncoordinated body movement & loss of balance
  • Blurred vision & trouble with other senses (hearing, tasting, feeling, etc.)
Confusion

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.18 to 0.3%

  • Serious confusion
  • Dizziness & staggered walking
  • Highly emotional including aggressivity or overly affectionate
  • Slurred speech
  • Unable to feel pain
Stupor

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.25 to 0.4%

  • Little to no movement
  • Unresponsive to stimuli
  • Vomiting
  • Lapsing in and out of consciousness
Coma

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.35 to 0.5%

  • Unconscious
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Lowered body temperature
Death

Blood Alcohol Content = 0.5% or higher

  • Breathing stops completely

What are normal drinking patterns?

To understand how risky a person’s alcohol consumption is, consider both how much and how often the drinking occurs.

Daily & Weekly Limits
  • Women: Less than 3 drinks a day & 7 a week
  • Men: Less than 4 drinks a day & 14 a week
Risk Levels

Those fitting the drinking patterns in the low risk category have less than a 2% chance of having an alcohol addiction problem.

drinking-patterns-risks

Source: Statistics from a nationwide survey of 43,000 adults by the National Institutes of Health.

Inherently High Risk

Certain categories of people are at risk if an alcohol is consumed, including:

  • Anyone younger than 21
  • Women who are or may become pregnant
  • Those driving, planning to drive or are participating in other activities that require skill, coordination and alertness
  • Those taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that interact with alcohol
  • Those with certain medical conditions
  • Those recovering from alcoholism or unable to control the amount consumed

Why do alcoholics face a stigma?

Alcoholism is often viewed as a condition of choice rather than a genetic defect or medical problem. Because an alcoholic cannot control their drinking, they are looked at as weak, damaged and broken. This stigma further leads to feelings of denial, shame, low self-esteem and belittled self-worth.

In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):

  • 60% of those who feel they suffer from alcoholism are reluctant to seek treatment due to the perceived stigma.
  • Meaning, less than half of alcoholics ever use the vast resources available to get sober and better their lives.

Breaking the Stigmas

To save lives, public attitude toward alcoholics needs to be shifted from rejection to acceptance through:

  1. Education – allow room for growth of knowledge about alcoholism
  2. Disbanding the rumors – share experiences
  3. Creating empathy – empathy understands another person’s condition from their perspective, rather than judging from one’s perspective.

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are potentially life-threatening reactions to days, weeks, months or even years of chronic alcohol use. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin as early as two hours after the last drink and can last for several weeks.

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens (confusion, rapid heartbeat & fever)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Dehydration

The best way to prevent withdrawal symptoms is to avoid heavy drinking, seek treatment as soon as possible and safely decrease your dependence on alcohol under the supervision of medical professionals.

What are the risk factors?

Alcoholism does not discriminate, spanning globally across ages, races, genders, ethnicity and socioeconomic statuses. While 88% of U.S. adults have tried alcohol, a whopping 28% drink at levels that put them at risk for alcohol dependence.

Family History

Though there is not a single “alcoholic” gene, research confirms alcoholism runs in families through both genetics and learned behaviors. However, alcoholism can also develop with no prior family addiction history.

Trauma

Individuals who have a history of abuse (physical, mental, sexual) have a higher risk for drug addiction. Studies have also shown they also respond worse to treatment compared to those without a history of trauma.

Behavioral Disorders

A large portion of alcoholics suffer from an accompanying psychiatric or substance abuse disorders. Depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are the most common psychiatric problems. Anxiety disorders, social phobias and those with a lack of impulse control are closely related to addiction as well.

Age

The average age of first use of alcohol is 17. In fact, around 2 million Americans age 12-20 are considered heavy drinkers, with over 3% already showing signs of alcoholism. Because underage drinking interferes with normal adolescent brain development, the risk of addiction increases significantly. About 9% of individuals who began drinking after the age 21 developed alcohol dependence.
alcholism_age

Gender

The gender split for alcoholism is around 65% male and 35% female. While men are nearly twice as likely to struggle with alcohol, they are also 2.4% more likely to seek treatment. On average, 17% of men and 8% of women develop dependence at some point in their lives, leading to approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women dying each year from alcohol-related causes.

Community

Cultural norms, community and peer groups influence the availability and acceptance of alcohol, which can lead to drinking earlier, more and more often.

The top 10 alcohol-consuming states by per capita rate are:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. Delaware
  4. North Dakota
  5. Nevada
  6. Montana
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Vermont
  9. Colorado
  10. Idaho

Is alcoholism related to depression?

Though the two are different diseases, depression and alcoholism are related.

The Stats

  • One-third of depression suffers also struggle with alcohol.
  • Women are at a higher risk than men for a dual-diagnosis.

The Cycle

Depression makes someone more vulnerable to alcoholism and usually comes first. Alcohol is used as an easy way to self-medicate. On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant that can also be the cause.

Either way, the diseases fuel each other and worsen the symptoms.

Serious Consequences
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, increases impulsiveness and impairs judgment. Mixed with serious, clinical depression, the likelihood of suicide increases.

Harder Treatment
Because of the hopelessness of depression, getting sober is harder for those with this dual-diagnosis. Further, combining antidepressants with alcohol can cause worsening depression, raised blood pressure, sedation and impaired thinking.

Both diseases must be treated separately but at the same time.

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