What is alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is a disease
that affects people of all walks of life. Experts have tried to pinpoint factors
like genetics, sex, race, or socioeconomics that may predispose someone to
alcohol addiction. But it has no single cause. Psychological, genetic, and
behavioral factors can all contribute to having the disease.
It’s important to note that alcoholism is a real disease. It
can cause changes to the brain and neurochemistry, so a person with an alcohol
addiction may not be able to control their actions.
Alcohol addiction can show itself in a variety of ways. The
severity of the disease, how often someone drinks, and the alcohol they consume
varies from person to person. Some people drink heavily all day, while others
binge drink and then stay sober for a while.
Regardless of how the addiction looks, someone typically has
an alcohol addiction if they heavily rely on drinking and can’t stay sober for
an extended period of time.
What are the symptoms of
Alcohol addiction can be difficult to recognize. Unlike
cocaine or heroin, alcohol is widely available and accepted in many cultures.
It’s often at the center of social situations and closely linked to celebrations
Drinking is a part of life for many people. When is it
common in society, it can be hard to tell the difference between someone who
likes to have a few drinks now and then and someone with a real problem.
Some symptoms of alcohol addiction are:
quantity or frequency of use
tolerance for alcohol, or lack of “hangover” symptoms
at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or in places like church
to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink
contact with loved ones
alcohol, or hiding while drinking
on alcohol to function in everyday life
lethargy, depression, or other emotional issues
or professional problems such as an arrest or loss of a job
As an addiction tends to get worse over time, it’s important
to look for early warning signs. If identified and treated early, someone with
an alcohol addiction may be able to avoid major consequences of the disease.
If you’re worried that someone you know has an alcohol addiction,
it’s best to approach them in a supportive way. Avoid shaming them or making
them feel guilty. This could push them away and make them more resistant to your
What health complications are
associated with alcoholism?
Alcohol addiction can result in heart disease and liver
disease. Both can be fatal. Alcoholism can also cause:
risk of cancer
If someone with an alcohol addiction takes dangerous risks
while drinking, they can also put others at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
drunk driving, for example, takes 28 lives every day in the United States.
Drinking is also associated with an increased incidence of suicide and
These complications are reasons why it’s important to treat alcohol
addiction early. Nearly all risks involved with alcohol addiction may be
avoidable or treatable, with successful long-term recovery.
What are treatment options for alcoholism?
Treating alcohol addiction can be complex and challenging.
In order for treatment to work, the person with an alcohol addiction must want
to get sober. You can’t force them to stop drinking if they aren’t ready.
Success depends on the person’s desire to get better.
The recovery process for alcoholism is a lifetime
commitment. There isn’t a quick fix and it involves daily care. For this
reason, many people say alcohol addiction is never “cured.”
A common initial treatment option for someone with an alcohol
addiction is an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation program. An inpatient
program can last anywhere from 30 days to a year. It can help someone handle withdrawal
symptoms and emotional challenges. Outpatient treatment provides daily support
while allowing the person to live at home.
Alcoholics anonymous and other support groups
Many people addicted to alcohol also turn to 12-step
programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). There
are also other support groups that don’t follow the 12-step model, such as SMART Recovery and Sober Recovery.
Regardless of the type of support system, it’s helpful to
get involved in at least one when getting sober. Sober communities can help someone
struggling with alcohol addiction deal with the challenges of sobriety in
day-to-day life. Sober communities can also share relatable experiences and
offer new, healthy friendships. And these communities make the person with an
alcohol addiction accountable and provide a place to turn to if there is a relapse.
Someone with an alcohol addiction may also benefit from
other treatments including:
- drug therapy
- nutritional changes
A doctor may prescribe drugs to help certain conditions. For
example, antidepressants, if someone with an alcohol addiction were
self-medicating to treat their depression. Or a doctor could prescribe drugs to
assist with other emotions common in recovery.
Therapy is useful to help teach someone how to manage the
stress of recovery and the skills needed to prevent a relapse. Also, a healthy
diet can help undo damage alcohol may have done to the person’s health, like
weight gain or loss.
Alcohol addiction may involve several different treatment
methods. It’s important that each person get involved in a recovery program
that will support long-term sobriety. This could mean an emphasis on therapy
for someone who is depressed, or inpatient treatment for someone with severe
What are resources for
For more information about alcoholism or to help a loved one
find options for help, it may be best to talk to a doctor. They can refer you
to local programs, such as treatment centers or 12-step programs. Also, the
following organizations may be helpful:
is the outlook for alcoholism?
Early treatment of alcoholism is most effective. Addictions
that have gone on longer are harder to break. However, long-term addictions can
be successfully treated.
Friends and family members of people who have an alcohol
addiction can benefit from professional support or by joining programs like Al-Anon.
Someone with an alcohol addiction who has remained sober for
months or years may find themselves drinking again. They may binge drink once
or drink for a period of time before getting sober again. But a relapse doesn’t
indicate failure. It’s important that the person get back on track and resume
Ultimately, sobriety is the responsibility of the person who
has the alcohol addiction. It’s important to not enable destructive behaviors
and to maintain appropriate boundaries if the person with the alcohol addiction
is still drinking. This can mean cutting off financial assistance or making it difficult
for them to fulfill the addiction.
As a loved one of someone with an alcohol addiction, try to
be encouraging and provide emotional support.