Each year, about 14 million Americans struggle with the effects of alcohol addiction, and around 95,000 Americans die each year from the effects of excessive drinking. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can affect every part of a person’s life, from job loss and severe health problems.
Fortunately, treatment can help. At Indiana Center for Recovery, our experienced staff provides compassionate and holistic care. We work with patients at each step of the recovery process. Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction and treatment.
What Is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?
People with AUD often have trouble controlling their drinking. They may drink to the point of physical illness or severe intoxication. Some struggle with the urge to drink early in the day, and they may even arrive at work intoxicated. Additionally, people with AU are usually preoccupied with their drinking. They might plan drinking sessions in advance or stockpile alcohol.
Over time, alcohol begins to cause severe problems in the patient’s life. But people with AUD still struggle to quit drinking. They may try to set limits on their drinking, then relapse within hours or days. Most people with AUD feel deeply ashamed of their drinking and may attempt to hide their drinking from their loved ones.
Sadly, some people believe that AUD is simply a lack of willpower. This belief is false. People with AUD aren’t “weak” or “lacking in willpower” — AUD is a medical condition that requires professional treatment and specialized care.
Alcohol Use Disorder vs. Unhealthy Drinking
Sometimes, families aren’t sure whether a loved one is affected by AUD. Patients may also hesitate to accept a diagnosis. They may insist that their drinking isn’t a symptom of a psychiatric disorder.
A person can have unhealthy drinking habits without suffering from addiction. People who misuse alcohol may drink too much, but they don’t always feel a strong compulsion to drink. Some may be able to quit drinking on their own, but often will feel an overpowering compulsion to drink. It can be difficult or impossible for them to quit without help.
Keep in mind that alcohol misuse always has serious health consequences. Even if a person isn’t addicted, they can still harm their health by drinking too much. When in doubt, it’s best to seek a medical evaluation. A medical provider can determine whether a patient’s alcohol use is cause for concern.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
People with AUD often report:
- The inability to cut down or limit drinking
- Several unsuccessful attempts at quitting
- Social lives that revolve around drinking
- Strong alcohol cravings
- Hiding alcohol or concealing empty containers
- Professional problems resulting from alcohol use
- Relationships problems resulting from alcohol use
- Withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking
People with AUD usually continue to drink even when they know they have a problem. Patients are usually aware that their drinking patterns are unhealthy. They know that their drinking threatens their health, their careers, and their relationships. But no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to quit. As a result, patients often feel ashamed and hopeless.
Rest assured that recovery is possible. With treatment, patients can successfully manage their compulsion to drink.
Health Risks of Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and heavy consumption carries many health risks. But before we discuss these risks, let’s define “heavy alcohol consumption.”
Most researchers agree that adults should have no more than 1-2 drinks per day or 7-14 drinks per week. Women should limit themselves to one drink per day. Men can generally have up to two drinks per day. Researchers define one drink as:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
Many Americans drink far more than the recommended intake, and heavy drinking can destroy a person’s health. Heavy drinkers have a higher lifetime risk of cancer. They’re more likely to develop several other health conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
Women who drink heavily are more likely to have miscarriages or stillbirths, too. If they drink during pregnancy, their children may develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can cause permanent damage to a child’s brain.
Alcohol has short-term risks as well. Intoxicated people are more likely to suffer car accidents, falls, or accidental drownings. They’re at a higher risk of risky sexual behavior or damaging financial decisions. Patients may also experience alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and requires urgent care. Without treatment, it may be fatal.
Heavy drinking can shorten a person’s lifespan. The CDC estimates an annual loss of about 2.8 million potential life years due to alcohol.
It’s never too late to stop drinking. Even if a person has been a heavy drinker for many years, sobriety can lengthen their lifespan. Treatment for AUD helps patients enjoy a longer, healthier life.
What Causes Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction appears to have a genetic component. People who have a family history of addiction disorders may be more likely to misuse alcohol. Social and environmental factors can play a role too. If a person’s friends and coworkers are heavy drinkers, they may start to drink heavily too.
Trauma and stress influence drinking habits too. Many people with AUD have experienced sexual assault, childhood abuse, or poverty. During treatment, medical providers explore these factors. If the patient has experienced trauma, treatment can provide relief. Addressing underlying trauma may help the patient change their relationship with alcohol.
How Is Alcohol Use Disorder Treated?
Most patients begin with a period of detox. During this stage of treatment, patients can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms often make it impossible for patients to quit on their own. Fortunately, medical care can make the detox period easier.
During detox, our medical staff can prescribe medication. Prescription drugs help ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous side effects. If the patient has been a heavy drinker for some time, quitting “cold turkey” can be life-threatening. Some patients may experience hallucinations, tremors, or seizures.
At ICFR, we create a safe, effective detox plan for each patient. We work with patients to manage or eliminate painful symptoms. Our 24/7 nursing staff also offers reassurance and comfort during detox.
After detox, patients are ready to move into the next stage of treatment. The team works to treat underlying medical issues and manage alcohol cravings. Many patients receive prescription medication to help with this process. Medication can help with mood swings, depression, anxiety, and insomnia. It can also reduce the urge to drink.
Most patients need therapy to achieve long-term results. During therapy, patients examine their behaviors and thought patterns. They look closely at their relationship to alcohol and explore “triggers” that make them want to drink.
Therapy has many benefits. It can help patients renegotiate their relationship with alcohol and heal from past trauma. Patients also work on rebuilding relationships with their loved ones.
ICFR uses evidence-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is considered the “gold standard” for many addiction disorders. With CBT, patients learn real-life skills for changing their thoughts and behavior patterns.
We also offer other forms of evidence-based therapy, including:
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Motivational enhancement therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Comorbid Conditions and Dual Diagnosis
Many patients have other psychiatric conditions that influence their drinking. These comorbid or co-occurring conditions can include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Eating disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
Dual-diagnosis patients need special care. If they don’t receive well-rounded treatment, they may be at a higher risk for relapse. They can also struggle with painful symptoms that damage their quality of life.
At ICFR, our medical team offers comprehensive treatment for dual-diagnosis patients. We create personalized care plans to ensure that the patient’s needs are met.
Residential vs. Outpatient Rehab
When considering rehab, patients and families may feel overwhelmed. It can be difficult to know what level of care the patient needs. Our team can guide patients and families through this process.
We offer a variety of treatment plans, including:
- Medical inpatient detox
- Residential rehab
- Partial hospitalization program (PHP)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- Standard outpatient treatment (OP)
In residential rehab or detox, patients live at the treatment facility. They receive round-the-clock care from our award-winning psychiatrist and a 24/7 team of nurses. Help is always available, day or night.
Patients who opt for outpatient care choose from varying levels of support. PHP and IOP programs often involve a full-day program. Some patients in IOP programs work during the day and attend their program in the evenings.
Once patients are on the road to recovery, they may shift to standard OP programs. These programs may involve 1-2 weekly meetings with a therapist or support group.
Life in Recovery
As patients finish treatment, they transition toward life in recovery. Keep in mind that that recovery can be a lifelong process. Many patients need ongoing support for years after finishing rehab.
Therapy and support groups encourage patients to stick to their recovery program. The ICFR team can help patients connect with a robust network of recovery support staff.
If you or a loved one is looking for treatment for a substance use disorder, ICFR is here to help. Call our 24/7 helpline at (844) 650-0064. All calls are 100% confidential.