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When Alcohol Use Becomes a Problem

By Jackie Daniels
Published On April 16, 2021 | Last Updated On April 16, 2021

When Alcohol Use Becomes a Problem

By Jackie Daniels
Published On April 16, 2021 | Last Updated On April 16, 2021
A Cocktail for Disaster: When Alcohol Use Becomes a Problem According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol abuse is the 3rd leading cause for preventable death in the United States. If you are worried about your alcohol use or that of a loved one, look no further than this blog for help.  Alcohol […]

A Cocktail for Disaster: When Alcohol Use Becomes a Problem

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol abuse is the 3rd leading cause for preventable death in the United States. If you are worried about your alcohol use or that of a loved one, look no further than this blog for help. 

Alcohol use is acceptable and legal in the United States, and this can mean feeling “safe” from alcohol use disorder (AUD).  Friends and family often notice a drinking problem before the person with the problem. Family members feel lost and anxious when a problem is detected, but their loved one continues to drink.

Is My Drinking Normal?

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85.6 percent of Americans report drinking at least once in their lifetime. Another 70 percent of adults over the age of 18 report drinking at least once in the last year.  Finally, close to 55 percent of Americans report drinking in the last month.  This is not the end of the story, however.

Two types of problem drinking are binge drinking and heavy alcohol use.  Both can cause physical and mental health. Binge drinking is defined as any type of drinking that brings someone’s blood alcohol concentration to .08%, the legal limit.  For a man, this could be 5 standard drinks in 2 hours, and for women, 4 drinks in 2 hours.

If you drink at least 5 or more days per month, you also meet the standard for heavy drinking.

What Qualifies as Heavy Drinking?

Many drinkers have health concerns when they breach the binge drinking standard, called “heavy” drinking. This means they drink two or more times the binge drinking rate.  These people are often seen for alcohol-related emergencies and can be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

For example, people drinking at two times the binge drinking rate are 70% more likely to land in the emergency room for an alcohol-related complaint.  More concerning, people drinking at three times the rate were 93 times more likely to end up in an alcohol-related emergency room visit.

You might be thinking, “I’ve never been in the emergency room for my drinking before.”  It doesn’t mean your drinking is safe or doesn’t need to be addressed.  How many days per month do you drink?  If you drink at least 5 or more days per month, you also meet the standard for heavy drinking.

In addition to emergency room visits, alcohol abuse and addiction can cause withdrawal symptoms.  With a hangover, the body is dehydrated and the person feels ill after drinking to a toxic level.  Those with alcohol dependence can feel the urge to drink after they stop drinking and don’t always have hangovers.  Over time, the amount of alcohol needed to achieve the initial high becomes greater and greater.

How Many People Actually Get Help?

The reality of alcohol abuse and alcoholism is that the death rate is high.  Health care professionals work hard to prevent the unintentional injuries caused by problems with alcohol that result in death, like car accidents, drowning, and falls.  Violence and suicide are other preventable alcohol-related injuries that can be avoided. Health problems are one reason to seek treatment for alcohol use disorder.

In addition to alcohol-related injuries and mental health problems, the CDC reports more than 95,000 people die from alcohol use each year in the United States. Alcoholic liver disease is responsible for death in almost 50 percent of adults with the disease.

For those that don’t lose their lives to alcohol-related injuries or liver disease, there is hope in treatment.  The earlier you get treatment, the more likely recovery will be from alcohol related liver disease.  Treatment typically includes attention for other health conditions brought on or worsened by alcohol use. These conditions include liver and heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system.

What are Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health,  only 7.4 percent of Americans with an alcohol use disorder receive help.  Many individuals cite shame and stigma as reasons for not seeking help.  This means they are afraid to ask for help because of judgement or fear of discrimination by employers and neighbors.  Seeking help requires courage and support from family and friends.

Often, people with alcohol use problems don’t feel they need treatment.    It  is possible that they don’t feel they have a problem because of denial. People who don’t feel they need treatment can also be affected by brain changes brought on by alcohol use. These brain changes influence motivation and decision making, and can make seeking help harder.

If someone is experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings related to alcohol or drug abuse, treatment is recommended. Treatment is also recommended anytime the person cannot stop drinking on their own.  In treatment, a person’s alcohol consumption is assessed using specific tools designed to provide a clear picture of the problem.  Medical advice is also provided and substance abuse treatment can begin.

Starting Treatment with Detox

Treatment providers typically offer a continuum of care that begins with detox.  Detox can include medications that are meant to alleviate more serious withdrawal symptoms, and provide comfort to the patient.  Detox can be dangerous and should not be attempted alone. The goal of detox is stabilization of physical health.

Treatment providers typically offer a continuum of care that begins with detox. 

After detox, residential treatment that includes 24/7 supervision by medical professionals is recommended. Once the person is feeling physically better, residential treatment introduces structure and therapy in group and individual settings. Residential treatment is also helpful in stabilizing mental health once physical health has been addressed.  Once residential treatment is completed, outpatient care follows.  

Outpatient treatment allows for less intensive treatment, with continued support.  Less intensive treatment is typically recommended when someone demonstrates active coping skills and has a support system they rely on for stressful times.  The goal is not to stay in treatment forever, but to slowly reduce the intensity and reliance on treatment for ongoing progress.

For the best outcome, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends that treatment lasts more than 90 days, and up to 12 months. Often, attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are recommended by substance use disorder treatment facilities as part of an aftercare plan. Other support groups are available and typically can be found by completing a simple Google search, or asking new supports. 

What Therapies are Used in Treatment?

Successful and long-lasting recovery from alcoholism is possible with evidence-based therapies. The best treatment for alcohol use disorder should involve a variety of approaches that include evidence-based therapies, and attention to the specific and holistic needs of each person. This includes attention to trauma, mental health conditions, and psychosocial interventions such as nutrition, physical activity, and leisure activities.  

Family involvement in treatment is crucial.  Without family support, it can be hard to maintain recovery. Family members can also support their loved one by setting boundaries. Loved ones find support for themselves by attending Al-anon, a 12-step program for family and friends, or individual therapy.

Medications can also be effective in preventing relapse and any mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. There are several medications on the market that work to stop cravings such as naltrexone and acamprosate. Naltrexone comes in an injectable form that is effective for 30 days, and doesn’t rely on someone’s ability to remember to take a daily pill.

Where to Turn for Help

Indiana Center for Recovery is a helpful and compassionate resource for treatment. If you are concerned about the drinking habits of a loved one, or yourself, please call today to speak to an admissions counselor. We believe in treating everyone who encounters our services with the same dignity and respect of a loved one.

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