Alcohol Addiction

Understanding Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a disease, a family issue, a social issue, and can be deadly. An addictive substance, alcohol consumption can lead to health problems, addiction, and has been proven to affect families over various generations. In fact, alcoholism is a known disease that kills thousands of people each year. Still, over 14 million Americans have a diagnosable Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol has also been tied to depression, anxiety, and several other mental health issues. 

Defining Alcohol Addiction

Not all conditions are easily diagnosable, especially when it comes to mental health. Alcohol addiction is a condition that is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Criteria for diagnosis are outlined in the DSM-V, the text that licensed psychologists and psychiatrists reference for diagnosing mental health issues. The criteria for diagnosing an alcohol use disorder according to the DSM-V include:

  • Instances of drinking more, or longer, than intended?
  • One or more instance of wanted to stop drinking and not being able to.
  • Excessive amounts of time spent drinking or experiencing sickness related to drinking.
  • An all-cosuming desire to drink.
  • The act of or effects from drinking interfered with taking care of your home or family, caused job troubles, or school problems.
  • Continued drinking despite consequences caused by drinking.
  • Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyed previously and more time spent drinking.
  • Engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors or situations when drinking.
  • Continued drinking despite correlated feelings or anxiety or depression, health problems, or blackouts.
  • Increased tolerance developing over time.
  • Experiencing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcoholic vs. AUD

In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is left to the individual whether they want to identify as an alcoholic. However, a mental health professional can legally diagnose an individual with an alcohol use disorder. Words have power, and the terms we use to describe individuals struggling with alcohol can significantly impact the individual. Alcohol addiction does not have to define a person’s whole life. This idea can be reinforced by using the phrase “an individual with an AUD” as opposed to calling someone “an alcoholic.” This is something they are experiencing, but it is not the whole of who they are. 

Treating an Alcohol Use Disorder

Even though there are guidelines for identifying and diagnosing an Alcohol Use Disorder, that doesn’t mean it is easily treated. Unfortunately, treating alcohol addiction can be a supremely difficult task.

Alcohol has a physical and psychological effects. The dual effect means that effective treatment requires a multifaceted approach. An individual who has developed a physical dependence will benefit from the treatment of the physical aspects of alcohol withdrawal. Additionally, drinking is commonly a learned behavior to engage socially or to cope with feelings and emotions. Someone struggling with alcohol use will also benefit from behavioral therapy and life skills development to address these additional aspects of addiction. Recovery from alcohol addiction does not happen overnight, it is a process that takes time and has highs, lows, detours, and checkpoints. 

Alcohol Detox

The first step for most individuals who struggle with alcohol use is detox. Alcohol detox is the process of cleansing the body of alcohol and allowing biological processes to return to normal. An individual whose body has become physically dependent on alcohol will experience an array of potentially severe withdrawal symptoms for a week or longer. Individuals with a mild alcohol use disorder can also benefit from a detox program where round-the-clock observation is provided and support is accessible at any moment. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Feeling wiped out and tired
  • Shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Not being able to think clearly
  • Having nightmares
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pale skin
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Extreme agitation
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Delirium Tremens

Withdrawal Timelines

Alcohol withdrawal will not look the same for every person, however, there are general patterns that the process follows. This includes when certain symptoms present and how long the symptoms will last. Here is an overview of each stage of alcohol detox.

  • Stage 1: About 6 to 8 hours after the last drink, mild to moderate symptoms will begin to develop. These symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, and nausea. 
  • Stage 2: 24 to 72 hours after the last drink, symptoms such as increased blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature will begin to present. These symptoms should be monitored closely and might be managed with medication.
  • Stage 3: Only a small percent of individuals who go through alcohol withdrawal will develop severe symptoms such as delirium tremens. However, those who do develop these symptoms will experience them starting somewhere between the 2nd and 4th day of detox. The most severe symptoms that an individual develops may last for a week or more, however, they typically begin to taper off after 7 days. 
  • PAWS: In some cases, a mild form of some symptoms such as anxiety and depression may persist for months following detox. This condition is referred to as post alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms will slowly disappear over time, but it is important to monitor them to prevent a relapse. 

Inpatient Alcohol Rehab

Following detox, patients may continue to receive treatment on an inpatient basis for a period of 30 days or longer. Inpatient or residential treatment is an ideal option for individuals who are struggling with a severe AUD or who are able to put their personal responsibilities on hold for a period of time without major consequences. Living in a treatment facility for an extended period of time allows an ample opportunity to be isolated from potential relapse triggers and to focus on developing the skills and tools for long-term recovery.

Outpatient Alcohol Rehab

An outpatient alcohol treatment program is ideal for those who are transitioning from a higher level of care and can benefit from a balance of freedom and structure. Partial HospitalizationIntensive Outpatient, and Standard Outpatient Programs offer varying levels of structure to meet the needs of each individual and where they are in the recovery process. While completing a PHP or IOP program, clients can live in a sober living facility, halfway house, or at their own home. They also have some freedom to schedule time for work, school, or other responsibilities. Outpatient care provides a great opportunity to continue working through alcohol recovery while rebuilding a better life.

Aftercare & Relapse Prevention

Recovery is a lifelong journey for someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction. Relapse prevention is the utmost priority for these individuals and their loved ones. Some will continue with outpatient care for several months after they initially get sober. In addition to therapy and life skill development during treatment, access to alumni programs and support groups is paramount to relapse prevention after treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are examples of programs that provide continued support indefinitely. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment at The Freedom Center

The Freedom Center offers effective alcohol rehab programs for individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction. If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol use and abuse, getting help today is critical to minimizing the potential long-term effects of alcohol consumption. Get support and treatment from our dedicated team of professionals. 


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