Alcohol’s legality and affordability have made it the preferred substance for individuals from diverse backgrounds. However, despite its widespread acceptance, alcohol is one of the most harmful and pernicious drugs to fall prey to. The insidious grip of alcohol addiction can reach far beyond the afflicted person, extending its devastating effects to their family, friends, and the entire community. The repercussions are far-reaching, posing a risk to the individual’s life and the safety and well-being of everyone they encounter.
Alcohol and its long-standing association with human civilization trace back to ancient times, originating from the crushing of grapes and finding its way into various cultures throughout history. Presently, alcohol remains prevalent in the United States, with 86.4% of adults acknowledging having consumed it at least once and 26.9% engaging in binge drinking within the last month.
Traditionally, alcoholism has manifested more prominently among men, largely due to societal norms that permitted men to consume alcohol more freely and in consistent daily quantities qualifying as “alcoholic.” However, societal norms have evolved over the past decade, resulting in a notable increase in heavy drinking across all demographics, with a significant portion of this rise attributed to higher alcohol consumption among women. For instance, women’s binge drinking has surged by 17.5% in the past decade, compared to a less than 5% increase among men.
Alcoholism, an addiction that affects people regardless of social group or ethnicity, is widespread across all demographics. While alcoholism rates are comparatively lower among Asians and slightly less likely among women, these trends are changing rapidly. Additionally, there is a slightly higher prevalence of alcoholism among poorer populations compared to wealthier ones. A genetic component also contributes to alcoholism, with offspring in families with a history of alcoholism being more susceptible to carrying the alcoholic gene. However, alcoholism can also occur in individuals without any family history of the addiction, making it difficult to predict.
In contemporary times, alcoholism is the most prevalent addiction in America, affecting over seven percent of the population aged 18 and above. This equates to nearly 13.8 million Americans, with approximately 8.1 million alcoholics.
Alcoholism, while often highly visible, can manifest through cunning attempts to conceal the addiction. Like other individuals grappling with addiction, alcoholics can become adept at deception, employing various strategies to mask their struggles.
One of the initial signs of alcoholism is excessive drinking or engaging in binge drinking to the extent that the person cannot recall their actions the following day. While binge drinking can occur in non-addicted individuals, it frequently serves as a precursor to full-blown alcoholism, particularly when done in isolation and leading to what is known as a “black-out” episode. During a black-out, the alcoholic appears functional and conscious but later exhibits a complete inability to remember the events.
Increasing tolerance to alcohol is another significant symptom to watch for. As alcoholism progresses, the individual requires larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect. Consequently, they may start drinking more frequently and at earlier hours, with early-day alcohol consumption being a common sign of alcoholism. Additionally, alcoholics may become visibly agitated if they cannot access alcohol when the craving arises, which occurs more frequently as the addiction deepens.
Several physical indicators also emerge with prolonged heavy drinking. Dehydration becomes apparent in those who have been consuming alcohol heavily over extended periods, resulting in bloodshot eyes, facial puffiness, and abdominal bloating. In severe cases, liver damage may occur, leading to yellowing of the skin. Furthermore, some alcoholics may experience slight trembling, particularly in their hands.
Behaviorally, although alcohol is a depressant, it can temporarily mask itself as a stimulant, causing an alcoholic to exhibit erratic moods. This unpredictability can be striking, with the person oscillating between highly elevated moods and deep depression in short spans of time. Consequently, alcoholics may become extremely unpredictable, displaying bouts of rage and suicidal tendencies within the same day.
In the realm of addictions, alcoholism is one of the most cost-effective to maintain. For a mere $20, an alcoholic can typically secure their daily supply of alcohol, often opting for high-proof substances like Vodka. While alcoholics may engage in illegal activities, their primary motivation isn’t solely funding their addiction; rather, it is the diminished inhibitions caused by alcohol that can lead them to engage in actions they would otherwise avoid when sober.
The true expense for alcoholics emerges in the form of legal and medical repercussions and the profound impact on their careers and relationships. A person suffering from alcoholism will probably encounter at least one DUI incident in their lifetime, accompanied by the related legal costs and expenses for alternative transportation. Furthermore, many alcoholics find themselves entangled with the law in other ways, such as fights, public drunkenness, petty thefts, or lewd behavior. Additionally, some alcoholics will have to bear the financial burden of vehicle repairs or personal injuries resulting from their behavior.
The toll of medical issues begins to mount relatively early for alcoholics. After a short period of daily alcohol consumption, they may be unable to quit using safely. Attempting to quit “cold turkey” can be perilous, leading to seizures and even fatal consequences, necessitating hospitalization. In the long term, alcoholics face risks of damaging internal organs, potentially suffering from pancreatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, and even wet brain, among other health challenges.
Alcohol primarily undergoes processing in the liver, resulting in various complications that mainly affect this vital organ. In the early stages of alcohol addiction, alcoholics may exhibit abnormally high levels of liver enzymes and experience mild liver damage. Still, prompt intervention can often reverse much of the harm. However, as the addiction progresses, the risk of developing cirrhosis becomes significant, a condition that can be fatal. Moreover, alcohol abuse can also damage the kidneys and pancreas, causing further health complications.
Alcohol’s impact on the brain predominantly affects its pleasure centers and decision-making abilities. Over time, an alcoholic’s brain produces fewer endorphins naturally, leading them to rely on alcohol to experience feelings of well-being. This reliance can result in depression and bipolar mental disorders. Additionally, heavy alcohol users may suffer from moderate impairment of intellectual functioning, affecting problem-solving abilities and critical thinking. Fortunately, most of these changes are reversible in the short term once the alcoholic is removed from alcohol’s influence. However, in rare cases, some alcoholics may develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, also known as “wet brain,” where alcohol-induced brain damage is so severe that complete recovery is unlikely.
For most recovered alcoholics, safely consuming any amount of alcohol is virtually non-existent, as it could trigger a full relapse. The availability and accessibility of alcohol, combined with the tendency for some alcoholics to use drinking as a coping mechanism for inner turmoil, make the risk of relapse exceptionally high. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the relapse rate is approximately 90% after four years, underscoring the challenges of sustaining long-term recovery.
It is not uncommon for alcoholics to mistakenly believe they are permanently cured and capable of moderate drinking upon achieving a period of abstinence. However, such misguided beliefs often lead to a swift return to full-blown addiction.
As a consequence, the most effective recovery approaches for alcoholics have consistently involved total abstinence, typically complemented by comprehensive programs that facilitate profound psychological, emotional, and spiritual transformations, such as adult programs. These holistic approaches address the underlying issues that contribute to alcoholism, offering the best chance for sustained recovery and meaningful life free from the grip of addiction.
Alcohol, along with benzodiazepines, ranks among the most perilous drugs to detox from due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms, which can manifest within a few hours of an alcoholic being separated from alcohol. The withdrawal process can be excruciating, with initial symptoms including depression, violent tremors (delirium tremens), and nausea. As the withdrawal progresses, the alcoholic may experience visual and auditory hallucinations, a burning or itching sensation in the skin, painful joints, and potentially grand mal seizuresvi. Without proper supervision or medical care, alcohol withdrawal can even lead to death.
Given the extreme discomfort and life-threatening risks of alcohol withdrawal, alcoholics should undergo detoxification under professional medical care. A typical detox period lasts 3 to 7 days, during which mild doses of benzodiazepines like Ativan are commonly prescribed in medical settings to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and prevent seizures. This carefully monitored approach helps ensure the safety and well-being of the individual throughout the detox process.
Overcoming alcoholism is a challenging and prolonged journey that cannot be achieved in a few days or weeks. The effects of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can persist for up to six months, during which the recovering alcoholic may grapple with foggy cognitive functions, persistent depressed mood, and frequent cravings for alcohol. Within this timeframe, it’s difficult for the individual to recover from their addiction fully. A more effective approach involves enrolling in a year-long program where the person is shielded from drugs and alcohol throughout the entire duration. This extended care significantly increases the chances of lasting recovery, especially when accompanied by a supportive fellowship of like-minded individuals. Peer mentoring, with guidance from those in the program longer, plays a crucial role in the recovery process, as does witnessing the stark contrast between newcomers and those who have progressed.
Long-term programs like Teen Challenge, the country’s largest group of rehabs, provide an ideal environment to help addicts overcome their addiction. These programs combine evidence-based recovery tools and peer mentoring with a strong focus on the spiritual aspect. They recognize that many addicted individuals experience a void in their lives, and filling it with a focus on spirituality has proven to be a significant factor in their recovery. The success rate and reduced relapse rates of these programs are unmatched in the industry.
One of the challenges for alcoholics in recovery is the pervasive presence of alcohol and drinking establishments. Since alcohol is legal and readily available, it is essential to place the individual in a recovery facility where they can be shielded from alcohol until they have developed sufficient defenses against the urge to drink. This protective environment allows the person to focus on their recovery without constant exposure to triggers that could hinder their progress.
Teen Challenge Christian rehab center offer a highly recommended solution for individuals seeking recovery from alcoholism. These programs stand out due to the significant duration they provide to addicts, allowing them ample time to overcome their addiction. Successfully overcoming alcoholism typically requires a solid year of abstinence within a controlled and supportive environment. Unfortunately, many other rehab programs are unable to offer such an extensive period of dedicated attention and care, making it challenging for individuals to access the level of support needed for long-term recovery. Moreover, these alternative programs can often be financially burdensome, putting them out of reach for many seeking help over an extended period.
At Teen Challenge, we prioritize your well-being and offer comprehensive programs designed to give you the time and space necessary to break free from alcoholism. Our expert admissions team is here to guide you through the process and help you take the first step towards a healthier, happier life. Call our admissions team today to start your journey to lasting recovery.
i NIAAA. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”. February 2017. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
ii NBC News. “Americans Are Drinking More – A Lot More”. August 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/americans-are-drinking-more-lot-more-n347126
iii National Institute of Health. “What are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder?”. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/How-much-is-too-much/Whats-the-harm/What-Are-Symptoms-Of-An-Alcohol-Use-Disorder.aspx
iv American Addiction Centers. “Short and Long Term Mental Effects of Alcohol”. http://americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-recovery/mental-effects/
v DrugAbuse.com. “Alcohol Relapse”. http://drugabuse.com/library/alcohol-relapse/
vi Medline Plus. “Alcohol withdrawal”. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm