There is a world of difference between drinking a “bit too much” and suffering from alcohol addiction, also referred to as alcoholism.
Recognising when a problem has crossed the line into alcoholism is crucial to getting the correct help. Why? Because alcoholism can and indeed does kill.
Alcohol addiction is a chronic and progressive disorder of the brain. Left untreated a sufferer is at risk of losing everything, including their life!
Those who suffer from alcoholism didn’t become an alcoholic overnight. They may or may not have started out as heavy drinkers, binge drinkers, or living a party lifestyle. For others, alcoholism creeps up slowly and almost invisibly. A few drinks in the evenings to relax after a stressful day can increase and then spiral.
There is no set pattern of how someone develops an addiction. Everyone is unique, and the illness of addiction can manifest differently in different people. It is important to note that not everyone who drinks excessively or heavily will suffer from alcoholism. Alcoholism differs from heavy drinking. A heavy drinker is not compelled to drink when they have ample reason not to.
Here we look at some of the reasons that can predispose a person to alcoholism, what addiction actually is, how to recognise the signs if you or a loved one are a sufferer, how alcoholism can impact on your life and those around you, what alcohol withdrawal looks like, and the various treatment options and help that are available for alcoholics.
How alcohol addiction presents in an individual can vary from person to person. This is due to the fact that alcoholism is progressive. At its worst, it is impossible to hide from others, yet a sufferer can still very much be in denial of their illness.
It is the denial and shame that shrouds alcohol addiction that often kills. Understanding that addiction is an illness can assist a sufferer in overcoming shame, breaking through denial, and hopefully provide them with the insight and courage to ask for help.
The first thing to understand about alcoholism is that it is not a choice. It cannot be controlled, moderated or cured. As a chronic disorder of the brain, once fully developed, the only known way of overcoming addiction is not to drink at all. This in itself is the crux of the problem for those who suffer.
Stopping alcohol completely when your brain constantly obsesses over drinking, lies to you and tells you you can drink safely and compels you to disregard possible consequences and past bad experiences – makes stopping alcohol (for an alcoholic) extraordinarily challenging and difficult, if not impossible.
The medical science behind alcoholism is helpful in many ways. Understanding you are not at fault for causing your own alcohol addiction or loved ones, can help you to focus on what really matters – finding a solution to the problem.
Alcohol addiction develops through repeated exposure to alcohol. To be alcoholic you do not have to drink vast quantities of alcohol, nor do you have to drink all day every day (although many with alcoholism do end up this way)
Through repeated exposure to the toxic chemicals in alcohol, over time, the brain sustains physiological damage to tissues, cells, pathways, and it’s pleasure/reward system.
Alcoholics develop a tolerance to alcohol and so over time need to consume more in order to feel its effects. This leads to alcohol dependence. A person with alcoholism symptoms will crave alcohol just to feel normal, much in the same way our body craves food and water.
Excessive drinking affects the brain in two ways – Firstly, it damages the way the brain’s reward system operates, and secondly, it damages the way the brain’s neurotransmitters communicate. It also causes enlarged ventricles and volume reduction in the brains frontal lobes and cerebellum.
In those predisposed to alcohol addiction, alcohol triggers the brain’s reward system to release an excessive amount of mother natures feel-good chemical dopamine. This creates euphoria, pleasure, comfort and relaxation. Alcohol hijacks the brain and takes control of the person’s thinking and consequent actions. The brain craves this euphoria and links it to the stimulus. In the case of alcohol addiction, it craves more alcohol. This is why alcoholics struggle to moderate or control their drinking once they have taken a drink.
As alcoholism progresses, the brain sees alcohol as the only way of stimulating pleasure. At this point, the sufferer loses interest in other healthier ways of seeking comfort and enjoyment. Without alcohol, they become demotivated, depressed and anxious. They lose interest in things they used to enjoy, start to pull away from family and friends and stop taking care of their own well being. Alcohol addiction is much like wearing blinkers – the focus is firmly on alcohol and little else matters.
The other aspect that creates an addiction in a person is that the brain’s pathways over time, with repeated drinking, rewire themselves. This affects how the brain’s neurotransmitters function and communicate. The brain structurally undergoes substantial change through alcohol-induced damage. The pathways are rewired to seek and consume alcohol compulsively.
Removing the alcohol is simply not enough as the brain cannot fully repair the structural damage. Left with the same brain, an alcoholic will always revert back to drinking. This is why alcohol addiction is characterised by repeated relapse.
Only a few individuals are predisposed to alcoholism. Those that are, are at very high risk of developing this life-threatening illness.
Whilst there is no one definitive answer to this, due to alcoholism affecting a broad and diverse section of society, risk factors for developing addiction have been identified.
The effects of alcohol addiction have been found to have the same risk factors as drug addiction, and this is why the two disorders respond to the same evidence-based treatments and are closely linked.
Those that have suffered childhood abuse, bullying and trauma are more predisposed to developing alcoholism.
Parental attitude and peer environment during teenage years have also shown to be influential factors
Those who have a history of mental health problems or disorders are also more prone to developing alcohol
Spotting the signs of alcohol abuse in you or a family member could well be life-saving, many do not understand just how serious alcoholism is. Treatment is far more complex than just reducing (most alcoholics are unable to for this for very long), or stopping alcohol altogether.
If you have a physical alcohol dependency, it is vital you do not attempt to quit alcohol without first seeking medical advice.
The signs of addiction include:
If you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from or is showing signs of alcoholism, it is crucial to seek help and advice on accessing the correct treatment.
Let’s look at the treatment options available in the UK.
If you or a loved one need help for alcoholism, there are three main pathways of addiction treatment available in the UK.
The treatment option that produces the best long term outcome depends on what your treatment needs are as an individual, and whether you have tried any other method of help before.
The NHS has some services in the community that are available to help, support and treat those that suffer from alcoholism in the community. Services vary from area to area, so please contact your local drug and alcohol services to find out more.
Community addiction treatment on the NHS usually consists of keyword sessions, educational and support groups and one to one counselling. Alcohol detox is rarely available on the NHS due to its possible complications and considerable cuts to treatment funding.
Mutual aid groups often provide a valuable source of support for alcoholics in the community as well as their family. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-anon use the 12 Step model of recovery to help their members get well. They also support each other and help one another to stay sober and deal with life’s problems.
Mutual aid groups and self-help groups have proven to be very successful over the years. However, they are not suited to everyone. It is also important to understand that there is no medical or professional treatment available through such groups. Mutual aid groups focus on staying sober, as opposed to assistance with stopping alcohol and then staying sober.
Private treatment for alcohol addiction offers a variety of options, but of course, electing to go private costs money. Whilst residential alcohol rehab arguably provides the best and latest in alcohol addiction treatment, and sadly not everyone is in a position to self-fund.
Private treatment for alcoholism includes:
Private treatment for alcohol addiction varies in cost, treatments and accommodation. Call Rehab Guide to find out more.
Alcohol rehab is ideally suited to those that suffer from alcohol dependence, dual diagnosis and those that repeatedly relapse in the community.
Often, suffering from alcoholism or alcohol addiction results in a physical dependence on alcohol.
Alcohol is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable drugs to stop. If you suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, then this indicates you are alcohol dependent. It is vital that you do not attempt to quit alcohol suddenly by yourself.
For those that are dependent and want help giving up alcohol, a full medical alcohol detox is strongly recommended as the safest way of stopping.
Untreated alcohol addiction withdrawal can be so severe that symptoms become life-threatening. This is why it is essential to seek medical help and advice before attempting to stop drinking.
Private alcohol rehabs specialise in the professional treatment of addiction.
Rehab Guide only works with established and reputable CQC registered and regulated rehabs.
Private alcohol addiction rehab offers numerous benefits to an individual who wants to recover from alcohol addiction. The benefits of alcohol rehab include:
The benefits of residential rehab for alcoholism are too numerous to list. Call us to find out more.
If you want to help a family member suffering from alcohol addiction/alcoholism, we suggest that you thoroughly educate yourself on the subject before making an approach.
Ensure that you are not enabling their drinking in any way. Realistically, they have to want help and treatment, and you cannot do this for them.
As a family member, friend or partner of someone suffering from alcoholism, the most helpful thing you can do is offer to support them in accessing the correct treatment. Try to focus on finding a solution to help them get well.
Many do make a full recovery from addiction but only with the correct treatment, alcohol help and support
For more information on how to overcome alcoholism, please call us and speak to our addiction treatment experts. We can conduct a free of charge alcohol addiction assessment over the phone on 02072052845 and advise you of which treatment options are ideally suited to you.