CALL TODAY

949.567.8790

Alcohol Addiction

There is a fine line between alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. 

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) classifies alcohol addiction in the form of alcohol use disorder (AUD) as a chronic and relapsing disorder. Alcoholism – the informal term for AUD – is characterized by the compulsive consumption of alcohol despite obviously adverse outcomes. 

While not all abusive patterns of drinking will lead to the development of alcohol use disorder, heavy drinking or binge drinking both increase the risk of alcohol addiction.

Table of Contents

Alcohol Abuse Definition

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) considers any patterns of alcohol consumption triggering personal, professional, or health problems as alcohol abuse. 

Every alcohol addiction is unique, but all are grounded in some form of alcohol abuse.

Article at a Glance:

Heavy drinking and binge drinking both qualify as forms of alcohol abuse. When health organizations define drinking levels, guidelines are based on standard drinks. A standard drink is any of the following: 

  • 12oz beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 5oz wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5oz distilled spirits (40% alcohol content) 

Based on the above types of alcoholic drink, NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) defines heavy drinking as either of the following scenarios: 

  • When a man consumes more than 4 alcoholic drinks daily or 15 alcoholic drinks weekly.
  • When a woman consumes more than 3 alcoholic drinks daily or 7 alcoholic drinks weekly. 

CDC defines binge drinking as follows:

  • When a man consumes more than 5 alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period.
  • When a woman consumes more than 4 alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period. 

Any use of alcohol by the someone aged under 21 is classified as alcohol abuse. Any unsafe alcohol consumption by pregnant women is also deemed alcohol abuse. 

Alcohol abuse in any form can be destructive in its own right, while at the same time raising your risk profile for developing alcoholism.

What Qualifies as an Alcoholic?

Alcoholism is an informal term to denote the formal diagnosis of alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Healthcare providers, mental healthcare professionals, and addiction specialists can diagnose alcohol use disorder based on the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR. DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is a seminal diagnostic tool published by APA (American Psychological Association). DSM-5-TR is the most current edition of this benchmark publication. 

To diagnose alcohol use disorder, a healthcare provider asks you variations on the following eleven questions concerning your alcohol consumption over the previous year:

  1. Is your alcohol consumption starting to cause problems at home, work, or school?
  2. Are you spending lots of time obtaining and drinking alcohol, as well as recovering from the effects of drinking?
  3. Have you often consumed more alcohol than intended or continued drinking for longer than intended?
  4. Do you engage in risky behaviors after drinking alcohol?
  5. Have you tried and failed to reduce or discontinue your consumption of alcohol?
  6. Are you spending less time doing things you once enjoyed in favor of drinking alcohol?
  7. Do you require more alcohol to achieve the same effects (tolerance)?
  8. Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms in the absence of alcohol?
  9. Are you still drinking alcohol despite feeling depressed or anxious?
  10. Have you experienced powerful cravings for alcohol so intense you could think of nothing else?
  11. Do you continue to drink alcohol despite widespread and adverse consequences?

Depending on the number of symptoms present, AUD is diagnosed as follows: 

  • Mild alcohol use disorder: 2 to 3 symptoms
  • Moderate alcohol use disorder: 4 to 5 symptoms
  • Severe alcohol use disorder: 6 or more symptoms

ICD-10

ICD 10 is the tenth revision of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. This system is used by healthcare providers and physicians for the classification and coding of symptoms, diagnoses, and procedures in the United States. 

Alcohol abuse ICD 10 is the code for alcohol dependence, listed by WHO as a mental, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental disorder. This code excludes alcohol abuse. 

The most current revision of this system, ICD-11, came into effect on January 1, 2022.

Why Is Alcohol Addictive?

Alcohol is a psychotropic depressant of the CNS (central nervous system). As such, consuming alcohol will inhibit overall activity in the brain. 

The primary way in which alcohol reduces brain activity is by increasing the activity of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is an amino acid and the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Substances that boost GABA signaling are effective in the following applications: 

  • Sedatives
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Muscle relaxants

When an intoxicated individual slurs their speech or suffers blackouts, this is a manifestation of increased GABA signaling.

Any sustained alcohol abuse causes the brain to adapt to the heightened inhibitory signaling. To compensate, the brain increases opposing signaling – excitatory signaling. 

Those adaptations in the brain lead to tolerance building when someone abuses alcohol long-term. When tolerance and physical dependence build, this can trigger a cycle liable to end in addiction. 

Beyond the effects above, consuming alcohol will also boost endorphin release. Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals associated with relaxation and euphoria. The way in which alcohol impacts endorphins contributes to the addictive profile of alcohol. 

Is alcohol really that addictive, though?

How Addictive is Alcohol?

Alcohol consumption typically occurs in a social setting. Even if someone with severe AUD routinely drinks alone, they probably didn’t start that way. 

Some people drink alcohol because of the indirect application of peer pressure – family parties, Greek life in college, or gatherings with co-workers, for instance. 

Others drink alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health disorders like anxiety or depression. 

If consuming alcohol becomes habitual, you will not feel normal without alcohol in your system. Even if physical dependence has not set in, alcohol can exert a powerful psychological pull. 

When you are no longer able to stop drinking without triggering adverse withdrawal symptoms, physical dependence has set in. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Shakiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Sickness
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

Alcohol addiction, both physical and psychological, is caused by the way alcohol impacts the brain over time. Consuming alcohol triggers an endorphin release in the brain areas responsible for processing rewards. 

Not only does alcohol impact your brain at the chemical level in several areas, it can also be powerfully psychologically addictive.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Abusing alcohol leads to many adverse consequences. The following are the most common signs of alcohol abuse detectable by friends and family: 

  • Absences from work or school
  • Outbursts of uncontrollable anger
  • Poor personal hygiene and changes to appearance
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Social withdrawal
  • Financial problems
  • Depressed mood
  • Alcohol-related legal problems
  • Engaging in risky behaviors

Maybe you are engaging in patterns of drinking that could be described as abusive. Perhaps you are aware that your alcohol consumption exceeds the guidelines for moderate drinking. Although immoderate drinking is inadvisable, it does not necessarily mean you are suffering from alcohol addiction. The longer that abusive patterns of consumption continue, though, the greater your risk of developing AUD. A diagnosis of alcohol use disorder is unlikely to resolve without structured alcohol addiction treatment.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

These are some of the most common symptoms of alcoholism: 

  • Inability to refuse an alcoholic drink
  • Worsened physical appearance with weight loss or weigh gain
  • Dishonesty or secretiveness about drinking
  • Reduced interest in previously favored hobbies and interests
  • Outbursts of anger or irritability
  • Drop in personal hygiene standards
  • Building tolerance for alcohol – you need more alcohol to get the same effects
  • Demonstrating patterns of binge drinking
  • Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol leaves the system
  • Frequently drinking to the extent of intoxication
  • Looking sick or tired
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or PTSD

Alcohol Withdrawal & Detox

Research shows that half of those diagnosed with alcohol use disorder will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms during detox. Detox is the first and pivotal stage of recovery from alcoholism. By purging toxins from your system and tackling the physical component of alcohol addiction, you will prepare yourself to unpack the psychological aspect of addiction. 

There are three stages of alcohol withdrawal: 

  1. Mild AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome)
  2. Moderate AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome)
  3. Severe AWS (alcohol withdrawal syndrome) 

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will vary depending on the severity of AWS. Mild withdrawal is associated with feelings of anxiety and fatigue, in addition to vomiting and nausea. Medications like benzodiazepines and anti-nausea medications can help counter these issues if you withdrawal from alcohol in a medical detox center. More severe AWS can trigger hallucinations and life-threatening seizures.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Not everyone will experience all the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, although most alcohol detoxification processes follow a similar pattern over the course of 7 to 10 days. 

Here is a typical alcohol withdrawal timeline: 

  • 24 hours after last alcoholic drink: 8 hours or so after the last alcoholic drink, the first stage of alcohol withdrawal starts.
  • 24 hours to 72 hours after last alcoholic drink: Most alcohol withdrawal symptoms peak and then start subsiding after three days. This is the stage at which the more severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can present.
  • End of the first week of alcohol detox: Towards the end of the first week of sobriety, all withdrawal symptoms that linger should be much less intense.
  • Second week of alcohol detox: Most physical symptoms should be gone by this point of detox, although some psychological symptoms may persist for weeks. 

Alcohol use disorder typically responds positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment). The following FDA-approved medications can help ease the severity of cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms: 

  1. Naltrexone
  2. Disulfiram
  3. Acamprosate

What to Do If You or a Loved One is an Alcoholic?

While alcohol use disorder is a lifelong condition with no cure, almost all cases of alcoholism will respond favorably to the right array of evidence-based treatments. 

By choosing the right form of inpatient or outpatient rehab, you can arrest the damage alcohol abuse is causing, and you can also build a firm foundation for ongoing recovery without relapse. We can help you or your loved one achieve this here at California Detox.

Alcohol Rehab at California Detox

We offer alcohol addiction treatment at all levels of intensity, including: 

  • OP (outpatient program)
  • IOP (intensive outpatient program)
  • PHP (partial hospitalization program)
  • Inpatient program (residential rehab) 

Before engaging with a treatment program, you’ll first need to detox. Our medical detox program will help you flush alcohol from your system, preparing yourself for inpatient or outpatient therapy. 

For anyone suffering from alcohol addiction with a co-occurring mental health disorder, our dual diagnosis treatment program allows you to unpack both conditions simultaneously. 

If you’re suffering from a co-occurring mental health condition like depression or anxiety, we provide dual diagnosis treatment programs. Here, you’ll unpack your addiction and mental health condition simultaneously for the most effective outcome. 

Regardless of the structure of the treatment program that makes the best fit for your circumstances, you can access the following therapies: 

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapies like CBT or DBT)
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies

To move from active alcohol alcoholism into ongoing sobriety, use California Detox as your springboard. Reach out to the friendly team today at 949.567.8790.

FAQs

When you consume alcohol, your liver is mainly responsible for breaking the substance down. The male liver can metabolize one standard drink per hour. Many variables impact this average, such as age, gender, height, weight, and the amount of food in the stomach. 

It is not possible to increase the rate of alcohol absorption, either by drinking water or by sleeping. 

An alcohol detection test will measure alcohol in the bloodstream for up to six hours. Alcohol remains on the breath for between 12 and 24 hours, detectable by saliva tests. Alcohol remains in the hair for up to 90 days. 

Before we highlight how long it takes for alcohol to leave your system during detox and withdrawal, what are the most common symptoms of alcohol use disorder?

Studies show that roughly 5% of those detoxing from alcohol will experience delirium tremens. Also known as DTs, delirium tremens can be fatal if untreated. 

If you feel you might be at risk of manifesting severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is unsafe to abruptly quit drinking unsupervised. Instead, take advantage of a medically supervised detox. Here, you will have around-the-clock clinical and emotional care with the risk of complications like DTs minimized.

Sources

Schedule a call.

We want to help, let’s setup a call and figure out the best treatment options for you or your loved one. Our detox specialists will get back to you immediately.