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What is Alcoholism?

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: September 3rd, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder or alcohol abuse, is defined as problems controlling drinking. People struggling with alcohol may find themselves drinking more to get the same effect, even if it’s causing problems in their lives and preoccupation with alcohol. They may also be experiencing withdrawal when they try to stop drinking or decrease their consumption.

Over 14.4 million adults 18 years of age and older suffer from alcoholism. However, studies have shown that alcohol poses risks to your health. Alcohol use can contribute entirely or partially to certain diseases like cancer, diabetes, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease, to name a few.

Residential facilities like Green Mountain Treatment Center and New Freedom Academy offer a specific curriculum to help addicted individuals quit drinking.

We have state-of-art centers located in New Hampshire that specialize in treating addiction. Our medical staff is equipped and licensed to help you overcome your struggles and write a treatment plan to match your needs. Before you choose a treatment facility, read on to see how drinking affects your body.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects the Brain

Alcohol affects your brain chemistry when you consume it regularly. Your neurotransmitter levels are changed, and as a result, it can cause immediate and long-term effects.

Your excitatory neurotransmitters are immediately affected and slow down connections in your brain. This is what causes slurred speech and cognition issues.

The cerebellum is also affected; this is the part of your brain that controls movement and balance. Alcohol consumption causes balance problems, and you may stumble or fall. The medulla is responsible for your subconscious bodily functions, for example, your breathing and body temperature. Therefore, you often feel tired and lethargic when drinking.

Dopamine is commonly known for being the “feel good” chemical in your brain that activates when you do something you enjoy. Alcohol triggers extra dopamine production. After constant alcohol consumption, you’ll start to become depressed when you lack that excess dopamine. This cycle is how dependency, tolerance, and addiction begin.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects the Body

Your body is affected by alcohol in many ways. It can cause or contribute to many diseases and illnesses, but it can cause physical problems too. Sexual dysfunction is something that often occurs in men who abuse alcohol. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol over a long period can cause infertility. Alcohol also increases your risk of thinning bones after long-term use. Your stomach may suffer from ulcers from consuming too much alcohol.

These are just a few of the physical changes that may occur and why treatment is vital. Some physical changes that occur due to alcohol abuse cannot be reversed. That’s why recognizing you have a problem before it’s too late and seeking treatment is crucial.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Social drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism are levels in the disorder, and all levels cause health risks and safety risks.

Social drinkers typically don’t have a problem with alcohol. They lack preoccupation with alcohol and will not seek it out. Social drinkers can limit their consumption and often don’t drink to the point of intoxication. Those who drink socially see it more as an addition to the event they’re attending, such as a wedding, party, or dinner, and don’t see it as the opportunity to drink. However, frequent drinking or drinking to excess during such an event can lead to health problems.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as a man consuming five or more drinks within two hours and a woman consuming four or more drinks within two hours. This type of drinking is frequent with college-aged students. A reported 26.45% of people 18 and older participated in binge drinking, and 6.6% engaged in heavy alcohol use. It can come with a host of problems leading to liver cirrhosis, gastrointestinal issues like ulcers, and its own set of risks. For example, engaging in risky sex, driving, or putting oneself in danger when blacking out can have severe consequences. According to 2018’s data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, every 50 minutes, there’s an alcohol-related traffic fatality. Alcohol-induced crashes accounted for 29% of crash fatalities. The arrest rate for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol was one arrest for every 227 licensed drivers.

Alcoholism starts gradually and progresses over time. A person may begin sneakily drinking, feeling guilty about drinking, and become preoccupied with it. Blackouts and increased tolerance are also signs of alcoholism.

Regardless of the amount you are drinking, if your drinking is causing problems with functioning or issues in your life, you may be suffering from this disorder. Even mild issues can escalate quickly, so it’s important to address issues and seek treatment early on rather than later.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

The number of symptoms you have will determine the severity of the disorder, with alcoholism being the most severe. Some signs and symptoms may include:

• Not being able to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
• Drinking alone or in secrecy
• Experiencing blackout or memory loss
• Isolating yourself from hobbies or friends
• Partaking in risky behaviors while drinking like driving
• Forgoing responsibilities to drink
• Wanting to reduce your alcohol consumption but not being able to
• Experiencing alcohol cravings
• Denying alcohol use or making excuses, i.e., “I’m only drinking because I’m stressed” or “I like to drink to relax”
• Developing a tolerance to alcohol and having to drink more to feel the “high”
• Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, shakes, sweating, irritability, and mood swings when not drinking and having to drink to avoid these symptoms

It’s essential to seek help if you or someone you know may be suffering from alcohol use. Severe health risks, problems in life, or issues with the law can result from alcohol abuse. It may even lead to death.
Alcohol-related deaths account for the third leading preventable cause of death in the US. An estimated 88,000 people die each year from alcohol. Globally, that number is much higher at 3.3 million deaths related to alcohol consumption. Alcohol misuse among people aged 15 and 49 is the first leading risk factor for premature deaths and disabilities.

Alcohol abuse causes myriad side effects

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is a depressant and affects the brain in different ways. When you’re a heavy drinker, your brain feels the depressant effects of alcohol, and your brain chemistry changes to adjust to it. Your brain will start producing larger than normal amounts of stimulating chemicals.

When you stop drinking or cut back, your brain chemistry will begin the process of adjusting back to a normal state. This is when symptoms of withdrawal start to pop up. Typically, symptoms begin in one to three days and usually only last for around five days. However, some people experience symptoms for a few weeks. Each symptom varies from person to person, and some drinkers even go through dangerous types of withdrawal. The following symptoms are what you might experience if you stop drinking alcohol.

Less Severe Symptoms

These typically occur within the day of your last drink, sometimes hours after your last, and can last for up to five days, but they peak around days one and two.

• Nausea or vomiting
• Sweating
• Irritability or mood swings
• Tremors or shakes
• Loss of appetite
• Muscle pains
• Nightmares or vivid dreams
• Insomnia
Anxiety

Severe Symptoms

These symptoms are more severe and require medical attention, potentially leading to stroke, heart attack, or death.

• Delirium tremens
• Confusion
• Increased blood pressure
• Heart palpitations
• Rapid breathing
• Seizures

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens occurs in 1 out of 20 people who suffer from withdrawal. It can start anywhere from two to three days after your last drink but can appear up to a week later. This symptom requires medical care as it changes your breathing and blood pressure and might cause dehydration. Due to the changes, it reduces blood flow to the brain. This can cause sleep disturbances, hallucinations, aggression, confusion, stroke, heart attack, or death.

Alcohol Hallucinations

Hallucinations start from 12 hours to 24 hours after your last drink and last up to two days. Commonly, people will see small moving objects or feel things that aren’t real, like insects crawling on them. Many of the hallucinations are highly detailed.

Seizures

Seizures can develop within 6 to 48 hours after your last drink. They commonly occur for several hours and the risk peaks at 24 hours.

Before you quit drinking, you must speak with your doctor or seek help from a residential treatment center like Green Mountain Treatment Center or New Freedom Academy. The effects can be dangerous and may require you to be hospitalized.

Those who experience common symptoms might be prescribed medicines to ease the withdrawal process. Severe symptoms are best treated in a hospital. Often, those who suffer from alcohol use disorder have a host of vitamin deficiencies related to poor diet and self-care. The good news is this is a treatable disease.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder won’t go away on its own, and many people need help to kick the habit. There are different ways to treat alcohol addiction, and it starts by recognizing that you have a problem. The next steps you can take will depend on you, but many alcohol users seek out treatment centers or attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to stop. AA has a 44% rate of those who abstain from alcohol for one year and remain alcohol-free for another year. Those who attend AA for five years or more have a 91% rate of staying alcohol-free. This figure increases with the help of addiction treatment centers.

Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham, New Hampshire, offers gender-separate programs and accommodations. It has a full detox facility, so you will be treated by licensed medical staff trained in addiction if something goes wrong.

12-Step Support for Alcohol Abuse Recovery

We offer a 12-step curriculum-based approach that includes therapy and medication-assisted treatment. In addition, we offer peer support groups and holistic therapies. This means you’ll have access to yoga, experimental adventure therapy, standard gym equipment, and meditation.

New Freedom Academy in Canterbury, New Hampshire, offers a small client-to-clinician ratio with 20 beds. You’ll have access to 24/7 medical care if needed, and the staff provides different therapies, programs, and recreation. These include evidence-based clinical treatment, workshops, educational programs, holistic therapies, one-on-one therapy, process groups, medicated-assisted treatment, and activities like paintball and bowling. Our center even has an onsite chef, so you’ll have access to nutritious food.

Getting help for alcohol abuse can be a scary thing. You may have doubts about whether you can go through with the whole process and if treatment is right for you. The first step to getting help isn’t always easy, and you may feel embarrassed or ashamed. The best news is that alcohol use disorder is treatable with the right care, and you won’t be going through it alone. Whether you choose a treatment center right away or decide to attend A.A. meetings first, someone will be there to help you through the process to get well.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.