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The Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is one of the world’s most abused substances, and similar to other addictive substances, it can be difficult to stop drinking completely without professional help. Alcohol addiction recovery takes time and effort, but is absolutely possible. Knowing more about the features of an alcohol use disorder as well as the available rehabilitation options can help you find the best alcohol treatment for yourself or someone close to you.

Identify Alcohol Abuse

In the United States in 2017, an estimated 14.5 million people aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), accounting for around 1 in 19 persons in that age group. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) characterizes AUD as a chronic relapsing brain disease illustrated by compulsive alcohol use, a negative emotional state when not using, and loss of control over alcohol intake.1

But how much alcohol consumption is considered at risk for abuse (AUD and what constitutes “moderate” use?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.2 NIAAA goes on to clarify that women who drink no more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 per week are considered low-risk for developing AUD.3 Men, on the other hand, are low-risk when they have no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.3

Alcoholism Symptoms and Signs

To better understand where you or a loved one may fall, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has assigned 3 levels of severity to the diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.4 Depending on how many criteria are met within a consecutive 12-month period, an individual’s level of addiction may be characterized as:

  • Mild: 2-3 symptoms.
  • Moderate: 4-5 symptoms.
  • Severe: 6 or more symptoms.

Because assessing for potentially problematic patterns of drinking can be difficult, it may be helpful to take a closer look. What some people might dismiss as regular social drinking may actually be approaching the compulsive patterns of drinking that underlie alcohol addictions. Below are some common alcohol abuse signs that may indicate whether a person is struggling with alcoholism, or an alcohol use disorder.

If you or a loved one has experienced two or more of these criteria within the last 12 months4, it may point to a problematic pattern of alcohol abuse that could benefit from treatment. 

  • Inability to cut down or control alcohol consumption following persistent attempts to quit.
  • A craving or a strong desire to use alcohol.
  • Limiting the amount of alcohol consumption during drinking sessions becomes more and more difficult.
  • A great deal of time is spent doing activities that involve drinking alcohol or recovering from its effects.
  • Job or school performance suffers due to the aftereffects of drinking or being intoxicated.
  • Continued issues with interpersonal relationships caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  • Childcare or household responsibilities may be neglected.
  • Continued use of alcohol in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving).
  • A growing tolerance in which increased amounts of alcohol are needed to achieve intoxication or other desired effect.
  • Alcohol use leads to giving up important occupational, social, and recreational activities.
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when abstaining from alcohol.

How Difficult Is It to Quit?

It’s easy to underestimate the amount of alcohol you consume daily or weekly, especially in social settings when others around you are doing the same. Because of this, many people deny having a problem or believe they can stop drinking at any time. While this may be true for some, stopping cold turkey can not only be difficult but also ill-advised, as the acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome may be life-threatening if not managed properly.

When a long-term or otherwise heavy drinker with significant levels of alcohol dependence decides to quit drinking, medical supervision is essential because alcohol’s withdrawal symptoms can include extremely unpleasant and/or life-threatening side effects such as agitation and seizures. Depending on your severity of physical dependence and other addiction issues, detoxing can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis—although the latter is less common, and most likely only recommended after undergoing a thorough medical evaluation and assessment of withdrawal risks. As part of a medical detox and alcohol withdrawal management, certain medications may be used to decrease the severity of symptoms and decrease the risk of complications.

Following detox, you may be encouraged to transition into either an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program for longer-term recovery work.

Seek Help From Alcohol Abuse

How Do I Know What Kind of Rehab I Need?

Choosing what kind of treatment option is best for you can be difficult to do on your own. It is unlikely that any given program will fit everyone’s needs, so it’s best to seek advice from medical and mental health professionals about the best treatment plan for you. Depending on your needed level of treatment, you may be treated in one of the below program settings:

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehabilitation programs include both short (28 or 30 days) and long-term (90+ days) programs and offer the most intensive level of treatment. Patients receive 24-hour attention while living within a facility and can benefit from their peers and the support staff.5 During this time, they’ll also attend many group therapy and individual counseling sessions. Since alcohol affects various aspects of a person’s life, treatment plans are designed to also work on a person’s psychological and physical well-being.

Outpatient Programs

In outpatient programs, those working toward recovery receive addiction treatment while living at home or outside of a facility. Though these programs only require attendance during treatment sessions, like their inpatient or residential counterparts, they may vary themselves in terms of intensity and time commitment ranging from hour long sessions a few times a week, to several hours per day. You may also enter into an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or partial hospitalization program (PHP) to help in managing the addiction.6 On average, IOPs can be expected to offer around 10-12 hours of recovery programming per week and PHPs could require a time commitment closer to five days a week, for around six hours a day.

When to Seek Help?

When alcohol use begins to interfere with your daily life, it is time to seek treatment and find recovery from addiction. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism, call us to get information about available facilities, treatments, therapies, helpful facts about alcohol abuse, and the path to recovery.

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