Alcohol and Drug Addiction, Abuse and Treatment
For many people, the facts about alcoholism are not clear. What is alcoholism, exactly? How does it differ from alcohol abuse? When should a person seek help for a problem related to his or her drinking? The following information explains both alcoholism and alcohol abuse, the symptoms of each, when and where to seek help, treatment choices, and additional helpful resources.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism, also known as “alcohol dependence,” is a disease that includes four symptoms:
- Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink.
- Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to “get high.”
People who are not alcoholic sometimes do not understand why an alcoholic can’t just “use a little willpower” to stop drinking. However, alcoholism has little to do with willpower. Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful “craving,” or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.
Although some people are able to recover from alcoholism without help, the majority of alcoholics need assistance. With treatment and support, many individuals are able to stop drinking and rebuild their lives.
Many people wonder why some individuals can use alcohol without problems but others cannot. One important reason has to do with genetics. Scientists have found that having an alcoholic family member makes it more likely that if you choose to drink you too may develop alcoholism. Genes, however, are not the whole story. In fact, scientists now believe that certain factors in a person’s environment influence whether a person with a genetic risk for alcoholism ever develops the disease. A person’s risk for developing alcoholism can increase based on the person’s environment, including where and how he or she lives; family, friends, and culture; peer pressure; and even how easy it is to get alcohol.
What Is Alcohol Abuse?Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism in that it does not include an extremely strong craving for alcohol, loss of control over drinking, or physical dependence. Alcohol abuse is defined as a pattern of drinking that results in one or more of the following situations within a 12-month period:
- Failure to fulfill major work, school, or home responsibilities;
- Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
- Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; and
- Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.
Although alcohol abuse is basically different from alcoholism, many effects of alcohol abuse are also experienced by alcoholics.
What Are the Signs of a Problem?How can you tell whether you may have a drinking problem? Answering the following four questions can help you find out:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (as an “eye opener”) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. If you answered “yes” to more than one question, it is highly likely that a problem exists. In either case, it is important that you see your doctor or other health care provider right away to discuss your answers to these questions. He or she can help you determine whether you have a drinking problem and, if so, recommend the best course of action.
Even if you answered “no” to all of the above questions, if you encounter drinking-related problems with your job, relationships, health, or the law, you should seek professional help. The effects of alcohol abuse can be extremely serious—even fatal—both to you and to others.
The type of treatment you receive depends on the severity of your alcoholism and the resources that are available in your community. Treatment may include detoxification (the process of safely getting alcohol out of your system); taking doctor-prescribed medications, such as disulfiram (Antabuse®) or naltrexone (ReVia™), to help prevent a return (or relapse) to drinking once drinking has stopped; and individual and/or group counseling. There are promising types of counseling that teach alcoholics to identify situations and feelings that trigger the urge to drink and to find new ways to cope that do not include alcohol use. These treatments are often provided on an outpatient basis.Because the support of family members is important to the recovery process, many programs also offer brief marital counseling and family therapy as part of the treatment process. Programs may also link individuals with vital community resources, such as legal assistance, job training, childcare, and parenting classes.
Alcohol is often mentioned in one breath with drugs, especially when the subject is abuse or addiction. More often, alcohol is referred to as a separate substance and in fact, its abuse is often discussed separately from that of drugs. But can alcohol be considered a drug?
If a textbook definition is used, a drug may be defined as a substance that has an effect on living cells and their function and is also used for medical purposes for the diagnosis, prevention and cure of disorders and diseases. As such, alcohol may not be considered as a drug since it is not used directly to effect a cure. However, it is also a substance that can have similar effects to drugs to disinfect, act as an analgesic, a tranquilizer or rarely, a stimulant.
The link between alcohol and drugs
Alcohol is said to possibly be a contributor to health as some are some drugs, but alcohol, like some drugs can be addictive. When used in moderate amounts, alcohol has been said to improve cardiovascular health. However, health experts discourage non-drinkers to start drinking alcohol for the sole reason of benefiting the heart. They recommend that other methods such as exercising and eating a good diet, should be considered as the first line of defense.
As an addictive substance, alcohol can be as bad as drugs. Alcohol abuse and addiction, often referred in general terms as alcoholism, is a common problem in many communities, able to cut across economic and social barriers. It also produces a physical dependence and when it does, it becomes a chronic disease. The use of too much alcohol, like drugs, can also increase tolerance and produce withdrawal symptoms.
Like drugs, alcoholism can lead to family, health and social problems. It's not uncommon for alcoholics to destroy family and social relationships, lose their jobs or turn to illegal activities in order to support their habit. It also causes health problems that are potentially life threatening, such as liver cirrhosis and cancer.
The danger of alcohol
Alcohol affects different people in different ways, and for some that may be trouble. Some individuals, for example, are more prone to suffer from the effects of alcohol compared to others who drink the same amount. However, the danger of using alcohol cannot be emphasized enough. The devastating effect of alcoholism on families and society is well documented and recognized.
Alcohol use is also often discouraged in pregnant women, older people, individuals who have heart diseases and hypertension and those who are taking certain medications. Alcohol, like drugs, not only produces physical dependence, it also promotes neurochemical conditioning, where an individual develops a tolerance to the substance, encouraging him to use alcohol in increasing amounts. Alcohol can also change an individual's perception in its true benefits, allowing a person to think that alcohol is needed in order for them to function socially and emotionally.
Getting help for alcohol addiction or abuse
Once the problem with alcohol addiction or abuse is acknowledged and accepted, the road to recovery may begin. There are plenty of local and national treatment centers and resources that may be tapped for help, either as a source of information or as a means for rehabilitation.
There are several approaches to the treatment of alcoholism, depending on how it is viewed. However, most treatments tend to focus on encouraging people to stop alcohol intake. It is often supplemented by social networking and group supports, along with life training, to effectively help alcoholics from using alcohol again.
Since alcohol, like drugs, often involves a combination of factors that lead to misuse and addiction, these factors are often considered first before a course of treatment is prescribed. It is often more effective in helping in alcohol treatment
An addictive drug is one that causes uncontrollable and compulsive drug craving, seeking and the use of the drug, even if one is aware of negative effects and social implications. A person starts getting physically dependent on such drugs or alcohol, requiring it to pursue even day-to-day activities.
In absence of availability of the alcohol or drugs, a person feels lost and irritated. The lack starts affecting the normal behavior and such a person just cannot function till he/she is able to take a shot of that particular drug. A person might also turn to crime to lay hands on the banned substance. The figures revealed via extensive research on the cases brought to the various drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers give a clear indication how deep the abuse has seeped into society.
An addiction usually starts from a single try, after which, the repeated use ultimately results in being addicted to the substance. An addict requires lot of strength and courage to accept that he/she is addicted. This is usually the first step towards de-addiction. However, addicts require lot of help and support, as well as love and acceptance to kick off the habit.
Approaching the drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers is the best way to get rid of addiction. There are various Rehabilitation Centers across the globe, which help addicts to give up the craving. An addict might choose the drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers either by self-will or forcefully, by the way of family or peer pressure or a court ruling.
The drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers help to bring about a change from the negative behavior and addiction, to a normal healthy lifestyle. Going through the procedures within the drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers involves a very emotional decision for the addict, as well as the family members and friends. Withdrawals:
A rehab program will require great determination and constraint from the addict to come out of the addiction and stay drug or alcohol free. In many cases, after successfully coming out of addiction, a person succumbs again, after initial restraint ranging from few weeks to a couple of months. This is usually because addictive drugs remain as stresses in the fats of the body and they are released in small quantities into the blood stream if a person goes through stress or anxiety.
In the face of these “small kicks”, the body craves for more drugs or alcohol leading a person back into addiction. Every person that walks into a rehab center is a different individual, with different physical and psychological factors leading the condition and different reasons to use drugs or alcohol. Different people will have different addictions and hence, they cannot be treated in a same manner. It is the responsibility of the drug and alcohol rehabs or treatment centers to provide all possible support and motivation to an addict as well as provide all help and treatment, to lead a normal and healthy life.
Alcohol rehabilitation begins with you and the choices you make about how you want to live your life. Since denial that you have an alcohol problem is such a powerful factor in substance abuse and dependence, you place yourself upon the road of recovery the moment you admit that you have a drinking problem. Once you've decided that alcohol needs to be eliminated from your life for the sake of your health, your family and your job, your alcohol rehabilitation has begun.
What now? First, keep in mind that if someone tells you that, “my way is the only way to recover from alcohol addiction,” be very suspicious. In alcohol rehabilitation, there is no right way, and no wrong way to recover; there is only your way. An anonymous alcoholic and drug counselor once said, “I don’t care if you want to go out and bark at the moon if it keeps you sober.” Alcohol rehabilitation is a very personal thing; it is not at all helpful for addiction therapists and support groups to have a “cookie cutter” approach to recovery. Such a practice would involve a disregard for your personal characteristics, your values and beliefs, and what sort of help you need. Instead, alcohol rehabilitation must be personalized to your needs.
When you make the choice for abstinence, here are some things for you to consider about the type of alcohol rehabilitation that would work best for you:
a) Are you comfortable in a group setting where you and other addicts can help and support each other with the aid of a professional addiction counselor who is also in recovery?
b) How do you handle trust issues? Are you willing to speak openly and truthfully about things you have done or said when you were drinking/using?
c) How severe is your addiction to alcohol? Do you have uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you aren’t drinking/using? As part of your alcohol rehabilitation, do you need medical detoxification services?
d) Does your family and/or peer group use alcohol and other drugs to excess? To recover, do you need to get away from others who are still drinking/using?
e) Will your family and friends support your decision to stop drinking/using?
f) Are you experiencing serious legal consequences for your drinking/using?
g) Are spiritual and religious beliefs and values important to you?
h) Deep in your heart, do you believe that alcohol rehabilitation can help you get sober and stay sober?
It’s rare to find an alcoholic who is not also addicted to at least one other drug of abuse. It is common to find an alcoholic who also has mental health issues like depression. This is yet another way that alcohol rehabilitation can help you; by addressing all your needs, your chances of recovery increase dramatically.
With the right sort of alcohol rehabilitation that works for you, you can begin today to make smart choices about how to recover from this dark period in your life.