Are you or someone you love struggling with an alcohol issue? Do you think you or your loved one could have a serious problem with drinking? According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 15.1 million adults in the United States had an alcohol use disorder (AUD.) This includes 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women. When it comes to alcoholism or AUD, adults aren’t the only ones who struggle. The same NSDUH survey found that 623,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 had an alcohol use issue.
Sadly, of these millions of people in the U.S. who are unable to control their alcohol use, only a small percent actually get help for their substance abuse issue, which in this case is alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) reports only 6.7% of adults with an alcohol problem and 5.2% of youth receive treatment.
While this number may seem small, it’s important to understand that there is help, there is hope. Recovery is possible and millions of people who were once hopeless and seemingly helpless today live happy, meaningful lives as sober men and women.
Understanding Alcohol Addiction and Alcohol Use Disorder
Often a problem with alcohol can be hard to determine, especially in the beginning stages. Alcohol is a widely consumed and accepted substance. We are bombarded on television, radio, streaming programs, at sporting events, on billboards, seemingly everywhere by advertisements promoting alcohol use. These often clever advertisements always show the people drinking being happy, carefree, joyful, however, if you or someone you love has an addiction to alcohol this picture is far from reality.
Although many problem drinkers start out having fun while drinking, this is rarely the case after a number of years. The face of each alcoholic is different so too is their story and experience with alcohol. It’s important not to compare your own drinking or your loved ones to others but rather look at the complete picture of the role alcohol plays in their lives and the lives of their family members.
Living in a society that promotes and accepts alcohol, it can be a challenge to know if someone really has a problem with drinking. What’s more with the easy availability of alcohol, at grocery stores, liquor stores, convenience stores, quitting drinking on your own can be even harder.
So what exactly defines an alcohol use disorder or alcoholism? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA,) alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder is defined as having more than a certain amount of alcoholic drinks in one occasion; for men this is five or more drinks, for women four or more. A ‘drink’ can be any type of alcoholic beverage: beer, wine, liquor, etc.
However, there’s more to look at when it comes to determining whether you or a loved one has an issue with alcohol. Taking a comprehensive look at your life (or that of your loved one) and how alcohol, or any substance in question, impacts it and the people in your life is vital.
Six Signs Alcohol Use Is Negatively Impacting Your Life
1. Responsibilities Forgotten
Often a person who drinks too much alcohol may find they are shirking some of their responsibilities. From family obligations, like attending a child’s recital or sports game to work and school commitments like working late or even showing up after a long night of drinking, many people who are struggling with an alcohol issue will fail to meet responsibilities.
2. Financial Woes
Common financial issues that face people with alcohol issues are spending more money than allotted on alcohol, buying liquor when you are nearly broke, spending the last of your money on alcohol are a few examples. There are also court and legal fees that may occur, bad decisions made while drinking which cost you money, missing work or school because of drinking or being hung-over, losing money, etc. The list goes on.
3. Relationships Changes
Relationships with loved ones and friends suffer with alcoholism, sometimes to the extreme. Fighting with family about drinking, losing the trust of friends and family members, losing people in your life because of alcohol use, are just some of the negative consequences of excessive drinking.
4. Social Life Adversity
As mentioned many times alcohol use begins as fun and carefree; going out on the town, to concerts, to sporting events and enjoying life. However, for many struggling with an alcohol use disorder isolation can become part of daily life. Many times, the exciting and fun social life turn to drinking alone at home, giving up hobbies and participating in activities once enjoyed to drink or recover from a night (or day) of drinking.
5. Physical Health Deterioration
From serious health issues like liver problems and seizures to problems like headaches, injuries from fights, and vomiting, alcohol can wreak havoc on the body. While many alcoholics dismiss some of the less serious health issues, there’s no doubt about it, alcohol can cause health issues even in the beginning stages of alcoholism. The more serious, long-term consequences can be deadly. In fact, according to the NIAAA, alcohol related death is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States killing an estimated 88,000 people annually in the U.S. alone.
6. Emotional and Mental Health Struggles
The use of alcohol is often seen as a way to relax and unwind. And while this is true for many, this once innocent drink can become a much-needed crutch to make it through the day or night. Often when people have become dependent on alcohol, there are a number of accompanying mental health signs. Depression, moodiness, irritability, anger issues, and shame are just a few of the emotional and mental issues seen with an alcohol issue. It’s also important to know that there are sometimes co-occurring mental health and alcohol issues present. SAMSHA reports that in 2016 about 8.2 million adults in the United States had a co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issue.
Facing the truth about either your own or a loved one’s possible problem with alcohol can be painful. It’s important to try to take an honest look at this list and determine if you can relate to any of these for yourself or if you see them in your loved one. When seeking help for a loved one it’s important to keep in mind that a family member or close friend may see the problem before the individual does. It’s also vital to understand that true recovery depends on that person’s honesty about the issue and willingness to seek help.
Three Stages of Alcohol Addiction
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. The United States National Library of Medicine defines a progressive disease as a disease or physical ailment whose course in most cases is the worsening, growth, or spread of the disease. Diseases can be rapidly progressive or slowly progressive. This is all true of alcoholism. What starts as fun or a way to unwind can become a deadly progression for some.
Stage 1: Early Stage of Alcoholism
This stage can be difficult to determine for a number of reasons. At this point the person may not be experiencing many of the symptoms typically associated with alcoholism. Many of the telltale signs at this stage are socially related. Some things to consider are: do all or many of you or your loved one’s social activities involve alcohol? Do you or your loved one tend to drink more than you planned either at one occasion or do you drink more times per week than planned? Do you or your loved one find excuses for drinking? For example, stress, feeling down, celebrating something, etc. At this stage a tolerance is being developed so it may be hard to determine definitively if there is an issue with alcohol.
Stage 2: Middle Stage of Alcoholism
This next stage can bring on physical issues as well as increased social problems. Blackouts, vomiting, extreme hangovers may now occur. Cravings for alcohol or withdrawal when not drinking or trying to stop also characterize this second stage. Other physical issues can be sweating, shaking, enlarged pupils, decreased appetite, and rapid heartbeat.
Emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, agitation, and more may begin to show or appear more consistently. During this stage, the person in question may begin to know they have an issue and begin to hide their drinking from family and friends.
Stage 3: Late or End Stage of Alcoholism
This final stage of alcoholism can be deadly if the right alcohol rehab or treatment programs are not found. A lack of care for physical appearance and hygiene and poor diet are now the norm in late alcoholism. Many people in this stage are unable to work as they seek to drink most of their waking hours. Some cannot fall asleep without drinking and even drink during the night when they wake. Those who do work often jump from job to job. More serious physical issues can be present during this stage too. Cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and respiratory issues are all health issues occurring at this stage.
This final stage of alcoholism is the one most people think of when they think of an alcoholic. The image comes to mind of someone homeless, unkempt, dirty, begging for money for their next drink. While many do progress to this final stage, awareness of the other stages and signs can save many from this path.
Finding Help and Hope—Alcohol Rehab Programs
Once you or your loved one is ready to seek help, it’s good to have an understanding of the various alcoholism treatment programs. Then you can decide which one may be the best fit for you.
SAMSHA reports that the most effective alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs are those utilizing evidence-based treatment methods. Programs that include individual and group therapy, medication availability, and support services—while in treatment and once finished—are considered to be effective in supporting recovery from alcohol use disorder. These types of treatments can be found in both of the following alcohol treatment options.
Inpatient Alcohol Rehab
Inpatient or residential treatment is the most common type of treatment for alcohol problems. As the name implies, the person in treatment lives at the center where they are receiving the care. They stay 24/7 at the center for the period of time recommended by the professionals in the initial evaluation.
There are a number of benefits to this option. One of them is that the individual is away from both the stressors and temptations of daily life while they learn about alcoholism and specifically their own experience, what may have contributed to their alcoholism, and how to stay sober and live in recovery.
It’s important to consider each individual’s unique situation and needs in order to find the best inpatient treatment program. If there are co-occurring mental health issues, be sure the rehab has the ability to address this. Some individuals with an alcohol use disorder also have a problem with the abuse of another substance. It’s vital to consider what is specific to you or your loved one's situation.
Outpatient Alcohol Rehab
Many people are unsure of leaving their family, home, work, and friends to go off to an inpatient treatment program. Others are the sole providers for their families or have other obligations making it a challenge. In these cases, some opt to try outpatient treatment. While inpatient is recommended if outpatient has already been tried, there are certain cases where outpatient treatment is preferred.
In outpatient treatment for alcohol, there are various options. Intensive outpatient and rehab after work are both popular choices. Intensive outpatient therapy can involve the person in treatment being at the center for most of the day to participate in various types of therapy, work with counselors, utilize medications if needed, and more.
Rehab after work is generally after daytime working hours and involves both group and individual therapy. This is suggested for someone struggling with an alcohol issue who simply is unable to go away for treatment.
Taking the Next Step
If you or someone you love is living with an alcohol problem, there is hope. Millions just like you have been in despair but found the strength to ask for help and now live happy, productive lives.
If you’re ready to take that next step it’s time to find the best treatment center and program for you or your loved one. Simply search ‘alcohol rehab near me’ online to find a list of treatment centers in your area. Another good resource is your local twelve step or Alcohol Anonymous programs.