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Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism is serious and powerful. Lifelong recovery is possible through education and treatment.

The Road to Recovery Starts Here

Alcohol abuse and addiction has the potential to profoundly damage health, relationships and lives. It impacts people of all ages and has far reaching consequences. Despite this, addicted persons can recover with professional support. Whether you struggle with alcohol or you care for someone who does, the following materials can help you understand the disease and determine appropriate next steps. Alcohol addiction is serious, but recovery is possible.

At Caron, we can help you build a treatment program that meets your needs.

Is alcoholism a disease?

Alcoholism, like other drug addictions, is medically defined as a chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal disease. Those suffering from alcoholism experience an incessant craving for, increased tolerance of and physical dependence on alcohol. They continue to abuse alcohol despite the many negative consequences their destructive habits have on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. 

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Signs of Alcoholism & Alcohol Abuse

Symptoms and indications of alcohol abuse include:

  • Family history of alcohol abuse or alcoholism
  • Frequent intoxication
  • Drinking before noon
  • Underage drinking and/or binge drinking
  • A decline in self-care or hygiene
  • Physical harm as a result of drinking (accidents or fights)
  • Drinking alone
  • The ability to consume a good deal of alcohol without getting intoxicated
  • A preoccupation with drinking and alcohol
  • Suffering from blackouts or memory lapses while drinking
  • The use of alcohol to alter one’s mood
  • Binge drinking (periodic, extreme overindulgence - consuming five or more standard drinks (male), or four or more drinks (female) in one occasion.
  • Hiding alcohol or sneaking drinks
  • Drinking prior to events or social gatherings where alcohol will be served
  • Job loss or complaints by employers regarding one’s drinking
  • Relationship or marital problems as a result of too much drinking
  • Complaints from friends, relatives or co-workers about problem drinking incidents
  • Alcohol related arrests: public intoxication, DUI, lewd behavior, altercations
  • Behavioral changes while intoxicated: anger, sexual promiscuity, rash acts
  • Feeling remorseful or humiliated by drinking-related behavior
  • Social rejection or loss of friendship as a result of one’s drinking
  • Neglect of other activities
  • Drinking and driving or drinking in dangerous situations
  • Changes to personality

Identifying addiction: Know the signs of alcoholism

While the above indicators are signs of alcohol abuse, a diagnosis of alcoholism necessitates physical dependence on alcohol. The most common physical signs of an alcoholic are:

  • Increased alcohol tolerance: more and more alcohol is needed to feel its effects
  • Attempts at quitting are met with failure
  • Loss of control (one cannot control the amount of alcohol he consumes at any give time)
  • Alcohol consumption or other drugs are required to avoid withdrawal symptoms: nausea, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, and, with more severe cases, seizures, delirium (or hallucinations)
  • Craving for alcohol that can contribute to relapse if one attempts to abstain

If you or someone you love could be suffering from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, Caron is here for you. Our individualized treatment and proven approach can help lead to a life of recovery.

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What causes alcohol addiction?

Alcoholism is caused by a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, environmental and social factors, including:

  • Frequency of use
  • Age at which alcohol was first consumed
  • Demographics such as age, gender, and genetic background
  • Family history of alcoholism (a person is much more likely to become an alcoholic if a parent was an alcoholic)
  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol
  • Overall health
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What are the effects of alcohol addiction?

Short-term effects of alcohol use and abuse

Alcohol (also known as ethanol or ethyl alcohol) is a psychoactive drug that acts as a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol interferes with communication between nerve cells and all other cells and affects various centers in the brain. Even moderate consumption of alcohol causes immediate effects, such as lowered inhibitions, increased relaxation and dulled senses.

As alcohol consumption (and blood alcohol) increases, users may experience:

  • heightened emotional responses (including anger and aggression)
  • lack of coordination
  • poor balance
  • slurred speech
  • dizziness
  • disturbed sleep
  • nausea and vomiting

Alcohol affects the body in stages, causing various states of being, including:

  • relaxation
  • euphoria
  • excitement
  • confusion
  • stupor

Extreme alcohol consumption can cause memory loss (blackouts), complete loss of coordination and alcohol poisoning. In some cases, alcohol overdose can be fatal.

Other short term effects of alcohol include harm to the body’s tissues:

  • Stomach: Alcohol irritates the stomach and intestine lining and increases stomach acid secretion. This causes vomiting.
  • Skin: Alcohol increases blood flow to the skin, causing users to sweat and appear flushed.
  • Muscles: Alcohol and reduces blood flow to the muscles, causing muscle aches (most notably felt as the alcohol leaves the system.) This effect is often called a hangover.

The severity of the effects of alcohol is dependent on a variety of factors including the weight, age and sex of the individual consuming the alcohol and how much was eaten before and during consumption. Alcohol is eventually metabolized and eliminated from the system at a rate of 13 to 18 mg per hour.

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse.

Excessive use can lead to abuse and dependence, both of which may ultimately require treatment. Individuals who abuse alcohol may develop physical symptoms upon abrupt discontinuation or drastic reduction of alcohol consumption. As with any drug addiction, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms from alcohol will develop in anyone who has regularly been drinking heavily for an extended period of time if and when intake is suddenly curtailed.

Despite its negative effects, alcohol abuse and addiction can be successfully managed. Caron’s holistic approach to alcohol addiction treatment can lead to recovery and restore lives.

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Seven Stages of Alcoholism

Stage 1: Abstinence

Alcohol addiction can begin before an individual starts drinking—due to genetic predispositions or attitudes and perceptions consistent with those who suffer from addiction.

Stage 2: Initial Use

This can include experimental use of alcohol, occasional use or occasional binge drinking (once or twice a year). Initial use of alcohol may not yet be a problem for the user or those close to them. Occasional alcohol consumption may cause difficulties while they are under the influence or the following day, but they have not become addicted.

Stage 3: High Risk Use

High risk refers to an abundance of drinking and making poor decisions while under the influence. At this stage, the pattern and frequency of alcohol abuse is high enough to be dangerous to the drinker and those around them.

Stage 4: Problematic Use

The negative consequences of drinking become apparent. Health issues, including impaired liver function or sexually transmitted diseases arise. Drinking-related legal issues occur, like driving under the influence (DUI). In this stage, family and friends become aware of the problem.

Stage 5: Early Stage of Dependency

The early stage of alcohol addiction is characterized by noticeable lifestyle changes. The user begins to miss work. They pick fights with family and friends and choose to drink despite negative consequences. At this point, alcohol rehab is most effective.

Stage 6: Middle Stage of Dependency

During the middle stage of alcohol addiction, negative consequences start to pile up. The user loses his or her job due to too many absences and alcohol-induced fights end relationships. The negative consequences of alcoholism become irreversible.

Stage 7: Crisis Stage of Dependency

At this crisis point, everyone is aware of the effects of alcoholism—including the alcoholic. Serious health problems ensue. The alcoholic is rarely without a drink, but thinks no one notices. This stage frequently results in alcohol-related deaths for users who do not enter treatment.

If this list describes the behavior of you or someone you support, please don't hesitate to explore our programs or reach out to Caron with questions or concerns.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol detox is the process of removing all harmful toxins that alcohol brings into the body. Because detox involves the quitting or reduction of heavy or prolonged alcohol use, it causes alcohol withdrawal.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or the physical side effects of discontinued substance use, range from mild to potentially life-threatening. They include:

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Mild anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors (especially hand tremors)

Withdrawal symptoms can be more severe in the elderly and those who have repeated withdrawals that lead to repeated intoxications. Other health issues can also impact symptom severity.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically develop within several hours to a few days of quitting and usually worsen after 48 to 72 hours. Some symptoms—such as insomnia, mild anxiety and tremors—can occur while the individual still has a measurable blood alcohol level, but most occur after alcohol has left the system. Depending on the severity of the level of alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms generally last from several days to several weeks to, in rare cases, months.

While physical withdrawal symptoms may disappear completely within a few weeks, psychological withdrawal can last for years. Many individuals experience the desire to drink (craving alcohol) with every new event or trigger they face.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DT) is a condition associated with severe alcohol withdrawal. DT typically occurs 3 to 5 days after cutting out alcohol. DT symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Agitation
  • Severe confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Tactile
  • Hallucinations (may develop within 6 to 48 hours of not having alcohol and can last from a few hours to a few weeks.)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Extreme cardiovascular disturbances: racing heart, temperature control, dramatic increase in blood pressure, dehydration

Once DT begins, there is no known medical treatment to stop them. Grand mal seizures, heart attacks and strokes can occur during DT and are potentially fatal if not properly treated under medical supervision.

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Alcoholism Treatment

The first steps toward recovering from an alcoholism are recognizing the problem and seeking professional help from people who care. Alcoholism is treatable. Treatment for alcohol addiction usually includes therapy, counseling, support groups and education. Many benefit from joining a self-help group or 12-Step programs, while others seek out inpatient or outpatient treatment. With professional help, it is possible to overcome alcoholism.

The importance of medically supervised detox.

Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquilizers can lead to severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, strokes or heart attacks in high-risk patients. Because of this, medically supervised detox—which involves close monitoring, pain management and the use of prescription drugs to treat complications—is highly recommended.

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Alcoholism Support Groups

The most common mutual support groups are 12-Step groups. These groups emphasize total abstinence and embrace 12 core steps to overcoming addiction. Additionally, 12-Step groups urge alcoholics to take esponsibility for their actions, share personal experiences with group members, help other addicts and recognize a higher power. 12-Step groups also encourage family members and friends of the alcoholic to attend their own support group meetings in order to gain a deeper understanding of their loved one’s struggles. Often, 12-Step group participants become lifetime members.

There are many alcohol support groups, and each promotes recovery in distinctive ways. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), perhaps the most widely known alcohol addiction support group, is known for helping millions of recovering alcoholics worldwide. Many groups, such as Al-Anon, are also available to support families and loved ones of alcoholics.

The core principles of 12-Step groups.

The most prevalent alcohol addiction 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), has more than 100,000 groups worldwide and nearly 2 million members. AA does not charge dues or ally themselves with any political, social or religious group. Members are united by nothing but a common problem: alcohol. As with most 12-Step programs, AA encourages recovery through sharing and support and offers resources and meetings not only for alcoholics, but also for family members and friends affected by addiction.

12-Step programs for alcohol addiction are based on the 12 steps developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob. These 12 steps are a set of guiding principles intended to lead members through the recovery process. Though they can differ slightly from group to group, most steps involve admitting there is an addiction; recognizing the strength of a Higher Power; examining past wrongs and making amends for these wrongs; moving on to live a new life with a new code of behavior; and helping others who also suffer from addiction.

AA’s 12 Steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Al-Anon Family Groups

Al-Anon is an excellent resource for families and friends of alcoholics. Al-Anon and Alateen, collectively known as Al-Anon Family Groups, is an international fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experiences, strength and hope in order to cope with the negative impact that alcohol addiction has made on their lives.

Al-Anon Family Groups help families of alcoholics by practicing the Twelve Steps; welcoming and comforting family members of the addicted person; and encouraging the alcoholic’s recovery in a safe, understanding environment. Programs focus on spirituality but are not tied to any particular religion. Whether or not the addicted person continues treatment, Al-Anon can be hugely beneficial for family members’ well-being.


Alateen, part of Al-Anon, is the 12-Step program of recovery for young people (generally aged 13 to 19) affected by another's drinking. Alateen groups are sponsored by Al-Anon members.

Caron believes that support after treatment is a vital element of recovery. For information on how to get involved, please contact us.

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About Caron

With 60 years in the field, Caron Treatment Centers operates lifesaving addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment. Caron is headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania with Ocean Drive and Caron Renaissance located in Palm Beach County, Florida. Caron has recovery centers in New England, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which offer community and recovery support. Caron’s Recovery Centers in Atlanta and New York City also offer pre- and post-treatment services. Caron has the most extensive continuum of care including teens, and adults, chronic pain, executives, healthcare professionals and legal professionals. Caron’s outcomes-driven treatment care plans are customized to meet the needs of individuals and families – with highly trained teams prepared to address co-occurring disorders. Caron offers an innovative approach to ongoing recovery care support for its former patients and their families with online peer groups and other resources during the first year of transition following discharge

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