Alcohol is accepted all over the world and is welcome in most social activities. Many people fall into alcohol addiction. It can happen to anyone no matter their socio-economic position, their race, gender, or family status. That is why we at the Discovery Institute want to help you, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what has happened to you.

It can be difficult to admit that you have a problem with alcohol because of how common it is to drink it. If you recognize symptoms of alcohol dependency in yourself or a loved one, it is important to address it and get help as soon as you can. The less time you wait, the less time you will spend hurting your body and the people around you who love you most.

How Do I Know If I Suffer From an Addiction?

For the most part, alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, can be defined by several different descriptors. With most of the culture normalizing drinking today, and some even glorifying it, it can be extremely difficult to know when and if you are struggling with an alcohol addiction. There are several ways that you are able to tell if you struggle with an alcohol addiction. These will be discussed at length below.

You may have a problem with alcoholism if:

  • Alcohol occupies so much space in your mind that you find yourself struggling to focus on anything besides drinking.
  • When you are at work, out to dinner, spending time with loved ones, you struggle to be “present”.
  • You frequently or constantly think about when your drink next is.
  • You find that you continue to drink even though it may place you or others in harmful situations. (In other words, continuing to drink despite knowing it is harmful.)
  • You find yourself justifying, sneaking, or hiding your alcohol consumption from loved ones.

All of these are common signs of alcohol dependence or addiction. So, if you ever find yourself struggling with any of these issues, it’s possible that you are either developing or have already developed an addiction to alcohol. 

Withdrawal symptoms are also signs of alcohol use disorder. These effects can include headaches anxiety, shaking, hallucinations, nausea, depression, vomiting, and more.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consider talking to us at the Discovery Institute, or if you notice a loved one struggling with any of these; consider having an intervention for them to be treated. Finally, if you are still unsure, use the Discovery Institute’s quiz to find out if you struggle with alcohol addiction. The most important thing for you to do is to seek help. Thankfully, treatment is just one phone call away.

How Does Addiction Develop?

Everyone’s tolerance levels are different. But generally speaking, addiction forms when an individual’s brain changes so that he or she is unable to feel normal without alcohol. This is what is known as a dependency. It plays a big role in understanding the nature of addiction, how to treat it, and even how to understand what our loved ones are going through.

When you begin drinking you have a tolerance. As you continue to drink, this tolerance will build up so that you no longer feel drunk after only a few drinks. However, this means you will need to consume more and more alcohol in order to feel its effects. This causes your brain to normalize the effects of alcohol. In turn, this normalization leads to the individual building up a dependency. In order to understand dependency, we need to answer the following question: is addiction a disease or is it a choice?

Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice? 

The best argument on the side of addiction being a choice is that if someone who struggles with alcohol addiction is offered a drink, but told if they drink it they will be fatally harmed, they have the ability to not choose the drink. However, what this misunderstands is the way substances like alcohol and narcotics affect the brain and the nature of dependency.

The truth is that alcohol affects the memory, pleasure, and motivation centers in the brain. The brain begins to feel the effects of a substance. It recognizes that these substances cause good feelings through the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. As a result, the brain and body begin to crave more of these substances.

The problem is that chasing these feelings begins to rewire our brain centers, as previously stated. Once this rewiring occurs, the individual can no longer feel normal without alcohol. Therefore, while individuals are able to choose not to drink if they know there is fatal harm that it would cause, they still are unable to function “normally” without alcohol. Since this is the case, alcohol addiction can be classified as a disorder. While this disorder allows the individual to choose treatment, we should not treat individuals as if they are choosing addiction. No one chooses to become addicted to something.

What’s the Difference?

The main difference between recognizing alcohol as a disorder is that it affects how people seek treatment. Relapses are often caused by things called triggers. These are the psychosocial effects from our memory, thoughts, emotions, or environment that cause us to become triggered into relapsing. However, if individuals think of addiction as a choice, then they can just choose to ignore these triggers, temptations, thoughts, and impulses. 

However, some triggers are guilt, depression, anxiety, places where we used to use, and so on. If treated as a choice, some addicts are punished, kicked out of their homes, given the cold-shoulder, and so on. These punishments often induce the triggering of feelings and cause the addict to do the very thing that causes punishment. 

However, if viewed as a disorder, it is a treatable disease. The keyword there is” treatable”. Addiction is by no means easy, but it is very treatable. The main course of action, however, is to seek treatment. No change can come without treatment. Thus, we need to encourage addicts to seek treatment, since only 10% of people who struggle with alcohol addiction get the treatment they need.

The Dangers of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction contains many dangers for the individuals who struggle with it. From mental problems to prolonged physical issues, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with alcohol addiction.

While many normalize the consumption of alcohol, binge drinking, excessive drinking, and long term alcohol addiction has detrimental effects on the body. Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks for men, and 4 or more drinks for women in a 2 hour period. 

The liver is the first and most obvious point of damage. Also, however, is sleep. Alcohol affects one’s circadian clock and actually interrupts the REM cycle of sleep. This is why many people wake up the morning after a night of drinking feeling like they did not rest. 

As previously stated, alcohol also affects our memory. Therefore, after a long period of excessive alcohol consumption, our brains begin to lose the ability to have as good of a memory, or even have difficulty forming new memories. The worst-case scenario would be the inability to form new memories, or anterograde amnesia.

Alcohol addiction can lead to many health problems like liver, heart, and lung damage. It is closely associated with a higher rate of accidents, both personal and automobile, because of the recklessness it causes in its users. It’s important to get help for your alcohol addiction as soon as possible.

3 Steps to Improvement

While the most important way to get healthier and recover is to get professional treatment, there are small steps each of us can take to get better each day and cope. The three we will be discussing are building community, holistic care, and getting a hobby.

Firstly, recovery is a journey that was never meant to be walked alone. We at the Discovery Institute want you to get plugged in with some form of group. Alcoholics Anonymous is extremely effective at combating addiction, as well as other group therapies. Being in a community with others is an incredible way to keep yourself accountable, form strong bonds, and know that you are not alone.

Secondly, it may be helpful to engage in holistic therapy approaches. This is the process by which the mind, body, and soul are treated. These are tried and true ways to reconnect with yourself, your mind, and even your spirit in a way that our disconnected world does not offer.

Finally, individuals may benefit from adopting a healthy and fun hobby. Hobbies are simple ways to enjoy life, give yourself a motivation, and even distract you when those triggering thoughts enter. This can be jogging, hiking, drawing, exercising, and so on. All of these are great ways to treat yourself and enjoy doing it. Many of them are also good ways to help you connect with other people as well! The best way to improve, however, is to get professionally treated for alcohol addiction.

Getting Help

It is not too late! At the Discovery Institute, we want you to know that you are not alone. We truly believe that it is never too late to get help for alcohol addiction. We have people available to answer your calls at all times, you can reach us (844) 478-6563. Please do not hesitate to reach out, get help today.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm 

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery 

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.