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Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, is a medical condition characterised by uncontrolled drinking and compulsive alcohol consumption despite adverse consequences.

Alcohol use disorder can cause serious physical, emotional and social problems, such as liver disease, mental health issues and relationship difficulties.

In this blog post, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, treatment and recovery of alcohol addiction.


What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a condition in which a person has a compulsive need to consume alcohol. It is a chronic medical condition that can cause long-term damage to both body and mind.

The severity of alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe, depending on how often and how much alcohol is consumed.

Persons suffering from alcohol use disorder may often think about drinking because of their strong physical and psychological dependence on alcohol.


What Does Alcohol Do To You?

Alcohol consumption can significantly impact the brain and neurochemistry.

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that affects several neurotransmitter systems, such as the dopamine, serotonin, GABA and glutamate systems.

How it Affects Dopamine

When you consume alcohol, it enters your bloodstream and is carried to your brain, where it binds to various receptors and alters the activity of your neurotransmitters.

For example, alcohol increases the release of dopamine, which is responsible for your feelings of pleasure and reward. This is why alcohol can create feelings of euphoria or happiness in some people.

How it Affects Serotonin

Alcohol consumption can lead to alterations in your brain’s serotonin levels, which can contribute to your various mood disorders and cognitive impairments.

Studies have shown that alcohol increases serotonin release in the short term, which can produce feelings of well-being and relaxation. However, chronic alcohol use can lead to a decrease in your serotonin levels, contributing to your anxiety, depression and other psychiatric disorders.

How it Affects Brain and Neurochemistry

Chronic alcohol use can also have negative effects on your brain and neurochemistry. Over time, alcohol can damage your brain cells and cause a considerable decrease in your brain volume. This can result in your impaired cognition, memory loss and other neurological symptoms.

How it Affects GABA

Alcohol has a considerable impact on your gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter system in your brain and throughout your body.

Instead of enhancing the activity of GABA, the chemicals in alcohol actually reduce its production. This can lead to a decrease in your GABA levels, which can impact your ability to regulate your emotions.

When you don’t have enough GABA to regulate your emotions, it can lead to an increased risk of mental health issues such as stress, anxiety depression and even paranoia.

This is because GABA plays a crucial role in inhibiting excessive neural activity in your brain, which is important for regulating your emotions and preventing overstimulation.


Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction

It’s a Thief in The Dead of Night

Alcohol addiction is like a thief in the dead of night, slowly stealing away your physical health, mental well-being and social life.

It could begin as a casual drink with your friends, but over time, it can turn into a relentless urge that takes over every aspect of your life.

From tremors and sweating to anxiety and depression, the symptoms of alcohol addiction can be overwhelming and devastating.

Why is it Difficult to Recognise?

Alcohol use disorder can be difficult to recognise, especially in its early stages. Many people with alcohol use disorder may often try to hide their drinking problem or downplay its negative effects. This makes it difficult for others to identify the problem.

Especially in social situations where it is more of a norm to drink, it’s hardly possible to say who is an alcoholic.

Moreover, some symptoms of alcohol use disorder can be easily mistaken for other health conditions, making it even harder to recognise.

Common Signs and Symptoms

However, there are some signs and symptoms that may help identify alcohol addiction in people.

  • Drinking more or for longer periods than intended
  • Hiding habit of drinking and hiding while drinking
  • Difficulty cutting down or stopping drinking
  • Experiencing strong cravings or urges to drink
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences, such as health problems, relationship issues or work-related problems
  • Neglecting other activities or hobbies in favour of drinking
  • Developing tolerance to alcohol, meaning that more alcohol is needed to achieve the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as tremors, sweating, nausea or anxiety

Causes of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction can be a slippery slope for you, with its origins often rooted in a complex web of your personal, social and environmental factors.

May be it’s your desire for a temporary escape from reality. May be it’s your means of coping with your life’s problems. Whatever it is, alcohol can quickly become your crutch if you’re seeking relief in the wrong way.

Notwithstanding these surface level reasons, the underlying causes of alcohol addiction are as unique and varied as the individuals who experience them.

We will list out the broader and more common ones, as follows.

  • Genetics: Family history of alcoholism can increase the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction.
  • Environment: Growing up in a household where alcohol is used frequently can increase the risk of alcohol addiction.
  • Mental health: Individuals with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or PTSD are at a higher risk of developing alcohol addiction.
  • Peer pressure: Social influences can play a role in developing alcohol addiction, especially in young adults.
  • Stress: High levels of stress or traumatic events can lead to alcohol addiction as a way to cope with difficult emotions.

Risks and Complications of Alcohol Use Disorder

While the short-term effects of alcohol use may seem relatively harmless, the long-term risks and complications of addiction can be devastating for you.

From increased risk of chronic diseases to social and legal consequences, the toll of alcohol addiction should not be underestimated.

Understanding the risks and complications of alcohol use disorder is an important step in finding the support and treatment needed to overcome your addiction.

We list out the predominant factors for you, which are as follows:

  • Risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
  • Increased risk of liver disease, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis
  • Increased risk of pancreatitis
  • Higher likelihood of developing ulcers and gastrointestinal problems
  • Can cause or worsen diabetes complications
  • Sexual problems, including impotence and infertility
  • Higher risk of birth defects in pregnant women who drink
  • Increased risk of bone loss and osteoporosis
  • Vision problems, including optic neuropathy and cataracts
  • Higher risk of certain cancers, such as breast, liver and colon cancer
  • Suppressed immune function, leading to a higher risk of infections and illnesses.

Diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder

Diagnosis of alcohol addiction typically involves physical exam, blood tests and psychological evaluation.

Your doctor or mental health professional will assess your alcohol use patterns, withdrawal symptoms and other physical & psychological symptoms to determine if you have alcohol use disorder.


Treatment Options for Alcohol Addiction

If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, it can feel quite overwhelming and hopeless. However, there are many treatment options that can help you overcome this problem and regain control of your life.

From counselling and support groups to medication and detox programs, there is no shortage of resources to extend the help you need.

In this section, we’ll explore some of the most effective treatment options for your alcohol use disorder and why seeking help is the first step towards recovery.

  • Therapy: Behavioural therapy can help you identify and address the underlying causes of your addiction. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI) are common forms of therapy used to treat alcohol use disorder.
  • Medication: Medications such as acamprosate, naltrexone and disulfiram can be used to reduce your cravings, prevent your relapse and ease your withdrawal symptoms.
  • Support groups: Joining support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery can provide you with a sense of community and support throughout your recovery journey.
  • Inpatient treatment: In severe cases, inpatient treatment may be necessary to provide a safe and supportive environment for detoxification and rehabilitation.

Recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder

Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process, and it requires your full commitment and dedication.

The following tips can aid you in your recovery process as well as help you maintain your sobriety.

  • Build support network: Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who encourage and motivate you to stay sober.
  • Attend therapy: Regular therapy sessions can help you address the underlying causes of your addiction and develop healthy coping strategies.
  • Practice self-care: Engage in activities that promote physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, meditation or journaling.
  • Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid situations or people that may trigger cravings or lead to your relapse.
  • Celebrate milestones: Celebrate your progress and achievements to stay motivated and focused on your recovery goals.

How to Prevent Addiction to Alcohol?

Preventing alcohol addiction involves reducing your risk factors and promoting your healthy habits.

Here are a few tips that can help prevent your alcohol addiction:

  • Avoid underage drinking: People who initiate alcohol consumption before the age of 15 may have a higher risk of developing alcohol-related problems in the future.
  • Drink in moderation: Limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men can help.
  • Seek help for mental health issues: Address mental health concerns through therapy or medication to reduce your risk of alcohol addiction.
  • Manage stress: Develop healthy coping strategies to manage your stress, such as exercise, meditation or relaxation techniques.
  • Educate yourself: Learn about the risks and consequences of alcohol use disorder to make informed decisions about responsible alcohol use.

Summary

Alcohol addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that can cause physical, emotional and social problems.

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re struggling with alcohol addiction.

With the right treatment and support, recovery from your alcohol use disorder is certainly possible.

Always remember that your recovery is a lifelong process which requires commitment and dedication on your part.

With resolve and persistency to follow through your determination to stay away, you can greatly reduce the impact of this condition on you and those around you.


 

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Sources: Healthline, Mayo Clinic, Addiction Center, Medical News Today, PMC (1, 2, 3, 4), NIH (1, 2), Georgetown Behavioral Hospital.

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