If you have made the life-changing decision of seeking treatment for alcoholism, congratulations are in order. This is the first step in gaining control of your addiction and turning your life around. The next step is choosing where you want to be treated, and this decision is not without far-reaching consequences. Your experience during rehab will have an immeasurable influence on your recovery. It’s important to remember that not all addiction-care facilities are created equal. The best alcohol rehab centers not only help patients achieve sobriety, but they also help them maintain it. They do this by providing a wealth of amenities and therapies in addition to personalizing the rehab process to meet the exact needs of each patient.
Recipe for an Alcoholic
Young Adults develop drinking problems by age 20. They often drink less than other subtypes, but binge drink more often.
Young Antisocials drinkers often begin drinking by age 15 and more than half have an antisocial personality disorder.
Intermediate Familial drinkers begin drinking by age 17 and progress to addiction in their early 30s. Most have alcoholic family members.
Functional alcoholics are often middle-aged adults with higher education, careers and families who tend to drink every other day.
The Most Common Addiction in the U.S. after Nicotine
When a person decides to try alcohol for the first time, it’s a personal choice based on a variety of factors. When a person drinks heavily over a long period of time and whether or not he becomes an alcoholic is greatly dependent on his genetics. Research has shown that an individual’s DNA holds approximately half of the power when it comes down to alcohol being a distraction or becoming an addiction.
Unlike sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis, which are caused by one defective gene, alcoholism is caused by a variety of different genes. This makes it difficult to treat but also means that it will affect some members of one family while skipping others. Studies on twins and adopted children have shown that in terms of becoming an alcoholic, you’re half dependent on your genetics and half on your environment. While no single gene has been identified to cause alcoholism, there are a number of biological and genetic factors that indicate a greater or lesser likelihood of having that capability lurking in your DNA.
We All Have the Potential for Addiction
The hereditary disposition for addiction exists in all of us because it is linked with the genes that ensure our survival. Associating pleasure with eating a certain food guarantees that we look for it the next time that we’re hungry and the same is true for alcohol and drugs. It’s these instincts that give alcoholics the need to continue drinking, even in the face of negative life consequences.
Drinking often leads to trouble with friends and family, financial difficulties, decreased performance at work or school, legal troubles and a host of other potential problems. Alcohol abuse is known to result in behaviors like driving while intoxicated (DUI) or traits like an increased tendency for violent behavior. Passing on alcoholism to your children is also a considerable risk, not only through your genes but also with environmental factors.
Even following a lengthy sober period, a tiny amount of alcohol can bring an alcoholic back to that same pre-sobriety, compulsive behavior. This is due to special nerve pathways in the brain that became permanently and highly sensitized to alcohol by prolonged heavy drinking.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as excessive drinking that causes distress or harm and involves a physical dependence on alcohol. According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the presence of any of the following 11 criteria are indicative of an AUD. If you’ve:
Had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than intended
More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but could not
Spent a lot of time drinking or being sick from the aftereffects of drinking
Wanted a drink so badly you could not think of anything else
Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family, or caused job or school troubles
Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family and friends
Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you in order to drink
More than once gotten into situations during or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt
Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or was adding to another health problem
Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you wanted or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before
Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, a seizure or hallucinations
In order to be diagnosed with alcoholism, an individual must meet at least two of the above 11 conditions. The presence of two or more indicate a mild case of AUD; four or more, a moderate case; and six or more, a severe case. In 2012, an estimated 17 million adults in the United States had AUDs, which broke down to approximately 11.2 million men and 5.7 million women. According to NIAAA an additional 855,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were also estimated to have AUDs.
Changes in Brain Chemistry Caused by Alcohol Abuse
Drinking alcohol is known to produce powerful changes in the thoughts, mood, and behavior of whomever consumes it. Under normal circumstances, the brain maintains a delicate balance of chemicals known as neurotransmitters that enable different sections of the brain to communicate and ultimately allow the body to regulate its behavior. Alcohol consumption leads to an imbalance of these special brain messengers, resulting in drowsiness, loss of coordination, euphoria and other symptoms of intoxication.
In the case of long-term heavy drinking, the brain acts like the presence of alcohol is the norm and relies on alcohol for things it otherwise would produce naturally.
In most cases, the brain corrects this imbalance during a period in which it is not exposed to any alcohol, however, with continued exposure, the brain begins to adapt to the changes in its chemical environment. In the case of long-term heavy drinking, the brain acts like the presence of alcohol is the norm and relies on alcohol for things it otherwise would produce naturally. This chemical inequality is where alcohol dependence comes in.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Body?
Once the brain begins to adapt to the regular existence of alcohol, it will begin producing certain neurotransmitters more or less frequently. These include chemicals that either the brain now expects to get from alcohol or chemicals meant to deal with the excess of alcohol in the body. These long-term chemical changes are believed to be responsible for alcoholism and AUD.
Symptoms of withdrawal will follow if regular drinking habits are broken.
During long periods of heavy consumption, a tolerance will begin to develop. This causes drinkers to have to consume more alcohol in order to become as intoxicated as in the past. Symptoms of withdrawal will follow if regular drinking habits are broken. As heavy drinking is continually sustained, a pathological craving for alcohol in its absence will also appear.
As the tolerance takes hold, the individual will begin to compensate for alcohol’s reduced effect by imbibing more. This increases his or her risk to many of alcohol’s devastating health problems, including:
- Heart cardiomyopathy or arrhythmias
- High blood pressure
- Liver fibrosis or cirrhosis
- Cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, etc.
What Leads to Alcohol Addiction?
Despite decades of research, there is no definitive answer as to what causes alcoholism. Many industry experts hypothesize that it is a combination of genetics, environment and mental health. Additionally, the over-consumption of alcohol may put a person at risk for the development of alcohol-related problems. The definition of excessive drinking varies between men and women and includes:
- A man who has 15 or more alcoholic beverages in one week or often has five or more drinks at a time.
- A woman who has eight or more drinks in a week or often has four or more drinks in one session.
E. Morton Jellinek, a prominent, early researcher of alcoholism, posited that alcoholism as a disease progresses through four phases, each marked by distinct symptoms:
- Pre-alcoholic phase: An increase in the amount of alcohol consumed beyond the point of moderate use
- Prodromal phase: Blackouts during excessive drinking, solitary drinking, an advanced tolerance to alcohol and pining for alcohol when not drinking
- Crucial phase: A serious blurring of boundaries between drinking and day-to-day life as well as physical changes to the brain and body
- Chronic phase: Drinking becomes a daily event involving irresistible cravings, severe withdrawal symptoms following a short period of sobriety, severe physical and mental alcohol-related problems, and eventually death in the event of continued heavy drinking
Warning Signs of Alcoholism
Due to the fact that alcohol use and even binge-drinking are often culturally acceptable throughout the U.S. and much of the world, it can be difficult to tell if your drinking has gotten out of hand. When you add in the fact that many people are not 100 percent honest about how much alcohol they consume, it can be even more difficult to tell if someone you care about has an alcohol-abuse problem.
Unlike drugs like heroin and cocaine, alcohol is legal. The line between acceptable drinking and unacceptable abuse can easily become blurred. What one person considers to be okay usage may be over the line for another person. Here are some real life warning signs to look for in yourself or your loved ones:
- Drinking in secret: If your drinking hasn’t gotten out of control, why do you need to hide it?
- DUI or Other Legal Issues: Drinking and driving once is one time too many. If alcohol abuse has led to legal problems, it could be a sign that your drinking has gone too far.
- Injuries: Extreme intoxication can easily lead to personal injuries. Waking up with mysterious injuries following a night of binge-drinking could be a sign that alcohol abuse has gotten out of hand.
- Domestic Violence: An undeniable link between alcohol abuse and domestic abuse exists. Alcohol plays a role in over 50 percent of all domestic violence cases, so a home with a domestic abuse problem likely has an alcohol abuse problem too. 
Alcohol plays a role in over 50 percent of all domestic violence cases.
Drawing the line between acceptable drinking and problematic alcohol abuse becomes even more difficult when dealing with high functioning alcoholics, or those who are able to maintain respectable jobs, lives and families while abusing alcohol. These people are often in denial about their drinking problem because of the absence of apparent negative life consequences, such as diminished work performance or marriage problems. What’s worse, is that those closest to these individuals frequently act as enablers because there’s no obvious negative result from their alcohol abuse.
Recovery is Nearly Impossible Without Addiction Treatment
Of the near 20 million Americans who had an AUD in 2014, only 1.5 million received any treatment for the condition at a specialized facility. An overwhelming majority of people with addictions decide against treatment for a variety of reasons, but what’s most surprising is that many of them don’t believe they need help. While it is possible to defeat alcoholism without professional help, the chances for success without any assistance at all are extremely slim.
There are multiple reasons why recovery from alcoholism without professional rehab services is a difficult enterprise:
A person with alcoholism is also highly likely to be struggling with mental illness, often without being aware of it. Patients with co-occurring disorders need treatment for both conditions concurrently and to be educated on how alcoholism and mental illnesses drive each other.
Every person’s addiction is influenced by his or her surroundings in some way. This includes triggers that lead to substance abuse and the prevalence of available abusive substances at home. Removing an alcoholic from his or her everyday environment is often required to achieve sobriety.
Care and Support
Whether you need medical attention to help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal or just a shoulder to cry on when things get difficult, almost everyone needs support during recovery. It is often difficult to find the adequate level of support without dedicated, professional addiction rehab services.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that will only worsen in the absence of treatment. When allowed to continue and grow unabated, alcoholism is almost certain to lead to the deterioration of a person’s health accompanied by familial problems, financial difficulties, diminished work/school performance, legal troubles and many other negative life consequences.
10 things to look for when you’re searching for a place to treat alcoholism
If you spend enough time searching, you’ll find hundreds or even thousands of alcohol rehab centers that claim to be the best. They boast high success rates, painless detox procedures, innovative therapies, spacious rooms, luxurious amenities and much more. But how do you distinguish fact from fiction and understand what to look for in an alcohol addiction treatment facility?
  
Alcohol withdrawal is painful, draining and potentially life-threatening. Attempting to navigate withdrawal without the help of medical professionals puts your health in jeopardy and significantly reduces your chances at success during rehab.
Mental health services
Heavy drinking can coexist with, contribute to or result from several different mental illnesses. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, 37 percent of alcoholics also have another mental illness.The inextricable link between alcoholism and mental illness necessitates that rehab includes psychological assessments as well as treatments.
24-Hour medical care
The constant threat of withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings make the entire rehab process precarious. Continuous medical supervision guards against relapse and ensures the most comfortable rehab experience possible.
Individual and group counseling
People going through alcohol detox and then rehab are likely to struggle with symptoms of depression, anxiety and general mental distress. Individual and group counseling helps guide patients through this difficult process because it creates an all-inclusive, judgment-free atmosphere and allows patients to gain strength from fellow recovering alcoholics.
Most people don’t fully understand the true nature of addiction. This is why there’s still such a negative stigma surrounding it. One of the largest obstacles during treatment is to break through patients’ misconceptions about alcohol abuse and provide them with the education they need to make more informed decisions in the future.
Aside from the substance abuser, no one feels the impact of alcohol abuse more than his or her family. Because of this, it is essential that those closest to addiction care patients must also be included in the treatment. This leads to better success during and after rehab.
Accreditation and adherence to evidence-based practices
When it comes to addiction recovery, we are literally talking about life and death. The last thing you want to do is seek treatment at unaccredited facilities or put your life in the hands of addiction therapists who are not using the best industry-identified strategies. Accreditation ensures that the treatment facility is operating at the highest standards and using evidence-based practices.
Rehab is only the beginning. Part of the reason that more than 50 percent of people recovering from addiction relapse within the first year is that they let their guard down following inpatient rehab and fail to continue to apply what they learned in treatment. Aftercare services help to keep patients on the right path in the weeks, months and even years following graduation from rehab.
Compassion and support
If reducing or eliminating alcohol abuse were easy, there wouldn’t be so many Americans struggling with alcoholism. The road to recovery is littered with ups and downs, good days and bad days. Having unconditional support and compassion from those around you will make the journey much less arduous.
Addiction rehab is not as simple as just enduring detox and participating in counseling sessions. Facilities that offer therapies designed to improve mental health, rebuild confidence and reteach life skills allow their patients to hit the ground running after treatment.
At Unity Behavioral Health, your success in rehab and long-term sobriety are our top priorities. We are committed to remaining at the forefront of the addiction and recovery industries to give our patients the best possible treatment available. Treatment for alcoholism is a life and death matter – this is something our addiction care specialists, therapists, counselors and medical professionals take extremely seriously. To learn more about our alcohol recovery programs, contact us today at 561-812-5500.