Alcohol abuse goes by many names in society, including “alcohol use disorder,” “alcohol dependence,” and more. We will rotate these various terms throughout this article so you’re used to encountering them. Although “alcoholism” and the term “alcoholic” are both now considered impersonal and insulting, all of these labels are all clear in their communication, which is that for the user alcohol has become a problem. Alcohol use can become compulsive, rendering the individual incapable of controlling the frequency or volume of consumption. This leads to dysfunctions in health, career, finances, and relationships. The overuse of alcohol is severely detrimental and one of the largest difficulties in society today, with almost 150 million sufferers worldwide according to the World Health Organization.
It is unclear what exact biological or neurological mechanisms contribute to alcohol addiction, but there is an obvious genetic aspect. It is also known that there are experiential factors as well. This is why this affliction is currently being classified as both a mental illness and a physical disease by the American Medical Association. The external experiential factors associated with this alcohol dependence syndrome are social environment and influence, stressors of all sorts, and age. Family history, gender, and ethnicity all positively correlate as well, allowing us some confidence that genetics and heritability are also at play.
Short term changes to the brain with incidental alcohol use can lead to a growing tolerance, requiring an increased amount of the substance to receive the sought after effects. Eventually this creates a physical dependence and literal brain changes that keep the user in a loop of continuous abuse. It also damages other parts of the body, especially the liver. The resulting withdrawal when trying to cease usage also tends to trap individuals in this harmful cycle of abuse.
There are both difficulties related to the diagnosis and the treatment of alcohol addiction that are related to the social stigma projected upon those seen as weak or with no will power.
One of the largest hurdles to identifying those with alcohol use problems and giving them the help and care needed for a full and permanent recovery is that of the social stigma of alcoholism. Due to this common misunderstanding and judgmental view of alcohol abuse a large portion of users will not seek treatment for their problem. Many will maintain a state of denial, shame, or fear of consequence. Treatment will often include a period of detoxification in which the person becomes absent in their usual schedule. This leads to the possibility and fear of being discovered. If through an intervention or self-submission the person admits to having an unhealthy relationship to alcohol, they will be asked to fill out a self-report questionnaire. This examination is a set of carefully created, tested, and standardized questions that helps the doctor identify the patterns of behavior associated with this addiction. Many of the questions relate to the problems arising from the drinking, because “it’s not a problem until it’s a problem,” as some might say.
Treating this problem is a linear and multi-stepped affair. The first most important step is detoxification. Alcohol detox can be dangerous and should be performed under medical supervision. It often requires removing the individual from their normal environment so that they will not have access to inappropriate amounts of alcohol. Some rehabilitation facilities will help taper the use of alcohol. Others prefer the “cold turkey” method of quitting while administering psychiatric medicines such as diazepam or benzodiazepines to help curb the symptoms. The goal is to safely remove the literal physical need for alcohol. If the person dealing with this disorder also easily finds him or herself addicted to other substances, medicines may not be used.
Although relapse is a normal part of recovery, the chances for a permanent recovery are increased when combined with psychological treatment such as psychotherapy and counseling with a trained substance abuse counselor. Continued use of medication may help the person continue to abstain from alcohol use by curbing the desire for it. Establishing a continual social circle of support, such as attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is crucial for maintaining recovery.
By the time you as a substance abuse counselor receive a client or patient, you will know what happens to be their addiction and substance of choice. However, you should still know all of the signs, symptoms, and effects of alcohol addiction as well. These will help you know when your client is lying or not telling the full truth about relapse, and also give you weapons in helping them understand the damage they are doing to themselves, others, and their bodies. Please read the other related articles in order to properly arm yourself with the knowledge needed to help and persuade your client!