Alcohol Addiction Facts
Alcohol is everywhere. It’s on the shelf at the grocery store, it shows up on TV and it’s being passed around at your family reunion. Society has fought alcohol and then embraced it, has happily enjoyed the buzz and then gotten lost in a haze of cravings and need.
What should you do if you or someone you love has gone from a happy hour cocktail every now and then to a bottle of wine every single night? The first thing to do is understand how alcohol affects the brain and body, and what alcohol addiction looks like—from the inside and the outside. This article covers everything you need to know about alcohol addiction. Let’s get started.
Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Broken Capillaries on the FaceShort Attention SpanWithdrawal from Social SituationsAvoiding Family and FriendsMood SwingsShaking or Anxiety
Some alcohol manufacturers are experimenting with powders and other forms, but alcohol is almost exclusively found as a liquid. Most types are either clear or a shade of brown, but some varieties—like flavored liqueurs—are tinted with pastel or bright colors.
Alcohol can also be mixed into other liquids, like soda, juice or sports drinks, so the senses of smell and taste are typically the best methods for identifying it. Some forms of booze smell strong and antiseptic, while others smell sweet or have little odor at all.
Prevalence in Society
Alcohol is nearly everywhere, and it’s widely used by people of all ages. Among adults 18 and older, 86.4 percent have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. About 27 percent of adults surveyed reported binge drinking at least once in the previous month, and 7 percent reported heavy alcohol use in the previous month.
Of children between the ages of 12 and 17, 28.4 percent reported having consumed alcohol before, and 5.8 percent reported binge drinking at least once within the previous month.
Why People Use It
If you wanted to understand alcohol addiction facts and were to survey 10 people about why they drink alcohol, you’d probably get 10 different answers. Some people drink socially because others are doing it and they want to fit in. Some like the taste. Some just drink it because it’s available, so why not? And some people drink alcohol because moderate use has been linked to health benefits, including a reduced risk of ischemic stroke and heart disease.
For many of us, drinking alcohol is appealing because of the way it makes us feel. It relaxes the body, suppresses inhibitions and anxiety and helps people with depression and PTSD forget their concerns. It’s a way to celebrate successes and wind down after a difficult day. It acts as a social lubricant and makes nerve-wracking situations like first dates feel more comfortable.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
There’s no such thing as a typical alcohol abuser. Teachers, stay-at-home parents, members of the military, doctors and high school students can all become addicted, and some people are really adept at hiding their addictions.
In others, the addiction is noticeable. People who suffer from addiction may be shaky or anxious when not drinking, and their tolerance may grow to the point that they need to drink an astonishing amount of alcohol to get drunk. Red skin and broken capillaries on the face are also signs of prolonged alcohol abuse. Some people who are addicted to alcohol will have poor hygiene and a sloppy or dirty appearance. Yet other addicts always look neat and tidy.
Impaired cognitive function is a sign of alcohol addiction. A person suffering from addiction may have a short attention span and be unable to make new memories or recall old memories.
As addiction takes hold, people commonly withdraw from social situations and avoid friends and family members so they can drink alone or without judgment. Mood swings and emotional outbursts are also common among people suffering from alcohol addiction.
Symptoms of Alcohol Addiction
If you suffer from alcohol addiction, you’ll probably feel powerful cravings for it every day. You may need to drink in the morning to stop your hands from shaking. You might tell yourself you’ll only have one or two drinks but feel unable to stop once you start drinking. Drinking until you black out—a state where you’re conscious but don’t remember anything later—is also a symptom of addiction.
It’s normal to feel generally fuzzy if you have an alcohol addiction. You may have a difficult time concentrating, finding the words you’re looking for or making decisions. You’ll probably often find yourself thinking about alcohol and the next time you can get a drink.
Suffering from alcohol addiction may make you feel ashamed, alone, powerless and angry. It might make you want to hurt yourself or commit suicide.
Slurred speech, poor coordination, difficulty walking, slowed reflexes, blurry vision, drowsiness and flushed skin are all short-term effects of alcohol use. Some people feel nauseous or vomit after drinking a lot, and excessive use can also cause people to lose consciousness. How long you’ll experience these effects depends on your size, your tolerance to alcohol and the number of drink you’ve consumed.
A person who has consumed alcohol may feel a sense of euphoria and a diminished sense of inhibitions. That’s why people who are tipsy or drunk sometimes make unsafe or reckless decisions like driving, having unprotected sex or taking other drugs.
Prolonged alcohol abuse can permanently damage the liver, brain, stomach and other organs. It’s also linked to cancers, increased blood pressure, decreased sperm count, memory loss, impaired coordination and decreased sexual arousal. If a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, her baby may be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is characterized by a smaller-than-normal brain, learning and behavioral issues and facial deformities.
Heavy, long-term alcohol use can cause or worsen depression, and it can cause a person to lose jobs and relationships, withdraw socially from friends and family, and sometimes even commit suicide.
It is extremely dangerous to combine alcohol and other substances, even over-the-counter medications like those used to treat allergies, nausea and heartburn. Prescription medications and illegal drugs can also be more dangerous when taken with alcohol.
Combining alcohol with other substances can affect the body in a few ways. Some medications won’t have their intended effect when combined with alcohol. Other medications, in combination with alcohol, will cause increased risk of heart attack, breathing changes, rapid heartbeat and internal bleeding. Severe liver damage is also possible, even when alcohol is mixed with the common pain reliever acetaminophen. The more medications a person takes and the older the person is, the greater the risks become.
Alcohol Addiction Facts: Risk for Overdose
Overdose risk rate
Drinking too much over too short a period can result in a potentially deadly condition called alcohol poisoning. This type of overdose is characterized by slow or irregular breathing, confusion, vomiting, seizures, unconsciousness and low body temperature.
The people who are most likely to develop alcohol poisoning are middle-aged men. An estimated 30 percent of people who die from alcohol poisoning have an alcohol dependence.
Factors affecting risk rate
Many factors affect a person’s likelihood of developing alcohol poisoning. Body size and tolerance level are key. A smaller person with a low tolerance will become dangerously intoxicated faster than a larger person who is used to drinking, but anyone can develop alcohol poisoning if they drink too much at too fast a rate.
Statistics of overdoses
More than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning in the U.S. each year. That works out to about six deaths per day.
Drinking alcohol is legal for Americans 21 and older, but driving under the influence carries huge penalties. Anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol level over 0.8 percent may be sentenced to jail time, especially if it is not the first offense.
Minors who are caught buying or drinking alcohol may be charged with a misdemeanor.
Despite some discussion around lowering the legal drinking age in the United States to 18, the legal age is expected to stay at 21 for now.
When it starts
Withdrawing from alcohol is unpleasant at best and life-threatening at worst. When you’re addicted to alcohol, your body gets used to having it, and you’ll usually start to crave a drink anywhere between two to 12 hours after your last drink. The severity of your dependence will affect how long it takes your body to enter withdrawal. If you don’t have a drink, your withdrawal symptoms should peak between 24 and 72 hours after your last drink.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are mild at first. You might feel anxious and distracted. You might feel shaky, nauseous, sweaty and achy, and you might have difficulty sleeping. Before long, you’ll probably feel desperate for a drink.
For some people, withdrawal symptoms are serious and possibly even deadly. If you experience seizures or what’s called delirium tremens—“the DTs”—characterized by fever, confusion and rapid heartbeat, you’ll need immediate medical attention. That’s why it’s safest to detox from alcohol under medical supervision. DTs are most common between three and five days into withdrawal.
When symptoms start to lessen
If you continue to avoid alcohol during withdrawal, your symptoms could start to fade within a few days or they could last for a few weeks.
What medications are available for symptoms
If you detox from alcohol under a doctor’s care, you may be prescribed medications that will ease your symptoms and help your body safely adjust to functioning without alcohol. Benzodiazepines are commonly used because they treat some common symptoms, such as shakiness and anxiety, while also reducing the risk of seizures and DTs. However, benzodiazepines can also be addictive; depending on your history, your doctor may opt to use other medications.
Anticonvulsant, antipsychotic and blood pressure medications are also commonly used to treat people going through alcohol withdrawal.