Although legal, alcohol can be one of the most dangerous of the abused drugs. About 50% of all patients in the emergency room have various levels of alcohol in their blood. It interferes with both judgment and performance and can promote aggressive behavior. Over time, alcohol abuse changes one’s brain structure and function which can lead to dependence or addiction. The effects of long term alcohol abuse, have been thoroughly studied and the best-known complication is the liver disease (fatty liver and liver cirrhosis). Chronic consumers of alcohol who stop taking this substance can experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms, and a medically supervised detoxification process may be needed.
What is Alcohol Addiction?
As is the case with other potentially addictive substances, alcohol produces an effect on the consuming individual during the onset that is perceived, as pleasurable. Feelings of being more relaxed, sociable, and confident are being induced, by alcohol’s active ingredient ethanol due to its effect on communication pathways in our brain. This leads to a “wanting more” and repetition of alcohol consumption. Over time, the individual qualifies the substance as extremely important for their “survival” or happiness and wellbeing. During the process, the brain has begun to adapt its structure and function to the expected intake of alcohol and a level of dependence on the substance occurs. The individual has become physically and psychologically addicted and is no longer in control.
Abuse vs Dependence
To explain the difference between alcohol abuse and dependence correctly, we have to look at the criteria that define these different terms. In the field of addiction treatment, most reference a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association called the DSM-V, to determine the severity of an alcohol use disorder. As such, alcohol abuse is defined, as a level of consumption that is physically or mentally harmful. The individual continues to drink despite recurrent social, legal and interpersonal problems. These may include a failure to fulfill personal and/or professional obligations, to drink while driving or operating machinery and having ongoing relationship problems caused or worsened by the effects of alcohol. To be diagnosed as someone who has become dependent upon alcohol, all of the above criteria would have to be met plus any of the additional symptoms listed in the manual. These include but are not limited to withdrawal symptoms, increased tolerance to alcohol and an inability to remain abstinent. It’s important to note that currently, alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, are no longer diagnosed separately. It has been renamed “alcohol use disorder” and considered mild, moderate or severe.
Treating Alcohol Addiction
Although alcohol abuse may be treated successfully with a brief intervention, alcohol dependence often requires a more multifaceted approach, including inpatient treatment, to achieve a lasting recovery. Furthermore, a medical detox is frequently needed when ending alcohol consumption altogether. A common term in addiction treatment, “detox” covers the initial stage of someone’s recovery process in which the body rids the substance from its system. Long term abuse can lead to physical dependence or tolerance meaning the body has adapted to the expected intake of, in this case, alcohol. Depending on several factors such as age and level of abuse, the physical withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process can potentially be dangerous and even life-threatening. At Sensum, we offer around-the-clock medically supervised detoxification process either onsite or at a partner hospital to help stabilize body and mind and secure a safe transition. Do contact us if you have any questions concerning our detox protocol or would like to be informed about any other treatment program provided for.