Alcohol is usually consumed by drinking it and most common forms are beer, wine, and hard liquor. It is a controlled substance, legal for adults over the age of 21 in the United States. Side effects depend on the user and their tolerance but range from loss of coordination and motor skills to slurred speech. It lowers anxiety and inhibitions and due to the social acceptance of it, most dependence issues are either not recognized or denied.
Beer is made from water, barley, hops, and yeast and has the lowest alcohol content compared to wine and liquor. Most beers fall between four and six percent alcohol content by volume but craft beers can reach upwards of 11 or 12 percent.
Wine is made from fermented grapes or fruit, like berries. There are red or white wines and varieties are based on the type of grape it is made from. A five-ounce glass of wine is equivalent to a 12-ounce glass of beer in alcohol content. Because it is seen as classy or upscale, it may be more difficult to spot a problem. Women make up more than half of wine consumers in the U.S., and are more susceptible to a disorder, as evidenced by the “wine mom” phenomena.
Hard liquor is the highest alcohol content drink and a serving is about 1.5 ounces. Liquor includes vodka, tequila, whiskey, gin, and rum. They are usually mixed with another drink and if it is carbonated, it will speed up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Because they are also smaller in size, it is easier to drink more of them and lead to increased risk of abuse.
Signs of Alcohol Addiction
Binge drinking, while not always a sign of addiction, can lead to abuse problems. It is defined as five or more alcoholic drinks for men and four or more for women over a two-hour timeframe.
Even though alcohol can seem to relieve anxiety for the user, it is also a depressant of the central nervous system and slows down mental and bodily processes. The first drink may help a user feel more relaxed and able to be more social, making it more socially acceptable as well. Casual use and abuse are separated by negative consequences suffered from drinking, such as:
- Physical harm or illness
- Strained relationships
- Problems at work
- Financial problems
Unfortunately, a high-functioning alcoholic is capable of keeping their substance abuse from interfering in their personal and professional lives. They usually do not recognize that they have a problem until they are facing severe consequences. It may continue for years.
Alcohol may also be abused along with other substances and is particularly dangerous if combined with other depressants, such as benzodiazepines and painkillers. An overdose could be lethal if combined with these substances.
As with any substance, withdrawal can be dependent on the user and how long they have been abusing alcohol, amount consumed each time, medical history, if there are any other mental health disorders, family history of addiction, childhood trauma, and stress levels. It is likely to start somewhere between six hours and a day after the last drink is consumed. There are three stages of withdrawal severity:
- Stage 1 mild: anxiety, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, tremors, depression, mood swings, heart palpitations
- Stage 2 moderate: increased blood pressure, body temp, and respiration; irregular heart rate; mental confusion; sweating; irritability; heightened mood disturbances
- Stage 3 severe/delirium tremens (DTs): psychotic condition featuring hallucinations; fever; seizures; severe confusion; agitation
Three to five percent of patients will experience DTs and it can be fatal without treatment. It may not start for a day or two after alcohol has left the bloodstream and it can happen without warning.
It is never recommended to stop cold turkey and that is why we offer supervised medical detoxification at our rehab facility in Arizona. The National Library of Medicine lists the following general timeline for alcohol withdrawal:
- Roughly 8 hours after first drink: The first stage withdrawal symptoms may begin.
- After 24-72 hours: Symptoms generally peak in this time period, and stage 2 and 3 symptoms can rapidly manifest.
- 5-7 days later: Symptoms may start to taper off and decrease in intensity.
- Beyond the first week: Some side effects, particularly the psychological ones, may continue for several weeks without treatment.
During the first phase of detox, we will monitor and control the physical symptoms to get the patient to a stable point. Medications may be used to treat nausea, dehydration, seizures, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are used to reduce some of the over-activity that the central nervous system may experience with blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature.
We may also use a detailed tapering schedule to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed over a set period of time in order to wean alcohol out of the system and avoid the more dangerous side effects. Those who are dependent on alcohol may also suffer from malnutrition so supplements and healthy diet and sleep schedule can greatly improve withdrawal side effect as well.
Addictions rarely come alone, so the staff at our rehab center are also trained to offer counseling sessions for anxiety, depression, and any other mental health concerns. Medication and therapy sessions, individual or group, are used to help the patient regain control of their lives and move forward from their addiction. Long-term recovery from severe alcoholism is not a quick and easy process. It takes time, patience, willingness, and a desire for more from life.
Many people have gotten sober and stayed sober thanks to a caring treatment staff and supportive peers. Here at the Northern Arizona Center for Addiction, we are experienced in helping men and women get their lives back on track through a well-structured and effective treatment model. Recovering from alcohol addiction is much easier when you have people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance. Without knowledge and support, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns when things get tough.
If you or someone you love is struggling with their drinking and needs help, contact us. We are here to guide you through the admissions process and help answer any questions you might have about our treatment center or our different treatment modalities.