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Overcoming Alcohol Addictions: Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol Use Disorder

In a survey conducted in 2019, data showed that 14.5 million people in the US, aged 12 or older, were diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease that can potentially affect various parts of the brain, including the central nervous system (CNS). Unfortunately, alcohol addiction is the first and most common form of addiction in the US. People who get into the habit of drinking have trouble giving it up due to the euphoric and pleasant sensations that it produces. Keep reading to learn about Alcohol Use Disorder and how you can overcome alcohol addictions.

Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Accepting that you have Alcohol Use Disorder can be a difficult realization, but when do you know if you have developed Alcohol Use Disorder? You may be diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder when you have two or more of the following symptoms:

  • You may have wanted to give up on alcohol more than twice but failed.
  • Relationships with your family members may have started deteriorating.
  • lack of interest in the things that interested you once.
  • unintentional self harm while being drunk.
  • You may develop a tolerance for alcohol and want to drink more due to the lack of effect of the normal amount.
  • When the effects of alcohol wear off, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Nausea, restlessness, constant sweating, seizures, or stress may start to show up if you decide not to drink. 
  • You may only prioritize drinking alcohol over your family or friends. 

Cause of Alcohol Addiction

 Now that we know the symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder, let’s look at the causes of alcohol addiction.

1. Genetics

Just like almost everything else, genetics is a major culprit in determining the level of alcohol abuse. This means that genetically and physiologically, some people may be more susceptible to developing alcohol use disorder, while others may be able to put a stop to this habit. Research suggests that certain chemicals that are passed on by genes are responsible for making you more prone to addiction. Therefore, the first and major determinant of Alcohol Use Disorder is genetics, which makes some people more susceptible than others. 

2. Psychosocial factors

The likelihood of AUD may be increased by a variety of psychological and social variables. People with mental health issues such as ADHD, GAD, depression, etc., are more likely to consume alcohol to seek comfort. Apart from this, some people may handle stressful situations without the help of alcohol, while others may develop this habit due to their inability to do so. Though it may provide comfort, AUD only worsens the symptoms of already existing mental health conditions. The condition where individuals suffer from mental health disorders as well as addiction simultaneously is called “dual diagnosis.” It becomes imperative to treat mental health issues under such circumstances.

Some people who have a troubled childhood may also rely on alcohol in adolescence. This could be due to unhealthy coping mechanisms developed since childhood. Some children may face abuse, while others can become victims of addiction due to neglect in the time care was dire for them. 

The society that you like and the people who surround you are major determinants of how you perceive AUD. Some people who are brought up by parents with alcoholism are more prone to developing a habit themselves. If the family is sober but the community suffers from the evil of addiction, chances are that a person may also become an alcoholic. In order to treat addiction in such an individual way, some addiction centers offer family therapy as well. 

3. Friends Drinking Alcohol

Peer pressure has a crucial role to play when it comes to AUD or OUD. When people around you are inclined towards alcohol, it seems totally normal to drink along with them. This has the potential to lead to an alcohol use disorder. This is because drinking alcohol becomes the new normal for you and you may become an addict without really knowing about it. Therefore, it is essential to keep yourself in check or surround yourself with friends who do not drink heavily. Initially, when a person starts drinking, they might receive good feedback for being a ‘cool’ friend. However, it is only later that the repercussions start to reveal themselves. The glorification of alcoholism makes even well-off individuals fall in the pit of alcoholism. Research has shown that people with better incomes have been more prone to alcohol dependence. 

4. Teenage Drinking

People who start drinking in early or late teens are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder. This is because, as mentioned above, drinking early can meddle with the chemicals in your brain, developing tolerance and making you more dependent on alcohol. It was found that people who start drinking before the age of 18 are 15 times more prone to become alcoholics later. It becomes difficult to give up on alcohol when you are entirely dependent on it.

5. Stress

Certain stressful events, like the loss of someone you love, extreme career anxiety, unemployment, etc., can also contribute towards alcohol dependency. In order to escape from stress, people can go to any lengths, which can lead to developing alcohol use disorder. For some people, stressful jobs may also be responsible for this issue. Therefore, it is essential to opt for healthy ways of coping with such types of stresses so that they do not worsen your situation. 

Why Can’t People Stop Drinking?

Once you become dependent on alcohol, your brain becomes accustomed to it. It feels the urge to drink alcohol because it becomes the new normal for the brain. When one stops drinking, the brain refuses to accept the newness of functioning without alcohol. Chemically, when you drink too much, the brain adjusts to the inhibiting effects of alcohol by raising the activity of specific neurotransmitters in an effort to find the balance that existed when you were consuming alcohol. Once alcohol is shunned from the body, you will exhibit severe withdrawal symptoms. Your heart may palpitate and race, and you may feel anxious. This is your brain’s response to the new thing that it has to adjust to.

Alcohol stimulates your reward system and releases euphoric sensations. Because dopamine is released every time you drink, your brain becomes accustomed to the stimulation. Just as alcohol withdrawal affects dopamine activity in people with AUD, the diminished dopamine activity is linked to withdrawal symptoms and relapse into drinking. This is what makes drinking difficult. When dopamine levels are low, you may feel anxious and stressed. It increases the urge to drink more and more. 

The Effects of Alcohol Use Disorder

The negative consequences of alcohol addiction are far-reaching and long-lasting. Alcohol has the potential to weaken the central nervous system and damage the brain cells, thereby having damaging effects on the brain. 

If you binge drink or consume large amounts of alcohol, it can disrupt the normal functioning of cognition by altering the chemistry of the brain. It can also affect the part that controls memory, leading to dementia. The detrimental levels of alcoholism are not only reduced in the brain. It can also lead to other chronic diseases, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Liver diseases
  • Diseases related to the digestive system
  • Heart diseases
  • Hypertension

Moreover, AUD also badly affects relationships with your family members. This is because for you, alcohol will eventually become your top priority, without your being aware of it at first. After developing a tolerance for alcohol, a person may start drinking more. This leads to intoxication at all times, which is neither good for someone on a personal level nor beneficial for people in interpersonal relationships. People losing consciousness can also lose their jobs.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder can be very severe and may require the help of medical experts to deal with, especially in people who find it nearly impossible to quit drinking on their own. However, the good news is that you can undergo certain treatments that help you with AUD. Over time, your brain can get back to working normally when treatment is followed correctly. 

1. Detox

The first step in Alcohol addiction treatment is detox. Medical detox helps remove poisonous elements from your body and addresses withdrawal symptoms. Because the initial time is very difficult for a patient, usually a counselor is also present to help them during this sensitive time. 

2. Medication

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs are one of the ways to address alcoholism. Though nothing can be a cure for alcohol use disorder, medication, along with therapies overtime can diminish the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Certain medications that the FDA has approved are naltrexone, disulfiram, and Acamprosate. 

3. Psychotherapies

Psychotherapies are considered one of the most effective ways of treating addiction. This is because it gives people an opportunity to treat the root causes of addiction. During psychotherapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), counselors will try to address the issues that may be at the heart of addiction. When combined with other interventions, CBT has been shown to be quite effective in the treatment of AUD. It has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse. 

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is the most common type of addiction in the United States. If you or your loved one is suffering from alcohol addictions, or Alcohol Use Disorder, there is hope.  Find mental health professionals who can help you overcome your alcohol addiction

Jordyn Mastrodomenico LPC, LCADC CTP
Author: Jordyn Mastrodomenico LPC, LCADC CTP

Jordyn is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) and Certified Trauma Professional (CTP). She holds a Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling, from Caldwell University, Jordyn has extensive experience in Outpatient and Intensive Outpatient settings and is skilled at guiding clients through the recovery process in individual and group therapy sessions.

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The world's largest therapy service, 100% online.
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