Alcoholism is a serious problem that can affect your health, your relationships, your job performance, and your overall quality of life.
Many people don’t realize that they have an alcohol use disorder until their addiction has caused significant issues. Fortunately, there are a wide range of treatments available.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, you should know what the options are for treatment and recovery. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of alcoholism can help you better empathize with yourself or your loved one who is affected by addiction.
Causes of Alcoholism
There is not one clear cause of alcohol use disorder. Experts believe that alcoholism is caused by a combination of factors.
Research suggests that there is a genetic component to alcoholism. Early childhood trauma is another risk factor for developing alcoholism later in life. Also, the earlier an individual starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop alcoholism.
The presence of another mental health disorder is a major risk factor for alcoholism as well. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of the 17.5 million Americans who have a serious mental health disorder, more than 20 percent also struggle with alcoholism or another substance use disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, an individual can be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder if they have two or more of the following symptoms:
- Occasions of drinking more or for longer than intended
- Inability to reduce or stop drinking
- Spending a lot of time drinking or feeling sick after drinking
- Being unable to think of anything but drinking
- Impaired functioning at home, work, or school
- Continuing to drink when it causes trouble with friends and family
- Reducing time spent on other activities to drink
- Reckless or dangerous behavior after drinking
- Continuing to drink when it affects mental health
- Needing to drink more and more to get the desired effect
- Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol wears off
Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder
Treatment for alcoholism is difficult and complex, but recovery is always possible. Here are the most common treatment options:
Detox is an important step in the treatment process for people who are physically dependent on alcohol. Quitting cold-turkey can cause extremely uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms, so medically-supervised detox is necessary to start the recovery process safely.
Detox can be performed at inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities, but heavy alcohol users may need 24/7 monitoring. Medical professionals can provide medications that ease the symptoms of the withdrawal and reduce the risk of complications.
Rehab is a common form of initial treatment for alcoholism. This is an intensive, highly-structured method of treatment that can last anywhere from 30 days to a year. Many people begin treatment at an inpatient rehab facility and then transition to an outpatient program.
During a rehab program, patients participate in a variety of individual and group therapies. These therapies help patients explore the reasons they developed alcoholism and discover coping mechanisms to prevent relapse.
Working with a drug and alcohol counselor can help people achieve and maintain long-term recovery. Counseling provides a safe environment for an individual to process their experiences, reflect on challenges, and build healthy coping skills. Many people continue to work with a counselor after leaving their inpatient treatment program.
The most popular support group for alcoholism is the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings provide a private environment for people to share their stories with those who can relate and offer support. Other popular support groups include SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Women for Sobriety, SOS, and Moderation Management.
Causes of Substance Use Disorder
Substance use disorder is most likely caused by a combination of genetics and environment. Children whose parents have a substance use disorder are at an increased risk of developing an addiction as they grow up. They may be genetically predisposed to addiction, and they may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol because they have seen their parents use substances to cope.
Other risk factors for substance use disorder include mental health problems like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. In most cases, substance use starts as a way to ease stress or relieve other mental health symptoms. Then, it gradually progresses until it gets out of control.
Steps to Recovery
Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong experience. Here are the most important steps:
Recognize that there is a problem
Admitting to and accepting the addiction is the very first step toward recovery. No one else can force you to seek treatment, so for you to successfully recover, you must first acknowledge the issue.
Educate yourself on addiction
Being informed on what addiction is, why it happens, and how treatment works will empower you to take an active role in your recovery.
Reach out for help
Everyone’s experience with alcoholism is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment approach. After researching treatment options, reach out to professionals who can help you determine which path toward recovery is best for your unique situation.
Commit to treatment
Once you have a treatment plan in place, it’s time to commit yourself to the process. This may mean attending regular counseling sessions and 12-step meetings, or it may mean entering rehab for a month. Whatever your plan is, you must be ready to make it your top priority.
Transition After Treatment
Transitioning back to your regular routine after alcoholism treatment is a vulnerable step in recovery. It’s usually best to gradually transition out of inpatient care.
Sober living homes and halfway houses allow people to receive regular support and care while rejoining the community after rehab. Research shows that sober living homes provide a valuable social network that helps people avoid relapse.
Regular counseling or support group meetings can also help with the transition. By regularly speaking about your experiences, you can reduce your risk of relapse and stay on track with your sobriety.
How to Avoid Relapse
One popular tool for avoiding relapse is the HALT method:
An unhealthy or insufficient diet can make you emotionally vulnerable and more prone to drug or alcohol cravings.
Letting frustration build up without releasing it in a healthy way can cause relapse.
A lack of social support or quality time with loved ones can increase your chances of turning back to alcohol to feel better.
Lack of sleep makes it harder to regulate your emotions, which makes you more vulnerable to relapse.
If you start feeling cravings for alcohol, assess your situation and see if any of these four factors apply to you. Make it a priority to fix the ones that are affecting you, and try to prevent those feelings from building up again in the future.
Recovery rarely goes perfectly, and relapse is a common experience. If you do relapse, remember that this does not mean you have failed in your recovery. One slip-up does not undo all of the work you did in treatment. Use the experience to learn and grow by acknowledging what caused the relapse and creating a plan to avoid a repeat incident.
Alcoholism can be a devastating problem, but there is always hope of recovery. If you’re struggling with addiction and are ready to start treatment, seek help today. Dr. Howard Samuels is a licensed counselor who specializes in addiction. He understands that everyone’s journey with addiction and recovery is different, and he is dedicated to helping his clients achieve their goals and live healthy, fulfilling lives. If you live in the Los Angeles area, contact Dr. Samuels to begin your recovery.