Information on Alcohol, Detox and Rehabilitation

Created On Wednesday, 25, November 2009
Modified On Friday, 17, September 2021

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Ethyl alcohol (also known as ethanol), the type of alcohol found in drinks such as beer, wine, spirits, etc. is the substance responsible for the intoxicating effects people feel when drinking it. It is made by fermenting grains, fruits, and vegetables. As the mixture ferments, the starch and sugars turn into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. The ABV (alcohol by volume), usually expressed as a percentage, is the worldwide standard used as a measure of the ethanol concentration in a beverage. The higher the ABV, the more intense the intoxicating effects of the substance.

Alcohol can be both a stimulant and a depressant. Alcohol in small doses will initially have a stimulating effect, increasing dopamine levels, heart rate, etc. Once the stimulant effect wears off, it will act as a depressant, slowing down the central nervous system, heart rate as well as decreasing mental clarity. Alcohol also becomes a depressant when large quantities are ingested. How alcohol affects a person mentally and physically depends on a lot of biological factors.

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Here is a list of the different types of alcoholic beverages available and information on them:

Name Main ingredient(s) Category Typical ABV
Absinthe Botanicals Distilled 40% to 90%
Beer Cereal grains (barley, wheat, etc.) Undistilled 4% to 6%
Brandy Wine Distilled 35% to 60%
Gin Juniper berries Distilled 35% to 50%
Cider Apple juice Undistilled 4% to 8%
Mead Honey Undistilled 8% to 16%
Rum Sugarcane Distilled 40%
Sake Rice Undistilled 15%
Tequila Agave plant Distilled 40%
Vodka Grains and potatoes Distilled 40%
Whiskey Grains Distilled 40%
Wine Grapes Undistilled 5% to 16%

History of Alcohol

It has been discovered that as early as the Stone Age, there were some fermented beverages being produced and consumed. There was also the discovery of beer pictographs from ancient Egypt. Greece, India, Babylon, and China all have traces of alcoholic beverages showing in their history. Liquor has been distilled for thousands of years in the U.K. and other parts of Europe. Historically, alcohol has also played a big role (not always a positive one) in colonization.

Puritans, who became settlers of the "new world," borrowed a practical use for alcohol from their cultural context and background. You may be interested to know that drinking wine and beer at that time was safer than drinking water, which was normally taken from sources used to dispose of sewage and garbage. The experience proved that it was safer to drink alcohol than the usually polluted water in Europe. Alcohol was also an effective analgesic, providing the necessary energy for hard work, and generally enhanced the quality of life. These cultural practices were brought to the new world and, unfortunately, took root there as well.

Prohibition

On January 28th, 1919, the 18th amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed. It stated: "After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited." This amendment came about as a solution for crime, corruption, and social problems, which had been attributed to alcohol consumption.

In 1920, the Prohibition era began. Although alcohol consumption decreased at the beginning, it soon increased and brought on a lot of other problems with it. Illegal import and production of alcohol started flourishing. This was tightly connected to organized crime and brought a lot of other criminal activity. The Great Depression that began in 1929 compounded the issue, and it became clear that the prohibition was unenforceable. On December 5th, 1933, the 21st amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed, and it stated in part:

"Section 1

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."

From this point, alcohol was no longer prohibited in any state, so long as the state legislature did not prohibit it. Once prohibition was over, yearly alcohol consumption per capita remained below 2.0 gallons for most years until the 70s and 80s. Around 1985, alcohol consumption peaked at almost 2.8 gallons per capita. In recent years, it has stabilized between 2.2 and 2.3 gallons per capita.

What Does Alcohol Look like?

There are different types of alcohol drinks. Here are a few examples:

This is a picture of a glass of whiskey
WHISKEY
This is a picture of a glass of wine.
WINE
This is a picture of a bottle of Vodka.
VODKA

Effects of alcohol

Alcohol, once ingested, goes through the stomach where some of the alcohol gets into the bloodstream, but most of it will go through the small intestine. Once there, alcohol enters the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine. At this point, alcohol will start affecting the body, including the brain. Here are some of the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol in small doses will produce the following effects:

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced tension
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impaired concentration
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Impaired reaction time
  • Reduced coordination

Alcohol in medium doses will produce the following effects:

  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Altered emotions

Binge drinking, heavy drinking, and chronic alcohol use can have many adverse effects on different parts of the body. The more a person drinks, the higher the risks of damaging their body and their mind. Here are some of the problems that can happen because of heavy or chronic alcohol use.

Brain: Chronic drinking can cause an overall reduction in brain size and increase the size of ventricles. It can also damage the frontal lobes of the brain responsible, which can lead to difficulty solving problems, changes in personality, inability to focus, difficulty controlling impulses, among others. Alcohol interferes with how the body stores and uses the B1 vitamin (thiamine). This can create a thiamine deficiency, which can lead to further brain damage and cause things such as impaired memory, confusion, lack of coordination, apathy, disorientation, and a disease called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is sometimes called alcoholic dementia or alcohol-related dementia. If a person stops drinking and makes lifestyle changes early, there can be an improvement, but some brain damage could be permanent.

Heart: Drinking a lot of alcohol over time or binge drinking can cause damage to the heart. It can create a condition called cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle is stretched and begins having a hard time pumping blood to the rest of the body. Symptoms such as swelling of the legs, ankles and feet, fatigue, discomfort in the chest, and dizziness can occur when this condition is present. It can lead to heart failure if left untreated. Long-term alcohol abuse can also lead to high blood pressure and a stroke as well as arrhythmias, a condition where the heartbeat becomes irregular. The longer the heavy drinking goes on, the more damage the heart will sustain. The sooner the person stops drinking, the better the chances of recovery without medical intervention.

Liver: The liver's primary function is to filter the blood from the digestive tract before it goes back into the rest of the body. As such, it detoxifies and purifies the body. Heavy alcohol consumption damages the liver because alcohol, as it gets processed by the liver, releases exceptionally toxic chemicals. This can lead to different conditions that carry their own consequences. Steatosis (commonly known as fatty liver) will not necessarily carry symptoms but can lead to liver fibrosis (liver scarring). Fibrosis can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is severe liver scarring with symptoms such as weakness, abdominal pain, yellow skin and eyes, confusion, nose bleeds, etc. Another condition that can occur is alcoholic hepatitis. Liver damage caused by alcohol consumption can be treated if the condition is caught early on and the person stops drinking. However, if this goes on too long, the damage can be permanent and can lead to liver failure in severe cases.

Pancreas: The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing and releasing enzymes to help digestion as well as releasing substances such as insulin to help the body use energy. When a person drinks a lot of alcohol over a long period, the pancreas can start producing toxic substances that can lead to pancreatitis. This a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed, and its blood vessels become swollen. When a person develops this, they can have the following symptoms: fever, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, constant pain in the upper belly that radiates in the back, diarrhea, and weight loss. This is a severe condition, and once it is chronic, it cannot be cured, although symptoms can be managed.

Immune system: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, research has been conducted that shows that alcohol disrupts the immune pathways in the body. This can keep the body from defending against infection or recovering normally from injury. According to research, acute binge drinking as well as chronic heavy drinking, can both affect the immune system.

Cancer: According to the National Cancer Institute, heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of cancer over time. In 2009, data compiled estimated that 3.5% of cancer deaths were related to alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption was associated with the following types of cancer: head and neck cancer (such as throat cancer), esophageal cancer, liver cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Understand Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

This is a picture of a table containing blood alcohol content (BAC) for male and female by body weight in pounds.

Blood alcohol concentration is a standard measure of the amount of alcohol in your system. It is measured as a percentage where 0.01% would represent one part ethyl alcohol per 10 000 parts blood. In the United States, driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is illegal. For people under the age of 21, the legal limit is between 0.0 and 0.2%, depending on the state. Although 0.08% is the point where it becomes illegal to drive, a much lower BAC could impair someone to the point where driving becomes dangerous. Different factors can impact blood alcohol concentration, including:

  • Number of drinks
  • How fast one drinks them
  • How much a person weighs
  • Digestive system of the individual
  • The sex of the person as well as hormone levels
  • Medications the person is on
  • Food intake prior to and while drinking

Below are the different levels of impairment corresponding to the BAC. However, each person is different, and the level of impairment could be worse even if the BAC is relatively low.

0.0% to 0.5%: At this level, one might experience mild speech, memory, attention, and coordination impairment. A person might feel more relaxed, and they can start feeling sleepy. Depending on how affected the individual is, even at this stage, it can be dangerous to get behind the wheel.

0.06% to 0.15%: The relaxation begins to become intoxication, and the speech, memory, attention, and coordination are further impaired. One experiences severe impairment in the skills required to drive. A person could start displaying some aggression. At this point, there is an increased risk of the person injuring themselves of others.

0.16% to 0.30%: A person becomes severely impaired (memory, speech, coordination, attention, reaction time), and other skills required to drive are also dangerously impaired. At this point, a person might have blackouts (the person can do things and will not remember any of it when they sober up). They might start vomiting and exhibiting other symptoms of alcohol overdose. At this level, it is possible for one to lose consciousness.

0.31% to 0.45%: This level of intoxication is life-threatening, and there is a risk of life-threatening alcohol overdose. A person can lose consciousness at this stage. Alcohol acts to suppress vital life functions in the drinker's body and can be fatal if left untreated.

Alcohol Use and Abuse

People always say that one should drink in moderation. However, it can be hard to know exactly what that means, especially when one is younger and inexperienced. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans give some information to help clarify this subject. They define a standard drink as an alcoholic drink containing 14 grams of pure alcohol. For example, 12 fluid ounces of a 5% beer would equate to one drink, and for a 12% wine, 5 fluid ounces would equate to one drink. According to the guidelines, drinking in moderation is defined as a maximum of one drink per for women and two drinks per day for men.

What Is Considered Heavy Drinking?

Heavy drinking is considered to be 15 or more standard drinks per weeks for men and 8 or more standard drinks per week for women. Drinking heavily can lead to serious health issues delineated in the Effects of alcohol section of this page. Continued heavy drinking can lead to developing a tolerance for it and can lead to addiction.

What Is Binge Drinking?

According to the Dietary Guidelines, binge drinking is defined as drinking 4 (women) or 5 (men) drinks or more in a period of about two hours. It is a type of drinking that brings the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% or above. Binge drinking carries health risks outlined earlier but also behavioral problems. It is associated with violent behavior like homicide, suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It is also connected to sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies as well as pregnancy issues. Engaging in binge drinking doesn't mean these things will happen but drinking this much often leaves the person's judgment severely impaired, increasing the risks of these events occurring. This type of drinking can also easily lead to an overdose if one isn't careful. Binge drinking is often a pattern associated with younger people. According to the CDC, one in six adults in the United States binge drinks around 4 times a month. Here are the percentages of those who binge drinks broken down by age groups.

  • High School Students (Grades 9 to 12): Between 15 and 20%
  • 18 to 24 years old: Around 25%
  • 25 to 34 years old: Over 25%
  • 35 to 44 years old: Around 20%
  • 45 to 64 years old: Around 15%
  • Over 65 years old: Around 5%

Alcohol and Pregnancy

No amount of alcohol is safe while pregnant. When a childbearing woman drinks alcohol, it is passed through the umbilical cord (the conduit of blood from the placenta to the fetus). This can cause a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the baby can be born with disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Here are some of those disabilities:

  • Abnormal facial features
  • Bone problems
  • Difficulty with attention
  • Hearing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ
  • Kidney problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor memory
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Sleep problems as a baby
  • Small head size
  • Speech and language delays
  • Vision problems

Underage Drinking

Although illegal, underage drinking is a big problem in the United States. This is probably because alcohol is so easily accessible to teenagers. One of the most dangerous drinking patterns associated with teenagers is binge drinking. Teenagers and young adults (12 to 20 years old) account for about 11% of all the alcohol consumed in the United States. Although they drink less often, they usually drink a lot more than adults do. More than 90% of all drinking devolves into binge drinking. Millions of young Americans binge drink every month. Young people often drink because of peer pressure and stress. Some can also desire more independence, doing things that adults do. However, drinking while underage can cause many problems, some even long term. Heavy, continued alcohol consumption can interfere with brain development. The brain continues developing through one’s teenage years and alcohol can cause cognitive or learning problems. There is also an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives.

Here are some signs of underage drinking:

  • Changes in mood, including anger and irritability
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school
  • Rebelliousness
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Low energy level
  • Less interest in activities and/or care in appearance
  • Finding alcohol among a young person’s things
  • Smelling alcohol on a young person’s breath
  • Problems concentrating and/or remembering
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems

A big part of helping curb underage drinking are the parents. Parents can help prevent underage drinking by:

  • Talking about the dangers of drinking
  • Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink
  • Serving as positive role models in general
  • Not making alcohol available
  • Getting to know their children’s friends
  • Having regular conversations about life in general
  • Connecting with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of not drinking alcohol
  • Supervising all parties to make sure there is no alcohol
  • Encouraging kids to participate in healthy and fun activities that do not involve alcohol

Alcohol Poisoning/Overdose

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose occurs when so much alcohol is consumed that the body can no longer break it down and metabolize it. When this happens, alcohol starts to depress and shut down various functions of the brain, such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature. There are many factors that can increase the risk of overdosing when consuming alcohol. These include one's height and weight. People with smaller bodies can experience alcohol poisoning with a smaller amount than others. A person who is used to drinking and has developed a physical tolerance is more at risk of consuming a lot of alcohol. Other health conditions like diabetes can increase the risk of someone overdosing. Combining drugs with alcohol can cause a person to overdose more easily, either because the person won't feel the effect of the alcohol or because the drug will interact with alcohol in some way to overwhelm their system. Someone who participates in binge drinking is also at risk of overdosing as it might be hard to gauge how much is too much since the person drinks so fast.

What the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

It is very important to watch out for the following symptoms because alcohol overdose can be fatal. A person overdosing on alcohol may not have all of these symptoms, especially if it is treated quickly.

  • Blue skin
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Clammy skin
  • Coma
  • Difficulty remaining conscious, or inability to wake up
  • Hypothermia (very low body temperature)
  • Irregular breathing
  • Lack of gag reflex (which can lead to choking)
  • Mental confusion
  • Pale skin
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Stopped breathing
  • Stupor
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting

What to Do When Alcohol Overdose Is Suspected

The first step is to notice that there is a problem. Too often, people may not realize that a person is overdosing before some of the more severe symptoms present themselves. For example, if a person passes out after binge drinking, some people might think they are just sleeping it off. But if the individual cannot be awakened, an overdose should be suspected. Also, if the person drank a lot of alcohol very quickly, even after they pass out, alcohol is still being processed in their digestive system. So their BAC can continue to rise while they are unconscious, which can precipitate the overdose and bring about even more complications. At the first suspicion of an overdose, call 911 for help immediately. Give them as much information as you can about what they drank and how much, if drugs were involved, etc. The more information they have, the faster they can treat the person once they get on the scene. While waiting for help, do not leave the person unattended. They could easily injure themselves, or their situation could worsen and require your immediate attention. Having the person sitting on the ground can keep them safe from falling. If the person is vomiting, placing them so they are leaning forward will prevent them from coking. If the person is passed out, placing them on their side (with an ear toward the ground) will keep them from choking.

Once help arrives, they will often be taken to the emergency room where their vitals can be monitored, and they can be treated adequately. The quicker the person gets treatment, the lower the risk of permanent damage. Things like lack of oxygen to the brain can lead to permanent brain damage. It is important to act quickly where alcohol poisoning is concerned as it is a matter of life and death.

Alcohol Addiction

Alcoholism (often referred to as alcohol use disorder, AUD) afflicts millions of Americans. It can be hard to realize when alcohol consumption has become a problem. Alcohol addiction can be insidious since drinking is a socially accepted activity. Alcoholism is often sensationalized on TV or in movies, but in real life, alcohol use disorder can be much more subtle. Some people are what is colloquially referred to as a 'functional' or 'high-functioning' alcoholic. In this instance, although the person has a drinking problem, they can have a good job, a good family life. This can make it much easier for someone to deny or not realize that they have a problem. An alcohol use disorder is much easier to handle if it is caught early and dealt with swiftly. The first step is to realize that the problem exists.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is not necessarily dependent on the frequency or amount of drinking. Different people can have different drinking patterns. But there are some signs to look out for when trying to figure out if one's drinking has become a problem.

Lack of control: This could be an uncontrollable urge to drink or when a person cannot stop thinking about drinking. A person may have tried to stop drinking and failed. It can also manifest in an inability to limit the quantity of alcohol one drinks. If a person says they will only have one drink but often end up drinking a lot more, it can be a sign of a problem.

Dangerous situations: When one's drinking becomes dangerous, this can be a sign that it needs to be addressed. For example, if someone drinks in risky situations, including when someone is driving or has to drive after, or when a woman is pregnant or caring for young children. Another risky situation is to mix medication with alcohol, no matter the reason. A red flag for this kind of behavior is when a person's drinking gets them into legal trouble.

Necessity: When a person starts needing alcohol to perform certain activities, it can indicate alcohol use disorder. Some people start needing alcohol to relax or fall asleep at night. Inversely, some people need a drink in the morning to get going and have good day. Others might need alcohol to be social or feel confident when meeting other people. And when a person does not drink, they can start having negative thoughts or feelings and will use alcohol to escape those.

Life problems: When drinking becomes a problem in one's life, it is a clear indication that a problem exists. It is even more apparent when the person continues drinking despite those problems. Here are some examples of the problems drinking can create:

  • It interferes with things the person used to enjoy doing
  • Dropping important activities or doing them less often because of their drinking
  • Lessening of responsibilities or dropping responsibilities
  • Losing friendships or having other relationship issues because of their drinking
  • Becoming angry and hurting people when drinking

Lies: A common aspect of the denial of an alcohol problem is lying. If someone close to them asks them how much they drink, they lie to make it seem like less of a problem. They can also deny drinking altogether. This can also manifest in hiding alcohol in different places, so people won't find it. Another sign of this can be making excuses for drinking and even causing their loved one's to make those excuses as well.

Tolerance and withdrawal: These are physical aspects that could mean a person having an alcohol addiction. If a person develops a tolerance, they will need to drink more to feel the intended effects of alcohol. And this tolerance compounds the withdrawal problem. When a person stops drinking alcohol, they will start getting withdrawal symptoms, which can be very hard for a person and make them drink again.

Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis

Although alcohol use disorder can present in different ways, some criteria have been delineated to make assessment easier. If a person has two or more of the following criteria, an alcohol use disorder is present. Depending on how many of these are true, a person can have mild, moderate, or severe AUD. Here are the criteria:

  • Alcohol use in larger amounts or for a longer time than intended
  • A lasting desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control alcohol use
  • A lot of time spent getting alcohol, drinking it, or recovering from its effects
  • A craving for alcohol
  • Alcohol use that causes a failure to meet obligations at work, school, or home
  • Alcohol use that continues even though it leads to lasting or repeated personal problems
  • Giving up or cutting back on important activities because of alcohol
  • Repeatedly using alcohol in dangerous situations
  • Using alcohol even though you know it causes physical or psychological problems, or makes them worse
  • Alcohol tolerance, when you need more to have the same effect
  • Alcohol withdrawal

What to do and not to do when someone is struggling with alcoholism

When someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, it is vital to take the necessary steps to help them. It can cause a lot of strain in a relationship, and specific patterns of behaviors come up, and they should be identified so that you can successfully help the person. One of the first things to realize is that it is not your fault, even if the alcohol says so. Their actions are their own, and blaming yourself or taking things personally just takes the focus off of the actual problem, their drinking.

Don't Enable the Alcoholic

Dealing with an alcoholic can be very strenuous on a person. Some overwhelming emotions and feelings can come up when starting to address the problem. Recognizing some of those emotions can help you control them when they happen. The first don't has to do with enabling the behavior of an alcoholic. Enabling refers to behavior, which makes it easier for the person to keep drinking and for their addiction to get worse. Your intentions might good, and you might be trying to help the person, but it keeps them from facing the real problem and realizing the severity of it. Enabling can take on many different forms, but here are some of the classic enabling behavior.

Ignoring the person's alcohol-related behavior. Acting like nothing is wrong and not saying anything is a form of enabling. Things such as missing work and unexplained absences when you know alcohol is at play should not be ignored. Although it may seem like confronting the problem head-on will make it worse, not addressing will just let it develop.

Shifting blame so that the alcoholic's actions are not their responsibility. An addict will often blame situations or other people for their drinking. Going along with that is not helping them in any way. It gives them a pass to keep doing it. Another point is that blaming their general behavior on things other than their drinking is just covering up the problem. For example, if a person has become more aggressive or violent now that they drink, blaming their stressful work life or even yourself for this behavior is not helping the alcoholic. Aggression and violence are never okay and should never be accepted or excused.

Making up excuses or lying about your loved one's drinking or actions are never the solution. Sometimes pride or fear of consequences for your loved one can cause you to lie about what is going on with them. This type of behavior again gives them free rein to keep drinking and keep behaving the way they do. It keeps the person away from the consequences of their action and the pain caused by their drinking.

Don't Try to Control the Alcoholic or Cure Them

People can sometimes put off getting the alcoholic professional help thinking that they can get the person to stop drinking. The truth of the matter is that professional help is needed. You can try to stop the person from drinking by all kinds of means but controlling the alcoholic does not handle their alcoholism. There are often underlying issues that caused a person to start drinking, and a professional can get the root of the problem and have them face it. It is not your responsibility to heal them, but you can get them the help they need.

What Are the Steps to Help an Alcoholic?

The first thing to do is learn more about alcoholism and what it does to people. This can help you understand the person and their patterns of behavior. As mentioned earlier, your job is not to cure them; your job is to confront the problem and get them to get help. An intervention is not always necessary. You can just sit down and talk to them and get them to see that there is a problem. There are some essential things to take into consideration when preparing for this conversation. You should be prepared. This kind of conversation will not necessarily be easy, and preparing what you want to say ahead of time can help.

You should also be prepared for different kinds of reactions. If the person has never been confronted with the problem before, denial or even anger can be a reaction. You should be able to remain calm and keep the course. The point is to be honest but also be supportive and compassionate. Accusations and blame will not help the situation and will often just make them more defensive. Another way to prepare is to have a solution to help before having the conversation. Talking to a professional, such as one of our counselors, can help figure out the best way to approach the situation and the best option for treatment. This way, as soon as the person accepts that there is a problem, you have a solution for them, and they won't have time to change their minds.

There is a time and place for this kind of conversation; choose it well. The point is to have enough time to have a productive conversation with the least amount of distractions. This conversation requires their full attention, so it is important to make sure that they are not in the middle of dealing with work-related issues, etc. The person should also not be drinking or drunk while having this conversation.

When Should You Get a Professional Interventionist Involved?

If a person is resistant to getting help and talking to them hasn't gotten them to face the fact that they need help, an intervention is required. An intervention involves a lot of preparation and will follow very specific steps to get the person to realize that they have a drinking problem and need to seek help. During the intervention, the people closest to them will face the alcoholic and share their concerns. Although this process is meant to show support, it is not meant to enable. This means that consequences will be delineated for the person if they don't get help. This can sometimes seem a bit harsh, but the intention is for them to get help. It's important that they understand the consequences of not getting help. A treatment plan needs to be worked out before the intervention. At the end of the intervention, the person will be presented with the solution.

Alcohol Detoxification

When a person with an alcohol problem stops drinking, the withdrawal symptoms can be pretty intense. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Extreme agitation
  • Extreme confusion
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Tactile hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Vomiting

These symptoms can not only make a person relapse; they can also become dangerous for the person. Quitting cold turkey at home is possible and many have done it. However, if someone’s alcoholism was severe and long-lasting, it can be dangerous to attempt detox without professional help. Some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures can be life-threatening if not treated properly.

Getting help with a professional detox program can ensure that the person gets through this period safely. One of the things that can be useful during detox is the use of Naltrexone or Vivitrol (an extended-release form of Naltrexone) to help curb the use of alcohol in the person. Detox is only the first step to recovery. This medication works to cancel out the stimulant or depressant effect in the brain. Although it does not cancel the effect of alcohol on the body and should not be seen as a full-proof solution. A person should handle the addiction itself with a full rehabilitation treatment.

Alcohol Addiction Rehabilitation

The main part of alcohol rehabilitation is counseling and therapy to address the underlying issues related to alcoholism. Other services can be available at rehabilitation facilities such as family services, vocational services, educational services, etc. All these services are meant to handle the problems that the person can face when re-entering society. The reasons why the person started drinking alcohol in the first place and continued doing so need to be resolved to prevent the person from relapsing once they go back to their day-to-day life. One thing that can cause a person to relapse when they have completed rehab (or during rehab if they go back home during it, like outpatient rehabilitation) is triggers. Different things in one's life can trigger a person to drink again. This is especially true with alcohol since it is so prevalent in society. Treatment needs to give the person the tools necessary to cope with these triggers. These triggers can be situations, places, people, etc.

Inpatient Rehabilitation for Alcohol Addiction

Inpatient treatments include short-term and long-term programs and can be effective to treat alcohol addiction. Some of the common therapy methods used at an inpatient facility include cognitive behavioral therapy, multidimensional family therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing. There are also 12-step therapy models, group and family counseling, and individual therapy. Some residential drug rehabilitation centers offer different holistic services. The most important point is to make sure the program should meet the needs of the alcoholic. Overall, residential rehabilitation should provide detox, therapy, counseling, relapse prevention, and aftercare support.

The purpose of rehabilitation is to get the person to look at their addiction honestly and realistically and change their attitude about alcohol and drinking. Residential rehabilitation will try to break through the denial and get the person to commit to a sober lifestyle. The process differs in each rehab program, and the therapy sessions are designed to teach the person the skills they will need to live a life without drugs and alcohol.

Inpatient rehabilitation is especially good when a person lives in an environment where alcohol is present. This type of temptation can be very harmful to a person’s recovery. By choosing this type of treatment, the person is removed from their environment and put in one where the sole focus is their recovery.

Aftercare Support for Recovering Alcoholics

Once a person finishes treatment, aftercare support can be crucial. When a person re-enters society, the chances of them running into a situation where alcohol consumption is a possibility is pretty high. Contrary to street drugs, alcohol is legal and prevalent in society. Aftercare support (as well as the support of friends and family) is very important to prevent relapse and ensure long-term sobriety. Many rehabilitation treatments will have their own kind of aftercare support and relapse prevention programs. There are different facets of aftercare. One is continued addiction counseling or therapy on an outpatient basis. This can help strengthen the person’s sobriety. This counseling can be done on a one-on-one or group basis. Another way to get support after a treatment is with peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous where one can get a sponsor. Sponsorship can help a recovering alcoholic go through the 12 steps and it gives the individual a person to talk to when things get harder.

Alcohol Use and Abuse Statistics

In 2018 it was estimated that about 139.8 million Americans aged 12 or older were past month alcohol users, per the National Survey on Drug Use and Health on SAMHSA. This same survey reported that roughly 67.1 million were binge drinkers in the past month, and over 16.6 million were considered heavy drinkers. About 2.2 million American adolescents aged 12 to 17 drank alcohol in the past month, and over 1.2 million adolescents were binge drinkers. Roughly 1 in 11 adolescents in 2018 were past month alcohol users.

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 85.6% of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 69.5% reported drinking in the past year; 54.9% reported dinking in the past month. Twenty-five to forty percent of all patients in general hospital beds (not in maternity or intensive care) are being treated for complications of alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol Use Disorder Statistics

Over 14 million adult Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder according to the 2019 NSDUH. According to the 2018 survey, only around 8% of people with AUD attended treatment.

For adolescents aged 12 to 17, it is estimated that 414,000 teenagers met the criteria for alcohol use disorder. In 2018, only 5% of teens with an alcohol problem sought treatment.

More than 18% of Americans experience alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some time in their lives.

In 2017, over 26% of Americans aged 18 or older reported they engaged in binge drinking. Close to 7% of Americans aged 18 or older said they engaged in heavy alcohol use. Alcohol abuse and misuse is a problem throughout the nation and impacts people living across the state.

Alcohol-Related Deaths Statistics

It is estimated that around 95,000 people die of alcohol-related causes annually. It is the third leading preventable cause of death, after tobacco and poor diet and physical inactivity. More than 100,000 deaths in the USA are caused by excessive alcohol consumption each year.

According to the CDC, an average of 6 people die of alcohol poisoning each day in the US between 2010 and 2012. Of those deaths, over three-quarters of alcohol overdose are between 35 to 64 years old and 76% of them are men. Some of the states with the highest rates of alcohol overdose deaths include Alaska, New Mexico, Rhode Island. Alcohol kills 6 1/2 times more youth than all other illicit drugs combined

In 2016, almost 10,500 people died in car crashes with a drunk driver. This accounted for 28% of all traffic-related death in America. That same year, 17% of all children (0 to 14 years old) traffic-related deaths involved a drunk driver. Alcohol-related traffic-related traffic collisions are the number-one killer of teens. Alcohol use is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drowning deaths; the next three leading causes of death among youth.

Term Definition
Alcohol poisoning A condition in which someone consumes toxic amount of alcohol, usually in a short period of time. Some of the symptoms include extreme disorientation, unresponsiveness, unconsciousness, shallow breathing. This can lead to coma and can be fatal.
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) A chronic disorder where a person has an impaired ability to stop or control their alcohol use despite social, occupational, or health problems.
Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS) A set of symptoms that can occur when a person reduces or stops their alcohol consumption after a period of excessive use. Symptoms can include anxiety, shakiness, sweating, vomiting, increased heart rate, and fever.
Binge drinking A pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 or above. This typically happens when a person consumes a lot of alcohol (men: 5 drinks or more, women: 4 drinks or more) in about 2 hours.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) A measure of the quantity of alcohol in the bloodstream. It is used to measure a person’s level of intoxication. The BAC legal limit for driving is 0.08 in the United States.
Excessive alcohol use Any pattern of drinking that is not considered moderate drinking. This includes binge drinking, heavy drinking as well as drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) A group of conditions that can occur in a child whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical, behavior and learning disabilities.
Heavy drinking According to the CDC, alcohol consumption that exceeds 14 drinks per week for men and 7 drinks per week for women. This can include binge drinking.
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CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

REAL LIFE ADDICTION STORY

« My struggle with addiction started when I was 12 years old, which was around the time my parents got divorced. I found the effects of alcohol were helping me cope with the divorce. Growing up there was always a party happening in the house. There were very few weekends where I did not see my family drinking and becoming intoxicated. There was always alcohol in the house behind the bar, which made it easy to take my first drink. In fact, this was the left-over wine in the glasses at the dinner table. The feeling you get from those first intoxicating effects made me forget about the problems happening within the house. When I turned 13, I was finding ways to sneak alcohol into school, which was rum in a coke can. By the time high school came, I discovered binge drinking with my friends. This, of course, led to stealing alcohol from a friend’s parents. We would replace the missing vodka with water to make it look like nothing was taken. Fast forwarding to college when I was 17, I found a whole new level of drinking with my classmates. When I turned 18 I discovered cocaine, ecstasy, and pain medication. The pain medication was prescription from prior surgeries due to sports injuries. During my early teen years, my parents took me to psychiatrists because of learning problems, of course, drug-related. When I turned 18 I had also discovered psychiatric medication, such as anti-depressants and sedatives, on top of the street drugs. I was 20 years old when I asked for help. The details from the time I found alcohol to the when I asked for help are irrelevant. I had worked and lived in more place than I can remember, but recall this time. I called my dad and told him I needed help. The next morning I was off to a program called Narconon. Four months later and celebrating my 21st birthday in rehab, I decided to stay and work at the facility. Five years later after working and giving back to others who struggled with addiction, I moved on. It has been 14 years since drug rehabilitation. There have been some low points, but I had the ability to overcome it. Today I have a beautiful wife, an amazing son and the knowledge to know I control the outcome for what happens next. I do not consider myself an addict or someone who is recovery. I am someone who will take responsibility for his life, and that started with asking for help. » - Nick