It's common for some people to assume alcoholism treatment shouldn't be necessary. The wide-spread belief is that a person with an alcohol abuse problem should simply use some willpower and stop drinking.
In reality, specialist alcoholism treatment is necessary to ensure both the physical and psychological dependency to the substance is addressed properly. When a person with a drinking problem attempts to stop drinking without proper alcoholism treatment and support, it's common for them to relapse into a self-destructive pattern of abusive drinking.
However, with the right combination of alcoholism treatment, therapy and support, it's possible to make a successful recovery and remain sober over the long term.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is the term used to describe an addiction to drinking alcohol. It may also be used to describe an alcohol use disorder, such as alcohol dependency or alcohol abuse.
History of Alcoholism
Alcohol use dates back as far as early Egyptian and ancient Chinese civilizations and has been prominently mentioned throughout history in many cultures around the world.
Alcohol was often used for medicinal purposes, as well as at celebrations and festivals. However, when beer and wine became more readily available to all throughout England in the 1600s, drunkenness became a more widespread problem.
As a result, public drunkenness was frowned upon and many religious sects began to view open intoxication from abusing alcohol as being sinful.
Historically, some cultures around the world have fewer problems with alcoholism than others. Some cultures, such as the French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Chinese tend to have a reduced risk of alcoholism due to differing norms surrounding alcohol use. The aforementioned cultures tend to sanction the use of alcohol during meals and at celebrations, while drunkenness is viewed with disapproval.
By comparison, the consumption of alcohol in the US tends to be associated with a sole purpose of becoming intoxicated, which may be a contributing factor to the increased risk of alcoholism.
Statistics for Alcoholism
It's estimated that around 17 million Americans suffer from an alcohol use disorder. Statistics also show that around 40% of all motor vehicle accidents in the US involve alcohol.
Alcohol Abuse versus Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol abuse is the term used when a person abuses alcohol, but has not yet developed a dependency on it. By comparison, a person who has become dependent on alcohol has an alcohol addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism
There are some common signs and symptoms of alcoholism to look for. These include:
Cravings: a person who has developed a dependency on alcohol will experience cravings to drink more if intake is stopped or reduced.
Loss of control: a person struggling with alcoholism may not be able to stop at just one or two drinks and may end up drinking too much and too often.
Physical dependence: alcohol changes the brain's chemistry, so it becomes unable to produce dopamine without the artificial stimulation of more alcohol. An alcoholic needs to drink alcohol in order to function 'normally'.
Tolerance: abusing alcohol over a period of time can lead to developing tolerance to the substance, in which a person needs to drink more in order to achieve the same effects.
Withdrawal symptoms: when alcohol consumption is reduced or stopped, the person may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can include tremors, insomnia, irritability, headache, anxiety and depression Drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms: a person struggling with alcoholism may continue drinking, despite negative consequences, in an effort to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
When a person with an alcohol abuse disorder stops drinking alcohol suddenly, the body goes into detox. The actual signs and symptoms may vary in severity, depending on the length of the addiction and how much alcohol was being consumed.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Detox is the first step in treating alcoholism and helps to break the body's physical dependency on alcohol. However, detox alone won't treat the underlying psychological triggers behind the self-destructive attitudes and behaviors associated with alcohol abuse.
Behavioral therapies and individual counseling are also required to address the psychological aspect of the addiction. These work replace dysfunctional behaviors with positive habits and attitudes for coping with a sober lifestyle. Regular attendance at group support meetings also helps to maintain motivation to stay sober, as it reduces feelings of isolation and provides guidance and support throughout the recovery process.