Alcohol addiction, now known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a condition in which a person has a desire or physical need to consume alcohol, even though it has a negative impact on their life.
Alcohol is one of the most popular addictive substances in the world. Some people can control how much they drink, but others have risk factors that prevent them from drinking responsibly. When these people become addicted to alcohol, they’re often referred to as ‘alcoholics’.
This expression, of establishing someone as an ‘alcoholic’, is increasingly seen as an unhelpful and negative label. Health professionals now say that a person has an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), in 2018, 1 in 6 Australian adults (17 percent of the population) had an alcohol use problem.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), globally, 3.3 million deaths every year result from the harmful use of alcohol.
A beer or a glass of wine is a common way many Australians choose to wind down at the end of a day.
But how much is too much?
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line to alcohol use disorder (AUD)?
In Australia, a standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol, regardless of container size or alcohol type (e.g beer, wine, spirit). This is equivalent to:
For women, “heavy” or “at risk” drinking means more than seven drinks per week, or more than three in any day.
For men, it’s more than 14 drinks in a week, or more than four in a day.
It is important to point out, that the number of drinks and the frequency of consumption is not the only way to consider a person’s relationship with alcohol.
How a person uses alcohol is a strong indicator as to whether alcohol is part of a healthy or unhealthy habit.
For some, drinking to socialise is part of their positive life balance. Individuals that have AUD, instead use alcohol to cope with their issues. They seek alcohol as a way to avoid and escape their adversity.
As alcohol becomes a problem, it takes precedence over all other activities. The above reactions to alcohol’s influence can incur negative relationship effects, if a person seeks to confront others, or isolate themselves instead. This can make it challenging for friends and family members to help those with alcohol addiction.
While there is no exact formula to determining whether or not someone suffers from AUD, it is important to identify and address the alcohol addiction symptoms provided above. No matter how minor a drinking problem may seem, alcohol abuse symptoms should not be ignored by friends and family members.
“The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is a tool we use to assess alcohol consumption, drinking behaviours, and alcohol-related problems in our client admissions process. The AUDIT has been validated across genders and in a wide range of racial/ethnic groups and is well-suited for use in primary care settings. This allows us to confidently assess the client’s current state prior to them arriving on site.” – Paul Francis, Admissions Manager (Palladium Private)
There is also a tool known as CAGE – a questionnaire that measures the severity of a drinking problem.
If you answer “yes” to two or more CAGE questions, you should seek professional medical assistance.
Most addictive substances, including alcohol, affect the pleasure and reward centre in the brain. Alcohol manipulates this system, which drives repeat behaviours of enjoyment. When people become addicted, their brains are chemically rewired to desire alcohol.
“We know that about 50 percent of the risk is genetic,” Dr. Kenneth Leonard, Research Institute on Addictions (DrugRehab.com). “The best predictor is actually family history. Tt looks as though there are many, many genes that carry the risk.”
Research has shown a close link between AUD and biological factors, particularly genetics and physiology. While some individuals can limit the amount of alcohol they consume, others feel a strong impulse to continuously use the drug.
For some, alcohol gives off feelings of pleasure, encouraging the brain to repeat the behaviour.
Repetitive behaviour like this can make you more vulnerable to developing alcohol addiction.
There are also certain chemicals in the brain that can make you more susceptible to alcohol abuse. For instance, scientists have indicated that alcohol dependence may be associated with up to 51 genes in various chromosome regions.
If these genes are passed down through generations, family members are much more prone to developing drinking problems.
In recent years, studies have explored a possible connection between an individual’s environment and risk of AUD.
These environmental factors could include a person’s proximity to alcohol retail stores or bars – affecting their chances of alcohol addiction.
Another environmental factor, income, can also play a role in the amount of alcohol a person consumes. Contrary to popular belief, individuals who come from affluent neighbourhoods are more likely to drink than those living below poverty.
A recent annual consumption habits poll showed that roughly 78% of people with an annual household income $75,000 or more consume alcohol. This is significantly higher than the 45 percent of people who drink alcohol and have an annual household income of less than $30,000 (Gallup).
Social factors can contribute to a person’s views of drinking. Your culture, religion, family and work influence many of your behaviours, including drinking.
Family plays the biggest role in a person’s likelihood of developing AUD. Children who are exposed to alcohol abuse from an early age are more at risk of falling into a dangerous drinking pattern.
Starting college or a new job can also make you more susceptible to alcohol addiction. During these times, you’re looking to make new friends and develop relationships with peers. The desire to fit in and be well-liked may cause you to participate in activities that you normally wouldn’t partake in.
Different psychological factors may increase the chances of heavy drinking. Every person handles situations in their own unique way. However, how you cope with these feelings can impact certain behavioural traits.
People with high stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions are more vulnerable to developing alcohol addiction. In these types of circumstances, alcohol is often used to suppress feelings and relieve the symptoms of psychological disorders.
Over time, drinking can become habitual and lead to an AUD. The more you turn to alcohol to ease feelings of pain and hardship, the more your body becomes tolerant to the drug and relies on its effects.
Co-occurring alcohol abuse and mental health conditions, like depression, can cause an array of serious side effects. In order to overcome these issues, each one should be treated separately by a medical specialist.
Alcohol addiction causes physical, psychological and social side effects. The most common signs of Alchohol Use Disorder include continuing to drink despite negative consequences and prioritising drinking over anything else. The disease can also be diagnosed based on other behaviours and health effects.
Most people enjoy drinking alcohol because of its euphoric effects. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed in the body, and once it enters the blood stream, it quickly makes its way to the brain.
How long alcohol stays in your system is dependent on a number of factors, from when you last ate to your gender and weight (drugrehab.com).
As the alcohol binds to the brain’s GABA receptors, it has a relaxing effect. Your inhibitions drop and you become more talkative and more self-confident.
Alcohol also boosts the levels of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. This contributes to the happy, buzzed feeling you get after having a drink or two.
As alcohol affects different parts of the brain, other changes occur – mainly to do with language, judgement, emotions, movement and balance clouding your reasoning and thinking. You may have trouble seeing, hearing or remembering things, too, and become less sensitive to pain.
Continuous, long-term alcohol consumption can also lead to permanent changes in brain chemistry. Frequent and excessive alcohol consumption damages an area in the back of the brain called the cerebellum. This can result in poor coordination and balance. Also difficulty walking or a tremor and involuntary back-and-forth eye movements known as nystagmus (reachout.com).
Chronic, heavy drinking can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, irregular heartbeats and heart failure. One way alcohol contributes to the development of heart disease is by raising the level of certain fats in the blood called triglycerides, which contributes to coronary artery disease.
Alcoholic beverages also affect the gastrointestinal system. Alcohol can cause damage to the mucosal lining of the oesophagus (Barrett’s oesophagus) and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). It can also alter the muscular contractions of the small and large intestine (intestinal bleeding), organ problems within the liver and pancreas (pancreatitis, liver damage).
As an individual becomes more intoxicated, these euphoric sensations often give way to darker moods and emotions, such as sadness, anger, aggression and irritability.
Chronic alcohol use alters brain chemistry and can result in mental illness. Repeated, heavy use of alcohol can cause anxiety. People with anxiety often deal with feelings of worry, nervousness and unease about upcoming events or situations.
In addition, alcohol and depression are closely associated. In America, about 20 percent of adults with an anxiety or mood disorder. These include depression, are addicted to alcohol or another drug (ADAA).
Some people who are addicted to alcohol mix the substance with other drugs. But alcohol can cause dangerous interactions with over-the-counter drugs and some everyday substances, such as caffeine. When people mix alcohol with illicit or prescription drugs, the interactions can be life-threatening.
Combining alcohol with some illicit drugs can cause long-term organ damage. Just as mixing alcohol with certain prescription pills can cause a fatal reaction. Even some over-the-counter supplements can cause major health problems when mixed with alcohol.
Alcohol addiction commonly co-occurs with drug addiction. People addicted to multiple substances — referred to as poly-substance use disorder — may be more likely than people addicted to a single substance to experience negative consequences.
Alcohol use disorder within a family is a problem that can destroy a marriage or drive a wedge between members. That means people who drink can spend the family budget, cause fights, ignore children, and otherwise impair the health and happiness of the people they love.
Of married couples who get into physical altercations, 60-70 percent abuse alcohol (americanadictioncenters.org). In time, family members may even develop symptoms of codependency, inadvertently keeping the addiction alive, even though it harms them.
Friends and family members of those suffering from AUD can face the repercussions of their loved one’s condition. Alcohol addiction causes legal, financial and relationship problems. Individuals with alcohol addiction often struggle to have healthy relationships with loved ones.
A person with AUD may try to shield their family from the impact of alcohol abuse by distancing themselves. Unfortunately, isolation does little to protect family members from the financial and emotional side effects of alcohol addiction. Neglect can also have a negative impact on loved ones.
Couples that include at least one member with AUD have more negative interactions than couples that aren’t affected by alcohol addiction, according to research from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.
Furthermore, individuals with AUD are often in denial about their condition. This means they can underestimate how much they drink or the problems that drinking causes. This deterioration of awareness, and by extension trust, damages relationships. It can also make it difficult for the family to manage social situations.
Alcohol addiction can also inflame relationship stressors.
As a result, the time, effort, and resources formerly dedicated to life-sustaining activities. These include working and spending time with the family, are disrupted. Initially, a person may think that abusing alcohol will help them deal with these stressors. As they continue to drink a lot, however, this abuse can turn into dependence on the substance.
As the National Council on Alcohol addiction and Drug Dependence discusses, the following are some of the ways in which problem drinking affects family members, friends, employers, colleagues and others:
Alcohol impairs one’s cognitive functions and physical capabilities. This can likely result in neglect of responsibilities associated with work or home life. These side effects inhibit healthy and constructive communication that can be used to resolve conflict.
Alcohol has various short-term side effects, such as hangovers. The physical state of a hangover may be temporary. But it can significantly disrupt a person’s ability to meet commitments as well as invite unhealthy behaviours, such as poor eating and a lack of exercise.
Drinking can increase a person’s likelihood of getting into fights, displaying disorderly conduct in public, driving under the influence, and becoming involved in domestic disputes or violence.
Alcohol is an addictive substance and can lead to physical dependence. Although a person who is physically dependent (i.e., has an increased tolerance among other side effects) is not necessarily addicted, ongoing drinking is a slippery slope that can lead to addiction.
Addiction is an expensive condition. Depending on the type of alcohol a person drinks and how much they drink, a person addicted to alcohol may spend between $500 and $2,000 on alcohol each month. That can be a major drain on a family budget.
Other financial problems may be the indirect result of an alcohol addiction. An arrest for driving under the influence can cost thousands of dollars in fines, court fees and car insurance increases. A car accident can make a person incur tens of thousands of dollars in health care or vehicle replacement costs.
The biggest hit to a family budget may occur when someone with an alcohol addiction loses their job because of their condition. Even a temporary loss of income can have a devastating impact on a family.
Work productivity can also suffer from alcohol abuse. Finances are about more than the dollars earned; they also include earning potential. Studies show that drinking can affect work or academic productivity at every phase of working life.
Employees who binge drink or drink heavily are prone to absenteeism or presenteeism (i.e., being at work but underperforming). Long-term drinkers may have to exit careers earlier than planned in order to manage health problems.
Children and extended family members, as mentioned, can become codependent on a loved one’s alcohol abuse, or at least be significantly affected.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), one in every five adult Americans resided with a relative who abused alcohol in their adolescence. In the study, it was also found that these people have a greater likelihood of having emotional troubles compared to children who grew up in sober homes.
Early exposure to an alcohol abuser can also increase the child’s propensity to have a problematic relationship with alcohol. Research has found that children of individuals who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves.
As the AACAP explains, children are in a unique position in relation to a parent or caregiver who is addicted to alcohol. Drinking can become a source of confusion for the child. It can lead to a lack of parental support, and by extension, the absence of a parental figure.
Furthermore, children can notice radical changes in behaviour and emotion. This can include volatile discrepancies from happy to angry. Without proper identification, a child may falsely believe that they are the cause of these mood swings. Self-blame, guilt, frustration, and anger can emerge as the child tries to understand why the parent acts this way.
Many people who struggle with alcoholism do not enjoy the experience. Some people are high-functioning, meaning they perform well at work and maintain relationships, and some people more obviously struggle with alcohol dependency.
Regardless of the severity of alcoholism, it is often hard for anyone suffering from this condition to admit they have a problem.
Close friends and family may notice a loved one struggling, even if they only exhibit subtle problems, such as mood swings or continual stomach upset.
When a person notices that someone they care about may be struggling with alcoholism, it is important to proactively support the person.
This means learning more about AUD and include getting them professional help. Getting started on this road can be difficult for friends or family. This is because alcohol use disorder impacts relationships, and sometimes, loved ones may not know exactly what is happening.
Below are some of the steps advised by Healthline on how to approach a loved one for help:
Before you do anything, it’s important to know whether your friend or loved one has an alcohol addiction. Alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is more than just drinking too much from time to time.
Sometimes alcohol as coping mechanism or social habit may look like alcoholism, but it’s not the same. People with alcohol use disorder don’t drink in moderation, even if they say they’re only having one drink.
Let the person you care for know that you’re available and that you care. Try to formulate statements that are positive and supportive. Avoid being negative, hurtful, or presumptuous.
Using “I” statements reduces accusation and lets you be an active participant in the discussion. It may be helpful to bring up a specific concern. Rather than saying, “You’re an alcoholic — you need to get help now,” you can say, “I love you and you’re very important to me. I’m concerned about how much you’re drinking, and it may be harming your health.”
Prepare yourself for every response.
No matter the reaction, you should stay calm and assure your person that they have your respect and support.
Choose the right time to have this important conversation. Have the conversation in a place where you know you’ll have quiet and privacy.
You’ll also want to avoid any interruptions so that you both have each other’s full attention. Make sure your person is not upset or preoccupied with other issues.
Most importantly, the person should be sober.
If the person does have an alcohol problem, the best thing you can do is be open and honest with them about it.
Hoping the person will get better on their own won’t change the situation.
Tell your loved one that you’re worried they’re drinking too much, and let them know you want to be supportive. Be prepared to face a negative reaction. Try to roll with any resistance to your suggestions.
The person may be in denial, and they may even react angrily to your attempts. Do not take it personally. Give them time and space to make an honest decision, and listen to what they have to say.
Realise that you can’t force someone who doesn’t want to go into treatment. All you can do is offer your help. It’s up to them to decide if they’ll take it.
Be nonjudgmental, empathetic, and sincere. Imagine yourself in the same situation and what your reaction might be.
Your friend or loved one may also vow to cut back on their own. However, actions are more important than words.
Urge the person to get into a formal treatment program. Ask for concrete commitments and then follow up on them.
You may also want to see if other family members and friends want to be involved. This can depend on several factors, such as how serious the situation is or how private the person may be.
Approaching someone to discuss your concerns may involve helping them understand how you’re feeling. This makes it important that you present them with viable options to consult for help.
Some of these options may include suggesting a support group, behavioural counselling options, therapy counselling, or supportive wellness-retreats.
However, as it is difficult to diagnose the severity of an individual’s alcohol dependence on your own, it might prove useful to get a professional opinion before approaching the individual with the options above.
At Palladium Private, our approach is quite different to anything you may have tried before. Our immersive therapy does provide a full suite of care, counselling and in an environment that is recovery-friendly.
We consider alcohol abuse to be a coping mechanism. We believe that people who deal with stress properly and have a healthy level of self-worth are unlikely to abuse alcohol, even if they have the gene for alcoholism. This means we don’t believe that hereditary genes dictate how you react to substances.
However, if you have underlying stress conditions and they are not identified and corrected, these may result in turning to alcohol in times of despair or trauma.
The Palladium Private Program provides a set of coping mechanisms that can be used to break this cycle permanently.
These include reprocessing old events to deal with grief and regret and learning how to measure self-esteem and self-worth properly
We cannot change what happens to you in life, but we can teach you how to react to life events in a different way, which will cut off this cycle of behaviour at its source.
Our qualified therapists use evidence-based techniques to teach you how to adopt new behaviours, apply and entrench them and engage in new ways of thinking.
Our programs offer change that is lasting because our unique range of therapies go deep to the underlying root cause.
The Palladium Private Program is supported by Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy (REBT), CBT and ACT along with other client-specific techniques chosen on a needs basis.
Our program is underpinned by Mindfulness Training. This has been in use for a long time but has only been scientifically explained in the last two decades.
Your treatment is accompanied by nutritious meals, personal trainers, yoga teachers and spa and massage therapists – so your body can also undergo healing.
Places in our programs depend upon availability. We ask that you contact us to check for the next available window.
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