Alcohol Addiction – Abuse And Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on October 21, 2020

An alcohol addiction might consume every aspect of a person’s life, but not everyone will experience the same symptoms. Luckily, there are treatment options tailored to each type of drinker. At a rehab center, a person suffering with alcohol addiction can begin recovery and start a life that’s free from the obsession and compulsion to drink.

Alcohol Addiction, Abuse, And Treatment Options

What Is An Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by the obsession and compulsion to drink alcohol, regardless of the consequences. One of the most intriguing facts about alcohol, is that it’s both mentally and physically addictive. So a person can unwillingly become addicted by drinking too much alcohol. As that person becomes physically addicted, they begin to experience the physical compulsion and the mental obsession that comes with it.

Alcohol addiction is also referred to as alcoholism or alcohol dependence which typically stems from alcohol abuse. Both alcoholism and alcohol abuse are alcohol use disorders, and are extremely dangerous.

Alcoholism is defined by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) as a disease that causes:

  • craving – a strong need to drink
  • loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
  • physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms
  • tolerance to alcohol – the need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effect

Alcohol abuse doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will become physically dependent, or develop alcoholism, but it’s still a drinking problem. Much like alcoholism, alcohol abuse can result in problems with family, school, work, or health. One form of alcohol abuse is binge drinking, which is essentially drinking to get drunk.

For men, binge drinking is 5 standard drinks in 2 hours. Generally alcohol affects women faster, thus drinking 4 standard drinks is considered binge drinking for women. Like alcohol abuse, not everyone who binge drinks will develop an alcohol use disorder. As it is, there are approximately 18 million people in the United States who suffer from an alcohol use disorder.

Some people stay within their means and are able to moderate the amount of alcohol they drink, but others are unable to do so no matter how hard they try. Some people might have two standard drinks every day and never develop an alcohol use disorder. One thing to take away is that the daily moderate drinker isn’t always the best example of how alcohol will affect each person individually.

Alcohol often affect on each person differently. Not only that, there are other factors that contribute to addiction and alcohol abuse. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “people have biological and psychological characteristics that can make them vulnerable or resilient to potential behavioral health problems. Individual-level protective factors might include a positive self-image, self-control, or social competence.”

What Are The Dangers Of Abusing Alcohol?

One thing that happens while a person is battling an addiction to alcohol, is they come to believe that the dangers of alcohol abuse “won’t happen to me.” Nonetheless, alcohol claims the lives of an estimated 88,000 people each year in the United States alone (NIAAA). It doesn’t matter, race, gender, financial status, or education—alcohol abuse may need to be treated by professionals to ensure that it doesn’t do more harm.

Not only does alcohol abuse claim lives, it also has potential to do physical harm. “In 2009, alcohol-related liver disease was the primary cause of almost 1 in 3 liver transplants in the United States” (NIAAA). Alcohol doesn’t just affect the liver either. Drinking too much can increase the chance of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, and breast.

Alcohol can also have a negative effect on the liver, brain, heart, pancreas, kidneys, and immune system often leading to some of these effects on the body:

  • steotosis
  • fatty liver
  • fibrosis
  • cirrhosis
  • alcoholic hepatitis
  • poor memory
  • co-occurring mental disorders (anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, insomnia, PTSD, BPD, etc)
  • trouble concentrating
  • slowed thinking and behavior
  • cardiomyopathy
  • stroke
  • high blood pressure

Drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease. Chronic drinkers are more liable to contract diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis than people who do not drink too much. Drinking a lot on a single occasion slows your body’s ability to ward off infections—even up to 24 hours after getting drunk,

– National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

As if that wasn’t enough, alcohol abuse also causes the pancreas to create a toxic substance which can lead to pancreatitis and poor digestion. Sometimes it can be hard to see one’s own drinking as a problem, until they start to experience some of the negative consequences of alcohol. It might take a professional opinion to determine if a person is drinking an unsafe amount, but no matter what, it’s important to remember that though there isn’t necessarily a cure for addiction, it’s still treatable.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms As A Result Of Physical Dependence

When someone suffering with a physical dependence quits drinking, they may experience intense, painful withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary from person to person, because most people have different drinking patterns.

Acute withdrawals from alcohol can actually cause seizures and may leave permanent damage to a person’s brain. One form of brain damage is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which results from lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) and symptoms include “mental confusion, vision problems, coma, hypothermia, low blood pressure, and lack of muscle coordination,” (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). It can be reversed if it’s detected early and treated immediately.

Some of the possible alcohol withdrawal symptoms from NLM include:

  • anxiety or nervousness
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • jumpiness or shakiness
  • mood swings
  • nightmares
  • not thinking clearly

Physical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol may include:

  • sweating, clammy skin
  • enlarged (dilated) pupils, headache
  • insomnia (sleeping difficulty)
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pallor rapid heart rate
  • tremor of the hands or other body parts

The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:

  • agitation
  • fever
  • seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • seizures
  • severe confusion

How Is An Addiction To Alcohol  Treated?

In nearly every case of alcohol addiction, a person’s recovery begins when they admit that there’s a problem. Sometimes this acceptance is fueled with an intervention by friends and family. Other times it happens when alcohol abuse causes distress, relationship problems, loss of a job, or health problems.

No matter the case, once someone realizes that they have a problem with alcohol, they’re on the right path. Still for most it isn’t easy to see that there’s a problem with any kind of addiction, and overcoming alcohol abuse and alcoholism can be really hard to do alone.

The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol should be managed in a medical detoxification for the safest outcome. This will give professionals a chance to monitor the severity of alcohol withdrawal while evaluating cognitive function, fluid intake, diet, vitamin regimen, rest, and in some cases medication.

There are a lot of different treatment options that can help a person suffering from alcohol addiction into a healthy recovery program. Within each treatment center, there are professionals who specialize in treating the physical, behavioral, and in some cases spiritual symptoms of addiction. Alcohol treatment may include detoxification, behavioral therapy, treatment of co-occurring disorders, or medication-assisted therapy.

Read more about alcohol detox programs

Some of the different methods used to treat alcohol addiction include:

  • Intervention
  • Medical Detoxification
  • Evaluation – to decide which treatment is best
  • Inpatient Residential Treatment – 30, 60, or 90 Day
  • Outpatient Treatment and Sober Living
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment
  • Mindfulness and Stress Management
  • Religious and Nonreligious Treatment
  • Outdoor and Wilderness Therapy
  • Peer and Family Support
  • 12-Step Approach (Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Luxury Rehab
  • Aftercare Support

Alcohol And Polysubstance Abuse/Addiction

Polysubstance abuse occurs when an individual combines two or more drugs of abuse. Mixing alcohol with other drugs, especially other depressants, can cause dangerous effects as the drugs interact with each other.

Consuming alcohol with any of the following can lead to life-threatening consequences such as a slowed heartbeat, shallow breathing, coma, and death:

  • heroin
  • opioids/opiates
  • barbiturates
  • sleeping pills
  • benzodiazepines
  • other depressants

Learn more about the dangers of alcohol and polysubstance by reading the articles below:

Things To Consider Before Going To Rehab For Alcohol Addiction

It can be really hard to make the choice to go to rehab. A lot of questions pop up, like how to find the best rehab center? How to pay for rehab treatment? Fortunately, there are people and programs to help with nearly every area.

First, there are treatment specialists who can help find a rehab center that’s right for everyone. The caring professionals at a treatment center want you to be successful in recovery and will go to great lengths to see it through.

Secondly, paying for addiction treatment has become a lot easier over the last few decades by law. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, paying for rehab is a more realistic option. The Affordable Care Act was signed as a law in March of 2010 and requires each insurance company to offer a policy with mental health and substance abuse coverage.

Not only that, The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires that the lifetime dollar amounts from those same insurance companies be no lower for mental health, substance abuse, and dependency issues as they are for medical and surgical benefits.

Looking at the big picture, by treating addiction and taking an active role towards recovery, a lot of people avoid the serious cost of health issues caused by alcohol. Not only that, they avoid potential legal costs, loss of a job, or failed marriage which also costs money.

Paying For Alcohol Treatment

Even with health insurance, there will likely be some out of pocket cost, but the money saved in the long run from not using alcohol can balance out the finances. Some of the payment options for treatment include:

  • insurance
  • free state funded rehab
  • cash or private payment
  • personal loan
  • government grant or financial aid

There may other costs that come with rehab, but the end result of a sober life will be worth it. With the help of the professionals at, you can find a treatment program to overcome alcohol addiction, and move on with your life.

Find An Alcohol Treatment Program Today

Contact an treatment specialist today to learn more about finding an alcohol treatment facility that works for you. Your recovery doesn’t have to wait, call today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol Facts and Statistics
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effects on The Body
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse - The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Information Page
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Prevention of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine - Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
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