Understanding Alcohol Abuse Disorders and Their Treatment

Drinking alcohol can be a nice way to relax and take a step back from the stress of life. For others, however, alcohol is an addiction. They drink to excess and put both themselves and others at risk, both long and short-term. Learn more about what differentiates casual drinking from alcoholism by continuing to read this question and answer articles.

How much drinking indicates you have a drinking problem?

First, many people can remember a night where they drank too much. Not just two or three beers – enough alcohol to inhibit their memory and lose control of some brain processes. An alcohol abuse disorder is likely present when days like this are few and far between. However, even alcohol consumption in smaller amounts every day can signal a drinking problem.

For most men and women, having some alcohol during the day – about two drinks – is relatively harmless. It is of course advised that anyone who has consumed any alcohol shouldn’t drive, but the situation outside of normal safety concerns isn’t very serious.

Moderate drinking is what puts you on toeing the line – moderate drinking can lead to alcohol abuse, which can in turn lead to alcohol dependence.

What is the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence?

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that often leads to adverse consequences. Alcohol abuse can cause individuals to fall behind in school, and be late for work and sloppy while they’re there. In general, alcohol abuse can also cause a strain on the abusive person’s relationships, often leading to relationship problems and sometimes domestic or abusive violence.

Alcohol dependency, typically referred to as alcoholism, have no discernible control over their alcohol consumption, turning it into an addiction. They lose the ability to care for what kind of alcohol they consume, as long as they ingest it – at this point, it is almost necessary for their body and mind to be inebriated at some level to function. This sort of dependence can lead to irritability, violence, hallucinations, sweating, and withdrawal symptoms may be present if the alcohol intake is cut off.

Both are examples of extreme problems with alcohol, though “smaller” problems like moderate drinking can still do considerable health and social damage. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that about 1 in 13 American adults is either an alcohol abuser or alcoholic at any given time. Another study done in 1997 reveals that almost 5 million young adults and teens aged 12 to 20 have binge drank at least once, meaning the problem doesn’t just effect the adult community.

What is the cause of these disorders?

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are often comorbid with other psychological, social and genetic factors such as depression or peer pressure. When someone has low self-esteem or suffers from depression, they often turn to the high alcohol gives them in order to escape their problems or forget their troubles. Alcohol is also very easily available and portrayed by the media as a fun way to hang out with peers – this isn’t false for some, but for those susceptible to addiction, this glamorized view of alcohol exacerbates the problem.

Genetics can also play a key role in your potential for alcohol abuse. It is true that those born from someone who is an alcoholic aren’t automatically alcoholics themselves, but the likelihood that they too will abuse alcohol is even greater. This is both caused by a genetic predisposition and learned behavior, as well as modeling.

Drinking heavily can also perpetuate a cycle of even heavier drinking that only worsens the problems that someone is trying to escape from. As the problem gets worse, the drinking increases.

How do these disorders affect the affected person?

About 100,000 Americans die from alcohol related deaths every year. While the short-term effects can be something as simple, but painful, as a hangover, the long-term effects can stick with you throughout your life – or they can cause your death. These side effects include stomach problems, heart disease, brain damage, the inability to retain memories, cirrhosis, and even cancer. If you drink excessively, you also run the risk of dying in an automobile accident if you get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Heavy drinkers are also at an increased rate of homicide and suicide.

Your mental health also suffers, as alcoholism and alcohol abuse have been linked to serious illnesses like depression and anxiety.

There are also others to think about as well – the NIAAA reports that over 50% of Americans know at least one relative who abuses alcohol or who is an alcoholic. These kind of behavior trickles down through the generations as children model parents. If someone who abuses alcohol has a tendency to be violent or abusive in any way, their family and friends are often the easiest and most likely targets of this behavior.

How can they be helped with therapy?

First, those with alcohol addictions need to find support – it is very hard for someone to recover from addiction on their own. This does not mean, however, that they shouldn’t also seek outside help. A family should be supportive, but they cannot replace a medical professional – and they shouldn’t.

A therapist can step in and figure out the best course of action for treating the alcoholism. The earlier the problem is caught, the easier and faster the recovery can be. The most common way a therapist can help anyone with their alcohol abuse is by discovering the psychological cause for their drinking. A therapist may also recommend the patient get involved with an alcohol-specific treatment program like 12-Ste or Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs help alcoholics via an understanding support system, accountability and behavioral coping skills.

Alcoholics can also learn what triggers their drinking, how to avoid it, and eventually how to handle being around triggers without being tempted.

A therapist can also help an alcoholic with both pre-existing and comorbid facets of alcohol abuse, such as depression and anxiety. By using a therapist who is competent and sure of their treatment plan, even a long-time alcoholic can find their way to a better life again.