Alcohol addiction
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Understanding alcohol addiction as a chronic disease

Alcohol addiction affects millions of people worldwide. For those living in Los Angeles, alcohol rehab LA offers effective treatment options to help individuals overcome their addiction and achieve long-term sobriety.

Whether you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, understanding the nature of this disease and the options for recovery can lead to a healthier, happier life.

This article will look into the causes and symptoms of alcohol use disorder and the various treatment strategies available for those seeking help.

Is alcoholism a disease?

Whether alcoholism is a disease has long been debated, but growing evidence supports the view that it is a chronic disease.

  • Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence on these substances, making quitting or reducing consumption difficult.
  • The Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classify alcoholism as a chronic disease similar to other chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
  • Chronic diseases are often characterised by persistent, long-term symptoms that can significantly impact a person’s health and well-being.

For those struggling with alcohol dependence, seeking professional help from qualified healthcare providers can be the first step in successfully managing this chronic disease.

Common causes of alcohol use disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a chronic condition that can affect an individual’s physical and mental health for a long-term. Drinking alcohol can be a social activity for some people, but it can lead to excessive and harmful consumption for others.

Many factors can contribute to the development of alcohol abuse, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, as well as a history of chronic diseases.

Genetic and environmental factors

A family history of alcohol abuse is a significant risk factor for AUD, as a person’s genes can influence how they process alcohol and respond to its effects. Having a family member with AUD increases the likelihood of developing the condition, but environmental factors can also play a role.

Growing up in an environment where alcohol use is normalised or where heavy drinking is prevalent can increase the risk of developing AUD.

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Trauma

The National Center for PTSD has found that people who have experienced trauma, including physical or sexual abuse, combat exposure, or natural disasters, are at a higher risk of developing alcohol abuse disorder. Mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety, can also increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism.

Social Influence

Substance use is often normalised in certain social circles, and individuals may feel pressure to consume alcohol to fit in or feel accepted. Spending time drinking with friends or family can also lead to excessive alcohol consumption, increasing the risk of developing AUD.

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Fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is caused due to maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and it can have lifelong effects on a child’s physical and mental health.

While FAS is well-known in the medical community, people struggling with alcohol addiction may not know the potential risks and consequences of drinking during pregnancy. Additionally, children exposed to alcohol in utero may be more likely to develop AUD later in life.

Behavioural health conditions

Behavioral health conditions, such as mental health disorders, can significantly contribute to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD).

While other factors, such as genetic predisposition and social influence, play a role in the development of AUD, the presence of a mental health disorder can increase the likelihood of alcohol abuse.

People with mental health disorders may turn to alcohol to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms, which can exacerbate their condition and lead to a cycle of addiction.

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Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder

Excessive drinking can have harmful effects on the human body, and it can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Recognising these signs and symptoms of AUD is essential to seek appropriate treatment and support.

Physical signs

Many physical signs can indicate someone is developing alcoholism. For example, long-term excessive drinking can lead to a variety of health problems, including the following:

  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss
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Behavioural changes

As alcohol problems worsen, people with alcohol use disorder may struggle to control their alcohol consumption and continue drinking despite adverse consequences. They may also experience mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability.

In severe cases, individuals with AUD may prioritise drinking over other activities and experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop drinking.

Cognitive symptoms

Heavy drinking can significantly affect the nervous system, leading to cognitive symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and impaired judgment.

Individuals with alcohol use disorder may also experience confusion and disorientation, especially during periods of intoxication.

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Emotional signs

According to the American Psychiatric Association, emotional symptoms of alcohol use disorder can include feeling guilty or ashamed about drinking and having difficulty controlling the urge to drink.

These emotional symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s mental health and lead to other harmful behaviours, such as drug use or willful misconduct.

Effective treatment options for alcohol addiction

Substance abuse treatment, including therapy and support groups, is often the first step in recovery. Additionally, a healthy diet and exercise regimen can help individuals manage the physical effects of alcohol use disorder.

The American Medical Association recognises alcohol addiction as a medical condition; therefore, medical interventions may also be necessary.

Medication-assisted treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a form of addiction medicine used to treat drug addiction, including chronic alcoholism. MAT involves using prescription medications, counselling, and behavioural therapy to help individuals manage their addiction and reduce the risk of relapse.

Any medical treatment may have potential risks and side effects, and a medical disclaimer should be provided to patients.

Behavioural therapies

Behavioural therapies are essential to addiction treatment, particularly for individuals with severe alcohol use disorder. Addiction experts often recommend cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI) to help individuals develop coping skills, identify triggers, and maintain sobriety.

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Support groups

Support groups can be an effective treatment option for individuals experiencing alcohol use disorder. These group meetings offer a supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, receive talk therapy, and receive guidance during the challenging process of alcohol withdrawal.

Inpatient vs outpatient treatment

Choosing between inpatient and outpatient treatment for alcohol use disorder requires professional medical advice and consultation with licensed medical professionals. The decision typically depends on the person’s risk for severe withdrawal symptoms, medical needs, and social support network.

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Conclusion

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease requiring medical attention and ongoing support. Understanding the causes and symptoms of alcohol use disorder can help individuals recognise the signs of addiction and seek timely treatment.

Whether through medication-assisted treatment, behavioural therapies, support groups, or inpatient/outpatient programmes, seeking treatment from a healthcare provider is essential in managing withdrawal symptoms and achieving positive, long-term outcomes.

The NCADD, National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, is an excellent resource for those seeking more information on alcohol addiction and related outcomes.

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