Alcohol Use Disorder

Addiction to alcohol is, in some ways the most insidious addiction we face as a society. That is because the problem is “swept under the rug,” and the legal nature of alcohol allows us to ignore the fact that it is dangerously addictive for so many users. However, a quick look at the facts should put to rest any idea that alcohol addiction is somehow less serious.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects around 17.6 million Americans. AUD is the newer term, present in the DSM-5, that encompasses both alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse; now, the problem is seen as a spectrum disorder which may present with mild, moderate, or severe sub-classifications, and that is AUD.

The “alcoholism” that we typically refer to as laypeople encompasses a lot of the same problems, but it also seems to involve some psychological issues that may not be dealt with in the DSM-5. How this is eventually resolved remains to be seen, but chances are excellent that if you identify as an alcoholic or the people around you identify you as one, you are in the AUD range as well.

Few people with alcohol problems of any kind, even severe problems, seek professional help. However, alcohol addiction and abuse are just as serious as abuse and addiction with other substances, and just as dangerous. If you abuse alcohol, don’t wait any longer. Recovery from alcohol addiction isn’t easy, especially in our culture of enabling alcohol abuse. Recovery is part of a lifelong process.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use?

There are many well-known signs and symptoms of alcohol use and abuse to watch out for. Physical signs of intoxication include:

  • Alcohol smell on the breath
  • Blackouts
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Inability to stand still or walk straight
  • Nausea
  • Poor balance
  • Rapid eye movements
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Slurred or loud speech
  • Vomiting

There are also some behavioral signs of alcohol intoxication to be aware of:

  • Acting out violently
  • Depression
  • Few inhibitions
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Risky sexual behavior

Now, make yourself aware of the signs of alcohol abuse in friends and loved ones:

  • Problems at school or work, such as absences or lateness
  • Drinking in risky situations, such as when driving
  • Blacking out after drinking
  • Legal issues related to drinking, like DUIs or assaults from being drunk
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Hurting others when drinking
  • Drinking despite getting sick, or sicker (for example, someone who has liver disease or ulcers and drinks anyway)
  • Family and friends worry about the drinking
  • Can’t control or stop drinking
  • Has to drink more to achieve the same feelings as before
  • Has alcohol withdrawals when not drinking
  • Gets “the DTs” when not drinking
  • Spends a lot of time drinking and recovering
  • Drinks instead of doing other things they used to enjoy
  • Drinks even though they lose relationships as a result
  • Drinks in the morning
  • Drinks alone
  • Stays drunk for extended periods of time
  • Changes what they drink to avoid being drunk or to drink less
  • Feels guilty after drinking
  • Hides drinking
  • Worries about getting enough alcohol for an event, a weekend, or a night
  • Has physical signs of alcohol dependence

Remember, sometimes the signs of alcohol use and abuse are different in teens and children. Experts advise that you look for multiple changes or patterns in attitude, appearance, or behavior. Be aware of what to look for when you’re concerned about a younger person.

Changes in attitude:

  • Apathy about the future
  • Mood swings that get a lot worse
  • Notably poor attitude
  • Disrespectful behavior

Changes in appearance:

  • Frequent use of breath mints
  • Frequent use of eyedrops
  • Less attention to grooming, hygiene, and dressing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Red, glassy eyes
  • Unexplained weight loss

Changes in behavior:

  • Deception, lying, sneaky behavior
  • Ditching school
  • Loss of interest in personal interests and activities
  • Loss of interest in school, extracurriculars
  • New friends and unwillingness to bring them home or introduce them
  • New level of secrecy
  • Poor performance at school
  • Stealing, other criminal behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

What are the Risks and Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Excessive use of alcohol has immediate physical effects that increase your risk of various harmful health issues. Most commonly the result of binge drinking, these include the following short-term health risks according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Alcohol poisoning, which constitutes a medical emergency and necessitates medical treatment for high blood alcohol levels
  • Injuries, including burns, drownings, falls, and motor vehicle accidents
  • For pregnant women, miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including sex with multiple partners and/or unprotected sex; consequences from such behaviors, including sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and unintended pregnancy
  • Violence, including domestic violence, homicide, sexual assault, and suicide

Excessive alcohol use and abuse over time can cause you to develop various chronic diseases, personal and psychological problems, and other severe issues, including:

  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism
  • Anxiety
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer related to alcohol consumption, such as esophageal cancer, mouth cancer, and throat cancer
  • Cancer related to processing alcohol, such as colon cancer and liver cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Liver disease and failure
  • Lost relationships
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Social problems
  • Stroke
  • Unemployment
  • Death

In the long-term, the effects of abusing alcohol are very serious and cause chronic health woes and even premature death. Alcohol abuse causes impaired judgment, loss of cognitive function, damage to the liver, and even stroke.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you abuse alcohol for longer periods of time, you are likely to experience both mental and physical symptoms when you stop drinking or drastically reduce how much you drink. These symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild, or even very serious. If you’re an occasional drinker, you’re less likely to experience alcohol withdrawal, although if you’ve experienced it before, you’re likely to go through it each time you stop.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your nerve transmissions and brain function.

Eventually, your central nervous system changes, as it gets used to having alcohol in your system at all times. It takes a lot more effort for your body to keep your brain somewhat alert under these conditions, and to maintain transmissions between your nerves. When you are detoxing from alcohol, your body is still in this agitated state, and that’s what causes alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Ranging from mild to severe, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as six hours after your last drink. These may include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Depression
  • Excitability
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Pallor
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Shakes
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

If you have a long history of alcohol abuse, went through a recent period of very heavy alcohol consumption, or have a history of alcohol withdrawal, you may experience delirium tremens (DTs), a severe form of alcohol withdrawals. Symptoms of DTs usually occur within 48 to 96 hours of your final drink, but they can happen up to 10 days later, too. Symptoms can escalate and worsen rapidly, and may include:

  • Agitation
  • Body tremors
  • Bursts of energy
  • Changes in mental function
  • Deep sleep lasting longer than a day
  • Delirium, an extreme confusion
  • Excitement unconnected to anything
  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • Hallucinations, whether visual, auditory, or tactile
  • Irritability
  • Quick mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to light, touch, sound
  • Stupor

In order to start your recovery, you need to take the first step, and clear your body of alcohol. This step needs to happen in a controlled environment with professional supervision round-the-clock, so you can be confident you’ll get the care and support you need.

Alcohol Detox Timeline

Typically, barring the complications that come with co-occurring addictions and health conditions, alcohol detox follows a classic timeline composed of three phases:

Phase 1: acute withdrawal

This initial period, which usually takes about one week, is characterized by autonomic nervous system hyperactivity, headaches, nausea, and tremors. During this time, patients are at risk for seizures and DTs. Tremors and seizures usually occur within the first 48 hours, peaking at about 24 hours. DTs, if it occurs, usually peaks at approximately 72 hours. The common physical signs of acute alcohol withdrawal include increased blood pressure, tachycardia (increased heart rate), body temperature dysregulation, diaphoresis (profuse sweating), and gastrointestinal problems (nausea, vomiting).

Phase 2: early abstinence

During phase two which lasts until the three to six week mark after the last drink, anxiety, depression, and sleep troubles continue, but the more serious physical symptoms subside. Heightened anxiety typically goes away within this time period. Female patients often pass through this phase more slowly than male patients.

Phase 3: long-term abstinence

During phase three, which lasts until about six months after the last drink, depression and elevated anxiety don’t feel as obvious anymore, although you will still feel challenged by even everyday activities fairly often. This is the period of time when cravings will sneak up on you, so be vigilant and prepared.

Finding an Alcohol Treatment Program

If you’re eager to be through that alcoholic haze and ready to take your life back, reach out to Clear Sky Recovery now. Our stunning, one-of-a-kind recovery facility and the medically-guided program takes a holistic approach to health and addiction recovery. Come see why our patients get a fresh start with our help.