Alcohol Abuse and Treatment
Alcohol use moves into the realm of alcoholism, a colloquial term for alcohol use disorder, at the point that a person’s drinking goes so far out of their control that they can no longer limit their intake despite knowing that alcohol is causing, or will inevitably cause, serious harm to one or more key areas of their life (health, relationships, career, etc.).2
An alcohol use disorder is considered a brain disease; and continued alcohol abuse leads to long-term changes in the brain that results in a person prioritizing alcohol over their own well-being. These changes may be very long-lasting and often lead to relapse.2
Although anyone can develop an AUD, some people may be more vulnerable than others. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, risk factors for developing an AUD include:2
- Excessive alcohol use (heavy and/or binge drinking).
- Drinking alcohol prior to age 15.
- Genetics and family history of alcohol abuse/alcoholism.
- History of childhood trauma.
- Mental health disorders.
Signs of Alcoholism
Alcohol is legal and it may be challenging to know when someone’s alcohol use has gone past the point of responsible use and into the territory of abuse. The signs of alcohol abuse may be physical or behavioral and may include:4,5,6
- Memory loss.
- Consistent smell of alcohol on the breath.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Slurred speech.
- Staggering gait.
- Drinking in the morning to relieve hangovers.
- Falling asleep at inappropriate times.
- Becoming isolated and/or having strained social relationships.
- Changes in friends/social groups.
- Frequent tardiness or absence at school or work.
- Mood changes.
- New or worsened anxiety or depression.
- Worsening of other mental health problems.
- Violent behavior toward self or others.
- Alcohol-related legal problems.
Alcohol Use Disorder Criteria
Doctors and mental health professionals use a set of 11 criteria to diagnose an individual with an alcohol use disorder. Should someone meet at least two, they have some degree of an AUD, which can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. These criteria are:7
- Compulsive use of alcohol despite negative health (physical or psychological) consequences that result from that use or have been worsened by use.
- Compulsive use despite social or relationship problems caused or made worse by use.
- Failure to fulfill personal, professional, or academic obligations as a result of drinking.
- Drinking more or for longer than intended.
- Ongoing desire to cut down on or quit alcohol and/or repeated unsuccessful attempts to do so.
- Large amount of time and effort is spent in finding, using, and recovering from alcohol.
- Important activities and hobbies are abandoned as drinking takes priority.
- Use of alcohol in scenarios that are physically hazardous (such as prior to/while driving).
- Cravings for alcohol.
- Tolerance (needing to drink more to feel intoxicated and/or not feeling as intoxicated with the same amount).
- Withdrawal, manifested by either: Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms when not drinking or drinking or taking a sedative to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
How to Quit Drinking Alcohol
Not only do the brain changes that occur as a result of addiction make it extremely challenging for an alcoholic to quit drinking, but the physical withdrawal symptoms that may arise can make it potentially dangerous to do so. Abrupt withdrawal from the chronic, long-term misuse of alcohol can result in dangerous and possibly deadly withdrawal seizures.8
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
When someone who has a dependence on alcohol cuts back on drinking significantly or abstains from alcohol completely, they will go into a state of withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from mild to life-threatening and may include:7,8
- Rapid pulse.
- Hallucinations (visual, auditory, or tactile).
The course of alcohol withdrawal varies tremendously from one person to another. Some people have more serious symptoms such as seizures, while others have only a few mild symptoms. The outcome depends on numerous factors. For example, having a history of severe withdrawal or having been through withdrawal multiple times may put you more at risk of serious outcomes.8
The difficulty of predicting just who will develop serious or life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal underscores the importance of professional medical treatment during acute withdrawal.
Alcohol Detox and Treatment for Alcoholism
Many people find that professional treatment helps them recover from alcohol use disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends that treatment for alcohol dependence begins with supervised medical detox due to the risks associated with the alcohol withdrawal syndrome.8 During medical detoxification, you are assisted by a qualified medical team as you overcome your physical dependence on alcohol. Doctors and nurses can monitor your condition and intervene should a medical emergency arise. They may also administer medications to prevent more severe symptoms and keep you as comfortable as possible.8
AdCare offers medical detox in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as inpatient and outpatient rehab for continuing care post-detox. AdCare programs begin with a comprehensive assessment of your alcohol use history and any other medical or mental health disorders. Should you suffer from serious mental health symptoms, AdCare is right place for you. AdCare also offers a crisis stabilization unit for patients whose psychological symptoms require intensive care and supervision at the start of treatment.
Once you’ve detoxed, AdCare’s residential programs help to equip you with the tools you need to get sober and achieve long-term recovery. Comprehensive family services are provided as well to help family members learn about alcohol abuse so that they can better support you during treatment and recovery.
Outpatient treatment involves individual and group counseling and connects you with self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. AdCare offers outpatient programs that you can attend up to 7 days a week or at night, with 3-hour sessions 3 to 5 times per week.
Most insurance plans are required to offer some form of coverage for rehab. Call our admissions navigators at to learn how to use health insurance to pay for rehab and have your benefits verified by filling out the form below.
Alcohol Abuse Information & Statistics
Around 14 million adults each year meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.9 Many others may not meet criteria for AUD but abuse alcohol in harmful ways. Alcohol misuse and alcohol abuse have many consequences for individuals and society as a whole. Overall, the misuse of alcohol costs the economy approximately $249 billion per year.9
The widespread negative consequences of alcohol, a legal substance, may surprise you. Alcohol abuse is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death in the United States, contributing to around 95,000 deaths per year. 9,10 Alcohol is a major factor in many traffic accidents, often with tragic consequences. Every day, an estimated 29 people die in alcohol-related traffic accidents.11 Globally, alcohol abuse is involved in nearly 6% of all deaths annually.9
More than 40% of all deaths in the U.S. from liver diseases, including cirrhosis, involve alcohol. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of numerous types of cancer, including breast cancer, oral cancer, stomach cancer, and throat cancer.9
Alcohol is involved in nearly 97,000 sexual assaults involving young adults ages 18 to 24 as well as nearly 696,000 cases of physical assault annually among college-aged people in the U.S.9
It’s clear from these statistics that while alcohol is a legal substance, it is not without risks. The consequences of alcohol misuse can be wide-ranging and devastating.