Despite stereotypical images of what a “drunk” is, people from all walks of life may be at risk from becoming a casual drinker to being considered an alcoholic. For healthy adults, drinking more than 3-4 drinks on any day over a 1-2 week period puts those adults in the “at-risk” category. While there are slight differences between men and women when it comes to what’s considered “at-risk,” it’s estimated that approximately 1 in 4 people exceed the limits of the level at which a dependence on alcohol develops. Habitual drinkers exceeding these levels either already have alcoholism or are at risk for abusing alcohol to the point where they cannot physically go without a drink beyond a certain period of time.
What Is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is defined as distinct physical desire to consume alcohol beyond a point that the body can naturally process. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a chronic and often progressive disease. It’s still possible to have a drinking problem without progressing to the point where it’s considered alcoholism. From a medical standpoint, characteristics of alcoholism include:
• Persistent thoughts of wanting to consume alcohol
• Suffering withdrawal symptoms when not able to obtain a drink
• Developing a physical dependence where alcohol is needed to function throughout the day
• Denying that a problem exists even when presented with clear evidence that one does
• Producing excuses for having a drink or wanting to have another drink
Individuals with a drinking problem that is not considered alcoholism can go without drinking for periods of time. When they do drink, however, it’s often consumed in large amounts with often serious consequences such as not being able to account of some periods of time, passing out, or suffering a severe hangover. Consuming alcohol in large amounts, even if it’s not to the point where it’s considered alcoholism, can lead to certain health issues over time. Health problems associated with alcoholism may include:
• Cirrhosis of the liver
• Cardiovascular conditions
• Memory loss
Who Is At Risk?
There is no one stereotypical person who is at risk for alcoholism. There are, however, certain risk factors that can lead to a problem with the consumption of alcohol. Some studies suggest that a family history of alcoholism, even when not officially diagnosed as such, can make an individual more susceptible to drinking in excess. Additional risk factors for alcoholism include:
• Age – Individuals who start drinking at an early age tend to be more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol as they get older.
• Mental health problems – Some individuals turn to alcohol as a means of coping with depression and other mental health issues.
• Social pressures – Associating with individuals who drink on a regular basis produces social pressure to have a drink too. This includes media influences that make drinking seem glamorous.
• Medication – Some medications interact with even a relatively small amount of alcohol to enhance the impact to the point where it may be toxic or the effects of the medication are diminished.
Why Inpatient Treatment Produces Better Results
While there are many treatment options for individuals dealing with alcoholism, inpatient treatments tend to produce better results. Patients in inpatient treatment programs tend to have more support when dealing with withdrawal. This is an early point in treatment when a patient is most vulnerable, especially from some outside influences. An inpatient facility has medical personnel on staff to supervise the withdrawal process and help a recovering alcoholic make it through this important step towards recovery. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
• Shaky hands
• Trouble sleeping
Note: Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations that some individuals experience while going through withdrawal typically end after 48 hours.
A Comprehensive Approach to Treating Alcoholism
Relying solely on outpatient treatments alone does very little to get to the root cause of alcoholism. Inpatient programs offer comprehensive treatment plans. These plans typically include treating multiple causes for a dependency on alcohol, including both physical and mental issues. Inpatient programs typically include medical supervision to deal with withdrawal as well as mental health professionals and other individuals experienced in dealing with addiction. Inpatient treatment for alcoholism generally involves:
• Identifying the underlying causes of the drinking problem
• Learning how to avoid certain situations such as social drinking
• Developing an effective support system
Regardless of the approach to treatment, no individual is going to fully recover if they don’t acknowledge the fact that they have a problem in the first place. Once that initial step is reached, inpatient treatment produces better results since such programs focus more on long-term goals rather than short-term results. Alcoholism is a daily struggle with no complete cure. However, it’s possible to develop effective mechanisms to live a productive life without alcohol.