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Understanding Rehab For Alcoholism and the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder

Last Medical Review On: July 14, 2024
Updated On: June 15, 2024
5 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Medical Review by:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite its detrimental effects on physical health, mental well-being, and social relationships.[1] Alcohol is a legal substance widely available in various forms, making it one of the most commonly abused substances worldwide.

Individuals with alcoholism often consume alcohol in excess, leading to a range of adverse consequences. Prolonged and heavy consumption can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcoholism can affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses.

Common uses of alcohol

Key Points

  • Alcoholism, known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic condition marked by uncontrollable alcohol consumption despite its negative consequences, affecting individuals of all ages and backgrounds.
  • While moderate alcohol consumption may be socially acceptable, excessive and prolonged alcohol use can lead to addiction and dependency, resulting in adverse health outcomes.
  • Alcohol abuse can cause a range of physical and mental health effects, including liver damage, cardiovascular issues, depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is a significant public health concern globally, contributing to a wide range of diseases and injuries, including accidents and violence.
  • Alcohol’s impact on brain chemistry can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and contribute to the development of new ones, leading to a vicious cycle.
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    What is Alcoholism?

    Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic condition characterized by excessive and compulsive consumption of alcohol despite its negative consequences.

    Alcohol is a legal substance commonly used for its psychoactive effects, which include feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and reduced inhibition. While moderate alcohol consumption may be socially acceptable, excessive and prolonged alcohol use can lead to addiction and dependency.

    According to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcoholism is a significant public health concern with widespread implications:

    • Prevalence: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects millions of individuals worldwide, with estimates suggesting that approximately 28.8 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States had AUD in 2021.[2]
    • Consequences: Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a range of adverse health outcomes, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, neurological disorders, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.[3] It is also a contributing factor to accidents, injuries, violence, and social problems such as unemployment, poverty, and family dysfunction.

    While it is legal for adults aged 21 and older to purchase and consume alcohol, its sale and distribution are regulated, and there are legal consequences for underage drinking and alcohol-related offenses.

    Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

    Alcohol addiction entails patterns of excessive and harmful alcohol consumption resulting in physical dependence, psychological cravings, and adverse life consequences.

    Alcohol abuse can bring about a range of physical and mental health effects.[4] Physically, it can cause liver damage, cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal problems, neurological impairment, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Psychologically, alcohol abuse is associated with mood swings, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and memory loss.

    Risk factors for alcohol addiction include genetic predisposition, family history, early onset of drinking, co-occurring mental health disorders, trauma, peer influence, and environmental factors.

    Alcohol Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Depressant
    Commercial & Street Names Booze, juice, cold one, suds, the hard stuff
    DEA Schedule None
    Administration Orally

    Statistics on Alcohol Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Alcohol consumption is prevalent among adults in the United States, with over half reporting drinking alcohol within the past month.[5] This widespread consumption includes binge drinking and heavy drinking, affecting approximately 17% and 7% of adults, respectively.

    Additionally, alcohol misuse contributes to a wide range of diseases and injuries, with harmful alcohol use identified as a causal factor in over 200 conditions.[6] Globally, approximately 2.6 million deaths occur annually due to harmful alcohol use, representing 5.3% of all deaths worldwide.

    Every day in the United States, an average of 37 people lose their lives in drunk-driving crashes — equating to one death every 39 minutes.[7] In 2021 alone, 13,384 individuals lost their lives in alcohol-impaired driving incidents, marking a 14% increase from the previous year.

    Alcohol, Addiction, and Mental Health

    Alcohol misuse is not just a behavioral issue but also a mental health concern, as substance use disorders are recognized as mental health disorders in their own right.[8] Individuals struggling with alcohol addiction often face co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders.

    The relationship between alcohol and mental health is bidirectional, with alcohol misuse often exacerbating existing mental health conditions and contributing to the development of new ones.[9] For individuals already grappling with mental health challenges, alcohol can serve as a form of self-medication, offering temporary relief from symptoms but ultimately worsening their condition in the long term.

    Furthermore, alcohol’s impact on brain chemistry can lead to mood disturbances, cognitive impairments, and changes in behavior, further complicating the management of co-occurring mental health disorders. Excessive alcohol consumption alters neurotransmitter activity, disrupts neural pathways, and impairs cognitive function, exacerbating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions.

    The co-occurrence of alcohol addiction and mental health disorders can create a vicious cycle, leading to a deterioration in overall well-being. Individuals may experience increased social isolation, difficulties in relationships, and challenges in daily functioning as their alcohol use and mental health symptoms worsen.

    Addressing alcohol addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders requires a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses both aspects of the individual’s condition simultaneously. Integrated treatment programs that combine therapy, medication management, and supportive interventions are essential for addressing the complex interplay between alcohol and mental health.

    Rehab For Alcoholism

    Effective rehab for alcoholism hinges on several key considerations. It’s crucial to adopt an individualized approach, recognizing that each person’s journey with alcohol addiction is unique. Tailoring treatment plans to address specific needs, circumstances, and preferences increases your likelihood of success.

    Addressing any potential co-occurring mental health disorders is also essential in alcoholism treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment offers integrated care, simultaneously addressing substance abuse and mental health issues to promote overall well-being.

    Levels of Care Within Alcohol Addiction Treatment

    Everyone’s alcohol recovery needs are unique, which is why treatment centers typically offer several different levels of care that can best align with your specific needs:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Detoxification, commonly referred to as detox, is the process of intentionally removing alcohol from the body. This procedure is often conducted under close supervision in medical facilities or specialized detox centers. The primary aim of alcohol detox is to safely manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal while preparing individuals for further treatment and rehabilitation.
    • Medically Managed Care: Medically managed care combines medical knowledge with therapy to assist patients in their recovery journey. This approach involves continuous monitoring by medical professionals who customize treatments and coordinate with other team members. By addressing both physical and psychological aspects of patients’ conditions, this holistic approach aims to foster overall healing and sustained well-being.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Inpatient residential treatment entails individuals living full-time at a specialized facility for their rehabilitation program. With constant care from healthcare professionals, these programs often include various therapies and activities. By immersing individuals in this structured environment, inpatient treatment supports focused recovery, intensive therapy, and the acquisition of essential coping skills for long-term sobriety.

    Therapies Used in Rehab For Alcoholism

    If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Alpas offers many evidence-based approaches and treatment options to address alcoholism and dual diagnosis issues:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a popular therapeutic approach aimed at addressing negative thought patterns and behaviors linked to mental health issues like addiction. In collaborative sessions with a therapist, individuals learn to challenge distorted thinking, acquire coping strategies, and effectively manage cravings.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, merges mindfulness, acceptance, and behavior change strategies within a cognitive-behavioral framework. Initially designed for borderline personality disorder, DBT has broadened to tackle various mental health issues, including addiction. It prioritizes emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. Therapists employ both individual and group therapy sessions, coaching, and homework assignments to impart coping skills and enhance emotional stability.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a counseling approach to enhance motivation for behavior change. Therapists utilize collaborative conversations, empathy, and reflective listening to help individuals align their behavior with their goals. MI empowers individuals to make significant changes by bolstering their readiness and commitment.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management is a therapeutic strategy that leverages rewards to encourage desired behaviors, such as staying sober. Participants earn incentives for meeting treatment milestones, such as attending sessions or passing drug tests. These rewards, ranging from vouchers to prizes, boost motivation and foster adherence to treatment objectives.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) is a counseling method focused on enhancing motivation and commitment to behavior change. It employs structured discussions and feedback to address ambivalence about change by helping individuals identify their values and goals. By boosting confidence in their capacity to change, MET emphasizes internal motivation for positive transformation instead of delving into alcoholism’s underlying causes.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy utilizes interactive activities to aid emotional processing and foster personal growth. Diverging from conventional talk therapy, it incorporates hands-on methods such as role-playing and art therapy. Through these activities, individuals can effectively express emotions and acquire coping mechanisms in a supportive environment encompassing the body, mind, and spirit, facilitating profound personal transformation.
    • Relapse Prevention: Relapse prevention aids individuals in recovery by identifying triggers, developing coping strategies, and establishing plans to avoid relapse. Participants learn to recognize warning signs like stress and emotional triggers, gaining skills to manage them effectively. This therapy enhances self-awareness and provides practical tools to address the underlying causes of addictive behaviors, promoting sustained sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-step facilitation supports addiction recovery by involving individuals in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Through group meetings, step work, and peer support, this approach fosters community and accountability. Participation in these programs helps individuals establish and maintain sobriety while acquiring essential tools for long-term recovery.

    Looking for top-notch addiction treatment centers? Maryland residents can turn to Alpas Wellness for personalized and comprehensive care. Our dedicated team of professionals is committed to helping you achieve lasting recovery.

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Use Disorder and Rehab For Alcoholism


    How is alcohol use disorder (AUD) diagnosed?


    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical evaluation, self-reported drinking patterns, and assessment of symptoms. Healthcare professionals may use criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose alcohol use disorder, which encompasses various levels of alcohol addiction and dependence.


    What is withdrawal like for someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD)?


    Withdrawal symptoms for someone with alcohol use disorder (AUD) can range from mild to severe and may include tremors, sweating, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, and seizures. Delirium tremens (DTs), a severe form of alcohol withdrawal, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms typically peak within the first few days after cessation of drinking and gradually subside for several days to weeks.


    What causes alcohol use disorder (AUD)?


    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) can have multifaceted causes, including genetic predisposition, environmental factors, psychological factors, and social influences. Genetic factors may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to alcohol addiction, while environmental factors such as upbringing, trauma, and peer pressure can also play a significant role. Additionally, mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and trauma may co-occur with alcoholism, further complicating the underlying causes.


    [1] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2024, January). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. on April 4, 2024

    [2] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2023). Alcohol Facts and Statistics | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). on April 4, 2024

    [3] Rehm, J. (2011). The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism. PubMed Central (PMC). on April 4, 2024

    [4] MedlinePlus. (2019). Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).; National Library of Medicine. on April 4, 2024

    [5] CDC. (2019). CDC – Data and Maps – Alcohol. CDC. on April 4, 2024

    [6] World Health Organization. (2022, May 9). Alcohol. World Health Organization. on April 4, 2024

    [7] NHTSA. (2019, January 11). Drunk Driving. NHTSA; United States Department of Transportation. on April 4, 2024

    [8] National Institute of Mental Health. (2023). Substance use and co-occurring mental disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. on April 4, 2024

    [9] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2022, May 6). Mental Health Issues: Alcohol Use Disorder and Common Co-occurring Conditions | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). on April 4, 2024

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