Alcohol Addiction | Abuse, Causes, Signs, & Treatment

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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 14.5 million adults and 414,000 adolescents struggled with alcohol addiction in 2019.

Although moderate alcohol use isn’t harmful, alcohol abuse can have severe and life-threatening side effects. Fortunately, there is a wide range of evidence-based treatment options that can help you recover from alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Abuse

About 85.6% of adults have drunk alcohol at least once in their lifetime, according to a 2019 survey. Moderate alcohol consumption, which is 2 drinks or less a day for men and 1 drink or less a day for women, is generally safe.

However, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or drinking alcohol more frequently is a form of alcohol abuse that could suggest you have a drinking problem. Repeated alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol addiction can negatively interfere with every area of life, including work, school, and family. If you have trouble controlling alcohol use despite negative consequences, you may have an alcohol use disorder.

Although addiction can be an isolating disease, millions of people have been impacted by alcohol use disorder. Community-based support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and professional treatment centers can connect you with others who have had similar experiences.

Causes Of Alcohol Addiction

Binge drinking and heavy drinking can increase the likelihood of developing alcohol addiction. In addition, developing alcohol dependence can make it difficult to stop drinking and may lead to more frequent, heavy drinking habits.

Some of the risk factors that may contribute to alcohol addiction include:

  • family members with a history of alcohol problems
  • drinking during adolescence when the brain is still developing
  • history of trauma
  • environment that promotes heavy alcohol use
  • long-term, heavy alcohol use
  • mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression commonly co-occur in people with alcohol use disorder.

If you have a dual diagnosis (co-occurring mental health disorder), many alcohol treatment centers offer services that treat both disorders.

Learn more about What Causes Alcohol Addiction

Signs Of Alcohol Addiction

There are several warning signs that can help you recognize the signs of a substance use disorder in you or a loved one. Knowing what to look for can help you determine when treatment is necessary.

Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • drinking more than you want or for longer periods than you intend to
  • continued use, despite consequences to health or other areas of life
  • cannot stop drinking on your own
  • spend most of the time drinking or thinking about alcohol use
  • alcohol use interferes with daily life
  • drinking is a priority over other interests
  • engaging in high-risk behaviors or dangerous situations while drinking
  • developing tolerance (needing increasingly higher amounts to achieve the same effects of alcohol)
  • are dependent on alcohol and experience cravings and other withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink
  • experiencing blackouts while drinking (periods of memory loss)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used by professionals to diagnose a substance use disorder and contains many of these warning signs. In general, relating to a high number of symptoms indicates a severe behavioral health issue.

Learn more about the Signs Of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol Withdrawal

If you experience alcohol dependence, your body has become accustomed to having alcohol on a regular basis. You may experience alcohol withdrawal if you drink less or suddenly stop drinking.

Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, and life-threatening in some cases, and may require attention from health professionals. Once you stop drinking, you may also experience intense cravings that make it difficult to remain abstinent.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • seizures
  • difficulty sleeping
  • tremors
  • restlessness
  • nausea
  • increased heart rate

Learn more about Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Most treatment centers offer a wide range of comprehensive programs and individualized care for substance abuse issues. A healthcare professional can evaluate you to determine the level of care that best fits your needs.

Alcohol Detox

If you have an alcohol dependence, you may require a short-term medical detox to stabilize any health problems before starting a treatment program.

During a detoxification program, professionals will provide support, monitor your symptoms, and provide medication, if necessary.

Learn more about Alcohol Detox

Residential Program

An inpatient rehab program provides a structured setting away from the stresses of everyday life. During residential treatment, you will engage in healthy activities and groups with peers that help you learn healthy coping skills and how to live without alcohol.

Outpatient Program

Outpatient care is less restrictive than residential treatment and offers more flexibility. You will be able to live at home and travel to the treatment facility multiple times each week.

Outpatient programs are beneficial for those with a mild addiction or after completing a more intensive program.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medications approved to treat alcohol use disorder can be a valuable aid to those suffering from alcohol addiction. Antabuse (disulfiram), Campral (acamprosate), and Vivitrol (naltrexone) may help decrease cravings and alcohol use.

If you or a loved one would like to know more about alcohol addiction treatment, please contact us today.


What Is Blood Alcohol Content?

A person’s blood alcohol content (also known as BAC or blood alcohol concentration) is a measure of ethanol (drinking alcohol) in the blood.

The legal limit for driving in the United States is .08% BAC, which is determined with the use of either a breathalyzer test or blood alcohol test.

Learn more about Blood Alcohol Content

​How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

Alcohol stays in your blood for up to 12 hours on average. Short-term tests can pick up traces of alcohol up to 48 hours after you stop drinking. Factors like body composition affect your alcohol metabolism.

To learn more, read How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System?

What Are The Different Types Of Alcohol?

There are three different types of alcohol: methanol (methyl alcohol), isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol), and ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Ethanol is the only type of alcohol that humans can drink.

The main types of alcoholic drinks are beer, wine, and liquor. Beer and wine are undistilled, while liquor is distilled. That means that when liquor is made, the alcohol is separated from the water used to make the drink. This process increases the drink’s alcohol content.

The most popular types of liquor include brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey.

Learn more about the Types Of Alcohol

Is Alcohol Considered A Drug?

Although alcohol is legal and isn’t classified as a controlled substance, it’s still considered a drug. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and slows down activity in the brain, causes mild to severe intoxication/impairment, and can lead to addiction if abused over time.

To learn more, read Is Alcohol A Drug?

Is Alcohol Considered A Depressant?

Alcohol is considered a depressant because it slows down brain activity. However, alcohol has stimulant effects when consumed in smaller amounts, likely due to its interactions with dopamine.

To learn more, read Is Alcohol A Depressant?

What’s The Difference Between Alcohol Dependence & Addiction?

Alcohol dependence occurs when your body adapts to the chemical changes that can occur after long-term alcohol abuse. When someone is alcohol dependent, they may have an increased tolerance and experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop or cut back on alcohol use.

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, is characterized by intense cravings and uncontrollable alcohol use, regardless of the consequences. Depending on the severity of alcohol addiction, it may interfere with responsibilities, relationships, other interests, and overall health.

Learn more about Alcohol Dependence Vs. Alcohol Addiction

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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