For many individuals, drinking alcohol is a regular event that doesn’t imply dependence or addiction. For more than 16 million adults in the United States, however, an addiction to alcohol is a very real and ongoing situation. The prevalence of addictions to alcohol doesn’t make the condition any better understood by the general public. It’s time to take a closer look at what an addiction to alcohol really is, what its causes can be, why it affects certain people, what treatment can do to help and how it impacts the country.
Defining an Addiction to Alcohol
One of the difficulties in identifying and treating addictions to alcohol is defining them. In the United States alone, more than 71% of adults report that they have consumed an alcoholic beverage in the past year, but use certainly doesn’t imply addiction. Generally speaking, moderate alcohol consumption can be defined as two drinks a day for men or one for women.
Beyond moderate use is alcohol abuse, where excessive alcohol consumption becomes a barrier to a healthy, functioning existence. Alcohol consumption may be used to improve mood or alleviate stress, and it may begin to create legal issues, job performance concerns and even safety risks.
Beyond alcohol abuse is alcohol dependence, or addiction. This is the stage where individuals have no reliable control over their need for alcohol. Typical characteristics of someone addicted to alcohol include the inability to refuse a drink, to stop drinking once you’ve started and problems with going more than a day without an alcoholic beverage.
Searching for the Causes of an Addiction to Alcohol
There’s no one specific cause of addiction to alcohol, or any other substance. For this reason, there isn’t any one thing that a person can do to absolutely prevent addiction, beyond abstinence. That being said, there are certainly some factors that can contribute to the formation of an addiction to alcohol, as well as a few reasons why some individuals may be more prone to addiction than others.
There’s some evidence to suggest that addiction may, in some form, be genetic. It isn’t unusual for addiction to alcohol to be passed down through generations. Individuals with parents, grandparents or siblings who are addicted to alcohol may have a higher risk level themselves.
There may also be some psychological traits that make a person more susceptible to addiction. An impulsive personality or a need for approval are two things that could encourage the frequency and quantity of drinking, both of which can speed up the road to addiction. Individuals who are victims of abuse or trauma are also much more likely to be the victims of an addiction to alcohol.
The Role of Mental Illness in Addiction
There’s a staggering overlap between those who are addicted to alcohol and those who struggle with mental illness. This is called comorbidity, or a dual diagnosis, and it means that someone struggles with both a mental disorder and an addiction.
Some people consider mental illness and addiction to be a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. It isn’t clear whether people with mental illnesses are predisposed to develop addictions, or if those who are predisposed to addiction are more likely to end up with a mental illness as a result. Either way, it’s impossible to separate the two. Often, addiction itself is considered to be a mental illness.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and paranoia. Trauma, such as being in a violent accident or growing up with an abusive parent, can also cause both mental illness and a predisposition to an addictive personality. While research may not be definitive, there’s no doubt that the two are closely intertwined and need to be treated together in order for individuals to achieve mental health and sobriety.
How Alcohol Addictions Impact the Nation
When someone you love is addicted to alcohol, or if this is something you struggle with, the addiction can seem intensely personal. It’s impossible to understate, however, the impact that alcohol addictions have on the country at large.
In the United States, alcohol is the fourth most common cause of preventable deaths, and it’s responsible for ending more than 88,000 lives each year. That is in addition to alcohol-induced driving fatalities, which kill another nearly 10,000 people annually.
If you look at alcohol addictions from a legal perspective, you can find it just about everywhere. More than five million adults who were convicted for a crime were under the influence of alcohol at the time the offense took place, and as many of half of those people either struggled with addiction or alcohol abuse. Alcohol misuse also costs the United States more than $249 billion each year, which is money that could be better spent on education, health services or infrastructure.
Treatment for an Addiction to Alcohol
An addiction to alcohol isn’t something that willpower can fix. Addiction is a physical and psychological disorder, and seeking the right help will be crucial for breaking the bonds that bind individuals to their addictions. To treat an addiction to alcohol, the best and most successful course of action will include detox, rehab and the right aftercare services.
Detox is the first step to treating an addiction to alcohol, and it involves the cessation of alcohol and the detoxification of the body from any alcoholic substances. This should be done in a medically supervised environment, and not done on one’s own, in order to best manage the withdrawal symptoms that have the potential to be dangerous and even life-threatening.
After detox, rehab programs offer the tools for individuals to combat addiction. This can involve physical therapy, counseling sessions, group therapy and a range of evidence-based treatment methods. For aftercare, ongoing 12-step programs as well as sober living facilities can be integral to lasting sobriety.
Alcohol addiction is a serious condition that impacts millions of people. By understanding the causes and implications of this addiction, it may be easier to treat.